Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10. Plato

This is the 10th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality
The next chapter is:
A tale of which the moral is that negation of the self is a doctrine invented by nations who have been defeated, in order that by this means they may sap and weaken the character of the conquerors
Here you see a certain habitat where sheep prosper because there are no predators. A clan of lions appears and starts preying upon them. To get rid of this menace, an elderly sheep proclaims itself to be a prophet sent by God to the lions, and teaches them the virtues of self-negation.

“O you insolent liars, unmindful of day of ill luck that shall continue for ever!” The sheep addresses the lions. “I am possessed of spiritual power and am an apostle sent by God for the tigers. I come as a light for the eye that is dark. I come to establish laws and give commandments. The solidarity of life depends on the denial of the self. The sharpness of your teeth brings disgrace upon you and makes the eye of your perception blind. It is wicked to seek greatness and glory, and if you are sensible, you will be a mote of sand rather than be a vast desert. Then you shall enjoy sunbeams. You, who delight in the slaughter of sheep, slay your self and you will have honor. Though trodden underfoot, the grass grows up time after time and washes the sleep of death from its eye again and again. Forget your self, if you are wise. Close your eyes, close your ears, close your lips that your thought may reach the lofty sky!”

The lions lose their vigor. Bodily strength diminishes, spiritual fear increases, low mindedness and other diseases appear and they call this the Moral Culture.

A contrast with Bu Ali Qalandar of the previous chapter can be seen here. The Qalandar represented the self that was strengthened by love and gained “dominion over the outward and inward forces of the universe.” The other form of mysticism, parodied here, is a negation of the self. It also rejects non-contradiction, and hence loses power not only over the “outward” forces of the universe, but also the “inward” ones. The next chapter takes you deeper into the secret of moral weakness.
To the effect that Plato, whose thought has deeply influenced the mysticism and literature of Islam, followed the sheep's doctrine, and that we must be on our guard against his theories
“Plato, the prime ascetic and sage was one of such ancient sheep,” the Poet begins his criticism of one of the greatest philosophers, equating his thought with the Doctrine of the Sheep. “He was so fascinated by the invisible that he made hand, eye and ear of no account.”

Ancient Plato appears before you like a flashback. His horse goes astray in the darkness of Ideas and becomes lame before the rocks of actuality. “To die is the secret of Life,” says Plato. “The candle is glorified by being put out.” You see famous thinkers and writers from several nations and many centuries sitting at the feet of the philosopher.

Dark and bleak visions appear before you. You see gazelles that do not move, partridges that are devoid of the pleasure of walking daintily, dewdrops unable to quiver, birds with no breath in their breasts, seeds without desire to grow and moths that do not know how to flutter. This is the world of Plato.

“Civilizations have been poisoned by his intoxication,” says the Poet. Apparently, the Sheep’s Doctrine loosens the grip of its followers on reality because it makes them give up all means of reality check (“he made hand, eye, and ear of no account,” the Poet has said about Plato). Still, the philosopher is one of the greatest and it may be a tall order to refute him so outright. The Poet reminds you that Plato’s own pupil Aristotle did that. “This is a reference to the famous theory of Ideas, or Forms, on which Aristotle has offered a splendid criticism,” the Poet explains in a footnote. “Regrettably, a complete explanation of this issue is not possible here.” Avoiding further debate about the philosophy of Plato, the Poet has come to the point about the true nature of poetry in the very next chapter. This is what the Garden is all about, and the principles that may shed light on Joseph.


  1. hmm...Shafique Sahib...thanks for sharing...

    One thing I could not understand about RUMI's opposition towards Plato....that...

    Plato strongly believe that PHILOSPHERS should rule or govern and state should educate generation in a way to make philospher rulers....

    And RUMI himself was a philosphers and he successfully ruled his country. What was the actual reason their thinking coincide??


  2. Thinking, thanks for commenting. The views expressed here are Iqbal's and not necessarily Rumi's. "The Poet" in these posts refers to Iqbal. It is quite possible that Rumi may have held the same views about Plato, and that this is a valid interpretation of Rumi. However, we do not know for sure.

    Secondly, Rumi did not rule any state in real. "The Parable Never Told" which is the first chapter of this book is a fictitious account, and that is pointed out in the third section of the story itself :).

    The reason why Plato is incompatible with the model presented in this Garden is that here all investigation is based on acceptance of empirical evidence and the physical reality of this world but using it as a means for discovering what lies beyond, and reaching the spiritual. This is in line with the spirit of the Quran which frequently asks its readers to observe and explore the Nature.

    Plato, on the other hand, seems to be discouraging this kind of approach. Does that clarify?

  3. These are very compact and astute remarks and need to understood in the light of Iqbal's teaching, that stands in complete opposition to the philosophy of negation and nihilism.

    "Ancient Plato appears before you like a flashback. His horse goes astray in the darkness of Ideas and becomes lame before the rocks of actuality. “To die is the secret of Life,” says Plato. “The candle is glorified by being put out.”
    You see famous thinkers and writers from several nations and many centuries sitting at the feet of the philosopher."

    Some of the most famous and most followed and most respected Icons are doing nothing but following this sheep doctrine.... and making this world less beautiful, less challenging and more futile and more ugly...

  4. So glad to see this discussion! While Plato is quite vague to me...that may be the point...much of ascetism is quite vague and perhaps vulnerable to lone and overly subjective interpretations and spirituality. Over and over again I see parallels between the most discerning Islamic teaching and what I find to be the most whole Christian interpretation..and here is another prime example...

    While in religion and spirituality we are often taught that the unseen is more important than the seen, felt and known experientially...if not anchored in the seen, felt and know experientially..than is not that kind of spirituality too flimsy to trust if not dangerous...NO MATTER how high and perfect and enlightening such "spirituality" may sound?

    Also, where then can be the God who cares about the mass of society?

    And yet we KNOW that the Living God does care and the principles of Love are not kept only for the most exclusive spiritual types of folk.

    What little I understand about Rumi and Iqbal both they cared like with the heart of Allah for those least able to follow the highest road to God and those who by nature were easier on their way.

    Not to mention we are not made of only Spirit but also flesh and blood and put into a world of senses...

    It's not usually a matter of totally cutting ourselves off from nature, senses and the tangible, visceral world yet a matter of how we use, misuse - understand - misunderstand such natural phenomena for not only our own life and legacy yet also for the life and legacy of our own groupings and our own planet...and this would seem to curtail any so called spiritual privilege of any ruling group from being more rewarded or loved by Allah than any other, no?

    I may be too long away from academic philosophy if I ever understood this yet this is how I see what you are offering to us both in the revised chapter as well as this discussion. Please correct and further my understanding...

    One last point, in my life experiences, admittantly limited, sometimes I've observed the apparently most spiritual, most principled and most disciplined or thought to be "special, set aside as near perfect" as in some, but maybe not all clerics, philosophers or be sometimes more vulnerable to a huge fall which nearly does them in for good and in rare cases are such people able to recover...yet it can happen.

    That is perhaps why there is greater seriousness and warning by the knowing to the younger and less mature about such matters?

  5. I gather that there are two themes at present:

    #1) Empirically observed Phenomena- [that form reality]
    #2) Acknowledging death - Which itself is also reality

    The first seems to be attributed to beauty
    and the second [by Plato] to misery.

    The question of how to account for death's reality into our world view can have tremendous impact, it appears.

    Khurram Sahab, how does Iqbal reconcile death into his model?

  6. Maybe an answer has already been given to Faraz?

    I am so looking forward to this next chapter, introduced with this: "Avoiding further debate about the philosophy of Plato, the Poet has come to the point about the true nature of poetry in the very next chapter. This is what the Garden is all about..."

    Surely others here will also be eager for such a resolution...

    Yet of course no pressure at all...just mere anticipation and gladness for the future chapters...