Plato – “And This State Of The Soul Is Called Wisdom”

428–348 B.C. • Greece

Plato was his nickname. His real name was Aristocles. He was reportedly called Plato, which means broad, by his wrestling coach, due to his broad shoulders or possibly his wrestling style.

Plato was born to an aristocratic family, with his father’s lineage stretching back to the early kings of Athens. He was about 19 when he met Socrates and become his devoted student.

Ten years later, following Socrates’s death, he began traveling around the Mediterranean. In a journey that would last a dozen years, he visited Italy, Sicily, Cyrene (a Greek colony in present-day Syria), and Egypt, seeking out philosophers and priests, studying mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and religion and composing his early dialogues.

He returned to Greece at the age of 40, where he founded the Academy, the first university in the West. This school, where Plato’s great pupil Aristotle studied for 20 years, was devoted to the study of mathematics, philosophy, the natural sciences, and law and government. It continued for 900 years until it was closed by the emperor Justinian.

Together with Socrates and Aristotle, Plato laid the philosophical foundations of Western culture. The father of Western philosophy, Plato has influenced every era in the 23 centuries since he lived. He has been praised as “the substance of Western thought,” “one of the supreme poets of the world,” and “the paragon of excellence emulated by high-minded men for over two thousand years.” [1]

Plato’s writings range over a wide variety of topics — government and politics, science and religion, ethics and art, human nature and love, and more. But at the core was Plato’s assertion that there is an inner or underlying reality of life, beyond what we ordinarily experience. This reality he called the Good and the Beautiful.

For Plato, the Good was not merely an intellectual construct or ideal. It was something that could be experienced directly — and this experience was the highest attainment in life. He left us with some beautiful descriptions of this experience. Here, for example, is a passage from the Phaedo:

But when returning into herself . . . [the soul] passes into the other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom. . . .

The soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intellectual, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable. [2]



Painting of Plato, by the Italian painter Raphael (1483-1520)

What is Plato telling us about this experience? Clearly it does not take place in the outer world of sense perception. Rather, it comes as the result of the soul “returning into herself” — an inward turning of awareness. Deep within, Plato says, one experiences a field of life that is pure, eternal, immortal, unified, and unchanging. Plato calls this state wisdom.

In the Phaedrus, Plato describes the same experience again:

Of the heaven which is above the heavens, what earthly poet ever did or ever will sing worthily? It is such as I will describe; for I must dare to speak the truth, when truth is my theme. There abides the very being itself with which true knowledge is concerned; the colorless, formless, intangible essence, visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul. The divine intelligence, being nurtured upon mind and pure knowledge, and the intelligence of every soul which is capable of receiving the food proper to it, rejoices at beholding reality, and once more gazing upon truth, is replenished and made glad, until the revolution of the worlds brings her round again to the same place. In the revolution she beholds justice, and temperance, and knowledge absolute, not in the form of generation or of relation, which men call existence, but of knowledge absolute in existence absolute; and beholding the other true existences in like manner, and feasting upon them, she passes down into the interior of the heavens and returns home. . . . [3]

Plato describes a transcendental field of life, “the colorless, formless, intangible essence.” He characterizes it as “divine intelligence,” “pure knowledge,” “truth,” “reality,” “absolute knowledge.” Experiencing this inner field, one “is replenished and made glad.”

Did Plato have a technique for cultivating this inner experience? Apparently yes, and it seems to have been quite rigorous. It involved years of study mathematics, astronomy, music, and gymnastics . . . living a life of virtue . . . five years rigorous dialectical discussion . . . years of service to the state . . . and only after all of this would a few select people be ready and worthy of receiving the final stroke of knowledge.


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

From the ancient Vedic tradition of knowledge, Maharishi has brought to light a simple, natural, effortless procedure, easily learned and easily practiced, by which anyone can have this inner experience, celebrated through the centuries. This is the Transcendental Meditation technique. Everyone on earth, Maharishi taught, has the natural ability to experience the inner treasury of life, the inner ocean of infinite creativity and intelligence, the field of unbounded pure consciousness that lies at the source of thought. Maharishi described this field as an ocean of pure knowledge, power, and bliss, the fountainhead of the laws of nature that uphold the universe itself.

The hundreds of scientific research studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique reveal why this experience has been prized throughout time. Regular TM practice leads to integrated brain functioning, increased creativity and intelligence, improved health and increased vitality, inner peace and happiness.

So powerful is the effect that when even 1% of a city’s population has learned the technique, the quality of life for the whole city is improved — reflected, for example, in reduced rates of crime and violence.

The Transcendental Meditation technique has been learned by millions of people around the world. People from all walks of life are experiencing what Plato and so many others through history have described — and this simple, natural experience is elevating and transforming their lives. What a world we can look forward to as this experience becomes increasingly widespread.

* * *

For those who would like one more passage from Plato, here is the famous speech in the Symposium, where Socrates’s teacher, Diotima of Mantinea, discourses about the different degrees of perception of beauty. She concludes by describing the highest experience. Notice the similarities between what she describes and what Plato described in the shorter passages above:

“Turning rather towards the main ocean of the beautiful [one] may by contemplation of this bring forth in all their splendor many fair fruits of discourse and meditation in a plenteous crop of philosophy; until with the strength and increase there acquired he descries a certain single knowledge connected with a beauty which has yet to be told.

“And here, I pray you,” said she, “give me the very best of your attention.

“When a man has been thus far tutored in the lore of love, passing from view to view of beautiful things, in the right and regular ascent, suddenly he will have revealed to him . . . a wondrous vision, beautiful in its nature; and this, Socrates, is the final object of all those previous toils.

“First of all, it is ever-existent and neither comes to be nor perishes, neither waxes nor wanes; next, it is not beautiful in part and in part ugly, nor is it such at such a time and other at another, nor in one respect beautiful and in another ugly, nor so affected by position as to seem beautiful to some and ugly to others.

“Nor again will our initiate find the beautiful presented to him in the guise of a face or of hands or any other portion of the body, nor as a particular description or piece of knowledge . . . but existing ever in singularity of form independent by itself, while all the multitude of beautiful things partake of it in such wise that, though all of them are coming to be and perishing, it grows neither greater nor less, and is affected by nothing. . . .

“[I]n the end he comes to know the very essence of beauty. In that state of life above all others, my dear Socrates,” said the Mantinean woman, “a man finds it truly worth while to live, as he contemplates essential beauty. . . .

“But tell me, what would happen if one of you had the fortune to look upon essential beauty entire, pure and unalloyed . . . ? What if he could behold the divine beauty itself, in its unique form?
“[H]is contact is not with illusion but with truth. So when he has begotten a true virtue and has reared it up he is destined to win the friendship of Heaven; he, above all men, is immortal.” [3]

Plato describes the direct experience of “the main ocean of the beautiful.” It is eternal, “ever-existent.” It never changes, “neither waxes nor wanes.” It is not experienced in terms of particulars — that is, similar to anything in the outer world or any “piece of knowledge.” Instead, it is a “singularity,” a unity. It is “independent by itself,” transcendental to everything, nourishing all things that “are coming to be and perishing” but remaining unchanged in itself.

In this state, moreover, “a man finds it truly worth while to live.” To experience this inner field of life, Plato tells us through the words of Diotima, is to “behold the divine beauty itself” — to transcend the world of illusion and experience “truth.” To have this experience is to gain “true virtue,” to “win the friendship of Heaven,” to become “immortal.”

Here again Plato’s words call to mind the experience of transcending, familiar to those who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique — the inward settling of the mind, culminating in a state of silent wakefulness. With repeated transcending, one’s mind becomes increasingly established in this inner field, and one’s nervous system becomes increasingly purified of stress. This is how, over time, the experience of the transcendental field becomes increasingly clear.

[1] The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Hunting¬ton Cairns, Bollingen Series, no. 71 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), xiii, xvi.
[2] Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Oxford, England: The Clarendon Press, 1892), 222.
[3] Plato, Phaedrus, trans. Benjamin Jowett
[4] Plato, The Symposium, in Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9, trans. Harold N. Fowler (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1925). This translation of Plato’s Symposium is available online at the Perseus digital library at Tufts University,

Craig PearsonDr. Craig Pearson is Executive Vice-President of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. He has served the University in a variety of roles over the past 33 years, including Dean of Faculty, Dean of Students, Director of Maharishi University of Management Press, Director of Freshman Composition, and Professor of Professional Writing.

He holds a PhD in Maharishi Vedic Science from MUM and is the author of two books on the development of full human potential, The Complete Book of Yogic Flying and The Supreme Awakening: Developing the Infinite Potential Within (forthcoming). He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment.

Other posts by Craig Pearson:

“The kingdom of God is within you”

Henry David Thoreau – “We become like a still lake of purest crystal”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson – “A state of transcendent wonder”

Helen Keller – “I feel the flame of eternity in my soul”

Laozi – “His mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky”

Walt Whitman – “The luminousness of real vision”

Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty”