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The Heart Sutra And Plato’s Republic: A Literary Analysis Essay

All across the world, all throughout time, and expressed in many different forms of writing, is the theme of knowledge. Throughout the semester, this recurring theme has appeared in a variety of texts from The Heart Sutra, written by an unknown author, to Plato’s Republic, two texts from entirely different traditions. The former, perhaps one of the most famous Buddhist texts of all time, describes the nothingness that is human experience and was found on a palm-leaf dated back to 609 CE; the latter is a Socratic dialogue focusing on the concept of justice, written by the esteemed philosopher Plato in 309 BCE.

Despite the differences in the origins of these texts, they share the theme of knowledge, a theme that is ever-changing. The Heart Sutra and Plato’s Republic uniquely utilize the dynamic theme of knowledge to benefit the world around them. Although the general theme of knowledge has a strong presence in both The Heart Sutra and Plato’s Republic, the definition of what it means to know is a dynamic one. The Heart Sutra focuses on the concept that knowledge is the realization of non-wisdom as true wisdom; this knowledge effectuates nirvana.

According to the Buddha, “there is no wisdom and there is no attainment whatsoever. The discovery of this knowledge is a complex process. Throughout the text, Avalokitesara, the bodhisattva of compassion, needs to recognize that the five Skandhas, the five transitory personal elements of body perception, are “equally empty” and learn the fundamental Buddhist teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths. When explaining the five Skandhas, Avalokitesara suddenly comprehends that “form is empty. Emptiness is form. ” They are statements of reality, not reality itself; while they may be applicable to the ultimate truth, they are beyond the comprehension of humankind.

The text then states: “with this realisation, he overcame all Ill-being. ” In other words, the discovery of non-wisdom as the true wisdom is the discovery that liberated Avalokitesara. Meanwhile, Plato’s Republic presents the concept of knowledge not as non-wisdom, but rather as the Form of the Good. In this text, Socrates identifies the Form of the Good as neither pleasure nor knowledge, but as light, although “masses believe pleasure to be the the good, while the more refined believe it to be knowledge. In order to further discuss the Form of the Good, Socrates uses an analogy to the sun because he believes the eye is “the most sunlike of the sense organs. ” He says the sun is a source of light, gives people sight, and “provides for their coming-to-be, growth, and nourishment”; the Good is a source of intellect, grants people the ability to gain knowledge, and creates the existence of the Forms, thus being the ultimate aim of knowledge. Knowledge is not to be confused with actual goodness; it is “wrong” to think of knowledge and truth as “as goodlike,” just like light isn’t the sun.

Next, Socrates uses a line to illustrate the grades of knowledge. He tells readers to envision a line partitioned into four sections, where the bottom two represent people’s accessibility to the visible realm. He explains later on in the text that the lower of these two is imagination, because an imaginative person considers his images to be real. Slightly above imagination is belief because one who believes thinks that his beliefs are the most real, tangible things in the world. The top two sections of the line represent people’s accessibility to the intelligible: thought and understanding.

Thought is below understanding because it uses sensible particulars to aid reasoning, and it also relies on hypothesis. On the other hand, understanding utilizes neither of these; it exclusively deals with the Forms, thus being allowing one to be knowledgeable enough to differentiate the visible and the intelligible and no longer be “blind”. While the meaning of knowing in The Heart Sutra is acknowledging that non-wisdom is wisdom, the meaning of knowing in Plato’s Republic is understanding the Form of the Good, seeing the light, and acknowledging the difference between the visible and intelligible.

These differences in what it means to know represent the dynamism of the theme of knowledge and help illustrate how this theme benefits their unique worlds. The process of arriving at knowledge and how one can know differs in both texts as well. For example, The Heart Sutra, describes bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, and his journey to liberation. He arrives at the knowledge that “all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness” through the practice of meditation, observing the Four Noble truths, and practicing the five Skandhas.

The text proves this by stating: “Avalokiteshvara while practicing deeply with the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore suddenly discovered all of the five Skandhas are equally empty. ” The inclusion of the pronoun “us” demonstrates that any common person can know and arrive at this knowledge by following the practice of meditation and truth, just like the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Also, the texts states that “all Buddhas… are capable of attaining Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment. Meanwhile, Plato argues that one can discover and be aware of knowledge through the study of the Form of the Good. Socrates says: “what gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower is the form of the good. ” What causes knowledge and truth is “an object of knowledge. ” When one is able to understand as opposed to simply be stuck in the visible of realm of imagining and believing, or even the lower intelligible realm of thinking, he will arrive at knowledge and understand all the other forms.

Both texts illustrate how one can know and arrive at knowledge because the narrator wants the common person to do so at their own benefit. One might wonder what is worth knowing and question what makes it so valuable for so many people to bother with the study, meditation, and practice needed to obtain knowledge. According to The Heart Sutra, Avalokiteshvara’s liberation is found when he awakened his wisdom. On his journey he realizes that non-wisdom is the true wisdom as he unearths the emptiness of the five Skandhas.

The Buddha claims “this Body itself is Emptiness and Emptiness itself is this Body…. all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness. ” This quote is worth understanding because it aids in the description of the concept that is key to one’s liberation: non-wisdom is wisdom, otherwise known as the “Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore”. It is valuable to have this knowledge because those “who practice the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore see no more obstacles in their mind… they can overcome all fear, destroy all wrong perceptions, and realize Perfect Nirvana. Meanwhile, Plato’s Republic focuses on the Form of the Good. Plato believes that in order for a philosopher-king to be good at his job, he must study the Form of the Good. By doing so, he will gain the highest level of knowledge, therefore becoming a worthy of the philosopher-king position. However, the study of the Form of the Good is applicable to the common person as well.

Once someone has reached the Form of the Good through the process of differentiating the visible and intelligible realms, they will no longer be “blind people who happen to travel the right road. They have reached the highest stage of knowledge and understand the Form of the Good, as well as all other Forms, thus bringing people to the light. Knowledge is valuable in The Heart Sutra because it brings people to liberation; knowledge is valuable the Republic because it brings people to the light, allowing them to see what is and is not real. Therefore, the ever-changing theme of knowledge is equally beneficial in both texts. In both texts, the understanding of knowledge uniquely shapes how people live their lives.

In The Heart Sutra, the understanding of knowledge shaped his life into something liberating. The Buddha even says: “Therefore, Sariputra, it should be known that the Insight to that Brings Us to the Other Shore is a Great Mantra… the True Wisdom that has the power to put an end to all kinds of suffering. ” In other words, his understanding of knowledge allowed him to achieve nirvana. The common person’s understanding of knowledge impacts how they live their lives as well.

The Buddha bodhisattvas are yearn to bestow this knowledge upon the common people. Many of the passages begin with “listen Sariputra” because the Buddha wishes to teach him and inspire him, along with the other disciples of Buddhism, to follow the Four Noble Truths and the five Skandhas with the goal that they will achieve nirvana. Meanwhile, Plato believes that in order for a philosopher-king to be good at his job, he must study the Form of the Good, which therefore shapes the philosopher-king’s way of life.

Once anybody, including the philosopher-king, has reached the Form of the Good, they have reached the highest stage of knowledge and understand the difference between what is visible and what is intelligible. The common person without knowledge is described “blind” and as having beliefs that are “shameful and ugly things. ” When Glaucon asks Socrates if good is pleasure or knowledge, eventually Socrates replies: “The kind you call light. ” Plato repeats this light imagery throughout the text to describe the transition from being blind from a lack of knowledge to literally seeing the light through the discovery of knowledge.

When the common person is introduced to knowledge, if new life is shaped around finally having the ability to see. Thus, the theme of knowledge uniquely shapes the lives of those in The Heart Sutra as they pursue liberation and the lives of those in the Republic as they pursue the intelligible realm. The dynamic theme of knowledge presents itself in a variety of texts from all across the world, from vastly different time periods, and through the perspective of different authors.

The dissimilarities of The Heart Sutra and Plato’s Republic do not impact the value of knowledge in both texts; knowledge is equally responsible for the lives of those impacted by the texts and is equally worth knowing. While the process of achieving knowledge and the definition of knowledge itself changes throughout the text, the theme of knowledge is equally prevalent and important. It works to benefit those reading the texts through liberation and light, and allows people to live more worthwhile lives.

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