Plato’s Phaedo: The mystery of dying, the lies of the living (61c-63a)

This article is the sixth installment of my translation of Plato’s Phaedo. Please read the previous installment before continuing. If you are just jumping in, please begin with my introduction.

it’s very easy to get lost in the superficial conversation of the dialogue. Phaedo is still telling us the story, but the dialogue is starting to take on a life of its own. In the last section, we were briefly introduced to Cebes. In this section we hear from Simmias. These two characters will take up the bulk of the dialogue moving forward. Soon Phaedo’s presence will recede. The power of his light renders him invisible, just as invisible as the author, Plato, himself. Cebes is a voice who seems to want Socrates to stay in the community of Athens, to remain in his role as philosopher. Simmias is, at this point, a little irritated at Socrates, because he doesn’t like that he doesn’t care about death or seems to think that death is a good thing. We will see later, why this irritates him very deeply and why Simmias is the opposite, or appears to be, of Cebes.

The invisible author, the invisibility of the death, of death itself, is important here, because it seems that the most important things, the sacred things, the true things of love and who we are, have become, in this dark age we live in, ever dimmer and more challenging to see. Faith in this sense must begin in blind faith, before it is the faith that can see. As an aside, you can begin to notice that most of religion wants to keep human beings in a state of blind faith, never ascending towards seeing (awareness). Ignorance, being kept in a dark prison, blindfolded, is what fuels our modern desperation and lust to know, which has manifested in the addiction and faith in scientism and the absurd adherence to hope in the form of religion. Socrates was killed because awareness was being killed. Remember, Plato was present at the death scene, according to Phaedo. But Plato was not dead yet just sick, somewhere in between being born and dying. Sickness is a smaller form of dying of a part of us dying, as we do every moment of every day.

In each section of the dialogue, I remind you to keep the nature of duality in your mind, Socrates’ story of it, as a thread that binds the dialogue together, exactly as it binds us here in this world. Death, in particular is the focus of this section. Death is something that we mostly don’t like to think about. We think of it as separate or opposite to life. This is why Apollo, whose name means “destruction” was originally a god of light and death, was separated into Apollo, god of light sun, and Hades, the dark underworld. This false dichotomy has created a myriad of stories throughout human history, all of them distortions of the truth: that life is dying and dying is life. It is created fear of demons and love of angels, although they are essentially the same. It has created division upon division in ourselves, in our lives and in our world. Nothing is spared from this, because our ability to know what we do not know, and to be present to the vast mystery that is life and death, has become largely ignored, or certainly not as important as the Super Bowl.

And yet the great mystery is here still, and it is who we are, essentially and forever, even while you are narcotized in front of the television set.

The notion of the great mystery. It is one thing to comprehend duality in our mind, and it is another to be aware of it as it flows within you, as it launches you into forms of reaction, violent or otherwise, that create perhaps anger, confusion, and even disorientation: death is life. Who can accept that? Who can remain in a calm neutral state, as Socrates did? Who can experience life dying and the aliveness of death, without being accused and relegated to “dark, gothic” stereotypes? Who can see the dying as a blessing and the blessing for something that is dying?

Cebes is confused: if the philosopher can see that life is death, why can’t it be okay to just kill oneself when he wants? The simple answer is that the philosopher doesn’t inflict death upon himself – he is happy both in death and in life. There is no difference. When Socrates first mentions dying, he uses the verb apodemain, which means essentially to go away out of town, away from the community. Furthermore, the philosopher, the lover of wisdom, the one who seeks through the heart, doesn’t work for the self. he works for the divine order of things, and he lives and dies in terms of that highest good. Death comes when it wills, just as life comes when we are born. Forcing death is like forcing the sun to come out. It isn’t possible because – death is life. Cebes’ confusion, as all human confusions are, a result of duality and a polarization of reality, which makes it appear as if death were an escape from life, and not some form of continuation of a journey.

Cebes’ confusion hinges on his confusion between mind and heart, and ego and self. The ego believes that it is life itself, and anything that is not itself, is death. To him, both life and ego are identical to each other – they are one. They are hell bent on survival at all costs. Oneness, in this case, is a form of manipulation and control by the ego in order to separate self out from everything that is outside of it, and therefore a potential threat. The ego’s presence is a removal of the heart from the dialogue that is our life, the essential communication that we have within the body/mind/soul of Self. Once that is removed from the conversation, the mind creates the illusion that it has taken the place of the heart. And because the ego has no boundaries per se, and it can talk about everything and anything, it can speak about what cannot be spoken and believe that it “knows” what it is. We say different forms of the verb “to be” everyday thousands of times. How many “know” what it is, what being is? Who knows what death is enough to be afraid of it? Who has seen angels and gods and demons to know what they are? The ego-mind’s blindness is astounding the more you observe it. Billions of people on the planet are under the spell of ego-mind sometimes called “science”, and billions suffer for it daily, because the ego is weak and fragile, and cannot give us the life we want, nor could it even survive that life, if it were handed to it on a silver platter. The ego itself is the denial of Self, and the denial of Love and so is completely averse to the lover of wisdom, whatever form the philosopher takes in this age or the next.

Cebes, however, loves Socrates. How can ego and philosophy work together, without killing each other off, without denying each other? Philosophy must be present in the cave, in order to lead the ego upwards, to see its illusion and allow the Self to emerge.

But, as it stands for Socrates, that which cannot be spoken according to ego has become that which must not be spoken. Socrates was put to death for corrupting the youth, and for divulging the mysteries, as if such things were possible. To those who know, it is impossible to divulge the mystery directly. But society in ancient Athens, as well as society today, is an entity that is incapable of itself being present to mystery. Its function is, after all control. It believes it owns all and can possess all. Death, the nature of which is revealed through the mysteries, is that which must not be spoken about. And yet, it seems, with all the war, the murders, the killing, that it is certainly something that many human beings believe they have authority over. Socrates was commanded to death by the Athenians because human law believes it has jurisdiction over life and death and because philosophy is a dire threat to the ego-based community.

The nature of human society is a cult, or in the Greek, a nomos. Cult derives from the word “culture” and in all cultures all sorts of rules and laws, both spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten, are created and communicated throughout the community. After all, that is what a community is – a commune, an entity that communicates by nature with itself, as one being. Communities remove, like all organisms do, that which threatens it. Modern human communities, in the age of Kali Yuga, are creations of the ego-mind and are used to remove all semblance of questioning, openness, love, and expansion to our higher nature. This is intentional, as our drifting away from the divine and spiritual realm has led to a deep sense of desolation and pain, desolation and pain, that will launch those are willing, into a new age of spiritual connection and higher awareness. In the meantime however, two thousand years ago, when this story of a dialogue took place, we watched the death of the connection to the mysteries, the continued destruction of great teachers such as Pythagoras and soon to be distorted legacy of the teachings of Yeshua (now ruled by the dark light form of Jesus). Today all we have is Bill Gates, Klaus Schwab, CNN, and the pope.

Socrates’ story to Cebes, about how the gods own human beings is a story of the fallen gods. The state is the god, and the god is the state. The Athenians commanded Socrates death. Who are the gods of Kali Yuga in our modern world? Who are those who can declare who lives and who dies? Who commands an entire world population to inject a waxxine? Who purposefully ignores the death toll from such poisons? Who spends trillions on wars to enrich themselves, while artificially creating scarcity and financial hardship for their serfs? Who allows all this? These are the gods, and they are working through all of us, in one way or another. They are also fondly known as demons, and they do permeate all aspects of our civilization in the Kali Yuga. Socrates is simply a swan song, sent to us by Plato, who knew and later watched his school of philosophy burned to the ground by the same.

Cebes, a youth, loves Socrates and philosophy. Yet he also loves the gods and the Athenians – what does he hold within him that could potentially reduce the conflict between society and philosophy, lies and the desire for truth, so that they could co-exist?

And Simmias said, “What sort of thing are you advising to Evenus, Socrates!” I’ve met with him many times, and based on what I myself have perceived, there is no way he will ever through his own will be persuaded by you.[1]

“Why?”, he responded, “Isn’t Evenus a philosopher?

“He seems so to me”, said Simmias.

Certainly then Evenus will want to, as well as anyone else who is deservedly involved in this business[2].  Of course, he will not force it on[3] himself, which they say is not lawful[4].

Now, while he was saying these things, he had placed his legs upon the earth, and was in that seated position as he engaged in dialogue for the rest of the time.[5]

Then Cebes asked him, “How can you say [these two things at the same time], Socrates: that it is not right to kill himself[6], but that as a philosopher he would want to follow someone who is dying[7]?”

What Cebes? Have neither you nor Simmias heard anything about these things from having spent time with Philolaus[8]?

“Nothing clear, Socrates.”

Will I can certainly speak about things I have heard about: after all, there can be no hatred against me for speaking about what I accidently heard[9].  Furthermore, it’s only reasonable that one who expects to go away to the “place there”[10], to deeply contemplate and create stories about the place where he is about to go to.  What else would anyone do in the time until the setting of the sun? [11]


Well, on what basis do they say that it’s not right for someone to kill[12] himself, Socrates? For I also heard Philolaus in regards to what you were asking about, when he used to spend time with us, and I also heard it from many others as well, that one ought not to do this, but I have heard nothing clear from anyone at any time ever.

“Well, you must take it to heart[13].” he said. “Perhaps then you might be able hear, for it will likely appear remarkable to you that this one simple thing alone – amongst other things – doesn’t fall into the purview of human beings, namely, [an awareness] that there is a time when and those for whom it is better to die than to live.  To the human beings for whom it is better to die, it seems remarkable to you that it’s not sanctioned for them to kill themselves, but that they have to hang around as they wait for some good Samaritan to do it for them.

And Cebes declared, while quietly laughing in his Theban dialect, “Itto Zeus!”.

“Yes, it would seem to be illogical (alogos)[14]”, said Socrates. “But perhaps then again there is some account (logos) for it.[15]  For there is an explanation that can be articulated even in the things that must not spoken[16], namely that we human beings are in some sort of watch[17], from which each must never free himself nor run away. But that notion seems difficult and quite impenetrable to discern. Instead, it appears to be better said in the following way: that the gods are those who take of care of us and we as human beings are, to the gods, one of their possessions. Does this seem to be the case to you?”[18]

“Certainly, to me”, said Cebes.[19]

Well then isn’t it the case that if any one of your own possessions, without your stamp of approval, should kill itself, that you would then become angry with it and, if you had the power of vengeance, take vengeance?

“Clearly”, he said.

So now it’s logical to not kill oneself until a god sends some kind of requirement similar to the one now present before us.[20]

“Well that certainly appears to fit”, said Cebes. “But what you were just now saying, that the philosophers would easily want to die, seems out of place, if what we were just now saying holds well, that the god is the one who takes care of us, and that we are his possessions.  It’s just not logical to not get angry when the ones who are most aware[21] are walking away from their service, a service in which the gods are in charge and are the best ones to be in charge. For the self, upon becoming free, can’t possibly believe he will be better at caring for the self. In fact, only a mindless[22] human being would believe that he must run from his master, and only the mindless would not comprehend he shouldn’t flee from, but remain near, what is good. So yes, he would flee without thinking. But the one who has a mind, would always desire to be with what is better than himself. And so, Socrates, in this way, the opposite would be more likely than what was being said just now: that it’s fitting for them to be angry at the dying who are aware, but not at those who are unaware.”

Upon hearing him, Socrates seemed to delight in Cebes’ diligence, and he glanced at us and said, “Cebes is always looking for ways to contradict any argument; he doesn’t wish to be easily convinced by whatever anyone else is saying.[23]

[1] Simmias is objecting to Socrates because he believes that Socrates is recommending that Evenus commit suicide. This is why he reacts so defensively. Socrates however used the verb diōkein in his recommendation to Evenus. The word can mean chase, or chase a way, to persecute (as in a trial). Although the verb is ambiguous, Simmias chooses one meaning, which is to follow, as in listen and attach oneself to.

[2] pragma. This word can also have a very negative connotation, implying that it is a burden or that it is troublesome. Evenus is a philosopher and Socrates is a philosopher, so why wouldn’t he “follow” him?

[3] Biazetai. Commit suicide. The word means to inflict violence upon oneself.

[4] themistos. From themis, the root –the-. Means to establish. That which is established – a custom, rule, law. Cognate to theos, god, the one who establishes.  Only gods can take a life.

[5] In the beginning of the Republic, the philosopher, Socrates, unwillingly goes down to the city. He really just wanted to stay home instead. The implication is that his home is higher or above. In the Phaedo, he puts his feet down on the earth.

[6] Socrates didn’t say this. He said it isn’t lawful (natural or otherwise) to force oneself to die. Cebes doesn’t use the word “Self”. He uses the word “himself”, referring to the person.

[7] We are still playing with diōkein.  This time, Cebes has it mean something more like follow, as in imitation. How could Socrates say that a philosopher wants imitate a dying man, and at the same such a thing isn’t legal to do by his own force of hand? For Cebes, the philosopher must follow the laws of society in order to make sense.

[8] Pythagorean philosopher and contemporary of Socrates. Pythagoras and the early Pythagoreans never committed their teachings to writing, and it was forbidden to do so. Philolaus was the first Pythagorean to break that tradition and publish the teachings in three books. The Pythagoreans were a mysterious sect, and like the Mysteries themselves, did not divulge their teachings except orally, and even then, they were forbidden to speak about them.

[9] Socrates is talking about the Pythagorean teachings that he “accidentally” heard. He doesn’t feel he is violating their oath to not talk about the teachings in public, since he didn’t learn them directly.  It is important to remember that Socrates was also accused of speaking about the Mysteries in public, a crime punishable by death.

[10] Socrates deliberately refrains from the name “the place”.  That place there usually refers to the underworld, Hades. It is not to be spoken about, as it related to the Mysteries. Socrates is being a little witty here – death is apparently something that he isn’t allowed to talk about, let alone commit on himself. To add insult to injury, to talk about it is punishable – by death himself. Seems that Death want to remain as hidden and concealed as possible.

[11] Human beings create stories about the future, the places they are going to, but haven’t yet been. We do this every day. Much of our life is spent in planning for the future, either to try to control it or make it turn out the way we want, or simply to try to imagine what it might be like. Regardless, Socrates is suggesting that everyone would want to talk about and know about where they are inevitably going, and one place we are all inevitably going to is the realm of death. After all, when we have a vacation coming up soon, to get away for a while, all we do is talk about it, plan the trip, imagine how it will be.

[12] Cebes uses the word apokteinunai, which means “to kill”. This is the first time we hear of the word “kill”. Socrates never used that word. He doesn’t think of himself as being killed, nor was he even suggesting it.

[13] Another reference to the heart (thymos).

[14] Something that is alogos is something that is unclear or obscured. Most of the time, in life, we dismiss things that are alogos as unimportant: they don’t fit our expectations or understandings.  An experience of something alogos is something like the experience of an anomaly. We don’t understand it because we don’t understand it, not because it shouldn’t be there or is wrong.

[15] We seek logos from the alogos. The two are always connected. We seek what we want, from what we believe we lack. The light always reveals the shadow. Again, the nature of the opposites and the duality in which we live.

[16] aporhetois. the things that must not be spoken. The mysteries must not be spoken. But the real question is: is it even possible to speak them at all? The English word, rhetoric, is derived from the root of this verb, -rhet-. Socrates procedes  to give an account (logos) of the current situation for human beings, which explains why we are not allowed to kill ourselves. The story tells us that it is because we have no autonomy, but are owned by the gods.

[17] phroura. Word is used ambiguously. The word means watch or guard over a way or a path. The idea is that human beings are in or under a sort of guardianship, guarding some path or way. Either we are being watched, as if we are prisoners. Or, we are watching others.  Socrates’ statement here is very oracular and cryptic, as is common with Apollo’s Delphic oracles. Note that in the Republic, the philosophers are the guardians and watchers of the city, making sure that the city remains aligned with the highest good and source of all things. However, they don’t partake in the pleasures of the city – they are only present to guard and guide it.

[18] Socrates interprets the oracle as he knows Cebes will better comprehend it. He doesn’t choose humans as watchers. Humans are actually more like chattel. This appeals to Cebes.

[19] Cebes sees the gods as “caretakers” and as ones who would protect and save our physical bodies. It is important to understand how his point of view affects the rest of the conversation.

[20] Socrates is following Cebes’ logos that the gods are our possessors and masters. As a result, we can only die when they give their assent.

[21] phronimotatous, related to phronesis, which is heart-centered awareness. Phronesis is a process that connects to wisdom. This is not the same as knowledge (noesis) which is simply thinking, a function of mind.

[22] Cebes equates phronesis with noesis (mindfulness/thinking/smartness), a common mistake. The ego cannot see the difference between heart and mind.

[23] οὐ πάνυ εὐθέως ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι ὅτι ἄν τις εἴπῃ. “easily”. The adverb appears cognate to the word, god “theos”, as if it also means “favorable to the gods”.

3 thoughts on “Plato’s Phaedo: The mystery of dying, the lies of the living (61c-63a)

  1. Thank you for another great post. Can we be surprised that the world is as it is if those who know the mysteries are not inclined to share them? The religions have a lot to answer for surely.
    How to enable people to connect to phronesis? I do not know. Maybe writing as you do is one of the ways.


    1. The mysteries cannot be shared directly. That is why Plato wrote dialogues and not manuals :D. Religion is just matrix/ego-mind formulations of spirituality. They are imitations of the true spirit, because when we incarnate on earth during Kali Yuga (which is coming to an end) our soul is pushed out of the body for most people. Religion still carries, although an imitation, the portals to the mysteries, if we listen.

      We can’t teach others how to access the heart space. This is something they must do for themselves. The best way to start is to ask your guides for a teacher. The teacher always shows up at the right moment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: