The iconic philosophical works of Zen Master Dogen by Yuho Yokoi and The Apology of Socrates by Plato are known for focusing on how to create and follow the path towards gaining true self-knowledge. Each of these philosophers is widely known for emphasizing the significance of true self-knowledge through similarities like self-realization and how to devote attention to each of the philosophical practices. On the other hand, there are key differences between these two beliefs like, for example, where self-knowledge comes from along with how the usage of distinction affects their specific beliefs. However, in the end, both philosophies main focus is to help people grow their inner selves through either the practice of Zen Buddhism or Socrates’s philosophy.
Self-Knowledge, in relation to Zen Master Dogen , is based on the notion that self-knowledge can only come from the person’s inner self. Hence, why what Zen Buddhists find most essential is for humans to “set everything aside, think of neither good nor evil, right or wrong (Yokoi 46).” When you compare this to Socrates’s philosophy of self-knowledge it is evident that there is a huge difference between the two prevalent practices. After reading The Last Days of Socrates by Plato, there is a scene where Socrates is talking to Crito about good and evil. During this conversation, he states an ideology about how “we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought to not do wrong…(Plato 44).”
This dialogue is a great representation of Socrates’s philosophical ideas involving self-knowledge. Socrates is known for basing his ideologies on categorization which allows him to understand things like good and bad within our human nature. By analyzing texts like this it allows the reader to understand why Socrates likes to see things separately while Zen Buddhists see everything as one instead. With that being said, Socrates believed that the moment humans understood good and bad they would then be able to figure out how to get rid of the evil within themselves and prosper only in righteousness only. Overall, the importance behind this point is that Socrates wants the focus to be on categories like good and bad while Zen Buddhism does not like to differentiate the two.
However, the similarity between these two philosophical practices is how they focus their attention on self-realization. In Zen Buddhism, they practice how to “stop pursuing words and letters and learn to withdraw and reflect on yourself (Yokoi 46)” instead. This can be related to Socrates’s belief that our “true self” is our actual soul. In The Apology of Socrates, Socrates focuses on how a person must not base their self-realization around materialistic or status based ideas. This becomes evident due to the apology stage of Plato’s play where Socrates discusses how “young men of the richer classes (Plato 26)” are known for thinking “that they know something, but know little or nothing (Plato 26).” This statement can be interpreted as to how Socrates believes that for a human soul to truly grow they must instead focus on aspects like wisdom, thoughts and most importantly asking questions.
The reader knows that questioning certain aspects like morals is important due to the apology chapter of Plato’s novel. During this section of the plot, Socrates is repeatedly pondering multiple ideas and beliefs through the usage of questions like “Does one man do them harm and all the world good? (Plato 27).” It is questions like these that show Socrates needs to ponder certain aspects that have influenced his flourishment of self-knowledge over the years. With that being said, he believed that the moment a person released their focuses from these ideas and focus upon their true self they will soon find self-knowledge. All in all, each practice accentuates the significance of looking inside oneself to broaden their self-knowledge as they take the path towards enlightenment.
Another similarity that can be drawn between these two practices is the value of devoting one’s attention and focus toward self-knowledge. For Zen Buddhists, this involves Zazen which is a more “easy and pleasant practice (Yokoi 46)” of meditating that they practice multiple times throughout the day. During Zazen’s practice, they focus on “non-thinking (Yokoi 46)” and this is done “by thinking beyond thinking and non-thinking (Yokoi 46)” which is known as the basis of Zazen. For Zen Buddhists, they believe that when they do this “the supreme law will then appear of itself, and you will be free of weariness and confusion (Yokoi 46).” This, of course, will allow them to reach true wisdom and knowledge when practiced continuously. The similarities between the previous readings and Socrates’s practice is that they both emphasize the importance of focusing on oneself. For example, during Zazen, when a person is meditating they are focusing on themselves by controlling their thoughts in hopes of growing as a person internally.
On the other hand, Socrates emphasizes the importance of paying attention by turning the focus on one’s soul. By doing this the person is growing their chances of making their soul “ beautiful” or flourishing in pure goodness instead. After dissecting these two philosophies it can also be noticed that they do not require outside “tools” like social or economic status to influence how much knowledge someone has. This is noteworthy because people tend to associate knowledge with aspects like social hierarchy or economic group. For example, some people believe that your economic status will determine the level of intelligence you have. Hence, why these two beliefs are interesting because they do not focus on outside influences. Instead, they base their practices solely on the person’s thoughts and ideas.
The last difference between these two philosophical practices involves how the creators feel towards the usage of distinction. In Zen Buddhism, it is believed that distinction is not important for self-growth and is instead looked down upon when used during practices. It is stated in Zen Master Dogen “Zazen is a practice beyond the subjective and objective worlds, beyond discriminating thinking (Yokoi 46).” With that being said they believe that everything is one instead of being separated thus why the moment a person categorizes or differentiates anything they are no longer practicing true Zazen.
On the other hand, Socrates based his beliefs on the differentiation between numerous beliefs and aspects. A prime example of this is how he ponders the two main morals known as good and bad. Unlike Zazen, Socrates creates two distinct categories and ponders what influential values go under each one. The reason behind this is that he believes that by questioning these two morals we are helping our human nature in hopes of figuring out why things are different and how to deal with them.
In conclusion, Zen Master Dogen by Yuho Yokoi and The Apology of Socrates by Plato both emphasize the significance of focus when taking the road to self-knowledge for humans. Each of these practices has its special way of reaching self-knowledge but in the end, they are both built based on the importance of focusing on the inner self. Through the usage of different methods and ideologies, they are able to teach the importance of pushing our inner boundaries in hopes of mentally growing as a person.
- Plato, and Hugh Tredennick. Last Days of Socrates . Penguin Books Ltd, 2003.
- Yokoi, Yuho. Zen Master Dōgen: an Introduction with Selected Writings . Weatherhill, 1984.