Plato’s Cave is Real for Cats, Too

The allegory, in Plato’s Republic, of “the Cave,” is not some dry metaphysical exercise. It is a fully-lived reality for most people. And it is also so for many animals, however much we romantically credit their heightened perceptual instincts.

For years and years and years, in talk after talk after talk, I have constantly emphasized how the allegory of “Plato‘s cave“ is speaks clearly and unequivocally to our experience of the empty shadow-formations of the thinking-mind, and our lifelong mesmerization by these shadows of thought (sometimes referred to as “psychology”). Through consistent practice of meditation, as we get adjusted to regarding the ebb-and-flow of our coming-and-going thinking as merely a play of shadows on an inert and empty wall, we liberate ourselves into the truth of reality just-as-it-is. It happens every time we sit on the cushion. It is the very activity of meditation itself: to liberate ourselves, time and again, from Plato’s cave, until we come to prefer the view of the pure sunlight of reality to the projected shadows of our unreflective minds. Zen is nothing more than this.

In some of those talks, I have referenced the things we see on the Internet about pet cats or dogs being mesmerized by appearances on a TV screen or on an iPad or computer game, how they jump or paw at videos of fish or other objects of prey. Never before did I see something like this – – an actual animal clearly manifesting the behavior that the Plato talked about, and that we treat as our own lived reality in our own cave-like minds themselves. How so utterly like this cat are we, mesmerized so completely by the shadow of a bird eating as the “true” reality of what he sees eats real things so close at hand!

Now can you see what is really “wrong” with you? The diagnosis should not come as any surprise — Plato taught us this in the same years that the Buddha was also trying to beat it into our heads. Wake up! Wake up!

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