As far as the approaches and worldviews of the Buddha, Rene Descartes and Socrates are concerned, it seems that the Buddha would be most similar to Socrates. Both great thinkers started exploring a new aspect of metaphysics (reality) and epistemology of the truth more than two-thousand years ago. Even though a distance of thousands of miles separated these brilliant minds, however, the philosophies they developed were quite similar. Both observed the world around them and ended up realizing that people were doing things the wrong way, just like they are today.
As both the Buddha and Socrates tried to make sense of the misfortune of the surrounding world, they began exploring the notion that the mainstream leadership and the paradigm being used to lead society had serious flaws. The Buddha and Socrates realized that the discontent of society was rooted in the careless distribution of power and corruption. Both responded by formulating ideas to enable human beings to free their minds of the difficulty and turmoil of society.
The Buddha’s ideas, which were based on the notion that people tend to lead lives that revolve around the acquisition of material things, money, and power, evolved into Buddhism. His philosophy pointed out that self craving is the reason behind the suffering of life, and leading a less materialistic life, in which various uncertainties that create suffering are eliminated, can eliminate this suffering of life.
As far as metaphysics (reality), the Buddha’s philosophy pointed out that a person can only come to terms with harsh reality, suffering, and unfairness of the world with an empty mind, which allows them to accept the bad while at the same time inspires good. Socrates also shared a similar viewpoint, by pointing out that it is necessary for people to develop a sense of humility as far as intelligence and knowledge are concerned. Just like Buddhism provides people with inspiration to come to terms with how little they are able to control, or knowledge they have, similarly the Socratic idea of knowledge of ignorance allows people to stop being ignorant and realizing that they are not really capable of a superior level of knowledge. Like people more than two millennia ago, a majority of people today also hold on tightly to a social pecking order that is constantly concerned about who is more powerful, who is richer, or who is smarter.
Like the Buddha, when Socrates took a look at the world around him, he too saw a superficial system in which comparatively unimportant things are emphasized and people are enslaved in the pursuit of imaginary goals. The only way to deal with such a world and simultaneously maintain one’s sanity is through the key elements of emptiness and knowledge of ignorance. A person who is humble will not become entangled in all of the superficialities of such a world when approaching it.
An intelligent person can easily overcome the simplicity of the machine that makes this world operate by taking a step back, however, repairing the machine not easy for anyone, no matter how intelligent they are. The difference is that the foolish people of this world, those who are not empty and are unaware of their own ignorance, will hurriedly attempt to repair what they do not truly understand. This is the reason, as both Buddha and Socrates believed, behind their suffering. Those who believe they have power suffer because they shortly realize that they are actually powerless. Similarly, the common people suffer because they realize that they are nothing but pawns in a foolish scheme to repair the world.
People also intrinsically follow a way of life that is competitive and exclusionary. Today, people can see this principle in just about all aspects of life. If people do not do best at work, they are fired, if people do not do better than others in school, they are left behind. The lesser part of society is intrinsically discarded by people so they may hurriedly move forward. To people who are selfish, this may seem acceptable, because they are preoccupied in the rat race of life in a machine. However, to people who are humble, who have an empty mind and have knowledge of their own imperfection, they will not be satisfied with this solution.
The Buddha and Socrates were also inspired by the unfairness of the world to
The unfairness of the world also inspires thinkers, like Siddhartha and Socrates, to mediate a solution to the problem. However, eventually and usually it becomes apparent that there is no possible solution to the problem. Socrates, who was a student of Plato, illustrated this point by coming up with the allegory of the cave. In his allegory, all of the people of the world are restrained in a cave where they are only able to see in one direction. They are only able to see shadows on the wall in the direction they are looking. Eventually, all the people become convinced that the shadows are reality, even though those false shadows on the wall are being created by people behind them using various aspects of the real world.
Also in Socrates’ allegory, one person frees himself from his chains that were and escapes from the cave, becoming aware of the real world above. Similarly, the Buddha’s also encourage people to become aware of the real world rather than believing false images to be reality, as the people in Plato’s cave did. In Buddhist thought, people are said to be enlightened when they achieve a full understand of the real world. A small number of those who are enlightened take on the cause to try to free the minds of others. This enlightened existence is known as the Bodhisattva in Buddhism, and these enlightened people sacrifice some of their harmony in order help others to come to a more placid and tranquil level of understanding.
However, in the analogy of Plato’s cave allegory, such an enlightened person may seem to find it difficult to see in the dark. In Plato’s cave allegory, the people creating the shadows tend to mock those who are enlightened by pointing out how preposterous their ideas are in relation to those people are believe the shadows on the wall to be reality. Such enlightened people usually stumble around in the dark, they are not able to figure out how to help the others so they eventually quit and return to the surface. From this analogy, it is easier to view how realizing the harshness of the world and realizing that trying to fix these unsettling problems is not possible is the only way to achieve true harmony, as Buddha’s philosophy pointed out.
Both the Buddha and Socrates were attempting to answer the same question, and while there methods were primarily the same, there were just a few differences. Socrates did not share most of his ideas. In fact, he did not even write down most of hi s ideas. Most of what we know of Socrates’ philosophy is from what Plato recorded, such as in his Five Dialogues. However, one thing that Socrates openly expressed eventually was regarding the thing that caused his demise. While no one knows whether he just gave up fighting for his ideas, or that his ideas were the reason behind his execution, but it has seemed that he accepted the end. On the other hand, the Buddha was a true Bodhisattva. He was active when it came to the communication of his ideas, and perhaps this is what makes him a greater thinker, maybe greater than Socrates too. His teachings were readily accepted by his culture, and everything that he achieved may as well have been fulfillment of prophecy.
It seems that monotheistic religions that followed centuries later and are currently dominating the western world today tended to overcome Socrates’ ideals. On other hand, Buddhism mostly spread into Asia and currently millions of people are practicing it today. Thus, while it becomes apparent that the philosophies of both the Buddha and Socrates metaphysics [reality] and epistemology of the truth seem to coincide in several aspects, however, a much more harmonious, peaceful, and workable answer is offered by eastern philosophy, which is inspired by Buddha’s philosophy, to questions regarding reality and the truth that still continue to dwell in our minds.