Plato, a Greek philosopher whose life spanned parts of the 5th and 4th centuries BC is considered to be one of the founders of Western thought. His theory of ideas and his political reflections are often associated with Christianity and Socialism, respectively. His philosophy also presents notorious intersections with the so-called Eastern traditions, and the most striking example that can be mentioned is the theme of immortality and transmigration of souls. Directly related to this theme, there is the idea of the reminiscence of the soul, some sort of remembrance of all that it has lived in its many incarnations, but mainly of what it lived in its original condition, before it came to this world.
Plato’s theory says that knowing is to remember, and that cultivating the “practice of remembering” is the way to reach the essence of everything and return to the original life. Without considering the many shades of this theory, what should be highlighted is the importance it attaches to the memory in the life of the seeker of truth. It certainly is a special memory, since it is also related to things that transcend the sensible world. Thus, our limited ability to know truth and justice would only be a remnant of our capacity to live in communion with them before we acquired a material body. Our condition in this world would therefore be unnatural and extremely suffering for the soul.
Closely linked to our memory is the awareness of our identity. It is easy to see, for example, that it is the history of a country that enables its inhabitants to form the idea of a common nationality, just as our memories consolidate our individuality in us. It was not by chance that the author of The Little Prince explains, through the fox, that captivating someone requires the construction of a story with that person, a cultivation of moments … Cultivate to captivate. That is why memory loss can generate very unpleasant results for a person; the worst of them probably is forgetting who you are. The forgetting of oneself brings with it the loss of meaning, the feeling of being continuously displaced, and an emptiness within. On the other hand, a strong memory or an intense memory of something in particular denotes that something is very important to the person. God himself wanted to show his caring and love for his people by emphasizing how much his thoughts were concerned with them:
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Though she may forget, I will not forget thee
– (Isaiah 49:15)
If the common memory of man is so closely linked to his identity, a memory such as Plato describes, that is, the memory of the soul, is certainly capable of revealing the essence of the soul itself. Although the spiritual identity of the human being presents difficulties of being brought to the conscience, it is constantly being indicated to him by the reminiscences of its real existence, which is present through the yearning for a full life, for eternity, and for love. The contemplation of all these things in an immemorial past is the reason why we seek them relentlessly. Plato gives the reason why we love them so much in the Phaedrus dialogue:
After the evolution the soul goes through, it comes to know the essences. This knowledge of the pure truths plunges it into the greatest of happiness. […] The reason that draws souls to the heaven of Truth is because only then they could find the food capable of nourishing and developing their wings, the one that draws the soul away from the low passions.
To know the essence of things would be the triumph of the soul.
Then how was it possible to deviate the soul from this blessed condition? The myth that Plato uses to illustrate his thinking exposes a disorder caused by the eagerness to contemplate the essences, or the desire to have more. The consequence of this disorder is the impossibility of remaining there:
When the soul is filled with unclean food due to fatal eagerness, vice and forgetfulness, it becomes heavy and rushes without wings towards the ground.
This would explain why humans are constantly unhappy with their ordinary lives, no matter how great their achievements are. They are like a compound between spirit and matter, holding within the spirit its true essence. Not being able to remember this leads humans towards pursuing fulfillment in the matter, at least until they realize that succeeding in this endeavor is impossible.
Regaining “spiritual memory” is the same as knowing who you are and what your role in the world is. However, as noted earlier, such awareness requires the cultivation of the spiritual impulses we already possess: the cultivation of our “pre-memory.” Our longings for love, truth, justice, and equality are reflections of the Hermetic Good, which is beyond all duality. This longing is stimulated and purified from the illusions of the self as we tread the path. It is about cultivating a new story to captivate a new being, which we will become: the one we have always been.