Suffering and Socrates

A husband and wife tell the following story:

Husband: I was working in Calcutta in the smallpox program. It was one of those times when I was having a tiny pang of remorse. I went through the streets of Calcutta and I saw all the beggars, thought about their suffering, and as usual got into my argument with God about suffering. “It’s really not necessary,” I kept telling him.

At that time I was reading the Phaedo, Plato’s account of Socrates’ death, which ends with Socrates and his disciples discussing whether Socrates should postpone taking the hemlock, and Socrates says to bring it in, because it doesn’t make any difference. The disciples are all crying and he tells them, “Listen, there are only two possibilities: either there is something after death or there is nothing after death. If there is nothing after death, then thank God at last I’m going to get a good sleep. And if there is something after death, then at least I have the chance of having a good conversation.” Then they brought the hemlock, which he took and died.

So I reasoned that if Socrates, in all his wisdom, at the time of his death didn’t know the nature of life, then I really shouldn’t feel so despondent that a simple soul like me didn’t understand. Thus I was consoled.

Wife: At the same time my husband was in Calcutta, I was in Delhi looking for Maharajji. We finally found him at the home of the Barmans in New Delhi (this was his last visit to New Delhi before he left his body). We were sitting with him in the afternoon on the same day he had arrived. Maharajji looked at me and simply said, “Socrates.” Later on that same day he looked at me again and said, “Socrates.”

I discussed this with the devotees accompanying me, trying to figure out what he had meant. Perhaps it was that I looked or thought like Socrates, but we couldn’t quite figure it out. My husband came home from Calcutta, and after telling him that I had seen Maharajji I said, “You know, he said the strangest thing to me and we still don’t understand what it means. He looked at me and called me ‘Socrates.’ What do you think it means?” Then my husband told me what he’d been thinking and we figured out that it was exactly the same day my husband just described.

– Ram Dass, Miracle of Love: Stories of Neem Karoli Baba

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