Know Thyself

Written by on July 10, 2018 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living, Meditation with 0 Comments

In Greece, mythic and modern times meld into a magic landscape of craggy shores, emerald green oceans, and a history that speaks from the dust. Socrates, the father of western philosophy, ably occupies one of Greece’s rich, historic chapters. And from the dust, Socrates invites us to search within ourselves to truly know ourselves, whatever our spiritual tradition or philosophical bend. 


It is said that during Socrates’s lifetime there was some debate as to who held the mantle of the wisest person in the land. Many reputed Socrates as the wisest person, however he refuted this claiming that he knew all too well of his own ignorance; indeed his entire philosophic method was structured by constantly asking questions.

So, armed with questions, Socrates made a point to talk to politicians, artisans, and craftsmen and grill them with questions about what was good, true, and beautiful. He quickly realized that while many of them knew a lot about a few key issues pertaining to their expertise, most of them thought they knew much more than they really did. Too many spouted off about stuff they really knew nothing about. During these times, one needed only to consult Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, to discover the answers to any mystery. So, perplexed with this question of his own wisdom, he sought the Oracle. 

The Oracle at Delphi.

The Oracle

Here’s how this worked: You arrive with your question at the temple gate and tell it to the priest standing there. He then took that question to the Oracle, a woman held in utmost esteem, who was usually perched in a tower, properly fed, sexed, and most often in a psychedelic trance induced by the “fumes of Apollo,” whatever that was.

The priest takes the visitor’s question to the Oracle then she goes into a trance and begins speaking in a heavenly language which a group of priests translates. Then, the priest returns and bestows the Oracle’s answer back to the person, still waiting at the gate.

Well, back in the day, while this Oracle ordeal was underway, Socrates had a little time to kill, milling around at the temple gates. Between kicking rocks and playing tic-tack-toe with himself in the dust, he looked up and above the temple gates were inscribed the simple motto: “Gnothi seauton” translated as, Know Thyself. 


The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, where know thyself was once said to be inscribed.

The expanded translation of this phrase referred to holding your own center in the midst of the multitude and to watch out and don’t purport to know things you have no business spouting off about. Know Thyself.

It also meant that beyond all else, the most important thing to know is the mystery of your own being. And whether in ancient times or modern times, and through whatever practice, religion, politics, or art, isn’t that really at the heart of all that we do, to understand our own being, to make sense of this beautiful and complex and perfectly broken world we live in?

So, the priest eventually came back down to Socrates waiting at the gate and told him, “Yo! Oracle says that you’re the wisest cat out there, so you got that going for you.” And Socrates was astounded because he more than anyone knew of his own ignorance, hence all the questions, right? But then it dawned on him that maybe what made him so wise was that knowledge that he didn’t assume anything and was willing to ask the questions in order to learn. In fact, this notion of challenging the status quo, ones cherished beliefs, axioms, and dogma, became a major pillar of his philosophic method.

It should also be noted that the one thing that Socrates said he claimed to “know” was the art of love. That is profound and beautiful. Because when you love something, no greater truth can exist, right?

The Practice of Knowing 

I encourage you to practice self love, to “Know Thyself” through whatever practice, religion, politics, or art that seems to move you. In the yoga philosophy of Patanjali, this principle is known as swadyaya, or self-knowledge and comes as the result of transformation of self and ultimately lays us bare to give everything up in conversation with that which is larger than ourselves. Let’s bring our own question of knowledge to the Oracle of our inner-wisdom and listen for that divine voice to speak from within. 

Next week we will explore this evolution of “Knowing Thyself” through a wonderful Greek myth that involves death, rebirth, struggle, love, and ultimate divine transformation.

Stay tuned . . .

What are some of the ways you’ve found wisdom when you’ve faced serious questions? What does it mean to you to “Know Thyself?” Please leave a comment below.

Photo by Seneca Moore

Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in New York City and when he’s not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son. Check out his yoga retreats to places like Hawaii and Amalfi Coast and his Yoga Teacher Mentor Program

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