Plato - Republic - The Cave analogy
Type of Spiritual Experience
Nearly always misunderstood, Plato is describing us in the physical world. We are separated from the spiritual world and the Light and all we see are shadows of Reality dancing on the Wall. We are Puppets in the scheme of things enacting out our destiny.
The underground den or cave is our physical world - the cave in this context being our skull - all we see in our skull is what comes in via the sensory system - a poor imitation of what really exists.
The fire is the Fire layer that separates the entrance of our cave - our cone - and the Aether level.
He also describes the fear of spiritual experience, of admitting that the Light exists and the difficulties of conveying what exists outside the cave to those in it
The steep and rugged ascent is the soul cone - the hill or if you happen to be gifted or have been given a very difficult challenge - the mountain.
A description of the experience
Plato Republic Book VII
And now I will describe in a figure the enlightenment or unenlightenment of our nature:--
Imagine human beings living in an underground den which is open towards the light; they have been there from childhood, having their necks and legs chained, and can only see
into the den. At a distance there is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners a raised way, and a low wall is built along the way, like the screen over which marionette players show their puppets. Behind the wall appear moving figures, who hold in their hands various works of art, and among them images of men and animals, wood and stone, and some of the passers-by are talking and others silent.
'A strange parable,' he said, 'and strange captives.'
They are ourselves, I replied; and they see only the shadows of the images which the fire throws on the wall of the den; to these they give names, and if we add an echo which returns from the wall, the voices of the passengers will seem to proceed from the shadows. Suppose now that you suddenly turn them round and make them look with pain and grief to themselves at the real images; will they believe them to be real? Will not their eyes be dazzled, and will they not try to get away from the light to something which they are able to behold without blinking?
And suppose further, that they are dragged up a steep and rugged ascent into the presence of the sun himself, will not their sight be darkened with the excess of light?
Some time will pass before they get the habit of perceiving at all; and at first they will be able to perceive only shadows and reflections in the water; then they will recognize the moon and the stars, and will at length behold the sun in his own proper place as he is.
Last of all they will conclude:--This is he who gives us the year and the seasons, and is the author of all that we see. How will they rejoice in passing from darkness to light!
How worthless to them will seem the honours and glories of the den! But now imagine further, that they descend into their old habitations;--in that underground dwelling they will not see as well as their fellows, and will not be able to compete with them in the measurement of the shadows on the wall; there will be many jokes about the man who went on a visit to the sun and lost his eyes, and if they find anybody trying to set free and enlighten one of their number, they will put him to death, if they can catch him.
Now the cave or den is the world of sight, the fire is the sun, the way upwards is the way to knowledge, and in the world of knowledge the idea of good is last seen and with difficulty, but when seen is inferred to be the author of good and right--parent of the lord of light in this world, and of truth and understanding in the other.
He who attains to the beatific vision is always going upwards; he is unwilling to descend into political assemblies and courts of law; for his eyes are apt to blink at the images or shadows of images which they behold in them--he cannot enter into the ideas of those who have never in their lives understood the relation of the shadow to the substance.
But blindness is of two kinds, and may be caused either by passing out of darkness into light or out of light into darkness, and a man of sense will distinguish between them, and will not laugh equally at both of them, but the blindness which arises from fullness of light he will deem blessed, and pity the other; or if he laugh at the puzzled soul looking at the sun, he will have more reason to laugh than the inhabitants of the den at those who descend from above.