Article – Allegory of the cave

The allegory of the cave is a philosophical concept introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in his work “The Republic”. It describes a scenario where people are chained in a cave and only able to perceive the shadows of objects projected on the cave wall, mistaking those shadows for reality. The allegory serves as a metaphor for the limited perception and understanding of the material world, as well as the possibility of attaining higher truths through philosophical inquiry and enlightenment. While there may not be an exact equivalent of the allegory of the cave in all religions, there are similar concepts or teachings in various religious and spiritual traditions that convey similar ideas of illusion, ignorance, and enlightenment. 

In Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept of Maya refers to the illusory nature of the material world and the ignorance that keeps individuals from realizing their true nature. The goal of spiritual practice in Hinduism is to transcend Maya and attain self-realization or enlightenment. Many other religions, from the Abrahamic religions to Zoroastrianism and more, employ various metaphors to emphasize the need for the light of truth to triumph over the darkness of ignorance.

Ancient Greece

“Behold! Human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.”
– Plato, Ancient Greek philosopher

Buddhism

“[Bodhidharma] faced the wall of his cave in zazen [meditation] for the last nine years of his life, though he had long ago found that wall, that barrier to be altogether transparent.”
—Robert Aitken, Zen Buddhist teacher and translator

Hinduism

“Few see through the veil of Maya […] Delusion arises from the duality of attraction and aversion, Arjuna; every creature is deluded by these from birth. But those who have freed themselves from all wrongdoing are firmly established in worship of me.”
—The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu text

Christianity

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”
— The New Testament (Matthew 4:16), Christian scripture

Islam

Since you have distanced yourselves from them and what they worship besides Allah, take refuge in the cave. Your Lord will extend His mercy to you and accommodate you in your ordeal.”
–The Qur’an (18:16), Islamic scripture

Sikhism

“Within the cave of the heart, the Divine Light is shining. Focus your meditation upon the Divine Light and all your doubts shall be dispelled.”
— Guru Nanak, founding Sikh prophet

See All Commonalities Across Religions

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