Living With The Question: From Socrates, Via Jean Klein, To Atmananda

In a section entitled “Living with the Question” from Jean Klein’s The Book of Listening, we find the beginning of a fertile conversation:

Q. I would like to ask you what you mean exactly by “the question”?

Jean Klein: The question is the answer. Before the question was formulated, the answer was already there. The answer was there before you were conceived.

Q. So when you say, “Live with the question,” you’re talking only about the ultimate question, not just any question?

JK. Yes, the ultimate question to which all questions, in the end, refer. You come to the ultimate question when you have explored all the relative questions. By relative questions, I mean those questions which do not fully express what you are really looking for. Any question which has a residue of book-knowledge is relative. Any question which comes from memory, from past conditioning, is relative. Any question founded on emotional desire is relative. So question your questions and you will see their limits. This seeing brings you nearer to the nearest: the ultimate question.

We need to understand how, on the path of jnana, it’s important, perhaps even necessary, to begin with Socratic philosophy.

Why here?

Because Socratic philosophy opens one up to “the examined life.” For one so opened, the Socratic question (as the late Bernard Williams would have it) is “how to live.”

Once you get to this point, you’ve already begun turning away from “the world” and toward “the self.” Moreover, to examine a life involves turning every experience over in order to submit it to rational scrutiny.

But this turn, while necessary, is not sufficient since the initiation can leave you stuck in ethics and not yet open to metaphysics.

On the ethical level (i.e., the level of ethos), you want to know how you can live in order to flourish. This is indeed the question of eudaimonia, the one taken up by classical philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, and Epicurus.

What has yet to be questioned, however, is the “I” keen on leading the good life. Therefore, I regard questions “on the ethical level” as borderland questions: they are still relative questions, yet they begin to point back to the ultimate question.

For the ultimate question, alluded to by Jean Klein, is: “Who am I, or what am I?”

Socratic philosophy, by training you to lead an examined life, readies you for the deepest investigation, that into who you are. Thus, the examined life leads naturally on to Atmananda, the Advaita Vedanta teacher who took Socrates beyond himself into nondual contemplation of the highest order. Only now has metaphysics come forth.

Henceforth, the ultimate question cannot but occupy center stage. And since, as Klein rightly states, “the question is the answer,” for one so ripe “this spiritual journey”–which is no journey at all–is almost over. Just live the question and all else will take care of itself.