Saturday, January 31, 2009


In the continuing pursuit of my happiness project I've been doing some reading. Yesterday I was leafing through a short compilation of the writings of Marcus Aurelius who was a Stoic. These days the word stoic conjures up a stone faced guy with a stiff upper lip and no discernible emotions in the face of tragedy. In fact, the Stoics were really the Buddhists of the West. For example, Buddhism embraces the idea that nothing is permanent, and that forming attachments and giving in to cravings creates suffering. Marcus Aurelius wrote:

Why should anyone be afraid of change?
What can take place without it?
What can be more pleasing or suitable to universal Nature?


Of the life of man the duration is but a point, its substance streaming away, its perception dim, the fabric of the entire body prone to decay, and the soul a vortex, and fortune incalculable, and fame uncertain. In a word all things of the body are as a river, and the things of the soul as a dream and a vapour; and life is a warfare and a pilgrim's sojourn, and fame after death is only forgetfulness.


Everything existing is already disintegrating and changing... everything is by nature made but to die. The length of one's life is irrelevant, for look at the yawning gulf of time behind thee and before thee at another infinity to come. In this eternity the life of a baby of three days and the life of a Nestor of three centuries are as one. To desire is to be permanently disappointed and disturbed, since everything we desire in this world is empty and corrupt and paltry.

Buddhists (and yogis) use meditation and mindfulness to heighten awareness and turn the mind into an ally. Marcus Aurelius wrote:

Concentrate on the mind, your ruler: you are old; it's time to stop your mind acting like a slave, pulled puppet-like by the strings of selfish desires.


Stay here in the present. Recognize what is happening to you.

I think Stoics and Buddhists would have gotten on very well.

One of my favorite thoughts so far:

Not becoming like your enemy is the best revenge.

I wish someone had told the former White House administration.

1 comment:

Cosmopolitan Omphaloskepsis said...

Love that last quote!