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Category Archives for "Stoicism"

red pill

A Stoic Zen Red Pill

A Stoic Zen Red Pill (8 min read)


By Ma Dingding


red pill

The Red Pill is a recurrent meme and a widely used expression since the release of the movie The Matrix. Before we define what the “Stoic Red Pill and Zen Red Pill” is, let’s start by defining what the Red Pill is. Then we can go deeper into the subject. 


In this article we will have a look at the following:

-What is the Red Pill

-A STOIC ZEN Red Pill

-5 Steps from Blue Pilled to Stoic Zen Red Pill 

-Recommended Readings


What is the Red Pill?

In the movie The Matrix, Neo, the main character played by Keanu Reeves, is given the choice between the Blue Pill and the Red Pill as stated in this famous dialogue: 

-Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere, even now in this very room. You can see when you look out your window, when you turn on your television, when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes… It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the Truth. 


-What Truth? Asks Neo


-That you are a slave Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.This is your last chance. after this, there is no turning back. you take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I'll show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes..... Remember, all I'm offering you it's the truth, nothing more.” Source: The Matrix (1999) Trademark and Copyright Warner Bros. 


Are we all slaves? Yes, to some extent. There is physical slavery, but there is also slavery of the mind. Advertising, marketing and branding are all battles for your mind… ran by brands and big corporations. Same applies to education, politics, media, and all those lobby groups. 


Some people will not even see the invisible bars of the jail they are in. The Stoic Epictetus was born a slave and eventually gained freedom from his master. We can say that Epictetus’ freedom was a mental one. We can wonder if he even acknowledge the fact that he was a slave. After all, he had his own mind, his own free will. We also have our own free will and we should take it back from the puppeteers that control the strings. 


So taking the Red Pill means seeing the True Nature of things, reality, people, money, success, relationships, the System with a capital “S” and Power with a capital “P”… 


It means understanding the world in a rational and logical manner. It means understanding the world and our human condition for what it is, nothing more, nothing less. It means seeing the invisible principles that run and control us, our life partners, people around us, society, corporations, universities, nature and the world. Hence the expression “being Red Pilled.” 

Pure Reality. 


We will always be stuck in our own perceptions. True. But we can adjust our perceptions and try, yes try, to undo the engineering that has been fabricated by institutions, society and our peers. 


 To take the “Blue pill” means going back sleepwalking into a fabricated artificial life, into fakeness of the world, engineered reality and slavery of external conditions guided by others… blind to the True Nature of all things, the System, Power structures, invisible forces running the world, relationships, life, work, society, money, success, sickness, etc.


For some people, Red Pill would mean a physical, emotional, spiritual and mental implosion. Some people are better to stay in the Blue Pilled world.  

  

Does it make sense? 



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A STOIC ZEN Red Pill

The Red Pill cannot be unswallowed. For a lot of people, it tastes bitter. They would rather go back to that sweetened version of reality where everybody is happy and all the problems are brushed under a carpet to be forgotten of. 


Keep in mind that no matter how “rational” you are, anything that you come across that shakes your beliefs, your perceptions and your ground into Life… will bring you in an emotional roller-coaster


When you see IT, you cannot unsee it. You will have spasms of rejection, denial and you may even feel frustration, sadness, despair as well as hopelessness. It is important that you listen to your feelings. 


At STOIC & ZEN we believe that the concept of Red Pill is essential to understand the True Nature of all things in our modern societies. The cultural, social, economical and sexual dynamics influence our perception of the world, shape our values and directly affect our relationships with the opposite sex. 


In Zen, Enlightenment is the source of the understanding of all things, or seeing the True Nature of the world… and Enlightenment is reached by practicing meditation and in some schools, using a more intellectual approach like the use of Zen riddles. Understanding oneself and the interdependence of all things  in the Universe brings the realization that we are all One. Although it starts with the Self, Zen’s Enlightenment is an intuitive approach that is non-rational as well as non-logical. It aggregates everything and sums it up into an enhanced state of awareness for the practitioner.  


The strength of Zen is the non-Thinking Mind. It can see through a lot of things like an X-ray machine can see through layers and layers of hiding material. This non-Thinking Mind also helps us understand our own feelings, what is deeply ingrained in us, what moves us and what will bring us into action. The keyword here is intuition. However, the rational side is missing in Zen. 


In Stoicism, there is no clash with reality per se. There is no sudden Awakening to the nature of all things, whether good or bad. In Stoic philosophy there is only a rational view of the world. However, deep in our guts, we may sometimes realized or come to the conclusion that “something does not feel right, it just does not make sense.” It is our subconscious speaking the Truth while the conscious mind represses the Truth… as a way to safeguard the organism, some kind of survival mechanism that avoids any type of pain. 


The Mind can go on a transformative endeavor and crush the barriers to let the subconscious express itself, the rational Mind can leverage the subconscious by bringing the rational/non-rational Mind into a journey of discovery and change. “Changework” requires openness, it means being willing to jump at the top of the slippery slope to go down the rabbit hole. The Rational mind can read, learn, analysis, compare, search for meaning and open the way to inner transformation (with the help of the subconscious.) The keyword here is rationality. But the intuitive side is missing in Stoicism. 


The lesson for a Stoic Zen would be to follow our intuition as we can say that our subconscious, the operating system that works in the background, can help us make better choices. But not always. If you are not “Red Pilled,” your intuition is likely to play tricks on you and negate whatever alarm bells it triggered.  As for the rational side, you need to make a rational choice, on your own, to swallow the Red Pill and switch how you perceive the visible reality and the invisible dynamics that rules it. Once you have swallowed the Red Pill, you realize that you see the Truth, the ugliness, the beauty, the good, the bad, the underlying principles beneath the surface of relationships, money, success and the System.


A STOIC & ZEN Red Pill makes use of both intuition and rationality to understand our feeling and bring a change in perception. This is done by acknowledging that we have: 

-feelings (that keep the rational mind at bay)

-a subconscious (the operating system, the bouncer at the door of rationality if you will, that you need to go through to start “changework”)

-a rational mind (the high performance machine that analyzes information, retains it, compares it with other sources, process it and is likely to make us into human beings with higher states of awareness, social skills, enhanced control and refined perceptions)



5 Steps from Blue Pill to Stoic Zen Red Pill 

The 5 steps from a Blue Pill awareness to a Stoic Zen Red Pill awareness are surprisingly simple: 

1-Trigger: Your INTUITION speaks to you, you FEEL that there is something wrong, somewhere, you do not really know what. You stumble upon a small piece of information that triggers your curiosity and brings you on the Way. 


2-Research: Your RATIONAL MIND, helped by your INTUITION, makes the logical choice to gather information and THINK, to look out for information on the web, watch videos, read forums, read books, listen to audiobooks…


3-Shock: Your FEELINGS shake your beliefs system. You go through denial, rejection… and then you realize the Truth and go through despair, hopelessness, a sense that your world has changed. At this step you will either flatly reject all the new ideas and go back to the Blue Pill world (and insult anyone who talks about the Red Pill,) or go further down the Red Pill rabbit hole. The SUBSCONSCIOUS wants to reject the new ideas to keep the organism safe… at the same time, the seed has already been planted into the subconscious. This seems like a dichotomy, but remember that the world is not always rational, we still do not know if the chicken came before the egg after all. 


4-Changework: The RATIONAL MIND will gather more and more information that you will use in your battle against your own operating system (active in the background 24/7,) the SUBCONSCIOUS. It takes a lot of time, a lot. You will still go back to your old Blue Pill attitude. But the changework has already began and the more you work on yourself, the more the changework will be effective. The final battle, for everybody,  is always and will always be against our own SUBCONSCIOUS.


5-Sharing: You start exchanging with other men, talking about it, commenting on videos, sharing experiences with an online community… Keep in mind that some men will always be Blue Pilled, and for some, it is preferable to remain so. Choose who you share with carefully.


We suggest that on top of all of the changework, you include a Zen meditation practice, to develop your intuition and know yourself better, as well as continue your interest in Stoicism, to develop your rationality and your acceptance of external events. We wrote an article on how to do Zen meditation here


A WARNING:

The Red Pill shakes everybody. Rational-types and Emotional-types alike. 

Why? Because it shakes your beliefs to the core. 

The longer you have been in The Matrix, the harder it is to go into rehab and get it out of your system.  

Just keep in mind that you will never leave The Matrix no matter how hard you try. You can only cope with it and learn how to fly with the wind.


But The Red Pill brings a new level of awareness, a new enhanced perception, an enhanced  understanding of the underlying principles of our modern world, especially when it comes to dating, being in a relationship and being married. 


The Stoic Zen Red Pill is like seeing the world with a new pair of eyes. 


It is similar to the pair of glasses in the movie They Live (1988,) where the main actor can see the aliens and all hidden messages hidden Truth in reality when he is wearing the special sunglasses… but only sees the normal reality that we all see in our daily lives when he is not wearing the glasses. When he is wearing the glasses, he sees the True Nature of Reality: aliens are controlling us, all messages on TV, billboards, magazines… are there to control us (e.g. “Consume,” “Obey,” “No Independent Thought,” “Watch TV,” “No Independent Thought,” “Marry and Reproduce,” “Work 8 hours Sleep 8 hours Play 8 hours,” etc.) The director of the movie, John Carpenter, said that the movie “was a documentary.” It even became a meme on the internet to mock the different views of a similar situation by people who have different system of values. You can watch the scene I am talking about on Youtube here


Recommended Readings


About The Red Pill and relationships with Women

The Rational Male by Rollo Tomassi, the man behind the blog therationalmale.com where he talks about the intergender dynamics. The Rational Male is a book that every man should read in order to avoid the pitfalls of relationships in dating, relationships and marriage. The book will teach you how to be a man, how to interact with women and will shake your core beliefs to make you into a better version of yourself, a Red Pill you that is. If the Red Pill topics of seduction, masculinity, healing, communication, leading, female hypergamy, passive-aggressive behaviors… ring a bell, you should read this book. 


No More Mr.Nice Guy by Dr.Robert Glover, a certified family therapist, is a book about how “being nice,” not fulfilling one’s needs brings unhappiness and frustrations that are often deflected on our own Self as well as people around us. The book also includes 50 step-by-step exercises to help you make better bonds with women, listen to your emotions, enjoy your sex life, live a fulfilling live and bond with a community of men. 


About The Matrix

The philosopher, sociologist and cultural theorist, Professor Jean Baudrillard wrote his philosophical treatise Simulacres et simulation (Simulacra and Simulation) in 1981. This book was the main inspiration behind the movie the Matrix. If you are interested in knowing more about Baudrillard’s treatise that talks about symbols, society, reality, virtual reality, the shared existence of culture, the media and how our societies are constructed, we recommend that you get a copy of his book. 


Baudrillard rejected The Matrix, he believed that the movie made too obvious the difference between the “Real World” and the world of “The Matrix”… he believes that the accurate approach would be a situation where we do not have any clear idea if we are in the “Real World” or “The Matrix.” In other words, Baudrillard believed that The Matrix should not have a black and white approach, the screenwriters should have approached his work as a grey zone. 



Let us know if you are still Blue Pilled or if you have experienced with the Red Pill, Black Pill or the Purple Pill !


Shoot us an email here


We also wrote an article on Porn and Stoicism, read it here


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My Red Pilled Friend. 

5 Ways to Boost FOCUS + PRODUCTIVITY like a ZEN MONK

  • Learn the Art of Zen Productivity
  • Upgrade your own Internal Operating System
  • Be Productive, Efficient, and Get Stuff Done

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Porn and Stoicism

Porn and Stoicism (5 min read)


By Ma Dingding



What would the Stoics say about pornography? 

What do Stoics think of porn? 


For us, living in our modern time, porn is almost omnipresent in our lives. 

Let’s explore what a Stoic approach to porn is. 


What is porn?

The word “porn” is the abbreviation of the word “pornography.” Pornography is visual and sometimes auditory material depicting sexual acts or states that is consumed for sexual gratification. The material can take the form of text, drawings, paintings, images, videos, animations, sounds and objects. 


For some people something may be considered porn whether the exact same thing may not be considered porn by someone else, for example, in the case of an art piece. It is a matter of perspective, but we can agree to disagree to say that people do not consume videos of gangbang scenes for pure entertainment or love of the arts. 


We do not intend to enter in a scientific, academic, sociological, moral, ethical or DSM-5 based debate here… but we want to explore porn from a Stoic perspective. 


What would the Stoic Seneca say about porn? Would Epictetus reject pornography? What Marcus Aurelius thinks about porn?


Pornography etymology

Before jumping deeper in the subject let’s have a look at the definitions. 


Etymonline says that pornography is: "ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus," from French pornographie, from Greek pornographos "(one) depicting prostitutes," from porne "prostitute," originally "bought, purchased" (with an original notion, probably of "female slave sold for prostitution"), related to pernanai "to sell" (from PIE *perə-, variant of root *per- (5) "to traffic in, to sell") + graphein "to write" (see -graphy). […] “ Pornography, or obscene painting, which in the time of the Romans was practiced with the grossest license, prevailed especially at no particular period in Greece, but was apparently tolerated to a considerable extent at all times.” Source: Etymonline 


The first part of the definition talks about Bacchus. Bacchus (Dionysus in Greek) in Ancient Greece and Rome was the God of wine. It is also the God of debauchery… and fertility. It is interesting to see the mix that this God possesses subconsciously: alcohol, sex and reproductivity. Alcohol facilitates sex, and sex brings Life. 


Nietzsche wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, about Dionysus as a God of chaos and Apollonius as a God order, similarly to the duality present in the Taoist Yin ang Yang (the black/white circle with the white/black dots) of the Chinese. Coming from the man who wrote about the uebermensch, we can assume that the topic is quite interesting. I read the book myself as a Philosophy student as part of my university studies. Of course, we are oversimplifying, but you get the point. 


The second part of the definition talks about “depicting prostitutes” and “female slave sold for prostitution.” So for the Ancient Greeks, pornography also had an element of exploitation. So the scope of pornography is much wider that the simple fact of watching people “doing it.” There is a money transaction and sometimes even exploitation. Can we make a new word and call it “sexploitation”? 


This reminds me of a story that I heard about 20 years ago. My first “real job” was in a company that was developing online dating agencies. We are talking about the pre-Facebook, people did not even have digital cameras yet… they would send us pictures, we would scan them, and add upload the pictures to their account. 


A colleague of mine, a web developer, used to work at a porn company. One of his co-worker had to watch everything to “filter” content that they bought in bulk, and reject content that was deemed illegal. Some of the illegal content was precisely about exploitation. I will not go into details as some of the stories he told me are horrific, but one of the conclusions is that we never really know the conditions in which porn was produced… and we never really know what we are watching.  


STOIC & ZEN newsletter

-Zen Stories and Stoic Insights

-Tools and Strategies

-Questions and Answers from MC

-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

-Productivity like a Zen Monk

-Reflections on Life

...


What would Stoics say about Porn?

Following the Stoic rational approach to life, Stoics would have a logical look at pornography


The Stoics may well look at porn as another reality of the lives we live on this planet: it IS. 

Porn exists. It is a product. It is a sevice. Some people consume, some other have no interest. 


Another fact of life is that sexuality and sexual desires part of the natural cycle of life. Sexuality is also regulated by hormones, seasons, age, sex, personality, etc. 


So if porn exists, and that sexuality is part of the natural order, we can assume that porn is somehow filling up a need that we human beings have. 


This does not mean that as Stoics we should look out for it. It does not mean that we should not consumer it either. 


If we look at pornography from the values the Stoics hold, especially from the temperance point-of-view, that is moderation and a form of limited restraint, Stoic would say that we should not indulge in over-consuming pornography. 


Another element to consider is self-control over passions. If porn is a source of passion, then self-control should be exercised. If porn is not a source of passion, then self-control is naturally not necessary. 


But aren’t matters related to natural urges linked to passions? We are aware that desires can bring passion along with them. So we should be careful how we deal with them and constantly assess the impact they have on our lives, and readjust when necessary. 


We are what we consume

There is the saying “We are what we consume.” 

If the input is positive, the output is likely to be positive. 

If the input is negative, the output is likely to be negative. 


If you only eat fast-food, you are likely to be physically unhealthy. 

If you watch violence, you are likely to be mentally unhealthy. 


As we have seen earlier, we really never know the conditions in which porn is produced. 

The same logic applies to food. 

Would you ingest food that look unhealthy or was produced in conditions that seem suspect? 


Now the question is: Is porn positive or negative? 


Is all porn created equal? Probably not… 

Are there degrees of intensity in the porn industry? I think we can agree that the answer is “yes.”


Now, one aspect that people disregard when talking about porn is its effect on our subconscious. It is very hard to measure the effect that porn has on our subconscious, which is our operating system operating in the background of our minds.


Our subconscious rules pretty much everything we do, think, feel… and it affects our system of beliefs, our values, how we engage with people and how we react to the world. 


Porn is giving up our own power, our own mind, to someone else or something else that manipulates us. 


However, we can measure the effect porn has on our conscious mind.

Porn’s effects on the Stoic brain

There are numerous studies, sometimes contradictory, on the effect of porn on the brain. 


The first question to ask is: Is porn addictive? It seems that porn, for some people, is addictive. So any Stoic who has a weakness with addiction will need to use self-restraint in this particular case. 


The second question is: Does porn reflect the Natural Law of life? Stoics would probably say that porn depicts a false representation of what actual relationships are in the “real life” for the average people. (Another element is the effect that porn has on our relationships: isn’t better to spend our time with real people instead of virtual ones?)


The third questions is: For some people porn provides a relief from stress, but does this constitute a healthy way to relieve stress? There are better ways to relieve stress that have almost the same exact effect and are more beneficial, for example doing exercise.


The final, and gist of the argument, does porn affect the brain: There are plenty of studies that show that it… does. You can have a look by yourself here:

https://fightthenewdrug.org/scientific-studies-porn-use-brain/

http://greymattersjournal.com/the-brain-on-porn/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4600144/


What should Stoics do about porn?

If you want a Virtuous life, then you need to consider if porn levels up that virtuousness or brings it down. 

Stoics put the emphasis on creating habits and living a life of Virtue, focused on self-control and free from passions. 


We do not have the answer on what you should do and what Stoics should do about porn.


You can ask yourself the following questions: 

-Why is porn so readily available and free? (cui bono, to whom is it a benefit?)

-Can you control yourself and avoid addiction and over-indulgence? 

-Is porn a meaningless fleeting pleasure?

-Would you allow in your body, and in your mind, something that may influence you negatively? 

-Is porn part of a virtuous life?


What would Marcus Aurelius say if he was to stumble on PornHub? Would he take his executive powers to ban it?


Tell us what you think Marcus Aurelius would do !


We also wrote an articles about the Stoic Zen Red Pill, have a look here.


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My Friend. 


5 Ways to Boost FOCUS + PRODUCTIVITY like a ZEN MONK

  • Learn the Art of Zen Productivity
  • Upgrade your own Internal Operating System
  • Be Productive, Efficient, and Get Stuff Done

We hate SPAM too. Unsubscribe anytime by sending us an email or clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the emails. By clicking you accept to receive a welcome email and newsletters once in a while. All info is kept confidential and is not sold to Third Parties.

Similitudes: Stoicism and Buddhism

Similarities: Buddhism and Stoicism (24 min read)


By Ma Dingding


A Stoic is a Buddhist with attitude.” -Nassim Taleb (writer, professor, investor, researcher)


The similarities between Stoics and Buddhists bring to mind a familiar quote, “great minds think alike.” 


In this article we will explore the following topics: 

  • Historical Background
  • Core Beliefs
  • Laws of Nature and the Universe
  • Impermanence
  • Interconnectedness of All Things
  • Non-Self and the Ego
  • The Now and Amor Fati
  • Control and Self-Control
  • Perceptions, Attention and Mindfulness
  • Passions and Desires
  • Equanimity and Compassion
  • Focus
  • Enlightenment (Nirvana) and Joy
  • Intention
  • Death, Memento Mori and Premeditatio Malorum
  • God(s) and the Universe
  • Scriptures and Books




Historical Background 

Did you know that Buddhism, was once part of the Greek Empire? Between 400BC and 500AD, due to conquests by Alexander the Great in the Indian subcontinent, a form of Greco-Buddhism developed among certain people living in the region. Even Afghanistan was a Buddhist country!  Even nowadays you can see, in museums, Greek coins with the Greek name for Buddha (ΒΟΔΔΟ "Boddo”) as well as Buddhist symbols like the dharma wheel, the Buddha, etc. The style of most Buddha statues is directly inspired by the Greek sculptures. 


Buddhism started in present day Nepal, in Ancient India, about 600-500BC. The historical Buddha was a prince that left home, wife, kids and the life of a member of the royal family to follow other men who were following ascetic practices. After a few years of extreme practise, exhausting the body and almost perishing during meditation, the Buddha realized that the way was not to torture the body, but simply to be aware that life is suffering and transient, and that the way out of this suffering cause by desire and clinging, was to follow a set of guiding rules as well as meditation


From there Buddhism moved to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia to form the Theravada tradition, the closest form of Buddhism to the original teachings. Then to the Tibetan tradition and the Mahayana tradition (aka “The Great Vehicle”) in the sinicized world of China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. 


The teachings of Buddhism are transmitted verbally and through practice, face-to-face, from teacher-to-student. This means that each teacher, no matter the tradition, is in line with a lineage that goes back to the historical Buddha himself. Though it is common to see Buddhist concepts written in Sanskrit, the language at the time of the Buddha was the Pali language.


It is an interesting thought experiment to imagine that some men, thousands of miles away, almost at the same time, developed a philosophical system called Stoicism, a philosophy that is strikingly similar to Buddhism. 


The Stoic School of philosophy was born in Athens in 330BC and founded by a man named Zeno of Citium. Zeno of Citium insisted that human beings should live in according with the laws of Nature and avoid negative emotions like desire and pleasure (as well as fear and sorrow) and live a life of wisdom and virtue. 


The transmission of Stoic thought was done in public speakings, from teacher to studen, by groups of people debating ideas as well as through written works that survived millenia. 



Core Beliefs

Stoicism is a loosely united philosophical school that has well-known figureheads, it is easy for anyone to find information about Stoicism since the writings that survived the past 2,000 years remained somehow intact in their content. 


What is interesting in both philosophies is that both are everyday life practices, if not real-life praxis. 


In the case of Buddhism, there are so many different traditions, and within those traditions, so many different schools and sects, that is it difficult to summarize the core concepts of Buddhism with a capital B. However, the core Beliefs, for example the belief that attachement to elements that are impermanent is the cause of suffering, is a core belief held by all traditions under the Buddhist umbrella. 


Firstly, we will examine the core beliefs of both Stoicism and Buddhism. Secondly, we will dig into the core concepts within each philosophies. As you know, STOIC & ZEN is about Stoicism and Zen rather than Stoicism and Buddhism, but as Zen is also a part of the Buddhist tradition, we decided to write series of articles that will talk about Stoic philosophy and Buddhism, as well as a separate series specifically for the case of Zen’s common points with Stoic thought


STOIC & ZEN newsletter

-Zen Stories and Stoic Insights

-Tools and Strategies

-Questions and Answers from MC

-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

-Productivity like a Zen Monk

-Reflections on Life

...


Antonia Macaro, Professor and author of books on Stoic philosophy, wrote that the similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism can be highlighted in their view of the Human Condition, regardless of their differences. This statement is not surprising considering the fact that Professor Macaro is also an Existential Psychologist


She is indeed right: existentialism, a philosophical school that puts the emphasis on free will and responsibility of the individual in terms of thoughts, development and action, is compatible with Stoicism and Buddhism to some extent. 


It is not surprising that there is a revival of both philosophies nowadays as modern people who are exposed to their ideas sometimes get an existential punch in the gut. 


To get back to our main topic, the Buddhists believe that life is suffering, that clinging to things and people in an impermanent world bring unhappiness, and that there is a way out of that happiness. The Buddhists describe the 8 worldly conditions of human condition:


Buddhism: The 8 Worldly Conditions (or 8 Worldly Vicissitudes)

  • Gain and Loss
  • Fame and Disgrace
  • Praise and Blame
  • Pleasure and Pain


The answer to live a good life and live in awareness of those 8 Worldly Vicissitudes lies in the 5 Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path


5 Precepts (or Rules of Training)

  • Abstention from Killing
  • Abstention from Theft
  • Abstention from Sexual Misconduct
  • Abstention from Falsehood
  • Abstention from Intoxication


The precepts is the basic Code of Ethics for Buddhists, whether they are ordained monks or laypersons. Following the precepts gives character, focus, good karma and constitute a path to enlightenment. 


On top of that, ordained monks make the vows to follow the Noble Eightfold Path:


Noble Eightfold Path

  • Right View
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration
  • Right Aspiration


Most Buddhist traditions also have rituals, practices and celebrations such as chanting, bowing, reciting sutras, and last but not least, introspective meditation practices. 


We can agree that the rules are pretty straightforward and positive. 

Depending on the Buddhist tradition, there are differences in how the above rules are integrated with the beliefs, for example, following them leads to liberation from the cycle of rebirths in one tradition or as an understanding of how the body-mind corruption system works. Those are details that are not the topic of this article. 


Stoic philosophy answers Life by providing a set of positive guidelines. 

The list is not exhaustive, nor official, but if we had a checklist we could say that Stoic philosophers all respect the below:


Stoics: 4 Core Precepts


  • Living in accordance with Nature
  • Self-control in regards to pleasure, ignorance, envy, anger, pain, fear…
  • Acceptance of events outside of our control
  • Freedom from passion by using the rational mind


The 4 Core Precepts of Stoicism are the basis of Stoic Ethics. 


As part of the Stoic Ethic’s system, there are what we called the 4 main Cardinal Virtues, just keep in mind that the list is not exhaustive:


The 4 Cardinal Virtues

  • Wisdom
  • Justice
  • Courage
  • Temperance


Virtue is seen as the way for a Good Life and being a good person. 


…and the list goes on: 

  • Equanimity
  • Humility
  • Discipline
  • Modesty
  • Reflection
  • Compassion
  • Active in Society


Now, when we compare both Greco-Roman religion and philosophy with the Eastern religions, we can agree that they are compatible in terms philosophical direction they give to their practitioners’ lives: be a better person. 


The rules are clear and simple. 

The precepts are positive and relatively easy to follow. 

Even though Buddhism is an organized religion with rituals, temples, chants, ordained monks… we believe that both beliefs systems are compatible and not mutually exclusive. 



Concepts: Similitudes Between Stoic Philosophy and Buddhist Religion

To go a little bit deeper in our analysis we will have a look at some concepts.



Laws of Nature and the Universe

Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoa of Attalos, the original Stoic School in the agora of Athens, put a strong emphasis on living in accordance with the Laws of Nature. For Stoics, everything that is, is going in perfect harmony with the flow of nature and everything that happens goes according to its invisible rules. Trying to fight nature is an unnatural endeavor and can only lead to a unhappy life. People evolve in the arena of Life where the rule of Nature is overwhelming when compared to the individual human being. 


In the case of Buddhism, we could say that the Laws of Nature are viewed a little differently, with the emphasis put on the Universe. Similarly to the Stoics, Buddhists see the Universe as having its own set of cycles of Birth, Decay and Death


““All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature.” -Zeno of Citium, Founder of the Stoic School of Philosophy



Impermanence

This brings us to the topic of Impermanence: the core of Buddhists teachings is always linked, one way or another, to the fact that we live in an impermanent world. 


“We never set foot twice in the same river” like the  saying says. Clinging to conditions, things, people… is THE source of suffering. Liberation only comes to those who can accept the fact that we live in an impermanent world and who fully embrace this basic condition of our Universe. 




On the Daily Stoic’s website, Ryan Holiday sums up pretty well the Stoic view on impermanence: “[…] the permanent thing is impermanence. Money, power, fame, influence—these are ephemeral. As is our very existences on this planet. That there’s real wisdom to be found in the notion that you’re a speck in the universe’s broad history, and that your time is limited. Accept that it is, and you’ll open yourself up to a clarity—and possibly even a contentment—that you didn’t know.




Interconnectedness of All Things

Impermanence affects everything, but it is perfectly logical in the grand scheme of the Laws of Nature: the cow’s dung helps plants grows, plants feed the cows, the cow’s gut bacteria and metabolism process the nutrients, the cow produces milk… and so goes the cycle of Life and Death. Both Stoics and Buddhists agree on this. 


But beyond this cycle lies another important concept in Buddhism: the Interconnectedness of All Things. Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh talks about “interbeing:” in the flower we can see the sun, and in the sun we can see the flower; in yourself lies your ancestors’ genes, in your kids lies yourself… 


Some traditions of Buddhism talk about Reincarnation (where Death is a liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering) and Karma (a concept greatly misunderstood, “Karma is action and reaction” rather than some kind of accounting book of good and bad deeds.)


Marcus Aurelius, the famous Roman Emperor, also talks about the concept of interconnectedness in his Meditations: "Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other—for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.” In Stoicism this concept is referred to as “Sympatheia.” 




Non-Self and the Ego

If we live in a world where everything is interconnected, and everything composed and made of other elements, then there is no real Self with a capital S. 


For the Buddhists, the Self, or the Ego like the Stoics would say, is an illusion. 

This mean that fundamentally the Self is a creation of the Self

To go beyond the Self, to see through the figments of the imagination, we need to acknowledge that there is no Self


Non-Self does not mean that there is No-Self. Both terms are not to be mixed. 

Non-Self means to go beyond the constructed Self. 

Non-Self is a way to go beyond “Me, Myself and I.” 

Non-Self transcends what the Buddhists call material forms, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications and consciousness… which are the source of clinging and thus, suffering. 


The Stoics may disagree on this specific reading of the Self, but would probably agree on the fact that the Ego is a false representation of who we can be, that stops us from attaining higher degrees of Wisdom. 


With this information in hands, we could agree to disagree that the Non-Self is a way to see the world with a clarity that would not be possible to attain with the Ego in the way. 


There is a physical person, with a mind, and this mind tends to be self-centered, judgemental, narcissistic… and the Ego is a filter which sole objective to do everything it can to satisfy its own agenda, regardless of objectives conditions.  


By reminding ourselves that the Ego is in the way to clarity, we can see the world how it really is, but only if we are able to overcome it. 


All human beings are deluded by our brains and become absent-minded because of our discriminating minds.”  -Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought



The Now and Amor Fati

If we live in an impermanent world, where everything is doomed to decay and disappear, where there is no yesterday and no tomorrow… then what do we have?


The Now. 


Living in the present moment with full awareness and in a mindful manner is the Buddhist’s answer to trying to cling to the past and the future. The Now is the only thing we really “have.”


In “On the Tranquility of Mind” (De Tranquillitate Animi) Seneca also bring the topic of living in the Now

Two elements must be rooted out once and for all”

The fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering. 

Since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet.


The Now brings us to the Stoic concept of “Amor Fati.”

No matter what happens to you, “Love your Fate.”

Embrace everything that happens to you, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Live it fully, do not reject it. 


Buddhism gives us tools to bring us back in the Now and go beyond the Ego: Meditation



Control and Self-Control

Men are disturbed not by events but by their opinion about events.” -Epictetus


To be fully immersed in our own Now, we need to have the capacity for introversion, this is even true for someone who is extroverted. 


Everything and anything outside our control is… well, outside of our control. Politics, conflicts, the weather, the economy, what people say on social media, accidents happening around the world… even though we are all interconnected, we do not necessarily have a direct influence on things, people and conditions outside our reach. 


Even life-altering events such as sickness, the death of a loved one, accidents, adversity, injustice, and other negative events should not unbalance our psyche. We should be prepared for anything and everything.  The practice of Premeditatio Malorum, pre-emptively thinking about what could happen to us, our friends, our loved ones and people we come across in our lives as social beings is a good exercise to be ready if things were to happen, and not let emotions overwhelm us. This is not an excuse not to pursue wisdom, but it is a rational constatation of what reality can sometimes be, and the type of rocks that life can sometimes throw at us. 


We live in a transient world, and in such a world, the Laws of Nature do not discriminate. 

In order not to be fooled, one needs to be prepared and somehow detached. 


Control what you can control, the rest will go according to the flow of the Laws of nature. 

The only person control is yourself, and the only things you can control as the things within arm’s reach would say the Stoics. 


Buddhists put the emphasis on the concept that attachment is a source of suffering. A way out of suffering is to attain Enlightenment, through a process of transformation that is done by exploring the grand themes of human existence, such as Death, Life, Relationships, the Universe and the Meaning of Life, but also via a practice of sitting meditation. Enlightenment is thought to be a non-rational, non-logical understanding of the Truth of Life, the Universe and Being. 


In some traditions like the Hinayana tradition (e.g. Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos) Enlightenment is a personal matter (hence the name “The Small Vehicle”) and in the Mahayana tradition (e.g. China, Japan, Korea), Enlightenment is seen as a more collective endeavor (“the Great Vehicle”) where monks also help others attaining this supreme state. 


One big advantage of meditation is that it brings a balance of body-mind as well as a development of the intuition faculty. But the biggest advantage of meditation practice is when the practitioner is able to reach a mental state of that the Buddhists call the “non-Thinking Mind”. 


For Buddhists, not much is in our control, the Laws of the Universe just work tirelessly day and night, no matter what the circumstances are. But choosing the path to a better life is possible. What the Stoics would call “Living a life of wisdom” the Buddhists would call “Living a life following the path.” The path being choosing to follow the 5 Precepts and the Eightfold Noble Path. As we mentioned, Non-Self is not No-Self. So individuals can indeed make their own choices. 


In a Universe where even supernovas are not eternal, the best way to live a right life is to avoid becoming dependent on worldly pleasures, letting emotions control us, denying the importance of ephemeral and vain things like wealth, status and glories… or at least, be comfortable and content with what we have and what we have not. 


Perceptions, Attention and Mindfulness

There is a famous story that I cannot remember the name, nor all the details. Roughly, it goes like this: 


“A monk was drinking with a friend who was complaining that he was poor, unsuccessful and unhappy. While is friend, in his drunken state, lost a bit of his attention to what was going on around him, his monk friend secretly put a big diamond in his pocket. They both went their way later in the evening. 


A long time after this evening, the poor man ran into his friend, the monk. The monk asked him how he was. As usual, he replied that he is poor, unsuccessful and unhappy. 


The monk asked his friend to look into his pocket… and the poor man found the big diamond and suddenly realized that he had been rich this whole time without even realizing it.”


This is a typical Zen riddle, called a koan, with a twist that intends to teach us important lessons without the usage of the rational thinking mind. This story is pretty explicit compared to other Zen riddles, but the matter of fact is that fundamentally, the story teaches us that it is all a matter of perspective. 


What is important in this story is not the diamond. The gist of the story is the fact that the man believed himself to be poor, when he was factually rich. 


The lesson is: our perceptions trick us.

They trick us about ourselves, our emotions, our status, our situation, being offended and getting emotional over a post on social media…

They trick us about others, their real value as human beings regardless of their social status, what people intended to say or do…



The world is all a matter of perspective. 

Go Wash your Bowl” is a good Buddhist story that fits precisely with Stoic’s stance on perceptions: they trick our Self and our Ego into falsehoods, false black-or-white unipolar statements and self-centerness. 


Stoics were also proponents of the use of puzzles, propositional logic, paradoxes and argument analysis in order to bring people to be aware of their own inherent and universal knowledge. This practice was done through their study of Logic (along with Ethics and Physics.) Dialectic was a preferred mode in Ancient Greece to bring people to knowledge by using the rational mind and intellectual reflections. 


The Stoics believe that false conceptions (oiêsis,) which are the results of false perceptions in a certain manner, that cause a breakdown of the soul and the lives of people. False conceptions are a cause of error and can be classified in the same realm as emotions, something we need to be weary of. 


The Stoics had a concept of introspective attention called “prosochē,” attention given to the thoughts, the actions, the perceptions, the present moment… to be wary of the delusions that are the fruit of our imagination and our minds. It is almost like taking the viewpoint of a 3rd party outside our bodies and minds in order to look and reflect, rationally, on “what is going on” in the flow of thoughts and feelings. We could say that this practise of “prosochē” is a reminder of the Stoic rules of life separating what is advisable from what is not.  


The Buddist term “sati,” which means “to remember,” is often translated as “mindfulness.” Both terms are somewhat similar in the sense that they both put the emphasis on the present moment and choosing the good over the bad, however mindfulness has more aspects to it:


And what is the faculty of mindfulness? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. He remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves... the mind in & of itself... mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. This is called the faculty of mindfulness.” 

-"Indriya-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of the Mental Faculties" (SN 48.10), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), August 1st 2019, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn48/sn48.010.than.html



Passions and Desires

Rationality and logic are extremely important for Stoics whether as for Buddhists intuition and experience are more valuable. 


For the Stoics, the Rational Mind is the main element of Virtue, and thus, Happiness. It is a Happiness that is not overwhelming, no Stoic is hyper hypo dancing on the rainbow, and this type of happiness is more an inner sense of being satisfied no matter what the external elements are. Apatheia is the term that the Stoics used to refer to the concept of being free from passions. 


Buddhist will usually avoid the rational thinking mind as they believe that the Ego, or the Self, cannot see the fundamental True Nature of the world. Buddhism is sometimes tagged as “anti-Life,” which is a judgement that is a bit harsh. Let’s not forget that Buddhism comes from a time where extreme ascetic practices were common. 


The historical Buddha himself succumbed to this false belief that emotions need to be suppressed and bodily needs removed to the point of reaching near Death. But after a few years of practice the Buddha realized that torturing the body was not “The Way” to a real deep understanding of the True Nature of everything. 


So we should not see Buddhism as being an “anti-Life” religion. Nobody whips themselves in Buddhist temples. 


The Greeks referred to ascetism (askēsis) as a rigorous training or an exercise that applied to both spiritual practice and physical competition training. In the case of the Greeks, the term does not have a connotation of bringing the body in self-denial extremes. 


Even though the medium to see the world and interpret it is different, the objective remains the same: not letting passions and desires take over, and avoiding the slippery slope of vice, overindulgence and addiction to external conditions. Practitioners of Stoic philosophy use Rationality; practitioners of Buddhism use the precepts and ethics to guide their thoughts, actions and judgements. Meditation is a real-life tool used to achieve a greater sense of awareness, and who is more aware, is less tempted. 


There is also a term in Buddhism, similar to ”apatheia“ but you may not hear it very often in Buddhist circles, except maybe in older Buddhist traditions practiced in Thailand, Sri Lanka… and possibly in Tibetan Buddhism as well. The term is “upekkha.” A balance brought by a combination of awareness, understanding of the human nature and respect for the Buddhist Ethics. 


It is important to point out that equanimity was valued not because of the mental state itself but because it reflected a truthful understanding of the world.



Equanimity and Compassion

With all those conceptual tools in hands, we can assume that both Stoics and Buddhists can face the world in a balanced manner. 


This brings us to the topic of equanimity. Equanimity is not a word we hear in every day life so let’s have a look at the definition first: even-tempered, to bear with a calm mind, emotional calmness and balance in times of stress. 


Stoics are often accused to be emotionless. This could not be further from the truth. Indeed a lot of militaries around the world have Stoic characteristics in their demeanor. A lot of Stoics themselves were soldiers and saw action like Marcus Aurelius, who probably survived assassination attempts and conspiracies as a Roman Emperor, like Epictetus some were former slaves, some were even forced to commit suicide, ask Seneca. Stockdale survived 7 years at the Hanoi Hilton, tortured, starved, humiliated, during the Vietname War. 


What few people are aware of is that a lot of military figures were Buddhists, it is believed that even the founder of the Zen tradition, Bodhidharma, was an ex-soldier himself in India, before crossing to China. This probably explains why he founded the Shaolin Kung Fu school with Chinese monks, a school that is still in operations as we speak today. Samurai warriors were also followers of the Rinzai Zen tradition. Anyone who has been to Kyoto can still see the impact that samurai and Zen cultures had on the city. The city was even attacked by warrior monks multiple times in the course of its history. 


Who else needs to be better equipped to face adversity than the warrior who may be hurt, imprisoned, tortured and executed? 


Equanimity is a great quality in a world where everything is impermanent. It goes hands in hands with the Laws of Nature, ready to ride any wave that the ocean of life sends their way. 


So equanimity is the result of a balanced body and mind. Equanimity is a state. Equanimity requires taking control over ourselves. Body for all the hormones, chemicals, body reactions that arise within the body. Mind for all the emotions, good and bad, that arise from our operating system that we call the mind. 


Someone who is balanced can well have compassion for people, animals, insects and things around his or her world. The concept of compassion in Buddhism sometimes gives the impression that Buddhists are “weak and overly emotional.” 


In some Buddhist traditions you will often hear that the Buddha has compassion for all living creatures in this world. But compassion, like anything else, should be practiced in a manner that does not include attachment, attachment that could be the cause of suffering. 


The correct compassion in Buddhism should be practiced in a way where the practitioner recognizes the feelings and the situation of other beings, without “feeling with.” It is more an observation of the “feelings” and recognition of our human nature; an awareness that fundamentally we all have the same conditions regardless of social status, religion, race… a detached concern for other creatures. 


Some people may say that the “Abstention from killing” in Buddhism is a strict rule. Of course, Stoics do not see anything wrong with killing animals and eating them, they believe that eating meat is part of the Law of Nature. But even in some Buddhist circles, refusing a meal containing meat may be seen as a “form of killing.” By refusing to eat an animal that sacrificed its life for us, and by rejecting a meal cooked by a host, we are killing the moment, killing the generosity, killing the sacrifice… 


For Stoics compassion can also be seen as recognizing that no matter how rich or poor someone is, how bodily able or crippled, how intelligent or less gifted someone is, there is a human in front of you, not a bank account on two feet. 


The Stoics were also proponents of an active life in society, most Stoics were actively participating in Roman and Greek societies as writers, soldiers, politicians, statesmen and even as philanthropists. 



Focus

When someone reaches the ability to have equanimity and a detached compassion, to move forward and evolve that person needs one important thing: focus. 


Focus is not about productivity, focus is also about paying attention to all details of our demeanors, both in thoughts and in actions. Marcus Aurelius sums it up perfectly: “Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last…


The ability to focus also means that one needs to be in the present moment, in the Now.  

Focus brings us to the idea of Mindfulness: focusing on what we are doing now, nothing else. 


In the Gateless Gate, there is a great Zen riddle that give us an insight on the Buddhist perspective of mindfulness. It is the case 7 with Zhaozhou in the collection of riddles (or koans in Japanese:)

A young monk arrived at the temple and asked Zen Master Zhaozhou: “Master, I am new here, ready to learn. Please teach me.” 

To which the Master replied “Have you eaten?” 

The young student said “Yes

The Zen Master then replied “Then go wash your bowl!


Living in the Now requires simplicity. 

Doing something well requires Mindfulness. 

In our modern world, we think of so many things, that we often forget to do the most basic of things. 


Meditation is also another term for concentration. 

If you can attain a high degree of concentration, then focus will naturally follow. 

There is nothing fancy or complicated about meditation.

For the Greeks, meditation takes the form of intellectual reflection on a given topic. 


Focus is developed with practice. In Buddhism this takes the form of meditation (samādhi), controlling the breath, having the proper body posture and emptying the mind of thoughts to reach a non-Thinking Mind. The ultimate goal of meditation is to attain Enlightenment. 


As the Buddha put it, “Gain and loss, status and disgrace, blame and praise, pleasure, and pain: these conditions among human beings are ephemeral, impermanent, subject to change. Knowing this, the wise person, mindful, ponders these changing conditions. Desirable things don’t charm the mind, and undesirable ones bring no resistance ” -The Failings of the World Sutta



Enlightenment (Nirvana) and Joy

Professor Massimo Pigliucci, a specialist of Stoic philosophy, said that “The ultimate goal of the Stoic was apatheia, or peace of mind, which I think is akin to both the Epicurean ideal of ataraxia and the Buddhist goal of nirvana (Enlightenment)…


Our opinion is that in some Buddhist traditions, for example the Theravada and Tibetans traditions, reaching Enlightenment, an non-rational deep understanding of the True Nature of all things, brings Nirvana, which is attaining a state when one is no longer in the cycle of birth, death an reincarnation. In other words, Nirvana is a state of liberation from suffering in this world. For some other traditions, for example in some Zen schools, Enlightenment may not necessarily be linked with the concept of Nirvana. 


We have seen that meditation is a real-life practice used to attain Enlightenment. It is one of the numerous tools that some traditions use. Some other traditions will make use of the study of Zen riddles, some will make use of meditative work (cleaning, cooking, harvesting food…) and some traditions will even use esoteric Buddhism practices of chanting mantras (for example “om” is a mantra) that have “powers.”


Whether Enlightenment is a single step on the way of a long spiritual journey or a constant state that is reached until one passes away is up for debate. 


But what about laypeople? 

Laypersons can of course also spend time meditating. 

But just the awareness of the fact that we can transforms ourselves and be more attentive to our actions and thoughts is enough to make a difference. 


This heighten awareness and mindfulness, combined with appreciating the simple things in life, naturally result in feelings of joy. 

Not an unbalanced joy, but rather a contentment with all the conditions that surround us. 


Joy is only possible in those conditions:

  • Ethical thought and action through wisdom and virtue
  • Awareness, mindfulness and detached compassion
  • Insights in the nature of all things and acceptance of their impermanence 
  • Meditative spirit (Buddhism) and reflective intellect (Stoicism)


Intention

Seneca wrote that “[…] a person sits by a sick friend, we approve. But doing this for the sake of an inheritance makes one a vulture awaiting a corpse.“


The Buddhist have the 5 Precepts and the Eightfold Path as ethical guidlines to direct thoughts and actions. 

One of the ethical element in the Eightfold Path is “Right Intention.”


Buddhism breaks down Right Intention is three “subcategories:”

  • Good will, not ill will
  • Renunciation, not desiring
  • No causing harm, not harming


No matter what we do, the nucleus of the action lies in the intention as no movement is possible without intention. 

This reminds us of Newton’s first law: an object remains idle or motionless unless an external force comes into play. 

This external force is the intention, the will… that paradoxically originates in our minds. 



Stoics would say that free will and rational choice bring right intention. 

An action should follow the nature of the end result it is launched for.

Virtue-oriented intentions should guide actions that are within the inherent nature of the action itself. 


Epictetus said that “When you are going about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, picture to yourself the things which usually happen in the bath: some people splash the water, some push, some use abusive language, and others steal. Thus you will more safely go about this action if you say to yourself, "I will now go bathe, and keep my own mind in a state conformable to nature."


It all lies in the intention. 

If the intention is virtuous, then the action and the results are very likely to be filled with virtue. 

If the intention is not virtuous, then the action and the results are very unlikely to be virtuous. 


But humans being humans, we sometimes err in perceiving well-intended actions as non-virtuous. 




Death, Memento Mori and Premeditatio Malorum

“The longest and the shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what’s not theirs?” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


In Tibetan Buddhism Death is celebrated as a liberation. There is a practice called “Sky ritual” where the body is dismembered, left in nature on top of a mountain where vultures usually take over the other natural elements like wind, rain and snow… Of all the traditions, Tibetan Buddhism is probably the one with the most details about Death both in terms of beliefs and what actually happens when one dies. The famous “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was writing specifically for this event that all living organism go through sooner or later. 


In Theravada Buddhism it is not uncommon for monks to meditate in front of a decaying body. In some instances monks are mummified and put in temples to be part of the temple’s life. So in Buddhism Death is more than just a topic of discussion, it is a subject to study and even meditate on. Meditation about Death, maranasati, has been written about by Atisha, a monk in the Tibetan Tradition, who wrote in the 11th century the The Nine Contemplations:


1. All of Us Will Die Sooner or Later 

2. Your Life Span Is Decreasing Continuously

3. Death Will Come Whether You Are Prepared or Not

4. Your Life Span, Like That of All Living Beings, Is Not Fixed

5. Death Has Many Causes

6. Your Body Is Fragile and Vulnerable

7. Your Loved Ones Cannot Keep You from Death

8. At the Moment of Your Death, Your Material Resources Are of No Use to You

9. Your Own Body Cannot Help You at the Time of Your Death

-Atisha (excerpt taken from Zen Master Joan Halifax, Upaya)



Those practices may sound morbid and barbaric to modern folks, but let’s remind ourselves that it was very common for people to have open casket wakes in the house of the deceased before “modernity” came to us. 


In Mahayana Buddhism, people who did good deeds and reached Nirvana go to heaven as Boddhisattvas… those who did not are simply reborn after 49 days. 


In the Zen school, some people may well say that there is simply nothing after Death, some others may held similar beliefs to Mahayana Buddhism to which the Zen school belongs to. In Japan, there is a saying that one is “born Shinto and dies Buddhist.” Shintoism is a native religion in Japan, similar to a lot of animist religions, around the world, who revere nature (sumo wrestlers throwing salt around before the fight is a Shinto ritual.)


Of course, we are oversimplifying, but you can see that Death is an important topic in pretty much all branches of Buddhism. This is why we say that Buddhism is the religion that talks probably the most about Life and Death as part of its “curriculum.” The body is seen as being part of the material world, like a temporary vehicle for the soul. 


To make a short and brief explanation of the Stoic view on Death, simply put, the Stoics do not believe in reincarnation. Death is seen as a natural process, like the Buddhists, that is the inherent part of our Universe. 


Memento Mori, remember that you must die, is probably one of the most famous concept that we inherited from Greco-Roman times. But Memento Mori is more than just a catchy term that we can quote or get as a tattoo; Memento Mori implies a reminder of our own mortality, an active reflection on the fact that we must all perish, sooner or later, regardless of riches, wealth, social status, fame, glories… 


Memento Mori was seen as a way to motivate people into action, in taking into consideration that our life is temporary and that we should make a virtuous use of this limited resource that we call them.


Premeditatio Malorum (Pre-Meditation of Evils or Misfortune) an exercise that Epictetus promoted, had for objective to make us practice visualizing the loss of people we love, our friends, our possessions, our health, our life… so that when tragedy and misfortune hit us, we are not taken aback. The word “malorum” is better translated in Latin languages such as French and Italian as it implies something very negative. The closest word to the concept is probably the French word “malheur,” which implies a mix of unlucky destiny, some kind of fatality inducing suffering.


Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” -Seneca



God(s) and the Universe

A lot of people believe that the Stoics were atheists. It may be true for some Stoics, in many writings some Stoics refer to the Pantheon of Greek and Roman Gods. Their approach was probably similar to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal who said that it was better to believe in God, so that if God exists, we are on the safe side… and if not, we lose nothing by believing in God. 


The Way of the Buddha implies that the Buddha is the focus point of reverence, that the Buddha is a God. Depending on the tradition and the context, Buddha can be either the Buddha as a deity, or the symbol of the Buddhist tradition, that is, the historical Buddha as being a man of bones and flesh just like you and I. 


Buddhism pushes the concept a little bit further. People who are on the way to Buddhahood (another loose term for “bound for Enlightenment” or Nirvana or Awakening) may be considered Bodhisattvas. This is why in Buddhist temples you will see Buddha statues as well as other statues (bodhisattvas, guardians…) 


The most famous bodhisattvas are Avalokiteśvara (Kannon in Japanese) that represents compassion, usually standing, in the form of a female or a male depending on the culture, as well as Kṣitigarbha (Jizō in Japanese), in the form of a bald male monk carrying a staff and prayer beads, representing the Great Vow (as well as being the one who accompanies souls of children who died before their parents.)


You can do more research on the topic if it interests you, but what we are saying is that followers of Buddhism may or may not believe in God(s) even thought they prostrate in front of statues. 


A lot of Buddhist monks and practitioners are atheists or agnostics. This is why a lot of believers in other religions can also practice Buddhism, there are no doctrinal rules. 


No matter if followers of the school started by Zeno of Citium and the religion introduced by Shakyamuni Buddha believe in God or Gods, we can say without a doubt that both understand that human beings are part of something infinitely bigger than us that we call the Universe. 


Already 2,000-2,600 years ago people knew that our existence in this vast Universe is transient and that we cannot truly understand it. We can observe it, we can make assumptions and theories regarding the visible phenomena, but we cannot truly understand its inherent nature. 


The Stoics believe that the Universe has a God-like nature. They did not talk about multiverse or other dimensions. The Universe was the Big Thing. 


For the Buddhists, everything within the Universe is one with the Universe, in other words, we are the Universe and the Universe is us, and a cycle of cause and effect, and interdependence, make up the fundamental laws that run Universe. 



Buddhists, like Stoics, live in the Now. 


Scriptures and Books

One major common point between Buddhism and Stoicism is that both philosophies do you have an official Holy Book nor any main reference book. 


There are a lot of writings about the Buddha’s philosophy, commentaries by famous monks, sutras, chants, stories, riddles… but there is no Bible or Quran of Buddhist religion. 


Same goes for Stoic philosophy. We do have writings that fortunately survived millenia of turbulences and historical changes, but none is used as the magnum opus of Stoicism. A lot of the writings were also written by students of the Greek and Roman philosophers which means some of the teachings do not even come from their own hand. 


Like the Buddha and many of his followers did, Stoic philosophers were using the way of the oral transmission as a way to awaken people. 



Conclusion

In conclusion we could say that both philosophies are pragmatic and aim to make us attain better versions of ourselves.  


We can also say that the similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism far outweigh their differences. 


Stoicism and Buddhism have both been misconstrued as individualistic or quietist because of their focus on tranquility and self-discipline. Contrary to this caricature, Stoicism emphasizes virtue, wisdom, human dignity and civic responsibility. Buddhism promotes the idea of a person that follows a set of rules to evolve in a Right manner in the temporary life that we all live. 


For the Stoic, all happiness is internal. The ideal Stoic is just as happy with great wealth as they are in poverty. The “goal” of Stoic teachings is to help the individual move past reaction to external events and find true peace of mind.


The goal of Buddhism is to liberate the individual as well as all sentient beings from suffering through non-attachment, non-thinking Mind, awareness of the interdependence of all things including our own Self, mindfulness in thoughts and acts, and meditation. 


Both understood the divine nature of the Universe, no matter what the word divine precisely means. 


 Once all attachment to what is beyond our control is surrendered, we are free to live both joyful and useful lives.


Joy, Happiness, Mindfulness.


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My Friend. 


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What are Stoicism and Zen Buddhism: STOICISM [Part 3/3]

What are Stoicism and Zen 

Buddhism: STOICISM [Part 3/3] (14 min read)


By Ma Dingding

If you would like to read about Buddhism, then simply click here: What are Stoicism and Zen Buddhism: BUDDHISM [Part 2/3]


Similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism here: 

Similitudes: Stoicism and Buddhism


Stoicism

Core Concepts of Stoicism


We will have a look at the Stoic concepts below:


The Founder: Zeno of Citium

The story of how Stoicism started is a story of misfortune. 


The founder of the Stoic school was a successful Phoenician merchant whose ship had been shipwrecked. After the misadventure he ended up in an Athenian library where he discovered Socrates’ ideas in Xenophon’s book “Memorabilia.” Either legend or truth, no one will really know, Zeno asked the librarian where he could find men such as Socrates. At the same time, Crates of Thebes, a well-known Cynic of the time, passed by, and the librarian, pointing his finger at Crates referred to him as “The Man.” Diogenes Laërtius relates the stories we know about the founder of the Stoic movement in his book “Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.


Zeno of Citium (334-262 BC) was born in Citium, a Greek town in current-day Cyprus. A student of a Cynic philosopher named Crates of Thebes, who similarly to the Buddha and Jesus, gave away his fortune to live a life of material homelessness and poverty, decided to start his “own thing” around 300BC. 


The Stoic school was born under the stoa poikile in Athens, hence the name of the movement “Stoic” which literally means “portico.” The agora of Athens where the painted portico is became the starting point of the Stoic movement. Without a surprise, the Ethics of Stoicism are influenced by the teachings that Zeno of Citium was exposed to as a student of Crates of Thebes. Zeno of Citium started lecturing on the Stoa around age 34. 


The followers of the Stoic School were first named “Zenonians.” This inelegant name became “Stoics,” a reference to the poets who used to hang out in the vicinity of the Agora of Athens. 


The Historical Context

Stoicism evolved in a cluster of different philosophies in Ancient Greece, a Classical Age of Philosophy that permeated the whole region. One of the most popular philosopher of the period was Socrates (470-399BC,) who died about 65 years before Zeno of Citium was born. 


Socrates’s Socratic method was a revolution in the field of Thought that is still teach in universities and school as we currently speak. I personally had to study it in high school and when I studied Philosophy at the university. Socrates’ student, Plato (428-348BC), with his Platonist dialogues, was another heavyweight. 


Plato’s own student, Aristotle (384-322BC) had the ability to synthesize multiple complex theories like metaphysics, aesthetics, poetry, rhetoric and much more into an Aristotelian philosophy. The Fathers of Western Philosophy made the basis of what still permeates Western Though up to this day. 


It is interesting to note that Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the Great, who went to conquer vast areas of land and cultures around the world. What few people are aware of is that Buddhism, under its reign, entered the Greek sphere of influence after conquests made in the Indian subcontinent. Even Afghanistan was a Buddhist country! The Silk Road brought a lot of Eastern culture to its Western parts. The influence of Greeks remained in the area for a few hundred years. It is referred as Greco-Buddhism, or Graeco-Buddhism and lasted from 400BC to about 400AD. Most statues of Buddha that you see, no matter how old they are, are directly inspired by the aesthetics of Greek sculptures. It is interesting to note that the anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha were rare before the arrival of the Greeks. 


This culture of Greek Thought also migrated to Rome with the raise of the Roman Empire that followed Ancient Greece’s Golden Age. Consider that even the Romans, speakers of Latin, would sometimes write their philosophy and thoughts in Koine Greek, which was the language of preference for the intelligentsia and was the lingua franca used by the educated. 


A good example of this are the 12 books composed to compiled the “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor who ruled on the Empire at its height, and wrote his thoughts in Koine Greek. Of course, it does not mean that all that has ever been written by the Stoics was written in Koine Greek, for example Seneca wrote in Latin. Fortunately both Latin and Greek are relatively easy to translate into Indo-European languages like English, German, French, Spanish, Italian… which means we can easily have access to their knowledge. As opposed to trying to translate a Taoist text written a few thousand years ago, in Classical Chinese, that makes use of vague and indirect aphorisms based on an intuitive understanding of the Universe. 


The Stoics were also the first to talk about the concept of “cosmopolitism,” the mingling of different communities or more literally, citizen (“polites”) of the world (“kosmos”.) In the Hellenistic Age the power was not concentrated into a single point nor in any type of Nation-state, a concept that came apparent around the 18th century. Sparta and Athens fought many wars until the power distribution went from city-state to a more centralized system. 


Laws of Nature and the Universe

Zeno of Citium put a strong emphasis on living in accordance with the Laws of Nature. We can think of it as a natural way of living: anything that is pushing the boundaries of the Laws of Nature can only create artificial conditions that lead to imbalance. 


In his treatise on the Nature of Man, Zeno was a pioneer in bringing the idea that living with the Laws of Nature was virtuous, and nature itself brings people to live a life of virtue.  In other words, living in accordance with the Laws of Nature means to live according to Virtue. One benefits from this lifestyle by gaining a peace of mind and a form of balanced harmony with the Universe. 


The emphasis on the Laws of Nature gives us further insights into what Zeno wanted to focus on: virtue rather than pleasure, balance rather than unbalance and harmony rather than disharmony. 


Zeno of Citium’s departure from this world is also interesting to have a look at: after tumbling and breaking his toe, he apparently mumbled to himself, like he was addressing God(s) “I am coming with my own free will, why push me?” He intuitively understood that he was being called upon. Wanting to avoid pushing the boundaries of the Laws of Nature, he used a rope and exited our world by committing the ultimate sacrifice. 


Zeno was a man of his words and to be consistent with his own philosophy, shared a fate similar to Socrates who drank a cup of hemlock after being judged by 500 of his peers and Seneca, who took a bowl of nightlock after having been chastised by the tyrant Nero, Emperor of Rome who even had close family members killed in his paranoia.


Living in harmony with the Laws of Nature can be split into 3 categories: 

  • Internal: living rationally, a relaxed and balanced life of self-appreciation according to our own true nature (this sounds exactly like Zen.) The keyword here is Stoic rationality
  • All Things and People: living as part of a whole system with everybody and everything, at the macro level with the Universe, considered to have its own cosmological rationality, and the micro level with other people, plants, nature, non-sentient objects, other sentient beings like animals and humans (this sounds exactly like Buddhism.)
  • External Events: accepting all that is outside of our own control, external events and conditions, without negative emotions like anger, hopelessness, fear, complaints, attachment to old situations… 

STOIC & ZEN newsletter

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...


Virtue and Wisdom

The word “philosophy” can be translated as “The Love of Wisdom.” Our logo is directly inspired by the word Wisdom which is the “philo” in “philosophy.” (The round shape in the logo comes from a Japanese Zen calligraphy)


It is then no surprise that the concept of Virtue (“aretê”) permeates Stoicism. The way to a fulfilling sense of satisfaction, sometimes translated as “happiness” (“eudamonia,”) was seen as being a life of wisdom, not a life of pleasure. As both Virtue and Wisdom go hand in hand, we can say that a life of Virtue will bring Wisdom and that Wisdom necessarily leads to Virtue. This may be difficult to grasp in our modern societies filled with overwhelming sources of stimulation that give us dopamine boosts every now and then. 


Now you may ask: What is Virtue? 

It is the positive quality of a rational sentient being that is all of the following, to higher and lesser extents, depending on the person: good, excellent, praiseworthy, just, following the Laws…


The definition is typical from Greek Thought, but we could summarize it by saying that “being good” is following the Virtue. 



There are 4 main Stoic Virtues:

  • Practical Wisdom (or Prudence, “phronêsis”) 
  • Temperance (or Moderation, “sôphrosunê”)
  • Justice (or Morality, “dikaiosunê”)
  • Courage (or Fortitude, “andreia”)



Practical Wisdom or Prudence

"The ability which by itself is productive of human happiness; the knowledge of what is good and bad; the knowledge that produces happiness; the disposition by which we judge what is to be done and what is not to be done.” -Plato, Complete Works, Hackett Publishing


Wisdom is probably the most important Stoic virtue. Wisdom is the filter that we make use of to distinguish between what should be done, and what should be not done, what should be said, and what should not be said, what should be thought, what should not be thought, what should be felt, what should not be felt… Wisdom is essential to reach a sense of fulfillment. 


Ignorance is a state where wisdom cannot be used as a filter and the end result can only be negative. Wisdom ensures that the input is positive so that we get positive outputs. We can assume that no negative input can result in a positive output. 


One key component of wisdom is rationality. Irrationality and letting emotions take over will fog our ability to think and will have a direct, negative impact, on the results of our thoughts and actions. To have a good understanding of a given situation, and to have the ability to propose a wise course of action, needs rationality to be full on, and on top of that, the moral aspect of prudence that is Wisdom. 


As we mentioned earlier, even the word “philosophy” is rooted in Wisdom: Philosophy is the Love of Wisdom. 


Temperance or Moderation

Moderation of the soul concerning the desires and pleasures that normally occur in it; harmony and good discipline in the soul in respect of normal pleasures and pains; concord of the soul in respect of ruling and being ruled; normal personal independence; good discipline in the soul; rational agreement within the soul about what is admirable and contemptible; the state by which its possessor chooses and is cautious about what he should.” -Plato, Complete Works, Hackett Publishing


Temperance is the Virtue that guides us in a world of temptation and extreme emotions (fear, anger, envy, jealousy…) Temperance is only possible if one is self-aware, detached and objective enough to have discipline and self-control. The result of that is, similarly to the Buddhists, a detachment to external things and conditions, a freedom from passions and wants, that brings a sense of freedom and liberty (“apatheia.)”


Justice or Morality

The unanimity of the soul with itself, and the good discipline of the parts of the soul with respect to each other and concerning each other; the state that distributes to each person according to what is deserved; the state on account of which its possessor chooses what appears to him to be just; the state underlying a law-abiding way of life; social equality; the state of obedience to the laws.” -Plato, Complete Works, Hackett Publishing


Justice was a common Virtue in Ancient Greece’s Classical Philosophy. Socrates talked about the subject in details and even drank poison after being condemned by 500 of his Athenians peers… to respect the concept of Justice. 


Plato, who was Socrates’ student, also cogitated on the concept of Justice with a capital “J.” Justice did not stop at the legal definition, but it reaches a conceptual peak by including Justice in the sense of being “fair, kind, benevolent, just and moral.” So do not get fooled nor intellectually limited, Justice can be thought in the sense of being “righteous” as well as in the legal sense of the term. 


For Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Roman Emperor, Justice was the most precious virtue to follow as it relates to our dealings, in a kind and impartial manner, with other people both on the individual and societal levels. 


Courage or Fortitude

The state of the soul which is unmoved by fear; military confidence; knowledge of the facts of warfare; self-restraint in the soul about what is fearful and terrible; boldness in obedience to wisdom; being intrepid in the face of death; the state which stands on guard over correct thinking in dangerous situations; force which counterbalances danger; force of fortitude in respect of virtue; calm in the soul about what correct thinking takes to be frightening or encouraging things; the preservation of fearless beliefs about the terrors and experiences of warfare; the state which cleaves to the law.“ -Plato, Complete Works, Hackett Publishing


Courage is both mental and physical. Courage is the strength, determination and endurance that are needed to resist temptations and overcome emotions like fear, depression, hopelessness as well as mental barriers, physical pain, health issues, relationship difficulties, adversity, danger… We could say that Courage is the Power of the Will. 


Following the 4 Virtues is impossible without control over our emotions. It all starts internally from oneself. 


Emotions and Self-Control

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.” -Epictetus


Under Stoicism, Emotions are to be treated with great attention. 

Everybody feels emotions, but not everybody handles them differently.

One main concepts of Stoicism is that external elements are outside our control. Those external elements can be events, conditions, situations, opinions, behaviors, reputation… and to some degree, even things that affect us directly like our health, wealth, the economic and political situation of the country we live in…


Being aware that some things are out of our control is the first step. A lot of people do not even take this first step. For the Stoics, trying to control what is outside of our control can only lead to unhappiness and a life without Virtue and Wisdom. 


We should then control what we can control, the internal elements, like our thoughts, opinions, actions and emotions; and go with the flow when faced with something that we cannot control, like external events, elements and conditions. 


Self-control is then the starting point of a good Stoic. Without controlling oneself, how can one avoid the trap of overreacting to everything, being a slave to his/her own emotions or other people’s manipulations? 


It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” -Epictetus


When we talk about Stoicism we often talk about negative emotions requiring self-control. But we rarely hear about positive emotions. John Stellar, who wrote about Stoicism, says that that there are 3 positive Stoic emotions:

  • Joy: cheerful, a balanced state of happiness
  • Caution: reverence, modesty
  • Wishing: rationality, benevolence, friendliness

So do not forget that there are also positive emotions that can bring your in the right direction!


Reflective Meditation

Stoics, and Greek philosophers, did not pray or meditate the way Sufi Islam or Buddhists do. 

The art of Stoic Reflective Meditation is an art as much as Zen meditation is a practice. 

The aim of the practice of Stoic Meditation is to concentrate the mind on a given topic or to reflect on life in general. 

This self-reflection practice is done through internal self-dialogue. 

By using the rational mind to think about our thoughts and actions. 


A good example of this would be the art of journaling. After all, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations were personal meditations on his life as a Roman Emperor, in the midst of a military campaign. The Meditations were never supposed to be published. Luckily for us, they were, and they provide us with outstanding insights into the mind of a Stoic Roman Emperor!


A few contemporary Stoics like Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday also promote the idea of journaling. It helps them, and it also helps us, discover ourselves and align our life to virtuous endeavors.


Another concept that is attached to meditation is the practice of asceticism (“askēsis.”)

Asceticism in Ancient Greece is a bit different from the practices in Ancient India, where the emphasis was on pushing the body’s limits, almost to be on the verge of dying. In the Greek version of asceticism, the training also applies to physical training, for example in the case of athletes or the military. So asceticism in the Stoic sense is a way to improve the body and the mind, not just imposing limits to them. 


Stoics believed that a good life could be lived no matter what the external conditions are… which is pure asceticism!


God(s)

The Stoics were Pantheists. Pantheism refers to the beliefs of the Pantheon of Greek and Roman Gods under Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. At his trial Socrates was accused of corrupting the mind of the youth and not believing in the Greek Gods. Socrates was no Stoic, but this gives us some insights about the religious belief system of the time… some people rightfully said that the accusations were trumped and they were just a way of getting rid of someone who was a bit too loud for the crowd. 


Stoics had a pragmatic approach to belief in a monotheistic God or polytheistic system believing in multiple Gods… and even concerning atheism and agnosticism. A good example is the approach that Marcus Aurelius has on the subject, which reminds us of Blaise Pascal’s Wager about God:

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” -Marcus Aurelius



Death and Memento Mori

Stoics did not believe that people accumulate good deeds during their lifetime in order to access some kind of paradise in the afterlife. They believed that life was now and now. If there is an afterlife, then we will see after we die. If there is not, then we will return to a state similar to before being born. 


For Stoics, Death is not only seen as a natural phenomenon that is part of the cycles of Nature, but it is also studied, proactively reflected upon and thought in advance. 


You probably heard the term “Memento Mori” (Remember Death or Remember that you must Die.) Memento Mori is a reflection on our own mortality and the transient nature of our lives. If you have ever seen paintings of Natures Mortes (literally “Dead Nature” sometimes translated as “Vanities” or “Still Life Paintings”) you see that from a long time ago humans have been reflecting on the big one. Still Lives where like a photograph capturing a moment of Life, while being fully aware that the Life in the painting is only transient. Memento Mori is a reminder that rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, lower and higher classes… will all face the same fate sooner or later. 


It is thought that Roman generals coming back after a victorious conquest and being exulted by the crowds would have the carriage chauffeur whisper in the general’s ear “Memento Mori remember that this is only temporary.”


Every action and every thought should take into consideration that our time is limited. This makes every small gesture of a great importance. 


Everything outside of Virtue is vain. 


In the end, we are all equal.


Memento Mori is a reflection that time and life are precious and that we should not let emotions or possessions take over the only thing we have: the Now. 


You’ve lived as a citizen in a great city. Five years or a hundred–what’s the difference? The laws make no distinction. And to be sent away from it, not by a tyrant or a dishonest judge, but by Nature, who first invited you in–why is that so terrible? Like the impresario ringing down the curtain on an actor: ‘But I’ve only gotten through three acts…!’ Yes. This will be a drama in three acts, the length fixed by the power that directed your creation, and now directs your dissolution. Neither was yours to determine. So make your exit with grace–the same grace shown to you.” -Marcus Aurelius



Amor Fati and Premeditatio Malorum

Following Death, Amor Fati is probably the most famous saying nurtured by the Stoics. If we cannot control what is outside our control, we should embrace it! Amor Fati literally means the “Love of Faith.” Faith is something uncontrollable. Thus, we should accept it no matter what, without any complaint, without any resentment… just deal with it. 


There is another concept that includes both the concept of Memento Mori and Amor Fati: Premeditatio Malorum. The “Pre-meditation of Evil or Misfortune” is another exercise where one reflects on the possibility that something or someone he or she cherishes gets taken away. It is a deep mental exercises that requires a certain level of maturity and openness. By reflecting on what could go wrong, on the worse case scenarios, when life hits us with challenges, it becomes easier to deal with and process our emotions. 


Nobody should walk into the battle of life without a plan that includes both positive and negative outcomes. 



Ethics

Greek Philosophy has always been split into 3 elements: Ethics, Logic and Physics. Those topics can easily become academic and as we are writing an introduction to Stoic Thought, we will not go too deep into those concepts. Nonetheless, they are interesting to explore on the surface for our benefit. 


The main focus of the Stoics is first and foremost Ethics. The Stoic approach to life is very pragmatic and down-to-earth when compared to other more intellectual approches of the time. It does not mean that the Stoics did not explore Logic and Physics, far from it, rather that their actual concerns were about living a day-to-day life in harmony with the Laws of Nature, more than cogitation about infinitely small atoms or our ginormous Universe. 


The central elements of the Stoic Ethics are (the list is far from being exhaustive):

  • The 4 Virtues (above)
  • Law of Nature is universal
  • Rationality
  • Self-Control 
  • Fate and Non-determinism
  • Duty (Right Reason)
  • Good and Evil
  • Passion
  • Action


The Ethics of the Stoics is highly influenced by the Founder’s training with the Cynics, especially regarding self-control, wisdom and justice. Like the Socratic school, the Stoic school believes that unhappiness and evil are the result of ignorance. 


Logic (or Reason)

A Moral, or Ethical Philosophy would not be possible without the faculty of Reason. So both Logic and Ethics go hand-in-hand, they complete each other. 


The list is not complete, but to give you an idea of the topics that fall under the umbrella of Stoic Logic:

  • Logos 
  • Propositional Logic and Grammar
  • Rhetoric
  • Thought
  • Perceptions
  • Epistemology
  • Psychology
  • Sensation and Imagination


Stoic logic is highly influenced by the Megarian school. Furthermore, the Stoics were also influenced by propositional dialectic, a traditional way in Ancient Greece, to demonstrate choice and consequences. Anyone that has read Socrates and Plato saw how dialectic was used to bring people to universally logical conclusions all by themselves… simply by guiding the thoughts with questions and interrogations. 


So the Stoics thought that Truth with a capital “T” can be found via self-exploration, training the muscles of rational reflection through dialectic, argumentation, puzzles, paradoxes… 


Here is an example of the Stoic Logic:

possible

An assertible which can become true and is not hindered by external things from becoming true

impossible

An assertible which cannot become true or which can become true but is hindered by external things from becoming true

necessary

An assertible which (when true) cannot become false or which can become false but is hindered by external things from becoming false

non-necessary

An assertible which can become false and is not hindered by external things from becoming false

Source: Stoic Logic, Wikipedia, retrieved on August 1st 2019 


Physics (or Nature)

As we have seen, Stoics believe that the Universe is an harmonious series of cycles that each have their own raison d’être. Everything that is, and everything that happens is in accordance to the Laws of Nature. 


Plants, animals, non-sentient matter and substances all have their place in the cycles of the Laws of Nature. 


Whether we call it Nature, God(s) or the Universe, Stoics believe that the Universe itself is material… it has its own way of reasoning and its own system that we can see by observing the cyclic Laws of Nature. 


Matter is seen as passive. 

Fate or Universal Reason (aka Logos) is seen as active and as a “primordial intelligence” that acts on passive matter. 


Fate is an extremely important in Stoicism. Fate is seen as a natural flow of life where external events affect us no matter what we desire or wish to avoid. 


In other words, everything happens in accordance to a set of rules made by Divine Reason (or Divine Providence) that designed those cyclical rules. 

Nothing happens outside the rules of the cycles. 

Everything happens according to the inherent nature of the Universe. 


Understanding those unwritten rules, part of the sublime Truth that we can study by using our rational and logical minds, is the way to a virtuous life. 


God or the Universe is not transcendental (e.g. in a separate reality,) but is immanent, in everything and everyone. There is not conception of a personal God in Stoicism either. 


The Universe is seen as limitless, timeless, self-creating and cyclical. 


We like to say that references to God(s) and Divinity is a way to rationalise concepts which True Nature we cannot really grasp as Human Beings with conscience, rationality and a sense of our own existence. 


Books

Reaching this point means that you are interested in knowing more.

A few Stoic books survived millennia to reach us today. There are also great books about the subject. 

We made a list here


If you would like to read about Buddhism, then simply click here: What is Zen Buddhism [Part2/3]

5 Ways to Boost FOCUS + PRODUCTIVITY like a ZEN MONK

  • Learn the Art of Zen Productivity
  • Upgrade your own Internal Operating System
  • Be Productive, Efficient, and Get Stuff Done

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Buddhism and Stoicism: East Meets West

Stoicism and Buddhism: East Meets West (3 min read)

By Ma Dingding

It was already all mixed 2,000 years ago.


Few people know, even in Asia, that a lot of Buddhist sculptures draw their inspiration from the sculptures of Ancient Greece. Just look at the waves in the fabric of Buddha and other Buddhist statues and compare it to the drapes on Greek and Roman sculptures… both look almost the same.


Greek conquests in Eurasia and the Silk Road both promoted the exchange of goods and idea.


Just think about this: it is mind boggling to think that Afghanistan was once a Buddhist country! 


The Ancient Graeco-Roman worlds gave the West a rich heritage in terms of culture, language, philosophy, aesthetics, knowledge, etc.


This includes school of thoughts and philosophy such as the Cynics, the Epicureans, Aristotle and Plato’s schools and of course, the Stoics.


For Chinese, both Buddhism and Zen Buddhism came from the “West,” that is from their perspective, India. And Japan inherited Buddhism from China, via Korea.


So when we talk about East/West, it is really relative to where we stand. 


Stoicism started in Greece and eventually reached Rome, which explains why one of the most famous Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, was a Roman Emperor.


If you go to your local library, you can grab a copy of books, translated into your mother tongue, about concepts that were invented thousands of years ago in lands that are far away.


You could buy yourself an airplane ticket and walk into a bookstore in China or Japan and get a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation in the local language.


Amazing to think that the works survived pretty much every historical period until now. Maybe because they were the fittest ideas to adapt and survive. East meets West or West meets East, it is all a matter of perspective. 


As we are intellectually flexible, we consider Zen Buddhism as a philosophical system and a practice, more than a religion. The same principle applies to Stoicism.


This means you can bring the ideas on this website at the Church, without fear of conflict with your beliefs, even if you are an atheist. We do not promote any doctrine, any rules, any ritual, any God or Gods, any view of life or afterlife, nor any list of Do’s and Don’ts. We are opportunistic and take what is best in both Zen and Stoic systems, no matter what your personal beliefs are. 


When we think about Buddhism, we sometimes have the image of a bunch of people doing meditation in yoga pants in front of a small, cute statue of Buddha, burning incense, having expressions of happiness in their face.


But zen is also a samurai burning incense in his helmet so that his head “smell good” in case it gets chopped off in the battle he is about to walk into… or a Shaolin monk pushing the boundaries of the body by doing all sorts of crazy tricks. Zen is also Leonard Cohen singing beautiful love songs, Jack Kerouac penning Buddhism-inspired novels, Mishima Yukio writing about the Golden Pavillion Temple in Kyoto and committing the ultimate sacrifice in 1970.


Zen is also temples with quiet rock gardens, beautiful calligraphies and flower arrangements, monks and nuns with shaved-heads wearing long Buddhist robes, sitting and listening to a Zen Master giving a talk, etc. Zen is all of that. 


The Zen Buddhism that is practiced in the West, in Europe and North America, originates from Japan. The transmission of Zen from Japan to North America, and then to Europe, is fairly recent, we are talking about post-WWII.


When it comes to Stoicism, we could say that Greek and Roman influences permeate the way we speak, write and think, especially if we take into consideration of the concept of logos, or reason. In the West we tend to be very “logical and rational” in our approach to life.


To push it a little further, we could say that there is a form of Stoic atavism, a revival of Stoicism in the past few years.


Our cultures are very “brainy,” the individual is the basis of society, the mode of communication is usually straightforward more than intuitive, everything needs to be “clear,” “logical” and “make sense.”


A lot of countries in Asia are the complete opposite: intuitive, indirect, group-oriented, contextual, etc.


What is interesting on this website is that we mix both concepts and take the best of each system. 


Stoicism is now transmitted in writing, but in the old days, students could join schools to listen to speeches by teachers.


Zen is usually transmitted face-to-face from teacher to student, and the writings are not considered important; Zen is a practice of the body and the mind, rather than an intellectual pursuit.


Still, there are a lot of things you can learn by reading about Zen. And if your curiosity brings you to discover more, you can visit a Zen temple and meet a Zen Master face-to-face.


Visiting a temple may actually be easier if you live in the West as most Zen temples in Japan, and even China, do not allow laypersons to come for meditation practice.


It may be difficult to have a real-life group practice when it comes to Stoicism, as the Stoic philosophy is not “organized.”


Nonetheless, there are a lot of online groups that exchange views about Stoicism, so do not hesitate to explore and be flexible in your exploration. 


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My friend. 

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Images come from Unsplash.com

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10 Best Books About Stoicism

10 Best Books About Stoicism (5 min read)

By Ma Dingding

The best books about Stoicism and Stoic philosophy are a bit easier to select compared to the best books about Zen Buddhism. There is less literature about Stoicism than about Buddhism, meditation and Zen.


A good point regarding books about Stoicism is that we have access to original writings from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Translations are also a bit more accurate as Latin and Koine Greek have concepts that are more easily translated in English and other languages spoken in the Western world. 


To know more about the common points of Zen Buddhism and Stoicism, you obviously need to read articles or books about the subjects. You need to start somewhere.


We suggest that you gain insights specifically in the subjects of Stoic philosophy and Zen separately. After gaining knowledge about each subject individually, we can explore more about the similarities between Stoic and Buddhist philosophies. 


The books we suggest are the following: 



-Courage Under Fire

-The Daily Stoic

-How to be a Stoic

-Stoic Warriors

-Antifragile

-The Obstacle is the Way

-Stoicism

-Letters from a Stoic

-Meditations

-Discourses and Selected Writings


STOIC & ZEN newsletter

-Zen Stories and Stoic Insights

-Tools and Strategies

-Questions and Answers from MC

-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

-Productivity like a Zen Monk

-Reflections on Life

...

Recommended Stoic Books

Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

by James Stockdale Paperback 32 pages 


When Commander Stockdale’s (1923-2005) airplane was shot down over North Vietnam during the Vietnam war he told himself “I am leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.” This book is about how Stoicism helped him face and accept the reality he was in and overcome adversity… while remaining the Master of his own Fate and Free Will.


A great book to read that puts back all our little daily annoyances in perspective. He spent 7 years in the “Hanoi Hilton” and this short essay talk about his experiences as a POW during all those years, enduring torture, degradations and humiliations. 


The term “Stockdale Paradox” comes from him: balancing optimism with realism. You can read it here or listen to an audio here

The Daily Stoic

By Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman Hardcover 416 pages


The Daily Stoic is my favorite book about Stoic philosophy. What I like about this book is the format: 366 days of Stoic quotes and commentaries with insights, reflections and stories related to Stoicism. The book is a must to anyone who is interested in Stoicism and how it can help us in our modern lives, no matter what level of knowledge you have about the subject. The book includes quotes by well-known Stoics like Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius as well as Musonius Rufus, Zeno of Citium (the founder of the Stoic school) and Cleanthes. 


Ryan Holiday (1987-) was American Apparel’s Marketing Officer, worked for l’enfant terrible Tucker Max and was research assistant to Robert Greene, the author of The 48 Laws of Power. Stephen Hanselman is a publisher, bookseller and co-writer of The Daily Stoic. 

How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life 

by Massimo Pigliucci Hardcover 288 pages 


Massimo Pigliucci (1964-) is a big name in the Stoic philosophical “movement.” How to be a Stoic is a guide on how to live our modern lives as Stoics, facing all sort of anxieties, questions, doubts, uncertainties. The book is basically a guide on how to live a good life by giving insights on heavy questions that we all ask ourselves, regardless of sex, gender, creed, race, culture… it is a must read if you are questioning yourself about life these days. 


Professor Pigliucci teaches Philosophy at City College and evolutionary biologist and splits his time between NYC and Rome. 

Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind 

by Nancy Sherman Paperback 256 pages


Nancy Sherman writes about the military mind and the soldiers’ culture from a philosophical standpoint and discusses topics such as character, ethics and mindset. It is a great book to read although it tends to be a little bit scholarly and heavy in some parts. 


Professor Nancy Sherman (1951-) teaches Philosophy at Georgetown University where she writes on ethics and military ethics.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb Paperback 544 pages


A thick and heavy book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that talks about risk and uncertainty. Two excellent topics for any student of Stoic philosophy. This book is part of his series that started with The Black Swan. Like the title says, Taleb demonstrates that we need to be less fragile, or like the neoplasm he invented, antifragile, in a world where disorder and chaos are part of the inherent nature of reality. Look for the chapter dedicated to Seneca.


Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb (1960-) was previously trader and risk analyst and has now switched his focus to teaching, writing and statistics. 

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

by Ryan Holiday

Hardcover 224 pages


Another amazing book by Ryan Holiday. The Obstacle is the Way is best described by a quote by Marcus Aurelius: "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” If you are feeling that you are constantly dealing with issues, problems, negative thinking, people who drain you out… you may want to read this book to learn how the greatest achievers in history handled adversity, and problems, in order to become icons of success. This books made me understand that every single thing is just a little bump on the road to reaching my goals and ultimately, my Vision. 

Stoicism

by John Sellars

Paperback 219 pages


A book that reminded me of my studies in philosophy. The book is split into sections that are typical from books about Greek philosophy: Stoic system, Logic, Ethics and Physics. It is a good “user guide to Stoicism” no matter if you are new to the world of Stoicism or already advanced in your study of the philosophy. 


Professor John Sellars (1971-) is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of London and Visiting Research Fellow at King's College London. 

Letters from a Stoic

by Seneca the Younger aka Seneca

Paperback 254 pages


Letters from a Stoic is a collection of letters and essays by Seneca. It is on top of the list for anyone who wants to benefit from Stoic philosophy. The book is filled with treasures about wisdom, being a good person, friendship, adversity, ways to handle the challenges of life, ontological questions about the meaning of Life on this planet… Every pages contains a huge amount of insights to the point where you will find yourself going back for more, and rereading the book multiple times. You should read this book. 


If you only had time to read 2 books about Stoicism I would suggest Letters from a Stoic and The Meditations (by Marcus Aurelius.) If you can, get a hold of the well-translated Penguin edition. 


Seneca the Younger (4 BC - 65 AD) was a Roman statesman, dramatist, writer and philosopher who was exiled by the Roman Emperor Claudius, only to return and become adviser to the court of the tyrant Nero. As Nero's paranoia grew following the Pisonian conspiracy to kill him, Seneca was forced to commit the ultimate sacrifice by Nero. Even if he was innocent, Seneca faced Death with such a gentlemanesque demeanor that his Death became the focus of many paintings over the centuries. 

Meditations

by Marcus Aurelius 

Paperback 256 pages


Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor at the height of the Roman Empire. His Meditations are a collection of writings he wrote while on campaign to conquer foreign lands. The Meditations were written in current day Serbia. Marcus Aurelius was highly influenced by Epictetus’ writings, which you can feel the influence while reading his Meditations. The book was never meant to be published and it is astonishing that such a work survived almost 2,000 years. The Meditations give us insights in the mind of one of the most powerful man on the planet at the time. You will find that each sentence punches you in the gut, each sentence contains a truth within itself. The book is so addictive that you will very likely feel the need to go back to it once in while. This book is a must. 


If you only had time to read 2 books about Stoicism I would suggest The Meditations and Letters from a  Stoic (from Seneca.)


Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180 AD) was born into an upper-class Roman family and became Emperor at the age of 40. He faced wars, insurrections, plagues, death of friends and family members as well as assassination attempts from close confidents. 


Discourses and Selected Writings

By Epictetus 

Paperback 304 pages


Compared to other philosophers who tend to write in sentences close to short aphorisms, Epictetus is a little bit heavier when it comes to reading. Nonetheless, his ideas are an absolute “to read” when it comes to Stoicism. If you can, get a hold the Penguin edition that has an excellent English translation from Greek. 


Epictetus (AD 55–135) was a slave in Hierapolis (currently in Turkey) and after being freed, Epictetus became a Greco-Roman philosopher. His teachings were transcribed by a student of his school of philosophy in Nicopolis. 

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