Category: Stoicism

The Stoic Buddhist

Marcus Aurelius and the Buddha

I recently changed my byline to The Stoic Buddhist and you may ask why? It is partially due to the many books I have read on Buddhism and Stoicism. So one reason is the interest I have in both philosophies, but as my studies progressed I started noticing some pretty interesting similarities. In this blog post I just want to focus on a couple of the things stoics and Buddhist’s have in common.

Well back to the question about the byline. This will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me one can embrace multiple philosophies and sometimes even just certain tenants. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Both Buddhism and Stoicism have always encouraged independent thinking analyzing what you feel is true and real in the world. I doubt that the Buddha would have objected too much if someone wanted to read the works of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus. Both Stoicism and Buddhism take an analytical approach to philosophy as opposed to a faith based approach of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Buddha was not a God and either was Marcus Aurelius or Seneca, and in the case of the stoics far from it. So in my life and studies I borrow from both, calling myself a Buddhist first and foremost, that also has a keen interest in stoicism.

Two of the more common themes that I noticed in both Stoicism and Buddhism are about desiring less and not fearing death.

Desire

Both Buddhism and Stoicism teach that there is inherent suffering involved with desires. The more you desire the more unhappy you will be, ever wanting more. The Buddha taught that the root of suffering was desire and Epictetus equates freedom to limiting what you desire.

Another quote from Marcus Aurelius speaks to the idea that very little is needed to be happy.

Actually Marcus Aurelius wrote extensively in his book Meditations about the need to control ones desires and the destructive nature of vices and materialism. As you know this was a Roman Emperor who could have had anything he wanted, but practiced a huge amount of self control in the way he lived. I think both the Stoics and Buddhists recognized that desires led to excesses, creating suffering and ultimately preventing one from leading a more noble existence.

Death

It is my understanding that both Stoicism and Buddhism viewed death as a natural part of life and not to be feared. With that said the Buddhist might believe that you will be reborn into another life; the Stoic will just state that this death is part of natures life cycle and your body is given to the earth. In either case as a Stoic or a Buddhist you will be expected to not fear death, to be courageous, and calm upon your demise.

Whether a Stoic or a Buddhist it is not death to be concerned with, but rather how well you have lived. Was the life you had meaningful and of service to mankind? To the stoic philosopher or a dedicated Buddhist a life satisfying selfish desires is a life wasted and not worth living. Another similarity between the Stoic and Buddhist view of death is that it begins when we are born with each day we die a little bringing us that much closer to our final demise.

Below is a quote from the Buddha from the Pali Canon , Sali Sutta that illustrates the nature of life and death.

From Marcus Aurelius a quote on the inevitability of death and our response to it.

While this by no means is meant to provide any kind of exhaustive comparison between similar views shared by Stoics and Buddhists, I wanted it to be more of an introduction to the idea that there are some aspects of the two philosophies that they have in common. As death pursues us all I hope there will be time to go into a more detailed analysis of where the two philosophies converge.

There is no way of cheating nature of our own inevitable destiny. We all will face death, some sooner, some later, but it will surely come. With that in mind whether you are a Stoic or a Buddhist; it is all up to you to live an authentic life and cherish each day.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Seneca.

“You want to live-but do you know how to live? You are scared of dying-and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different from being dead?”

Namaste

How the wise view time

I don’t know when it all started maybe a couple years ago, but I came to the realization that my time on this earth was limited. This begins to happen for most of us once we realize what is left in terms of years is only a fractional portion of the time we have already lived. This only becomes more acute as you progress from your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and so on. It’s not so much anxiety, but it becomes more of a value proposition, weighing the value of time against the way you live your life. You begin to question how you are spending your time and why you spend this limited time working at a job that maybe pays well, but doesn’t support the value of time paradigm that you now find yourself so acutely aware of.

Maybe you find yourself trading that precious commodity, your time for the accumulation additional wealth. I think this is a trigger for a lot of people in their 50’s and 60’s who begin thinking about retirement. You begin to realize the opportunity cost of staying at your less than fulfilling job. You become preoccupied thinking of all the things you want to do that you just don’t have time to pursue. I know for myself things like a career path, promotions, and all those other things that seemed important in my 40’s occupy little space in my mind today. This understanding of the value of time, which you should have had all along becomes so much more important than the accumulation of wealth and the agony that often accompanies it. Instead of mellowing out as we age, we often become less tolerant of the bullshit and wish for more autonomy and freedom to pursue what really matters to us.

The feeling of regret for not realizing this long ago comes up and you may feel you have wasted years or even decades running on the hamster wheel for monetary rewards. Then again maybe you have had a great career, but realize it’s time to pack it in and start something new. In either case you are faced with the decision to keep doing the same old thing or break free and use the remaining days, months, or years to do something else. If you are a fan of the stoics you will find a lot of material devoted to death and the importance of living life in a meaningful way. One of my favorite quotes is from Marcus Aurelius:

Don’t let your fears or habits dictate how you will live your life. Be like the wise person and give your time the value it so rightly deserves.

Namaste

Not for appearance sake

One of the themes I understand from studying the Stoics like Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius is the idea that above all you should do the right thing. Another way of putting this is to be a good person, first and foremost. Doing the right thing is not done for accolades or praise, but simply because it is the right thing to do. If you find yourself more concerned about how the things you do are perceived by others then you are missing the point.

Maybe you are not doing the right thing or being a good person because you find it inconvenient taking too much effort. Being lazy or selfish is not an excuse for shirking your responsibilities and doing what is right. The stoic ideal requires self-discipline and adhering to the principle of doing good. A selfish me oriented attitude will never result in doing the right thing, nor will living a life focused on impressing other people.

Put your ego aside today and think is what I am doing the right thing, is it good for the world, or is it self serving?

There is such a thing as an honorable life, but it is not easy. Doing the right thing is difficult in this me oriented world, but you have greatness inside you and you just need to release it.

Ask yourself today, as Epictetus would, am I doing this for the sake of appearance or because it is the right thing to do?

Namaste

 


This post was proofread by Grammarly.

 

Focusing on your purpose

It is one of the fundamental laws in life, that you have finite time, and using it for any particular purpose is where you will see results, not elsewhere. Let’s take an example say you work 60 hours a week at your job, but you would like to be a writer. Now that book you have wanted to write will not magically write itself, as almost every waking hour is dedicated to your work, i.e. not writing. It’s called a tradeoff, this is what life is one tradeoff after another. You spend your time doing this and you can’t do that other thing. The problem is not that we are making tradeoffs, it is often that we are focused on the wrong thing.

If you really want to work 60 hours a week on your job because you love your work then, by all means, do it, but be aware you may be giving up family, friends, hobbies, and relaxation. We have created a society where many of us can work from anywhere and we have so many tools that make this possible. I am constantly being interrupted by messages sent to my phone by various apps that I feel like I am never off the clock. To make it worse we have a global workforce, where you will often work with team members in China, Europe, India, Mexico, and the United States just to name a few. What this means is early meetings and late meetings the day is being stretched and so are we. What used to be a manageable length day now becomes a marathon.

Just remember you get what you focus on and nothing else. Make a habit from time to time to analyze what you are spending your time on and weighing it against where you want to go.

Namaste

 

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Still miserable – Seneca

Seneca rightly points out that a mindset devoid of gratitude is never satisfied regardless of the amount of achievement, material things, or pleasure bestowed upon the person. For many people this is their life, in a nutshell, seeking and finding, yet no appreciation. They have accumulated great riches, big houses, expensive cars, fine wine, country club memberships, and yet at their core, they are miserable.

Gratitude is a mindset after all, that you can cultivate, but you must begin to challenge the assumptions you held so dear for such a long time. Your assumptions have been that seeking wealth and fame is my life’s goal, which feeds your ego and provides a nice way to compare yourself to others. You think you are superior because you have more money, a bigger house, and a luxury car, but you are never really happy.

Let’s start by chipping away at your ego, shifting your goals from wanting more, to appreciating what you have. I love this quote by Lao Tzu which always helps me put things in perspective:

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu

Start by being grateful for what you have, especially the small things. Start a gratitude journal and write 3-5 things you are grateful for every morning or evening. If you can do that you begin to chip away at the ego and your materialistic tendencies and a shift towards gratitude begins to take place.

Namaste

 

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Satisfied with a little

The Greek Philosopher Epicurus sums it up so simply and yet eloquently with this quote. If you can’t appreciate the little things in life you will not appreciate anything. Did you enjoy that cup of coffee or tea this morning, walking the dog, cleaning your kitchen, or taking a shower? These are simple examples of little things you might do in the morning and if you gained some sense of satisfaction or joy from them, then you are living in the present moment and you have some sense of what it is like to be grateful for even small things.

What if instead, you can’t find any pleasure in the simple things that are most typical in our lives? You would then be someone that is consumed by thoughts of the future, seeking something better, and likely never satisfied with anything or anyone. We can all shift into this mindset from time to time, and then we become ungrateful, egotistical, and greedy. Your life will now consist of periods of suffering and discontent, followed by spending your precious time criticizing everything. Nothing is ever good enough, everyone is a jerk, and life sucks.

Contrary to what you see in the media or on Instagram, life is not some highlight reel where every day is a party, and people are throwing money at you. Instead most of what we call life is made up of little things. If you allow your mind to drift into future mode, then you miss all the little things, and you basically are missing out on life. The quote below by Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of my favorite quotes for helping us to appreciate all the little things in our life.

Sometimes you just need to reboot your brain and one of the best ways I found is to go for a walk. This allows you to breathe the fresh air, look at the sky, feel the sun on your skin, and soon you begin to calm down and start living in the present. Walking is a healthy alternative to sitting around and watching television or messing around with your phone. When I go for a walk I’m not doing it to burn calories or increase my heart rate, in fact, I am really doing quite the opposite, and sometimes walk fairly slowly just enjoying the sights around me.

Walking is a little thing, but be grateful as it is also a wonderful thing. Your life is made up of hundreds of little things and they all have the potential to be a great source of joy if you stay present and mindful.

Namaste

 

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A bit about Epicurus

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicurus

Epicurus (Ancient GreekἘπίκουροςromanizedEpíkouros;[a] 341–270 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher and sage who founded Epicureanism, a highly influential school of philosophy. He was born on the Greek island of Samos to Athenian parents. Influenced by DemocritusAristippusPyrrho,[3] and possibly the Cynics, he turned against the Platonism of his day and established his own school, known as “the Garden”, in Athens. Epicurus and his followers were known for eating simple meals and discussing a wide range of philosophical subjects. He openly allowed women to join the school as a matter of policy. Epicurus is said to have originally written over 300 works on various subjects, but the vast majority of these writings have been lost. Only three letters written by him—the letters to MenoeceusPythocles, and Herodotus—and two collections of quotes—the Principle Doctrines and the Vatican Sayings—have survived intact, along with a few fragments of his other writings. Most knowledge of his teachings comes from later authors, particularly the biographer Diogenes Laërtius, the Epicurean Roman poet Lucretius and the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, and with hostile but largely accurate accounts by the Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus, and the statesman and Academic Skeptic Cicero.

For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to help people attain a happy, tranquil life characterized by ataraxia (peace and freedom from fear) and aponia (the absence of pain). He advocated that people were best able to pursue philosophy by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that the root of all human neurosis is death denial and the tendency for human beings to assume that death will be horrific and painful, which he claimed causes unnecessary anxiety, selfish self-protective behaviors, and hypocrisy. According to Epicurus, death is the end of both the body and the soul and therefore should not be feared. Epicurus taught that although the gods exist, they have no involvement in human affairs. He taught that people should behave ethically not because the gods punish or reward people for their actions, but because amoral behavior will burden them with guilt and prevent them from attaining ataraxia.

Like Aristotle, Epicurus was an empiricist, meaning he believed that the senses are the only reliable source of knowledge about the world. He derived much of his physics and cosmology from the earlier philosopher Democritus (c. 460–c. 370 BC). Like Democritus, Epicurus taught that the universe is infinite and eternal and that all matter is made up of extremely tiny, invisible particles known as atoms. All occurrences in the natural world are ultimately the result of atoms moving and interacting in empty space. Epicurus deviated from Democritus in his teaching of atomic “swerve”, which holds that atoms may deviate from their expected course, thus permitting humans to possess free will in an otherwise deterministic universe.

Though popular, Epicurean teachings were controversial from the beginning. Epicureanism reached the height of its popularity during the late years of the Roman Republic. It died out in late antiquity, subject to hostility from early Christianity. Throughout the Middle Ages Epicurus was popularly, though inaccurately, remembered as a patron of drunkards, whoremongers, and gluttons. His teachings gradually became more widely known in the fifteenth century with the rediscovery of important texts, but his ideas did not become acceptable until the seventeenth century, when the French Catholic priest Pierre Gassendi revived a modified version of them, which was promoted by other writers, including Walter Charleton and Robert Boyle. His influence grew considerably during and after the Enlightenment, profoundly impacting the ideas of major thinkers, including John LockeThomas JeffersonJeremy Bentham, and Karl Marx.

Removing your desire

I just love this quote from Epictetus as it highlights the fact that all those cravings you seek to fulfill only detract from your freedom, in fact, they begin to enslave you. The examples are endless, but let’s take a look at a few:

  • I make a modest income, but I want a $60,000 sports car, the dollar figure doesn’t really matter and is somewhat relative. I go to the bank and now have a car loan for $1.200 a month for 5 years. I think I look cool driving around town, but instead of investing that money, which might ultimately provide some actual freedom, I am a slave to my car loan.
  • I decide I need to make more money, so I work harder and get promoted, but now instead of working 40 hours a week, I am working 60 hours a week. The hobbies I once had have been shelved and I hardly see my family anymore, but I make another $20,000 a year. I find that the additional money doesn’t do much for me, as I really don’t have time to spend it. My health and relationships are suffering and instead of freedom I just imprisoned myself with an occasional furlough called a vacation.
  • I decide now that I am a wealthy man that I need to upgrade my spouse by marrying a much younger woman or maybe having an affair. I end up sneaking around and find a younger woman and start a relationship (affair). My wife finds out, kicks my sorry ass out of the house, and calls an attorney. Six months later my estate is cut in half and I now live in a small apartment. Oh, and by the way, the younger woman walked out some time ago, when she realized I am really not that wealthy. Of course, my children think I am an asshole and I no longer have my wonderful wife to grow old with and who has been taking care of things for me as she did in the past.
  • I decided that to help me forget all the stupid decisions I made based on my desires; I would drown myself in alcohol on the weekends. Instead of helping me forget about my bad decisions, or God forbid doing something about them, I am now an addict. I did not free my mind and instead enslaved my body to what has become a serious addiction.

You might think these are silly examples of cravings that enslaved a person, but I have seen all of these as pretty common human behavior. Check yourself and determine if the things you desire are healthy and enhance your freedom or if they are imprisoning you. For most of us the more we desire, the less freedom we experience. The freest among us often have the least in material possessions and want but little. In fact, these desires that you might even consider to be fairly positive such as exercise or even enhancing your knowledge come with a price and can become an addiction.

If you want freedom desire less, appreciate what you have, and stop craving for things you don’t have.

Namaste

 

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It’s the truth I’m after

This is one of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius who was the Roman Emperor 161 to 180 CE and a pretty awesome Stoic Philosopher. Let’s take a look at what this quote really means:

“It’s the truth I am after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.”

Sometimes I like to draw a parallel between Stoicism and Buddhism, but in Buddhism, the truth is known and it is referred to as the Four Noble Truths. That doesn’t mean Buddhists don’t seek the truth, they certainly do, my reference is to what the Buddha taught as the ultimate truth in the Four Noble Truths. Here Marcus Aurelius is seeking the truth and reminding us that the truth cannot harm us. We can seek the truth or as he says we can live in self-deceit and ignorance. I think this quote by Marcus Aurelius is inspirational and prescriptive, seek the truth, and avoid fooling yourself and being ignorant.

What other way should you live your life, but seeking the truth? Seeking the truth means being inquisitive, learning, and not being satisfied with bullshit explanations. Don’t believe the stories people tell you, when they want you to do things, question them. Your favorite word as a truth seeker is “why”. As a truth seeker, your life will have more meaning and you will enrich your understanding of the world.

Go ahead my friend the world needs more Truth Seekers! 

Namaste

 

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About Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius (/ɔːˈrliəs/ or /ɔːˈrljəs/;[1] LatinMarcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121 – 17 March 180) was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors (a term coined some 13 centuries later by Niccolò Machiavelli), and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire. He served as Roman consul in 140, 145, and 161.

Marcus was born during the reign of Emperor Hadrian to the emperor’s nephew, the praetor Marcus Annius Verus (III), and his wife the heiress Domitia Lucilla. Following the death of his father, Marcus was raised by his mother and grandfather Marcus Annius Verus (II). After Hadrian’s adoptive sonAelius Caesar, died in 138, the emperor adopted Marcus’ uncle Antoninus Pius as his new heir. In turn, Antoninus adopted Marcus and the son of Aelius, Lucius (later to rule as Emperor Lucius Verus alongside Marcus). Hadrian died that year and Antoninus became emperor. Now heir to the throne, Marcus studied Greek and Latin under tutors such as Herodes Atticus and Marcus Cornelius Fronto. He kept in close correspondence with Fronto for many years afterwards. Marcus married Antoninus’ daughter Faustina in 145. Antoninus died following an illness in 161.

The reign of Marcus Aurelius was marked by military conflict. In the East, the Roman Empire fought successfully with a revitalized Parthian Empire and the rebel Kingdom of Armenia. Marcus defeated the MarcomanniQuadi, and Sarmatian Iazyges in the Marcomannic Wars; however, these and other Germanic peoples began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. He modified the silver purity of the Roman currency, the denarius. The persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire is believed to have increased during his reign. The Antonine Plague broke out in 165 or 166 and devastated the population of the Roman Empire, causing the deaths of five million people. Lucius Verus may have died from the plague in 169.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Marcus chose not to adopt an heir. His children included Lucilla, who married Lucius, and Commodus, whose succession after Marcus has become a subject of debate among both contemporary and modern historians. The Column and Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius still stand in Rome, where they were erected in celebration of his military victories. Meditations, the writings of “the philosopher” – as contemporary biographers called Marcus, are a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. They have been praised by fellow writers, philosophers, monarchs, and politicians centuries after his death.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Aurelius

Accept whatever comes to you

Marcus Aurelius was one of the few great Emperors of Rome and a Stoic Philosopher. Most of what he wrote was targeted at himself, creating a philosophy of  life for him to follow. His destiny was to become the Emperor of Rome, and this was something he felt that he needed to accept. I’m sure this wasn’t an easy decision for him, as the weight of the Empire was squarely placed on his shoulders. You might equate it to being the President or Prime Minister, except that in Roman times you were not only the leader, but often considered a God.

Each of has a destiny that is set forth for us even though sometimes we don’t realize it and often we fight against it and are not accepting. This quote is more about living your life in acceptance of what unfolds and understanding that this acceptance turns out to be what you need. When I say a destiny I’m not saying it is predetermined, but that this destiny evolves and we either accept it, or we fight against it. Acceptance will provide happiness and fulfillment, where fighting against it will result in resentment and pain.

This is one of the Stoic themes that life should be lived with acceptance and you should appreciate what life provides for you. This doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to something else, it just means that you should not get caught up in forever wanting something you don’t have.

What will it be for you, acceptance of the destiny that is unfolding for you, or rejecting what is transpiring in your life?

Namaste

 

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Marcus Aurelius (/ɔːˈrliəs/ or /ɔːˈrljəs/;[1] LatinMarcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121 – 17 March 180) was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors (a term coined some 13 centuries later by Niccolò Machiavelli), and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire. He served as Roman consul in 140, 145, and 161.

Marcus was born during the reign of Emperor Hadrian to the emperor’s nephew, the praetor Marcus Annius Verus (III), and his wife the heiress Domitia Lucilla. Following the death of his father, Marcus was raised by his mother and grandfather Marcus Annius Verus (II). After Hadrian’s adoptive sonAelius Caesar, died in 138, the emperor adopted Marcus’ uncle Antoninus Pius as his new heir. In turn, Antoninus adopted Marcus and the son of Aelius, Lucius (later to rule as Emperor Lucius Verus alongside Marcus). Hadrian died that year and Antoninus became emperor. Now heir to the throne, Marcus studied Greek and Latin under tutors such as Herodes Atticus and Marcus Cornelius Fronto. He kept in close correspondence with Fronto for many years afterwards. Marcus married Antoninus’ daughter Faustina in 145. Antoninus died following an illness in 161.

The reign of Marcus Aurelius was marked by military conflict. In the East, the Roman Empire fought successfully with a revitalized Parthian Empire and the rebel Kingdom of Armenia. Marcus defeated the MarcomanniQuadi, and Sarmatian Iazyges in the Marcomannic Wars; however, these and other Germanic peoples began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. He modified the silver purity of the Roman currency, the denarius. The persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire is believed to have increased during his reign. The Antonine Plague broke out in 165 or 166 and devastated the population of the Roman Empire, causing the deaths of five million people. Lucius Verus may have died from the plague in 169.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Marcus chose not to adopt an heir. His children included Lucilla, who married Lucius, and Commodus, whose succession after Marcus has become a subject of debate among both contemporary and modern historians. The Column and Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius still stand in Rome, where they were erected in celebration of his military victories. Meditations, the writings of “the philosopher” – as contemporary biographers called Marcus, are a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. They have been praised by fellow writers, philosophers, monarchs, and politicians centuries after his death.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Aurelius

 

The shorter and nobler life

What is Epictetus saying when he would prefer a shorter life than one that is longer but of less account? Remember though he qualifies it with a shorter and nobler life, and the word nobler is the key. There are two definitions for noble with one being “one of the nobility or a higher class”, but Epictetus was referring to “having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals.” I think this also speaks to the stoic principle that your time on this earth is limited and it is up to you to make the most of it, and living a noble life does just that.

You are bestowed with the power of choice, and you can choose to live your life as a shining example for this world, or you can waste your time and live aimlessly. You know what is the correct choice, so today seek to live a noble life.

Namaste

 

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Epictetus (/ˌɛpɪkˈttəs/;[1] GreekἘπίκτητοςEpíktētosc. 50 – 135 AD) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at HierapolisPhrygia (present day PamukkaleTurkey) and lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece for the rest of his life. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses and Enchiridion.

Epictetus taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are beyond our control; we should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epictetus