I’ve been wanting to return to the topic and write in-depth about how Stoicism and Buddhism essentially convey the same message, but in different ways. I touched upon it previously, here. An imperfect description is that Buddhism is more right-brained (creative/intuitive) and Stoicism is left-brained (logical/analytical)…it’s not a perfect description of these different approaches, and it doesn’t matter how we approach it, the message is basically the same. As I begin this quest, I know that it will require several installments, so stay tuned. I will dive deeper and deeper as we go.
I’ve been putting this one off for awhile. There are some things, that when you discover them to be true, you sense they are right even though they are difficult to put into words. So, now I will try to begin…
Both Buddhism and Stoicism stress living a sensible and peaceful life. They de-emphasize passions and desire, and emphasize being content with your position in life while doing as much good and as little harm as possible. Both philosophies focus on detached contemplation of your actions, instead of absolutes of “this is right” or “this is wrong.” Both philosophies invite you to search for yourself, rather than preach at you. For these reasons, I was attracted to both philosophies. As I continue to study and practice both concurrently, I realize I have internalized my outlook on how to live a virtuous life. In short, this outlook is best described as living The Middle Way (term borrowed from Buddhism).
The Middle Way. Maybe I could replace the words a little: The Sensible Way. Possibly, The Pragmatic Way. For sure, the extremes are a place to avoid.
“The body should be treated more rigorously, that it may not be disobedient to the mind. Eat merely to relieve your hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort.”–Seneca Letter 8
“There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.”–Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion” (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 12 February 2012, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html . Retrieved on 17 January 2013.