Words of Wisdom #57

“Who (then), my friend,
Can climb up to the sky?
Only the gods live there,
In company of Shamash, forever!
Men, for their part,
(Have) their days numbered:
Everything they do
Is (nothing more than) wind!”.

-Gilgamesh to Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Everything we do is nothing more than wind, but when a strong wind hits us it remains imprinted in our minds and we remember it, because it has challenged and fascinated us at the same time. Then someone among us will try to improve himself, with the aim to be able to oppose to that wind, and ultimately to prevail on it. When this happens, an even stronger wind is born!

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Related posts: Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)Sumerian Mists (Part 2 of 3)Sumerian Mists (Part 3 of 3)

Seneca: about Life, Destiny, Adversity, Willpower and Virtue.

“Gold is tried by fire, brave men by adversity”.

-Seneca

“Has relevance not what you have to endure, but how you are able to endure it”.

-Seneca

“To know yourself is necessary to prove yourself; only in this way a man can know what is his worth”.

-Seneca

“The safe road is followed by the weak and the cowards; the virtue seeks high and steep trails”.

-Seneca

“Is it any wonder that do not reach the summit those who have faced an arduous climb? If you are a man, however, admire the one who attempts great feats, even if you see him falling”.

-Seneca

“Wellness can happen even to the common and modest people; dominate the adversities and the misfortunes is precisely of the great men. Always be happy and go through life without the bite of pain means to ignore half of life”.

-Seneca

“Therefore we accept with serenity all that for law of the universe we have to bear. We are committed to this, to tolerate our mortal condition and not be disturbed in relation to what is not in our power to avoid”.

-Seneca

“The right man differs from the divinity only for his mortal condition”.

-Seneca

The best men are tested by destiny and consequently their existence is studded by adversities, so that they can manifest their virtues before the eyes of ordinary people, so that they can become role models. They are born to serve as examples, to become archetypes and teach to endure and overcome the difficulties of life. From the best we demand more, and destiny acts in the same way!

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Words of Wisdom #54, #55 & #56

“This man was convinced to know while he did not knew, and instead I, as I did not know, so neither I thought I knew. Anyway, I seemed to be wiser than this man, at least in this little thing, namely for the fact that I do not think that I know what I do not know”.

-Socrates

“The knowledge of not knowing is the supreme knowledge.
Not to know believing to know is the disease”.

-Tao Te Ching

“But man is still too much mortal to conquer the knowledge of the immortal things”.

-Seneca

We don’t really know the mystery of life, the mystery of death, the mystery of the universe, the mystery of eternity and the mystery of time. We can only aspire to get closer to the truth, and at best we will be able to discern something that is merely similar to it. Ultimately, we’ll have to accept of not knowing. This awareness is the fundamental reason that will push us to seek our personal answers to these dilemmas. We are surrounded by a mass of conceited ignorants, sure to know the truth and to have the answers to every question. Ignorants unaware of being such. Beware of these individuals! The best among us are those who know that they don’t really know!

Words of Wisdom #52 & #53

“The body dies, the person disappears, nothing remains alive on the earth, except the memory of the virtue and actions of the deceased”.

-Erwin Rohde

“Be dead but not forgotten is longevity.”

-Tao Te Ching

One of the ways to conquer immortality is to live your life so that your descendants and/or your people will remember you as an example of honourable man/woman. In this way you will become a role model and surely someone will try to live following your footsteps and imitating your deeds. Your name will live on and you’ll have surmounted death!

The Harmony of Opposites in the Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching (“Book of the Way and of the Virtue”) is one of the fundamental texts of Taoism, a Chinese philosophical/religious tradition. I will quote some verses that expose a doctrine of opposites comparable to that of Heraclitus:

“When in the world everyone acknowledges beauty as such,
that’s when uglyness is already present.
When everyone acknowledges goodness as such,
that’s when badness is already present.

Therefore being and non-being are generated at each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low hang down one towards the other,
before and after follow each other.”

-Tao Te Ching

“What you want to contract you must first expand,
what you want to weaken you must first strenghten,
what you want to refuse you must first exalt,
what you want to take you must first give.”

-Tao Te Ching

Finally, I would like to talk a bit about the Taijitu, a well known Taoist symbol.

The Taijitu:
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In this symbol, light and darkness are two subsequent aspects of a unique reality, their apparent distinction and opposition supports the harmony of a cyclical process. When the light energy (Yang) reaches its culmination, then begins to grow the dark energy (Yin), and vice versa, they are transformed constantly one into the other. The opposites are generated reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow!

Words of Wisdom #51

“Remember that you are an actor playing a part in a drama that is how the playwright wants it to be. A short part, if he wants it to be short, long if he wants it to be long. If he wants you to play the part of a beggar, perform this role with skill: or that of a lame, or of a magistrate, or of a private citizen. In fact this is your task: to perform well the role that has been assigned to you. The choice of this role, however, is up to someone else”.

-Epictetus

Maybe it will be useful to remember that the “playwright” referenced by Epictetus is nothing else than the Universal Nature, the reason and harmony governing the cosmos. There is no randomness, everything is in its right place, as in heaven so on earth, though apparently it may seem the opposite is true. It’s not the first time that I propose such a vision of destiny, according to which literally everything that happens during our individual lives was predisposed and “sewn” for us, without there being any truly real possibility of forging our own destiny in the meaning that we usually give to this potentiality. However, even if we assume that this is the truth, we can not but acknowledge that we live inside a sort of illusion, of such a power that we can’t live even a day without acting and thinking as if we were the real masters of our destiny. In this perspective the best thing to do would be to see our very being (our external appearance and the way in which we tend to think and act) as the result of our previous lives, of our conduct in a previous existence. So we start with a base, a form that comes from the past but we can choose in which way we should live our lives and act accordingly, affecting in this way – for the better or for the worst – what will be our future existence.

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Other posts about Epictetus: About Stoicism, Words of Wisdom #32

Marcus Aurelius: about Destiny, Time and the Cyclicality and Metamorphosis of the Universal Nature

“Love only what happens to you and which lies woven in the great plot of life: there is in fact nothing that suits you best”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Whatever happens to you was predisposed for you since the time of times, and a dense interwinement of causes, starting from then, has bound your life to that particular event”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Don’t live as if you had still thousands of years ahead of you: it chases you, fast, destiny. As long as you live, as long as you can, become virtuous”.

-Marcus Aurelius

***

“Many are the superfluous and annoying things that you can eliminate, because they exist only in the opinion that you create about them: so that you can give a wider space to your mind, embrace in thought the entire universe, reflect on the infinite and eternity, note how is rapid the transformation of every single thing, how is short the time that flows from birth to death and which infinite abyss is the one that precedes birth and the one that follows death”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“All the things you see will soon be transformed by the universal nature, that from their substance will give birth to others, which in turn will be transformed into still others and so on, so as to enable the universe to remain forever young”.

-Marcus Aurelius

Observe the course of the stars and participate in their movement, then think intensely about the continuous and mutual change of the elements: you will feel purified of the filth of earthly life”.

-Marcus Aurelius

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About Destiny: Words of Wisdom #12
About Time: Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2), Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)
Quotes by Marcus Aurelius (and Epictetus) about Stoicism: About Stoicism

Bhagavadgita (Part 2 of 2)

In this second part I quote verses that expose the notion of “asuric” human being, the concept of the three guṇa and the hierarchy (“rule of the sacred”) of the Hindu class system.

***

 Sixteenth Chant:

4.”Hipocrisy, arrogance, vanity, anger, hardness of soul, ignorance: all this, Pārtha, belongs to him that is born for an āsura condition”.

6.”In this world there are two categories of beings: daiva and asura, the daiva one has been widely described; now listen from me, Pārtha, the āsura one”.

Krishna is going to expose the hallmarks of the “asuric” human being, a condition associated with disharmony and obscurity, while daiva is a condition associated with harmony and rhythm.

Pārtha and, lower, Paramtāpa are Arjuna’s epithets.

8.”They affirm that the universe is without truth, without foundation [or moral basis], without a Lord, devoid of regular causal connection and originated from passion”.

9.”Firm in their way of seeing [things], these unhappy, devoid of understanding and full of violence, come into the world to destroy it”.

10.”Indulging in an unappeasable passionate desire, full of pride, hypocrisy and arrogance, professing, through ignorance, bad inclinations, they move with impure motives”.

11.”Dedicated to endeavors without measure which terminate [only] with death, they pursue the goal in the satisfaction of passions, convinced that this is everything”.

12.”Kept in slavery by thousand bonds of desire, addicted to pleasure and anger, they seek wealth with unfair means, in order to satisfy their cravings“.

13.”<<Today I obtained this, this other I will have tomorrow; this good belongs to me and also this other, over time, will be mine;

14.”I killed this enemy and I will kill others; I am the master, I benefit of enjoyment, I am perfect, powerful, happy,”.

15.”I’m rich, of noble birth, who else can be similar to me? I will make offerings, gifts and I will rejoice>>, so [speak] those who are deceived by ignorance”.

16.”Agitated by the most disparate thoughts, enmeshed in the net of illusion, committed to satisfy their desires, they fall in an unclean abyss”.

21.”Triple is the door of the abyss in which the identified soul find the ruin: passion, rage and possess. Therefore man abandonments these three qualities”.

Verses 8.-16. and 21. are a merciless criticism of the materialist, atheist man that sees the order of the Universe as a product of mere chance, perhaps an accident. This kind of men see the world exclusively from an anthropocentric and selfish point of view and as a consequence have no qualms to exploit and destroy it in order to satisfy their degenerated passions and desires, in order to reach every sort of wealth and pleasure: that’s the only meaning and purpose of their existences. The good and honourable man should instead abandon these inclinations.

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Eighteenth Chant:

30.”Pārtha, that intellect which knows the action and the non-action, what must be done and what must not be done, what must and must not fear, what binds and what free, is said [pervaded] of sattva”.

31.”That intellect, Pārtha, which erroneously intends the just and the unjust, what must be or must not be accomplished, is said [pervaded] of rajas”.

32.”That intellect, Pārtha, which, enmeshed in darkness, intends the unjust as just and consider what must be done for what must not be done and vice versa, is said [pervaded] of tamas”.

Verses 30./31./32. distinguish the three guṇa (“constitutive quality”, “attribute”), that are called sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is the guṇa corresponding to equilibrium, harmony, light, knowledge and purity. Rajas is the guṇa corresponding to activity, energy, desire and passion. Tamas is the guṇa corresponding to obscurity, inertia, ignorance and passivity.

41.”The duties of the brāhmaṇas, of the kṣatriyas, of the vaiśyas and of the śūdras, Paramtāpa, are distinct according to the qualities (guna) originated by their very nature”.

Each guṇa is associated with a varṇa (“colour” but also “order” or “class”), that is the classes of the Hindu traditional society, characterized by a symbolic color and by the different skin color of their members: clearer among brāhmaṇas (sattva guṇa, color white) and kṣatriyas (rajas guṇa, color red), darker among vaiśyas (tamas guṇa, color yellow) and śūdras (tamas guṇa, color black). In relation to its own guṇa, an individual has a more or less deep innate intuition in relation to the nature of the Universe and the place that our existence and our actions occupy in it.

42.”Tranquility, self-control, austerity, tolerance and rectitude, wisdom (jñāna), distinctive knowledge (vijñāṇa), compassion are qualities inherent to the action of the brāhmaṇa and stem from his own nature”.

43.”Heroism, vigor, firmness, ability and not to flee in battle, generosity, leadership skills are attributes inherent to the action of the kṣatriya and are born from the essential characteristics that are proper to him”.

44.”Agriculture, the caring of livestock, commerce are the qualities inherent to the action of the vaiśya and are born from his own nature. The work of the śūdra, inherent to his nature, consists in [giving] services”.

45.”Anyone who finds himself to have pleasure in his own duty reaches perfection. Listen, therefore, in what way he who accomplishes his own duty reaches perfection”.

47.”Better is one’s own duty [inherent to one’s own nature], however imperfectly fulfilled, than the duty of another well practiced. One who performs the duty inherent to his own nature makes no mistake”.

Verses 41.-45. and 47. expose the different characteristics of the Hindu classes. Brāhmaṇa is the name of the first class/social order of the traditional Hindu society, the priestly one. Kṣatriya is the name of the second traditional class/social order, to which belong warriors, rulers and legislators. Vaiśya is the name of the third traditional class/social order, to which belong the producers of wealth (farmers, artisans and merchants). Śūdra is the name of the fourth traditional class/social order, to which belong laborers and service providers.

The Hindu class system is an order based on a true hierarchy (“rule of the sacred”), which sees on top the Brāhmaṇas. A similar order is proposed in Plato’s Republic – where the Philosophers have a role/position equivalent to that of the Brāhmaṇas – or can be found in Europe during the Middle Ages, although in an extremely degenerated and disharmonious form.

Krishna displays his vishvarupa (“universal form”) to Arjuna:
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Part 1: Bhagavadgita (Part 1 of 2)

Words of Wisdom #49

Kang-zi said to Yan Hui: <<Hui, come here. Your family is poor, your condition is humble. Why don’t you try to obtain an assignment of any sort?>>. <<No,>> said Yan Hui << I don’t want it. I have a small field out of the suburbs that produces the necessary for my soup and a bit of land in the city that produces me silk and hemp; To play the lute is enough to distract me; meditate on our Tao is enough for my delight. No, I will not try to obtain an assignment>>. <<Excellent is your idea>> said Kong-zi, who had changed expression. <<I heard this: “Who knows how to be content with little doesn’t care of profit; who only cares to find himself doesn’t grieves for any loss; who search his own inner perfection doesn’t afflicts of not having a social position”. For a long time I recited these words of wisdom. But only now I see them applied by Hui. The profit is mine>>”.

-Zhuangzi

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