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 Logos, the Universal Law, the divine essence that flows through all matter in the Universe, the reason, order, logic, necessity and harmony that govern the Cosmos (from Greek “kósmos”, “order”, in reference to an orderly and harmonic system). There is no randomness, everything is in its right place, as in heaven so on earth, as in the macrocosm so in the microcosm, though apparently it may seem the opposite is true. It is 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 real free will and any 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, i.e. predestination, 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

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

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

-Marcus Aurelius

“Whatever happens to you was predisposed for you since the time of times, and a dense intertwinement 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

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“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.

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 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 and atheist man that sees the order of the Universe as a product of mere chance, perhaps an accident. This kind of men sees 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. In the Hindu vision of life every human being is born with an innate nature, not hereditary and corresponding to a specific way of being and acting. The recognition of the specific nature of an individual allowed to determine his function and his belonging to the corresponding caste, only within which he could bring harmoniously to completion his own existence.

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 a 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 a task 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 a task>>. <<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 seeks his own inner perfection doesn’t afflicts himself for 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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