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, on their part,
(Have) the 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 of being able to oppose to that wind, and finally prevail on it: when this happens, an even stronger wind is born!

louvre-gilgamesh-epic

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

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

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

“It doesn’t matter what you have to endure, but how you endure it”.

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

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

“Is it any wonder if those who have faced an arduous climb don’t reach the top? If you are a man, however, admire he who attempts great feats, even if you see him falling”.

“The well-being can happen even to the common and modest people; to dominate adversity and tragedies is instead typical of great men. To always be happy and pass life without the bite of pain means to ignore half of life”.

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

-Seneca

The best men are tested by destiny and consequently their life 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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Related post: About Stoicism

Words of Wisdom #54, #55 & #56

“But this man was convinced of knowing while he did not knew, and instead I, as I did not knew, neither I thought of knowing. Anyway, I seemed to be wiser than this man, at least in this little thing, namely for the fact that what I don’t know, I don’t think of knowing it”.

-Socrates

“Knowing of not knowing is the supreme knowledge.
Not knowing believing of knowing is the disease”.

-Daodejing

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

-Seneca

We don’t really know the mystery of the universe, of time and eternity, of life and death. 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, and give up the presumption of owning a metaphysical knowledge that gives definitive answers to the fundamental questions. The best among us are those who know of not knowing!

Words of Wisdom #52 & #53

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

-Erwin Rohde

“To die but not be forgotten is longevity.”

-Daodejing

One of the ways to conquer immortality is to live your life in such a way that your descendants and your people will remember you as an example of heroic and honourable man. 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 Daoism

Daoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical tradition whose doctrinal foundations are found in three texts: the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some passages chosen from these works, which reveal a doctrine of opposites similar to that of Heraclitus also in relation to the concept of “panta rei” (“everything flows”):

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

Therefore being and non-being generate each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low lean one towards the other,
before and after follow each other”.

-Daodejing

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

-Daodejing

“Between night and day there is no separation and I don’t know at what moment they end”.

-Zhuangzi

“Under the sky everything sinks and resurfaces without ever perishing”.

-Zhuangzi

“Everything disappears and reappears, full and empty alternate, every end is also a beginning”.

-Zhuangzi

“Growth and decline, fullness and emptiness, end and beginning, here is the cycle of the world. In this way must be understood the great task that looms to each one, and the universal order that presides over all beings”.

-Zhuangzi

“Life transforms into death, death is the beginning of life. Life and death transform each into the other: why then should we be upset about them?”.

-Zhuangzi

“For those who know the heavenly joy life is a motion according to nature, death a change of form”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand beings (a peculiar daoist expression that refers to the infinite multiplicity of living forms that exist in the universe) and I are one single thing”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures are one single thing, but what they find beautiful is vitality and individuality, what they find ugly is stench and putrefaction. But stench and putrefaction transform into vitality and individuality, vitality and individuality transform into stench and putrefaction”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand things transform incessantly and we don’t know what presides over the change. How can we know what is an end? How can we know what is a beginning?”.

-Zhuangzi

“The beginning is the end of something, the end is the beginning of something else”.

-Liezi

“What is born returns to the unborn, what has form returns to the formless. What lives must necessarily die and what dies cannot help but die, as well as what is born cannot help but be born. So the yin and the yang alternate, so the four seasons follow each other”.

-Liezi

Finally I would like to talk about the Taijitu, a well known daoist symbol:

The Taijitu:
taijitu_base_by_arnatornwolf-d3jzs5c

In this symbol Yin and Yang (the origin of this symbolic dualism [whose primal manifestation is identifiable in the “first couple” composed by Earth and Sky] is ascribed to the observation of the shadowed side and the sunny side of a mountain) are two necessary and complementary ways of being of the same reality (and in their maximum metaphysical dimension they represent the philosophical concepts of Becoming and Being, which, as a result of the coincidentia oppositorum [“coincidence of opposites”], appear as two ways of being of a single principle, two different manifestations of a same and single reality, the Dao [the word “dao” is represented by an ideographic character that unites the signs of the head and the foots, i.e. unites the complementary opposites in an undifferentiated totality], the Universal Totality, the definitive metaphysical reality where the opposites coincide), and their intrinsic interrelation is shown by the fact that at the culmination of each of the two there is a seed of the other: 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 transform constantly one into the other: the opposites generate themselves reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow.