My previous post in this series ended with stating my belief of major overlaps between Buddhism and Stoicism. To be quite specific:
• The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, defined as the ultimate happiness and the end of suffering.
• The goal of Stoicism is Apatheia, defined as peace of mind.
The Buddhists journey begins with understanding that:
1. Life is full of both physical and mental suffering
2. This suffering is caused by desire or craving, especially to obtain things we don’t have, or getting rid of things we don’t want
3. The end of suffering CAN be achieved
4. Following the steps of the Eight Fold Path is the route to ending such suffering
The Stoics journey begins with understanding that we must focus on the things we CAN control (internal to us) as opposed to the things we CAN’T (external to us).
The Eightfold Path is the set of steps that should enable us to see clear links with Stoicism. Here they are organised into three essential disciplines:
1. Right view: Understand that everything is constantly changing, that NOTHING is permanent so we must not become attached
2. Right intention: Commit to removing the constant attachment we feel to people and material things.
B: Ethical Conduct
3. Right speech: don’t lie, don’t talk down to or slander people, no malicious language, no idle gossip.
4. Right action: don’t kill, don’t steal, remain honest, no illegitimate intercourse.
5. Right livelihood: Don’t work in professions that cause harm.
C: Mental Discipline
6. Right effort: Be focused always on goodness and the prevention of evil.
7. Right mindfulness: Be aware of and attentive on the present moment, the here-and-now.
8. Right concentration: Apply focused concentration to your meditation practice, don’t let your thoughts stray or wander from whatever you have chosen to focus on.
Now as you look at this Buddhist path let’s compare it with the path of the Stoic. Their goal is to become clear about reality, and a major objective is to develop a degree of self-control that allows the individual to overcome destructive emotions. Stoics also have a ready-made recipe for their philosophy, in the form of a short list of virtues to practice which are courage, justice, temperance and wisdom. Both are trying to understand and accept the world as it really is and to focus on the here-and-now.
Both philosophies start the day with a form of meditation, Buddhists taking a reflective focus on life and meaning, Stoics thinking more about the coming challenges of the day and preparing for them.
Each philosophy differs in their explanations of how our world works. But the critical part is that both of them can be used to improve your life and make you a calmer and wiser human being.
So was Epictetus a Buddhist? Absolutely!