adventures in dysthymia

Monday, March 07, 2016

Greco-Roman Buddhism

I have seen the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together...to obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions. ~ Marcus Aurelius

I have a considerable affinity for Classical Stoic philosophy; indeed, discovering the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius at age nineteen played a big part in getting me through those days (not that any philosophy can cure depression, of course). One might describe Stoicism as a sort of Greco-Roman Buddhism. It certainly has many similar views.

But the seeds of both — as well as the development of Judaic monotheism — may lie far back in Indo-European culture. Certainly, one can see them foreshadowed in the teachings of Zoroaster. Though he doesn't get the press of a Buddha or a Christ, Zoroaster is still important, predating and influencing those who followed. Perhaps even the Tao of Lao-tze shows those influences — influences that, in turn, later filtered back into the West (resulting in, among other things, the Sufi).

The God of Christianity, of Islam and of Judaism, is a transcendent creator, who is more than what he has made, is separate from what he has made. He exists before and after all he has created. This differs from the ideas of godhood that arose from the Indo-European cultural tradition. Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Pagan — there is a pantheistic element there, god and universe as one. An heir to this tradition, the Stoic philosopher sees God as the totality of the universe. Each person has a part of the logos within, shares in that godhood. We are God Incarnate.

The universe itself is god and the universal outpouring of its soul...the universal existence in which all things are contained. ~ Chrysippus

This is a view which I can pretty much buy. Being is God. Would that Infinite Being, which contains all intelligences, be itself intelligent? I would think so but it can not be proven one way or another. Nor does it matter.

There are those things in the writings of the Stoic philosophers with which I must disagree. They did not have the understanding of the human mind, our nature, that we do now. Aurelius would have maintained that evil is the result of ignorance; I know that some simply are evil by nature. Sociopaths do not answer to any philosophical dicta. We are much more imperfect than the ancients were willing to admit!

Nor does our universe necessarily reflect any divine plan. Its divinity lies in its very existence, infinite being filling the infinite void. That is enough.

However, living in harmony and in balance is something I have attempted. To keep despair at bay, to not fall into anger and hatred (frequently of self) is not always easy. No, that's untrue — it is never easy. I can only try to remember that my brief flicker of life, seemingly inconsequential, is a part of the infinite. It is. I should ask for no more than that.

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