Here’s the thing with me and my philosophy of life: I have one and I don’t know or care much what one calls it.
By the time I was in Middle School, I didn’t believe in much. I think by then I’d decided that there was no heaven or hell per se, and I thought it was more likely that we just kept being reborn over and over again until we’d got it right. It occurs to me that I never thought about what happened if/when one “got it right.”
When I was able to begin enjoying Japan I learned about zen practice. One of the attractions of Buddhism was that it taught that, if something in their teaching didn’t work for me, I could leave it out; but that always struck me as kind of a cheat. If I disregarded everything having to do with Buddhism from a zen practice, was it still zen?
Recently I started reading the Stoic philosophers, I am and for some time have been aware that I am not well read or well cultured but I heard that VADM Stockdale had relied heavily on his recollection of the writings of Epictetus during his time in Hanoi. I might say that it hasn’t taught me much “new” except where “virtue is its own reward” came from. So far I’ve mostly read Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca – Romans – and very little from the earlier Greeks. No, I am not going to get all mushy about Stoicism. My observation I’m sharing today is that many people seem to get distracted by the name of things.
There is an online conversation ongoing about whether Buddhist practice influenced Stoic practice because there are several similarities. Zeno of Citium began his teaching on a stoa in Athens in the 3rd century B.C.E. while the Buddha is supposed to have begun his teaching a century earlier. I doubt they talked, much less collaborated. I’ve never done a past-life regression, but I doubt that either of them knew me back then, and I came up with a philosophy reasonable similar to theirs in pre- to early adolescence in a small farm town in Illinois. I’m looking for a little more insight, a little more clarity. I’m not looking for a name for my philosophy.
It occurs to me that this sort of thing seems to happen a lot. There’s a surprising (to me) diversity in philosophies, but all of the major world religions have more similarities than differences – or so it seems to me. Most of the Native American religions I’ve heard about emphasize living in harmony with “nature”. People say that there are differences in how we define “virtue” but I think we all know what is innately good. How we rationalize not doing what we know is good is all over the map.
I think we also spend an enormous amount of time and energy on things that we cannot control instead of focusing our resources on things we could control. I have a friend who hates her job and has as long as I’ve known her. I used to get caught up pitching possible alternatives to her to each of which she’d immediately come back with why she couldn’t. Epictetus wrote: “First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.”
I have questions. I presently do not believe in transplanting organs. I reflexively object to the idea of viewing bodies as a scrapyard of interchangeable parts, and it’s super-expensive. Our bodies are expending themselves as we speak anyway, and we can save way more lives with humanitarian relief programs than we’ll ever be able to (temporarily) save with transplants. Having said that, yes, there are a very few people to whom I would give any organ they needed. What would a Stoic Sage do?