Enchiridion III


With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind or contribute to use or are tenderly beloved, remind yourself of what nature they are, beginning with the merest trifles: if you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond of—for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child or your wife, that you embrace a mortal—and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it.

This one moves quickly from the trivial to the most catastrophic losses. In that way it may seem to equate them, though Epictetus clearly intends to set a priority: begin with the most trivial, and continue all the long way. 

Romans lost children a lot more often than we do, and wives as well due to the heightened likelihood of death in childbirth. A preparation for this likelihood of devastating experience is one of the things that people would have found attractive in Stoicism. 

Among the dictates, this one in particular reminds me of Zen instruction. "See the cup as already broken," Zen advises, recognizing not only that it is the kind of thing that can be broken -- "remind yourself of what nature they are" -- but that its breaking is so certain that you should already be aware that it will ultimately not survive. For a while you may continue with it, but it is broken at some point in future time: when you get there, well, you were always going to get there. 

Death is certain, too, your own and not only the deaths of others. Keeping that thought in the forefront of the mind will prove to be a crucial part of the Stoic approach. So too Zen, at least as expressed in bushido.


Tom said...

Buddhism in general is about detaching yourself emotionally from the physical world, including your own body, so there is a lot of overlap here.

The core of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths:
1. Suffering is part of existence in this world
2. Suffering is caused by craving things or clinging to things
3. The way to relieve your suffering is to let go of craving and clinging
4. The way to let go of them is to follow the 8-fold path of Buddhism

Grim said...

Buddhism is actually much more radical in its claims; it wants you to detach from your mind, too. The ideal in Zen and Ch'an Buddhism is to stop thinking through meditation, in practice for detaching from the cycle of reincarnation -- to stop being, in other words.

Stoicism does not intend to eliminate your mind or your soul/spirit from existence. The similarities are striking, but the difference is fundamental.

Tom said...

That's not just Zen, of course, but all Buddhism. Ch'an / Zen were an attempt to return to the basics of early Buddhism, so they emphasize that aspect more, but in theory all branches of Buddhism seek release from the cycle of rebirth.

I've never really studied the stoics before, so it's interesting to see the differences and similarities you point out.

J Melcher said...

Isn't this also a call to be grateful and appreciative of your luck and life, for the cup and the family, in the moment that you happily happen to hold either? But losing the cup, you still have the family? Or losing the family, you have, like many in the book of Job, still managed to live on and tell your instructive tale?

Can a Stoic regard the cup correctly and still appreciate it?