The 4 virtues of Stoic philosophy

Picture credits: Reddit

The man who has virtue is in need of nothing whatever for the purpose of living well.”- Cicero

Virtue is about goodness or morality. The stoics believed ‘the highest good’ in life is becoming a man/woman of virtue. They said any situation in life- be it a good one or a bad one can be dealt with virtues. So, it is quite important that we prioritize them. According to the stoics, there are 4 virtues that should govern our lives. These are:

  1. Wisdom
  2. Justice
  3. Temperance
  4. Courage

WISDOM:

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.” – Epictetus

It is easy to become knowledgeable especially during times like these when information is infinite. At the same time, attaining wisdom and becoming wise is difficult. Yet very important to be one. That is why the stoics kept ‘wisdom’ as one of the four virtues. As Epictetus said people are not disturbed by the ‘things’ that happen to them but by how they perceive those things that have caused them harm. Things are objective in this world. It is our added subjectivity that creates a problem. A wise person knows the difference. Wisdom might not get a lot of attention but the stoic philosophers knew its importance and did everything possible to become wiser every day. It doesn’t matter what we know. What matters is how we are applying into action what we already know. This is wisdom.

JUSTICE:

“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honoured. Dying…or busy with other assignments.” – Marcus Aurelius

Often times we all feel this world is not just. I used to believe the same and as I am getting older I am realizing this world is totally unjust where unfair things happen all the time. It was very hard to believe it but that’s the way this world works. In times like these it is more important than ever to put ‘justice’ at the top. Marcus Aurelius kept justice above other three virtues (wisdom, courage, temperance). It makes sense because there is no point of being a person who is wise, courageous and moderate in actions if he/she is not just and doesn’t treat people by fair means. We should all understand that we are all in this together and by treating everyone with justice we can keep the unity intact. Life is going to give many opportunities to harm and rebuke others. But we must never forget a beautiful line spoken by Rufus, to honor equality, to want to do good, and for a person, being human, to not want to harm human beings—this is the most honorable lesson and it makes just people out of those who learn it.”

COURAGE:

“Sometimes even to live, is an act of courage.”– Seneca

Life is meaningless if we are not brave and courageous. A courageous person can manage to do things that a talented person cannot who is devoid of bravery. Being scared is common. It is completely natural. Actually a little amount of fear is very helpful and motivates us to be more cognizant. But when it gets out of our control and we start succumbing to it then it becomes a big problem. No wars could have been won without courage. No big decisions can be taken without courage. Even life cannot be lived without courage. There are going to be moments in life when we will have to take a decision- to persist or to run away. The choice we make is going to shape our lives. We must always have courage to live our lives on our own terms. We must always have courage to hold on to our principles and values. We must always have courage to chase our dreams and goals. Courage is a beautiful tool. Its possession makes us life a lot more interesting and lively.

TEMPERANCE:

“As yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?”– Marcus Aurelius

Temperance is about knowing what is essential or in the words of Marcus Aurelius ‘necessary’. The modern times we are living in is run by a principle that “more is good”. So, we are chasing ‘more’ and then some ‘more’ and a bit ‘more’. This leaves us all discontent and dissatisfied. We are not happy and one of the biggest reasons is our relationship with abundant stuff. We have way more than we need to live  a decent life. Seneca said something similar, “You ask what is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, what is enough.” Abundance of material things is not the only thing that is adding suffering to our lives. Abundance of anything is not good- abundant emotions, abundant thoughts, abundant goals and ambitions, etc. Life is required to be lived in moderation. That’s the best shot to living a content and happy life.

“I Can Think. I Can Wait. I Can Fast.”

Picture credits: BlogSpot.com

Recently I have finished reading a book called “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse.

Why did I pick this book? Maybe I was expecting to gain some wisdom.

Did I?

Yes. I did. Of course I did.

There are many pages in the book pouring down some ultimate truths. But my favourite line throughout the book is when Siddhartha, a young man seeking discovery of the self, said, “I CAN THINK. I CAN WAIT. I CAN FAST.”

The line might seem trivial. If we care enough to think about it, however, there is so much that we can learn from it. We humans are always seeking ‘something’ in our lives. And unfortunately, many times we don’t have the slightest idea what that ‘something’ is. We have longings for materials. We have more attachment for ‘things’ and not ‘people’. We seem to be trapped in a vicious circle of desires where fulfilment of one doesn’t guarantee happiness and contentment. As soon as we accomplish A we turn our attention to B without even taking a moment to celebrate the A. It is not wrong to have goals and ambitions. We must have something to ‘look forward to’ or else we’d be walking dead. At the same time, there is a fine line between being satisfied with what we have or accomplished and desiring for more. Whoever sees the line clearly learns to stay blissful.

When Siddhartha told he could think, wait and fast he did not mean that he could not do the other things. Of course he could. But he emphasised on three key qualities which are worthy enough to be pondered upon. No matter what facts we know. No matter how smart or intelligent we think we are. No matter how big or mediocre or small we think our dreams are. If we cannot harness our ability to think deeply and constructively, to have some patience and satisfaction in life and control our instant gratifications then everything will be in vain.

I CAN THINK

We all think. Thinking is an integral part of our lives. We are a lot because of our ability to think. Interestingly, mere thinking is not enough. What’s important is the quality of our thoughts that is manifesting our process of thinking. Like Sam Harris mentioned in his book “Waking UP- Searching for Spirituality without Religion”, “The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing that we are thinking.” We all have negative and positive thoughts. And that’s okay because it is a result of evolutionary processes happening since millions of years. At the same time we must not forget to develop how to think constructively whenever a negative/bad event takes place in our lives. Constructive thinking helps us gain a better perspective of the external world and guides us further to minimize friction with the external environment.

Majority of the people, nowadays, are not deep but shallow. They don’t bother getting much into the core of at least some things. And this is very unfortunate because superficiality in anything especially in thoughts will only alleviate the symptoms & not the problems of our lives. Therefore, deep thinking should be practiced by making sure we are not turning into chronic over-thinkers.

I CAN WAIT

Patience is the key. We have heard this innumerable times. Sadly, we don’t actually understand what patience is all about. At least that’s what I believe. People who are hard-working, tenacious, opportunists and most importantly patient can manage to accomplish what they are seeking. It is because they know how and when to wait. They know good things take time and no one ever gets anything without keeping some patience. Siddhartha knew this very well.

I CAN FAST

Many people are going to comprehend the last key quality/ability of Siddhartha in terms of modern concepts like intermittent fasting. While intermittent fasting is beneficial for our physical and mental health this is a completely different area of which I will be talking about in my future posts. What my analysis is that by fasting Siddhartha is referring to having control over ID which is the source of instant gratifications. We must learn and teach ourselves to never sacrifice future pleasures for short term ones. That does not mean to be constantly putting experiencing pleasures in the moment on hold for future which is not guaranteed. But we must know how to experience pain in the moment for a better future. From time to time we should experience what it’s like to be devoid of something for some time.

Reading Siddhartha and coming across such a powerful sentence can never run short of imparting wisdom. Life is not a destination and we should not expect to become wise at any one point in life. Rather it is a journey and becoming wise is a process and each day we can become better than the day before.