PREVIOUSLY: INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHISM
Epicurus (341–270 B.C.) founded one of the major philosophies of ancient Greece, helping to lay the intellectual foundations for modern science and for secular individualism. Many aspects of his thought are still highly relevant some twenty-three centuries after they were first taught in his school in Athens, called “the Garden.”
Epicurus’s philosophy combines a physics based on an atomistic materialism with a rational hedonistic ethics that emphasizes moderation of desires and cultivation of friendships. His world-view is an optimistic one that stresses that philosophy can liberate one from fears of death and the supernatural, and can teach us how to find happiness in almost any situation. His practical insights into human psychology, as well as his science-friendly world-view, gives Epicureanism great contemporary significance as well as a venerable role in the intellectual development of Western Civilization.
While reading the book I’ll admit that I dozed off while going through his explanations on clouds…
Clouds may be produced and take shape as the result of the compression of air by the forcing together of winds and as the result of the interlacing of atoms that grip one another and are suitable to bringing about this result…
Earthquakes may result both from the imprisonment of wind inside the earth, and from the earth’s shifting in small masses and its constant movement, which produces the quaking.
and falling stars…
What are called falling stars may be produced partly by the stars’ rubbing against each other and by the falling out of their fragments where a blast of wind occurs…
But I stuck in there and was rewarded in the end was very nice quotes that do provide a blueprint for living. Here are my favorites:
The man who alleges that he is not yet ready for philosophy or that the time for it has passed him by, is like the man who says that he is either too young or too old for happiness.
For there is nothing dreadful in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living.
Becoming accustomed, therefore, to simple and not luxurious fare is productive of health and makes humankind resolved to perform the necessary business of life.
[The wise man] thinks that it is preferable to remain prudent and suffer ill fortune than to enjoy good luck while acting foolishly.
No pleasure is evil in itself; but the means of obtaining some pleasures bring in theire wake troubles many times greater than the pleasures.
If every pleasure were [maximized] and existed for a long time throughout the entire organism of its most important parts, pleasures would never differ from one another.
Of all the things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.
We do not need the help of our friends so much as the confidence that our friends will help us.
Speaking frankly, I would prefer, when discoursing on nature, to utter useful things, like oracles, to humankind, even if no one should understand them, than to agree with popular opinion and enjoy the constant accolades offered by the crowd.
Some men spend their whole life furnishing for themselves the things proper to life without relaizing that at our birth each of us was poured a mortal brew to drink.
The voice of the flesh cries, “Keep me from hunger, thirst, and cold!” The man who has these sureties and who expects he always will would rival even Zeus for happiness.
The wise man who has accustomed himself to the bare necessities knows how to give rather than to receive. So great is the treasure house of self-sufficiency he has discovered.
There is also a limit to frugality. The man unable to consider this suffers a similar end as the man who indulges in excess.
You ought to do nothing in your life that will make you afraid if it becomes known to your neighbor.
The following method of inquiry must be applied to every desire: What will happen to me if what I long for is accomplished? What will happen if it is not accomplished?
If the gods listened to the prayer of men, all human-kind would quickly perish since they constantly pray for many evils to befall one another.
No fool is satisfied with what he has, but instead grieves for what he does not possess.
He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing.
Know that what passes for good and evil among the throng if ephermeral, and that wisdom shares nothing in common with fortune.
Many men who acquire wealth do not find deliverance from evils but an exchange of their present evils for greater ones.
My take on his philosophy: peace of mind and confidence can only come from knowledge based on facts, and it’s the prudent application of knowledge that leads to a happy, social life where being poor but wise is preferable to being rich and lucky.
You can read his works for free at Epicurus.net.