Monday, April 7, 2014

Parallel lines: Reflections on the 92 tram

Re-reading Seneca's 'On the Shortness of Life' and 'On Tranquility of Mind' yesterday on the number 92 tram I was struck by how the Stoic analysis of 'dis-ease' of mind is similar to the first of the Four Noble Truths in the Buddha's diagnosis of Dukkha or 'unsatisfactoriness' or 'suffering'.  This is an essentially medical approach to the analysis of the problem, dis-ease- dukkha, (to be understood)  the virus - craving (to be abandoned),  health -Nibbana- (to be realised) and the cure or practical course of treatment - the Noble Eight-fold Path (to be followed) 

There are perhaps further parallels with the way that ancient philosophy in the west was practised as a way of life, 'Bios' dedicated to self-cultivation through the practice of physics, ethics and logic in order to live in accord with nature and reason which Pierre Hadot explains in 'What is Ancient Philosophy' and 'The Inner Citadel-The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius' 

The goal of the ancient philosophies, Hadot argued, was to cultivate a specific, constant attitude toward existence, by way of the rational comprehension of the nature of humanity and its place in the cosmos. This cultivation required, specifically, that students learn to combat their passions and the illusory evaluative beliefs instilled by their passions, habits, and upbringing. To cultivate philosophical discourse or writing without connection to such a transformed ethical comportment was, for the ancients, to be as a rhetorician or a sophist, not a philosopher.

The late Stoic philosopher Epictetus says this of attachment or clinging in the Enchiridion 

When you become attached to something, do not do so as to an object that cannot be taken away from you but as if it were something like a pot or a glass cup, so that, if it is broken, when you remember what it was , you will not be disturbed. 

And Luang Por Chah, the loved and respected teacher in the Thai Forest tradition. 

You may say, "Don't break my glass!" But you can't prevent something breakable from breaking. If it doesn't break now, it'll break later on. If you don't break it, someone else will. If someone else doesn't break it, one of the chickens will! The Buddha says to accept this. He penetrated all the way to seeing that this glass is already broken. This glass that isn't broken, he has us know as already broken. Whenever you pick up the glass, put water in it, drink from it, and put it down, he tells you to see that it's already broken. Understand? The Buddha's understanding was like this. He saw the broken glass in the unbroken one. Whenever its conditions run out, it'll break. Develop this attitude. Use the glass; look after it. Then one day it slips out of your hand: "Smash!" No problem. Why no problem? Because you saw it as broken before it broke. See?

The first peonies of the season have arrived in the florists shops

The true mind arises from the deluded mind. Things in their true nature and illusions are of the same basic substance.....The rose is on its way to becoming the garbage and the garbage is on its way to becoming the rose. She who observes discerningly will see the non-duel character of the rose and the garbage. She will be able to see that there is garbage in the rose and their are roses in the garbage..........If true mind (the rose) can be discovered in the raw material of deluded mind (the garbage), then we can also recognise true mind in the very substance of illusion, in the substance of birth and death. 

Thich Nhat Hanh. Transformation and Healing. Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness 


  1. I love this entry. Poetic thoughts to live by, and beautiful images.

    1. Dear Angela, thanks for leaving a message, its so encouraging when something resonates for more than one person.