Stoicism & Western Buddhism
- Buddhism and Stoicism adapts with time to “fit in” with the contemporary trends.
- Buddhism today is not the same as the Buddhism that Buddha taught.
- The western appropriation of Buddhist teaching has tended to focus on mindfulness and meditation.
- Traditionally Buddhism has been more focused on rebirth.
- Western Buddhism is an “adaptation” of the original.
- Stoic virtue is about maintaining an excellent state of mind and character in the face of life.
- The application of virtue is precisely what allows for life to “flow well”.
- Stoicism is intimately connected with developing virtue.
- One‘s life is determined by one’s perceptions, by what one thinks and not by externals.
- The act of retreat is an ethical preparation for the rest of life.
- Periods of meditation serve as a preparation for the contributions we make to society.
Humans are a social animal.
- By caring for others you care for your self.
- Bestow rewards on others and you will reap rewards yourself.
- We meditate not to escape from society, but to prepare for reentry into society.
- Stoic virtue fins its most active expression in how we treat others.
Western Buddhism is very much associated with encouraging a focus on the present moment (‘the only moment you ever have is now’ is one expression of this idea) although this aspect of mindfulness was not stressed by the Buddha himself.
Stoicism is, and always was, a highly practical philosophy as a way of life.
‘The central Stoic claim was that virtue is ultimately the only thing that really matters; it is the only thing that is truly good, and it is the only thing that can bring us well-being and fulfillment. Cultivating virtue ought to be our top priority, above all other things, if we want to live a good life.
‘Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to live…while you still have life in you, while you still can, make yourself good.’
Epictetus considers that the unhelpful mental states that result from such craving must be removed from life altogether. As he puts it, the task of the philosopher is as follows: ‘…to strive to remove from one’s own life grief and lamentation, that shout of ‘Oh poor me!’ and ‘oh how miserable I am!’, and misfortune and failure.’  For Epictetus, as for the Buddha, the philosophical path is about removing this kind of craving, which is really the result of a continuous self-preoccupation to have the universe accord with one’s own wishes. Rather, we need to see what the universe brings us and then work out how best we can live within this reality.
in Stoicism, the life of virtue is simultaneously both far away and close at hand. It easily returns when you can see a new and skilful way of responding to the current situation and act on that while it just as easily disappears when you find yourself ‘stuck’, when life is no longer ‘flowing well’.
In order to make ethical progress in life and ‘skill at living well’, we need first to turn our attention inwards: our outer life will be a reflection of our inner life.
we see that our ability to take a step back and rethink things, to change our conception about things, is absolutely central to living a good life.
Improving our abilities to live well is not something done in isolation from life: rather it happens precisely in the very nitty-gritty details of the everyday.
both philosophies consider that we have a responsibility to engage in this process of ensuring that we continually encourage the mind in better directions.
Everything is a learning process and, in fact, this process never ends. How we relate to life as it unfolds is a process mind-development, a development which, in turn, strengthens the mind for life as it unfolds. Life is an ongoing project of ethical development until the day we die.
A philosophy that is concerned with self-change needs techniques and tools which are focussed on developing awareness of character, an awareness which subsequently allows for change of character.
I would suggest that the Stoic equivalent is ‘Behaviourism towards Virtue’. By this I mean that the Stoic tries continuously to work out how to reframe their emotions and thoughts in light of virtue, which, according to Stoicism, is the most important thing in life.
If we truly understand our own need for self-care, we will not harm others, for everyone is in the same, human situation. There is a shared principle of humanity at play.
In Stoicism, the ‘self’ is an inherently social self, not an isolated entity. What is good for me is what is good for me as a social being.
Just as a limb is an essential part of the body, so is each group of people an essential part of humanity as a whole.
‘No one grows tired of receiving benefits, and to bestow benefits is to act according to nature; so never grow tired of receiving benefits by bestowing them on others.’
Our inability as humans to sit quietly and observe the workings of our own mind in meditation, with an internal ethical compass, is reflected in the widespread destruction that human beings can bring down upon each other.
Stoicism’s strength is to be found in providing an ‘ethical framework’ by which to live our lives,
Buddhism’s focus, particularly thanks to the emphasis on mindfulness, is continuously placed on a gently loving acceptance of the present moment. In having this focus, though, we might tend to miss the ‘bigger picture’ of what our lives are about and what kind of ‘ethical project’ we are engaging in longer-term.