Friday, May 9, 2008

The last great pagan philosopher

Marcus Aurelius was one of those rare and desirable things, the philosopher king. Well, philosopher emperor then. He was Roman emperor from 161-180 AD and it is said of him that he was one of those very few rulers whose sole aim was the welfare of his people. Whenever I read him, I am struck with the thought that I have neglected him. All I can say in my defence is that he is not a very congenial soul. He is apt to say things like ‘stop your whining, if its so bad then do something about it or die.’ But if he didn’t say things like that I suppose he would not be a stoic.
They call him the last great pagan philosopher. You will find in him no references to a Christian God or to life after death. But he might as well be talking about God when he speaks of the universe and universal nature. In my opinion, it is another face of the same mountain that all religions and philosophies are climbing.
Here is a diamond of truth from Marcus Aurelius that I carried in my agenda for many years (from 'The Mediations of Marcus Aurelius' translated by George Long):

If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs thee, but thy own judgement about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now. But if anything in thy own disposition gives thee pain, who hinders thee from correcting thy opinion? And even if thou art pained because thou art not doing some particular thing which seems to thee to be right, why dost thou not rather act than complain? – But some insuperable obstacle is in the way? – Do not be grieved then, for the cause of its not being done depends not on thee. – But it is not worthwhile to live if this cannot be done. – Take thy departure then from life contentedly, just as he dies who is in full activity, and well pleased too with the things which are obstacles.

Photo by José A. Warletta

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond