Epictetus

Stephen is always looking for precursors to The Work. He wanted to share the following with you:

Here are two passages from Epictetus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 55 to 135 CE. He was born a slave, but with the permission of his wealthy owner was able to study philosophy, for which he had a passion. After he gained his freedom, he taught in Rome; the Emperor Hadrian was one of his friends. He was known to have lived a life of great simplicity, with few possessions. The core of his teaching was that we have no power over external things and that the good we all long for is to be found only within ourselves; if we wish for nothing but what God wills, we will be truly free, and our lives will be perfectly serene.

1. Some things are in our control; others are not. These things are in our control: opinion, impulse, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever actions are our own. But these things are not in our control: the body, possessions, others’ opinion, and, in a word, whatever things are not our own actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unhindered, and limitless; the things not in our control are weak, hindered, restricted, and belong to others. So remember: if you regard as free the things that are hindered by nature, and if you consider your own what actually belongs to others, you will be thwarted, depressed, and frustrated, and you will blame both gods and men. But if you realize that what is yours is really yours and that what belongs to others really belongs to others (as in fact it does), then nobody will ever compel you, nobody will hinder you, you will not find fault with anyone or accuse anyone, you will do nothing against your will, you will not have an enemy, and you will never experience any harm.

2. People suffer not because of what happens to them, but because of their thoughts about what happens. For example, death has in itself nothing terrible about it (if it did, it would have seemed terrible to Socrates as well). Rather, it is our thoughts about death that cause our terror. So when we are hindered or frustrated or upset, let us never blame anyone else for it, but ourselves, that is, our own thinking. It is the act of an unaware person to blame others for his own suffering. Someone who has gained a little awareness blames himself. Someone whose awareness is complete blames neither others nor himself.

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