Sunday, August 26, 2007

(18) Duty

"Do not act unwillingly, nor selfishly nor without self-examination,
nor with divergent motives. Let no affectation veneer your thinking...
Moreover let the God within be the guardian of a real man...You
should stand upright, not be held upright."
[Marcus Aurelius, MEDITATIONS, Alfred Knopf, Everyman's Library,
1946, p.14.]

Comment: Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor of the Roman Empire,
wherein no man below him would be allowed to hold him upright.
At the top of his society, the ruler, his only true recourse was to rely
upon his own cognizance. That is not to say that he did not have
counselors, but in the end all his decisions and the actions that
ensued from such were ultimately traceable back to him.

Marcus Aurelius was deemed a "good" emperor by historians,
albeit the list of most Roman Caesars before him would make
nearly any decent man look good. Still, Marcus had the good
fortune to have a good family and also an adoptive family that
tutored him in the craft of statesmanship. Included in this, he
embarked upon the study of Stoic philosophy--and became a
proponent of the Stoa.

Now this isn't to say that Marcus Aurelius was a pious do-gooder.
He felt obliged to carry out his duty as Emperor. And this sometimes
meant standing in judgement, making harsh decisions, and also
waging war to protect his Empire from so-called barbarians. The
Stoic idea of doing one's duty is not necessarily as we might see
it today, especially from a religious perspective. Marcus Aurelius'
duty was to protect the Imperium from perceived destructive forces
from both within and without.

Interestingly, at the other end of the social spectrum was a freed
Roman slave--Epictetus, who also became a leading Stoic during
the time of the Empire. He was a teacher of the Stoa, concentrating
on virtue and morality.

Perhaps it would seem that Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are
extreme examples of the Stoa. Curious, but both truly suffered.
The Emperor surely was melancholy, as it seeps through in his
Meditations. It could be he was not all that comfortable in his role.
As Emperor he had oft to make personally harsh decisions that
likely roiled in his mind. On the other hand Epictetus was mistreated
as a boy, actually crippled by a cruel master. But Fate ultimately
provided him a master who saw to his education and eventually
gave him his freedom.

These two famous Stoics had different duties in life, and the only
thing they held in common was to follow their duty as they saw it.

One's outlook on duty must somehow impact on their accomplishment
of such. "Duty" as the Stoa presents it is not necessarily full of a list
of "do's and dont's," such as you might find in religious prescriptions.
Rather, the Stoa only asked that one try to be virtuous and act
naturally towards one's duty. The Stoa saw few issues when it came
to serving one's State or Nation or even Empire. For the Stoics these
societal constructs were systems necessary for the benefit and
protection of humanity.

Today we might be more inclined towards Epictetus' role and the
duty involved as a teacher. It perhaps seems more gentle. Still,
there are other duties, rough duties that are necessary in this world,
that seem less attractive. Fate thrusts us in these categories of duty.
The concern, always, is that we face our duty steadfastly, doing such
as virtuously as we can.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

(17) The Will of Nature

"Learn the will of nature. Study it, pay attention to it, and then
make it your own. The will of nature is revealed to us through
everyday experiences common to all people...Carry this
understanding over to matters of greater emotional import
and worldly consequence...Learn to accept events, even death,
with intelligence."
[Sharon Lebell , THE ART OF LIVING: EPICTETUS, a New
Interpretation of the Classic Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and
Effectiveness, Harper, 1994, p.35.]

Comment: Even if we are not familiar with Stoicism, much less
one of its leading proponents, Epictetus, most of us are familiar
with that old adage about "death and taxes." We can't escape
them, at least seemingly so.

There are tax evaders, especially so at the higher income brackets.
Occasionally such evaders are brought to justice, but that's
probably mostly a small dip in a deep pan. As for death, well
at the physical level it seems a pretty sure thing.

As for "events," well that depends on what we can or cannot
change. Epictetus hoped that we had the wisdom to understand
this. Some events are simply beyond our control--and we would
be better off to work through them and try to put them behind us,
if we can.

However, what about those situations or events that we can
alter or control? I suspect a lot of these kind of events, if we so
choose, can actually be deterred, prevented. In our own day we
perhaps have better opportunities to do this. Technology can
serve as a preventative or as a warning system; i.e., nature's
storms for example. Forewarned, we can move out of the path
of a hurricane--if we choose to do so.

We also can thwart medical disasters upon occasion. Our
health systems are focusing more and more on Preventative
Medicine. Today, too, we have Insurance whether it's for
fire or flood or accident or even to replace us, in that it provides
a certain financial security for family left behind.

So it would seem we are becoming more savvy when it comes to
circumventing the "will of nature." We still need intelligently to
accept certain events that are simply unavoidable; but, we are
also more intelligently learning to negate some events as well.

Nonetheless, we are only on the cusp of coping with nature. There's
no need to crow over our successes. Still, we have to consider that
we no longer have to assume a blank passive acceptance of events.
Such passiviity is now our enemy, if you will. If we are to make this
world a better place in which to live, we need come to grips with
seemingly impossible events.

For example, even death may take a turn for us. We now discover
that there have been thousands upon thousands of Near Death
Experience (NDE) reports coming down to us through the centuries.
We no longer consider the NDE as an "old wives' tale," but rather
now we have psychologists and medical personnel actually
examining this reported death event.

We still have to accept death on the physical level. A friend, a
family member, who has died is gone to us. Physically gone, but
maybe not spiritually. Do we really have to accept the "dead and
gone"? Many of us intuit that there is more to this phenomenon.
The challenge is *not* to be overwhelmed by death, but rather
cherish our hope and love for those seemingly lost.

In the end, we are learning to cope with nature in more productive
ways. We are learning to forewarn, learning to protect ourselves
better. And no matter our adversities, we are learning not to stew
in them; but, rather, we are evolving better coping mechanisms.
By using our intelligence, employing our ingenuity, we no longer
are totally enslaved to the will of nature. Most importantly, perhaps
the next step in our relationship, we are carefully beginning to
*respect* nature, learning how to work with her, letting her teach us!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

(16) Reason's Cousins

As Virgil asked: "Is this the way to the heavens?" In turn,
the Stoic philosopher Seneca responded. "For this is what
philosophy has promised me--that she will make me God's
equal. That's the invitation and that's what I've come for..."
[Seneca, LETTERS FROM A STOIC, Translator (Robin
Campbell), Penguin Books, 1969, p. 99.]

The ancient Stoa taught that we are as a microcosm to the
Macrocosm. And the Macrocosm was that Vital Force, the
great Reason that stood as the Plenum of the Universe.
And it is within this context, I believe, that the early Stoics
were talking in these terms as an equal to God.

*Reason* was the big outcropping discovery for the early
Greeks. It was a new human tool, very shiny and exciting.
Reason was that discovered capacity that seemingly made
the human rise above all the other life forms on the planet.
Albeit, however, even in this context only a few humans actually
were well honed in this new capacity wherein one could feel a
true son of God, or God's equal. The route towards living a
virtuous life under the aegis of Reason was that of philosophy.
And the Stoics felt that they had it right, were on the correct
course, if you will.

In today's world, some of these kind of ideas seem rather naive.
Over the course of more than two millennia, Reason isn't
worshipped as it once was. Perhaps the European Enlightenment
was the sunset of Reason as the one and only important human
capacity. Perhaps putting too much emphasis on Logic dimmed
our worship of Reason. More likely the evolution of learning, the
compiling of an ever increasing knowledge-base, put Reason
into a less comfortable place.

Today we look at ourselves, at our world, far more holistically.
We have come to understand that we humans are far more
diverse in our capacities, in our abilities, that now disallow
pigeon-holing ourselves into one specific category--Reason or
otherwise. Today modern psychologists realize that our mind
is altogether Emotion, Feeling, as well as Reason. And by
stressing just one category, there had been the tendency to
ignore these other useful capacities. What we modern humans
are learning is that holistically all our capacities must interplay
with one another, must work in tandem in order to be more
effective in this Game of Life.

I still believe that sentient forms of be-ing in this world are as a
microcosm to the Macrocosm; because it is our hope that in
some not yet fully understandable way the Universe, itself, is
the epitome of Sentience. But, again, Sentience cannot be boxed
in, just as a sentient being should not. Evolving, unfolding in this
world, is not about just one capacity over all the others in which
we have been endowed. Instead, it would seem we are meant
to discover over and over more capacities as we evolve towards
a greater maturity.

One of the major new fields rising in our own time is Consciousness
Studies. Scholars representing many disciplines are involved in
this new field. Indeed there are international forums sponsoring
this work more and more. Nowadays it is far from just Reason.
It is even beyond the more general categories of Emotion and
Feeling. Scientists now study Consciousness in relation to Quantum
Physics or within the more general context of the New Cosmology.
Scholars no longer are reticent about such human capacities as
telepathy or even subtle energies--hence we have Psi, Parapsychology.

Thus it would seem Reason has its cousins, so to speak. Reason
need not be rejected as we place our other human capacities in
their rightful place. After all, if not for Reason we would never have
discovered or come to comprehend these other aspects of the human
mind. And Reason, too, has come to be tolerant, more open in its
estimation of these other human capacities. Reason has allowed
itself to become a pioneer wandering in mental fields of which the
ancient Stoic could not even imagine.

Friday, June 29, 2007

(15) An Effective Life

"Practical reasoning...must be able to integrate all the
endeavors it assesses, either horizontally or vertically."
[Lawrence C. Becker, A NEW STOICISM, Princeton
University Press, 1998, p. 50.]

In today's world the above is good advice, but the task
is a harder matter! As I read these simple lines, it would
seem they come right out of a survival manual. Throughout
life we are constantly bombarded with issues coming from
outside; whereas, inwardly, we are constantly initiating new
endeavors for our selves.

Plainly put, our lives are complicated. Some of us pine for
a more simple life. Maybe a monastery? Doesn't happen.
I have been in monasteries where the regimen keeps one
involved from morning's rise to bedtime. Nonetheless, the
monastic life does involve a practical structure that (if followed)
can possibly enable a person to live a more effective life.

And I think that Stoicism also attempted to lay out a means
of self-disicipline through its emphasis on a virtuous life and
the working through of such via "practical reasoning."

The secret, I suspect, is about a realistic structuring of one's
life. It's not about some impractical, impossible lifestyle that
doesn't fit one's disposition nor one's circumstances. I think
it is more working through trying to understand one's disposition,
those proclivities that belong especially to our personal nature.

First we need come to "know thyself." The Stoic route is not
necessarily communal. First and foremost the responsibility
for attaining an effective life is personal. Initially, in whatever
way, we need come to understand who we are! What makes
us tick. How we are packaged psychologically. What traits and
talents come naturally for us. This inner examination is a very,
very practical pursuit.

Out of this inner important step we can come to structure, organize
our life--mainly because we have come to know who we are,
what we are capable of doing, and by what means with which
we are more comfortable in carrying out our endeavors.

Outwardly we consistently face varied challenges that this world
throws before us. The worry is not to collapse under these
continuous challenges. And the hope is that we can rise above
(and actually gain and learn from) these challenges. The world
can indeed be a school, if it doesn't kill us!

And perhaps the final aspect of a more effective life is about
integrating our inner knowledge with our outer abilities, so as
they work fluidly and naturally. Then we have half-a-chance!

Monday, June 25, 2007

(14) Feeding our Mind

"In spite of their emphasis on self-examination and internal
dialogues, Stoics do not do away with teachers. They freely
admit that both initially and at recurring moments of weakness,
one needs teachers to provide assistance, to pull one out of
the bog mire of mistaken priorities, and to undermine one's
deceptive self-complacency."
[Gretchen Reydams-Schils, THE ROMAN STOICS: SELF,
Press, 2005, p. 18.]

Comment: Whew! I should hope so! Self-sufficiency is an
admirable condition, but only if it is not based on ignorance.
A person, like just about any other life-form, has to grow always
into a greater sense of completeness. And if we don't, we are
not altogether our true self.

To use the analogy of growth, of development, when it comes
to plants and animals, such growth is dependent upon many
variables. There's the proper climate, the conditions of the
habitat, relationship also. There's the main ingredients of
nourishment, food and water. And special fertilizers or
enhanced food--and even sometimes an artificial environment--
can advance the growth process. There's always room for

We humans endure under these very same conditions. But,
beyond the physical, we have attained to a higher mental
level. And our mind needs nourishment and special treatment
if we are to reach the fullness of our potential.

Sadly, I once met a young man in his 20s who refused to
trust in nor even read books. His parents did see to it that he
graduated from high school, but after that level he simply
decided to stop growing mentally. Ten years later he is still
down in the pits of the labor force. I felt bad about this fellow,
because he was very adept and smart. But he was so adamant
against book learning. He never exposed himself to teachers
or authors who might have expanded his horizon.

On the other hand, this young man was spiritually inclined.
He felt "different" from others, moving willy-nilly into magical
thinking, assuming that what came forth in his imagination was
pure knowledge. He needed no other "authority." He was his
own authority!

One doesn't have to undergo the rigors of higher education,
but there would seem a need to try to self-educate one's self
if at all possible. There are libraries, and there's the Web that
nearly serves as the world's "Great Library of Alexandria." It's
incredible what is available to us in today's electronic world.
Closing our eyes, our mind, to this great knowledge-base of
information is nearly tantamount to being negligent towards
one's self.

Beyond this, too, an educated mind is important for the
development of the Human Collective. We are constantly
pouring our minds into this Collective, through our work, through
our interactions, through our institutions. And for this Collective
to run effectively, it needs the proper fuel of information and
guidance. "Teachers" are not always those just in the schools,
but rather also reside in those corners where wisdom dwells.
Good guidance consistently remains desperately needed.

As for any well-formed person, after they are well-grounded in
inherited knowledge, after they have attended good counsel,
it is at this point that they can more effectively mine their soul.
Additionally, an enhanced mind can better bring forth the fruits
of its contemplation.

Monday, June 18, 2007

(13) Common Basis of Religious Truths?

"Another Stoic influence of considerable importance in the
tradition of Christian Humanism was the view that all religions
have a common basis of truths concerning God..."
[Encyclopedia Britannica, "Philosophical Schools and
Doctrine," p. 608.]

Comment: If I remember correctly, ancient Stoics considered
various religions as representing different "faces" of God.
As for a common basis of truth, I am not so sure when it
comes to the various expressions of Religion. However,
one might guess around this issue.

I have recently read an interesting book by a famous church
leader, pondering whether the basis of Religion might really
revolve around our age-old need to survive in this world.
Various religions do exhibit a certain placating, whether via
ritual or prayer, that would seem to be forms of asking God
to protect us, to help us out. Also,there are certain kinds of
religious measures we need undergo that would make us more
acceptable--and safe!

Maybe not all, but certainly most religions also circulate
around one of our most basic human needs: that deep
ontological question about Meaning. Who are we in this
world, and what is the world all about?

Stoicism, itself, declares that we humans are as a microcosm
to the Macrocosm. This is a philosophical premise that surely
can serve our sense of spirituality. Perhaps some religions
borrow from this premise. Christ talked about the "Vine and the
Branches," if you will. And St. Paul devised an interesting term,
the "Body of Christ" in which various members would work to
build-up the Church by the action of their various talents and
abilities. This "Body of Christ" could be seen as a sort of mystical
macrocosmic entity wherein microcosmic members would
contribute to its evolution.

Beyond this, in more recent religious thinking, there's finally a
return to the idea of the Ground of Being, no matter the labels.
The theologian Paul Tillich wrote of the *Urgrund,* this great
Ground of Being in which we all reside. Pierre Teilhard de
Chardin, a Jesuit theologian and paleontologist, provided a
unique evolutionary view via his *Christogenesis.* He saw
cosmogenesis in terms of the Omega Point, a moving forward
and converging of humanity around the common center of a
Cosmic Christ. Again, in this there's the flavor of the microcosmos
in relation to the Macrocosmos.

I, myself, am theologically trained. Still, as I have hopefully
continued to mature, I look beyond a religion that may have
once been necessary for our survival. Sometimes this kind of
religion becomes a "concretion," a kind of box that reverts towards
literalist and magical thinking. Rather, I look more towards a sense
of Meaning that gives value to our existence. Personally I am
inclined toward a sense of evolving sentience in this universe,
where our minds are ever becoming more great and intense
"consciousness points" that are part and parcel of the Macrocosmos!

Nonetheless, as for a common basis of truths concerning God,
well it would seem to me that we are dealing simply with the
natural unfolding of increasing consciousness. And it's not a level
trajectory either! Still there are jumps from one plateau of religious
understanding to the next. Yet, not everybody jumps at the same
time! It is not an even evolution when it comes to religious thought
and expression.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

(12) Fence and Field

"In Stoic circles philosophy was compared to a fruitful field
surrounded by the fence of logic. The fence was designed
to ward off the attacks of the sceptic by showing that knowledge
of reality is possible. The soil of the field stood for physics, a
subject which the philosopher was expected to cultivate in
order to gain an understanding of the nature of the world.
The crop was the type of conduct expected from the Stoic wise
man in whom reason ruled and emotion was suppressed."
Thames & Hudson, 1992, pp. 132-133.]

Unto this very day philosophers--and the field of Philosophy--
carry forth their "proofs" when it comes to understanding the
nature of the universe and the considerations of right conduct.

When it comes to logic, according to the dictionary it is a
"reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles
of validity." Though we humans try, logic is easier said than done.
Perhaps it was easier in the Greco-Roman world of the ancient
Stoics, but in our contemporary world "validity" is like a fine mist
that can dissipate rapidly. Our modern knowledge base simply
is too overwhelming to assume a totally correct position or even
principle. We now realize that we live in a world that is becoming
ever more and more mysterious! Plain and simple, we really
don't know as much as we thought we did. So logic is fine and
good and still necessary for the benefit of reasoning, but we can
no longer hold it as being infallible.

Of course this leads us into physics, trying to understand the
"nature of the universe." These past several centuries have
truly been breakthrough centuries in this respect. Physics
exploded upon the scene after a long hiatus during the Middle
Ages. And it was surely a very different kind of physics than
that of the Ancient World. Modern-day physics may employ
logic to a certain extent; but mainly it is based on *observation,*
oft predicated on advanced technology. And what we have found
upon occasion surpasses logic, taking us by surprise even more
than we might want to admit. Particle Physics has discovered a
grainy strange world upon which we actually stand. Modern
physicists talk about mysterious mind-matter links, as they call
ours an "Observer-Participant Universe."

So today's Stoics might be more circumspect about getting an
ironclad grip on the universe, or even depending totally on a
declared infallible logic. Nevertheless, the Stoa's emphasis on
"virtuous conduct" based on reason and responsibility surely
still is commendable.

However, suppressing "emotions" may have been a losing
proposition right from the very beginning. Historically, even the
ancient Stoics backed off somewhat from this proposition. Their
reliance on *apatheia* (never to be mistaken as apathy) might
make better sense when it addresses those negative passions
that can make us sick, sad, and disturbed. These kind of passions,
too, can hurt and even kill. If humanity is to flourish, negative
passions need to be understood, controlled, and if possible,
re-configured into something more acceptable.

As for good emotions, good feelings, well I suppose they are a
category that enhances our sense of well-being. They act upon
us positively, and they can interact positively in our relationships.
So following the "logic" of this, a modern Stoic likely would have
to re-think fairly seriously about the suppression of emotions.
More than likely a smart Stoic, today, would be looking at this
issue from the perspective of Depth Psychology--not physics,
yet a mental science that has opened up a wide avenue of
understanding when it comes to the human "psyche."

All in all, today's Stoic surely can stand on the foundation of those
early Stoics; yet, in light of our more extensive modern knowledge
base, contemporary Stoics need adjust their perspective accordingly.

Monday, June 4, 2007

(11) A Common Climate

"Stoicism expounded a new outlook on personal dignity and
on the nature of law, together with a new conception of the state,
as reflecting world order and as leading men of all origins and
classes to personal fulfillment. It may be said that this philosophy
not only presented a moral alternative to Christianity, but also
that it helped develop a climate in which Christian teaching
could take hold more firmly. Many of its doctrines were trans-
posed into Christian thought by the Fathers of the Church
and have become important aspects of modern civilization
and thought. "
[New Catholic Encyclopedia, "Stoicism," p. 719.]
(Also,see the "Assimilation" post in this website)

Comment: Considering that these seemingly "modern" ideas
were around more than twenty centuries ago, one surely has to
count Stoicism as a real breakthrough in human consciousness!
This "new outlook" cropped forth in the midst of elitism, when
only the aristocracy might vote, where slavery seemed a
cultural necessity, and gender persecution of women had
been the norm for generations infinitum.

True, too, that Stoicism provided a receptive climate for Early
Christianity. This particular religion put a *personal face* on
the pantheism--or as some now think, panentheism--of the
Stoa. The ancient Gentiles of the Greco-Roman world were at
least vaguely familiar with these philosophical currents that made
it easier to convert them to the new religion of Christianity.
Scholars oft speculate that St. Paul of Tarsus may have been
familiar with the tenets of Stoicism. A major Stoa was located
in his city. And when one reads a good portion of his Epistles,
there's a universality there and even themes that suggest he was
borrowing from Stoic thought. It makes sense, considering the
Gentile audience he was aiming to convert.

Additionally, this process that moves from the Ancient Stoa to
Early Christianity can be viewed from another perspective. It's
about a CONTINUUM of Thought (or Information), if you will.
It's not only about the considerations of Deity, about the Logos
and the Pneuma, unto Christ as the "Incarnation of the Logos,"
about the Holy Spirit, but it is also about consolidating and
working towards a world order: i.e., the Body of Christ, in which
all served its purpose, employing their respective talents and
abilities. The Stoa's "City of Zeus" became Early Christianity's
"City of God."

Alas, peering out into the world of our own day, it would seem
that much of the hopeful thought of both the Ancient Stoa and
Early Christianity has evaporated. Christianity slipped into a
medieval mode, becoming more and more authoritarian, later
more and more fragmented as various groups grasped for
reform. As for the Stoa, well it graduated for a long time into one
of those lost philosophies where only a few scholars here and
there took interest. As majestic as Stoicism was as a philosophy,
it never made it down to the grass-roots of Humanity. And
Christianity lost its high horizons and fell to earth, now swaddled
in the parochialism of the grass-roots, oft swayed by those
authoritarians who play their own power politics in this once
hopeful religion.

Still, there's a common climate that exists between the Stoa and
what may eventually become a future, universally-oriented
Spirituality that seems to be arising here and there, in the world,
in our own time. The central themes of Stoicism can hold true
morally and even in terms of the idea of a Universal Ground of
Being, based not only on contemporary theological concepts but
also on some aspects of modern science theory.

Friday, June 1, 2007

(10) Flawed Fate

An encyclopedic account notes that "Zeno defined the end at
which man should aim as 'life in accordance with nature,' and
by 'nature' he meant not only man's instincts which lead him
to choose' the primarily natural,' i.e. life, health, etc., but also
the whole nature of the universe, which is identical with God.
Every event in the whole universe is necessary, providential
and due to the divine will. Since man cannot wholly foresee
the future, he is bound sometimes to choose what his own
nature suggests but what fate will prevent his attaining."

Comment: The above stated thought is unfortunately flawed.
There's no doubt that humans have a mind of their own, and
that more than occasionally they choose what is not good
for their own sake and even for the Greater Good. However,
Fate would oft seem remiss when it comes to disallowing
wrong decisions and actions.

We only have to look at Human History. It is full of horrific
acts. We only have to look at Natural Events. They, too,
can bring forth catastrophe.

The ancient Stoic believed that we somehow need "grin and
bear it," if you will. But is this idea a misnomer? Partly, in
that Stoic philosophers often wrote treatises that pretty much
were *avoidance manuals.* They focused on virtuous living.
By doing so, humans would learn to make the right decisions,
would learn to do the right thing.

There's certainly merit in the virtuous life--a life that includes
all the wise avenues and approaches we humans have devised
over our long history. Still, no one--not even the wisest of
Stoics--has ever attained what is deemed a "Sage" status.
Even within the context of the virtuous life there's struggle
and failure.

And in today's modern world, we face awesome struggle
and failure. Wrong decisions can lead to terrible tragedies.
And wicked decisions can lead to horror. The Stoics realized
that there were those who lived an un-virtuous life, and they
responded with a sense of moral condemnation. But in our
own time, condemnation without action will not cut it. We
cannot afford to leave it at that, so to speak.

As for equating God with the universe, well there are pantheists
and panentheists. Yet trouble arises when God seemingly
does allow Evil. Our long-held concepts of an All-Good God
become fragile in the face of Despair and Death and Dissolution.
Long after the Stoics our theologians try to cope with the Theodicy
Problem, boiled down to "why does God allow bad things to
happen to good people?"

On the other hand, one might see some merit in "living according
to nature" when we work to try to understand ourselves--i.e, our
specially formed proclivities, our disposition. When we better
understand our self, we can learn to go with the flow of who we
are. Using psychological lingo, learning to cooperate with our
particular archetypal construct is better than trying to cope with
stereotypical expectations that simply do not fit who we are.

It would be commendable, too, to try better to understand
how our universe works. Albeit, we humans are still "babes in
the woods" when it come to this intention. Still, if we could learn
to cooperate more with our natural surrounding, our environment,
we might learn to live in harmony with our planet. We might
learn, also, that our universe is a Gigantic System in which exist
systems upon systems infinitum. We might even discover
that ours is also a relational universe, i.e. Deep Ecology. It's
all connected!

Still, in today's world--as much as we can work to become more
wise, as much as we might learn about the workings of our
natural ecology, both individually unto universally, there's really
no guarantee when it comes to our fate. This goes against Stoic
principles, I suppose. Nonetheless, other Stoic tenets do talk of
virtue, of bravery, of justice, of moderation that boils down to
*intelligent living.* These tenets are helpful and can certainly
be applied to make ours a better world in which to live.

We just have to grow into them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

(9) Inborn Ideas

As put in Stoic teaching..."inborn ideas are part of the soul's
inheritance from that universal reason of which the soul is
a fragment."
[Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Stoics," p. 861.]

Comment: We humans have ideas popping into our minds
nearly non-stop. That's part of the human condition. On the
other hand, we more than often don't concentrate enough
on most of these ideas. Often, too, a lot of the ideas that
meet our minds seem fragmented, not altogether, not concise.

There's also the environment in which these ideas form.
Our minds vary. Some are well-honed, others impoverished,
and most are likely preoccupied with our everyday living and
occasionally with the immediate issues of survival. So--inborn
ideas are not always planted in fertile ground.

When such precious ideas do match with a complimentary
environment, it's then that sometimes the idea grows from
immediate comprehension unto a profitable thought unto,
maybe, an actuality.

There are some today, both in theology and in science, who
theorize that ours is both an inner/outer universe. Like ourselves,
the universe possesses both a "without" and a "within." Some
of these theorists ponder that perhaps innate ideas are a product
of an implicate order that somehow thrusts these ideas outward
into the explicate order of the universe.

Again, theorizing, but such scholars feel that it is very important
that we connect more and more, better and better, with these
inborn ideas. They are coming from "within" and need to be
met in the "without."

If these theories are anywhere near being correct, what would
be the significance of this process? We could employ a religious
perspective, presuming that these ideas are coming from God.
But harkening more to the idea of a Universal Reason, perhaps
inborn ideas are simply part of the natural process--in which the
ideas have always been in existence in the Macrocosm and
slip forth into microcosmic forms when they have reached an
evolutionary point wherein they can receive and perhaps cope
with these ideas. Perhaps inborn ideas are meant to be the
building-blocks of cosmic development?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

(8) Seed unto Code

"The basic concept of Stoic physics is logos, a Greek word
meaning 'reasoned speech.' In Stoicism it describes divine
power, pervading all things, also referred to as a breath,
which infers *pneuma,* or a seed...It permeates animate
and inanimate matter. It is mind, nature, and disposition."
[Encyclopedia Americana, "Stoicism," p. 734.]

Comment: "Seed" is a familiar archaic term that we refer to
when we observe growth in something. There's an underlying
assumption that within a seed can be found the information
that determines the finished product, whether a weed, a
flower, a tree, an animal, or a human being.

In modern times we may tend more to think in terms of
"code." We are all familiar with the subject of DNA. We
know about genome projects. And we have discovered
that DNA, itself, is code. And all of life is permeated with
this code that wraps around itself in a myriad of ways and
produces the magnificent diversity of life we find on this

As for our minds, our nature, our dispositions--are they, too,
a response to code? Currently there are bio-medical studies
about the hard-wiring of the human brain, with some scientists
inferring that we are even hard-wired when it comes to morality,
our ability to want to be ethical. Conversely, sometimes there's
a loose or missing wire, hence psychopaths.

From another perspective, particularly that of Depth Psychology,
there are "archetypal" aspects that determine who we are, how
we are put together in terms of mind, nature, and disposition.

In the past archetypal psychologists have seen psychical
currents that not only determine who we--as individuals--are,
but also how such impacts upon the Collective Mind of our
various cultural systems. Some make out these archetypal
forces in nearly mystical terms. But what if archetypes are
actually just another form of code? We have actually labeled
those primary archetypes that have been identified, usually
again employing fundamental but mystical terms. Why?
Mainly because our myths and ensuing symbolism that
surround these archetypes have in the past been seen from
a mythical or spiritual perspective.

But in today's world, just maybe we might want to re-approach
these archetypal forces of the mind as code! James Hillman,
a famous depth psychologist, has begun to do this. See his
CALLING, that sees *code* standing behind the analogy of
the seed or the archetype.

So--it would seem that the ancient cosmology of the Stoa
could be linked with a Cosmic Intelligence, i.e. the Reason,
or the Laws of the Universe, that stand behind the coding of
the cosmos and everything in it. Yet another question arises:
is everything already determined?

Determinism vis-a-vis the Freedom of Choice has been a
debate probably since the dawn of consciousness. Perhaps
this situation need be seen half-way. There's coding that holds
the potential for a particular form, a particular completeness,
but there's no guarantee that the seed will unfold appropriately.
In flowers, plants, and trees the climate is always a variable.
And adaptation is also a variable, both for flora and fauna.
Conditions play upon the coding, if you will.

Than again, there's mind! Is it a human quality that somehow
goes beyond the hard-wiring of the brain? Or is mind simply
subservient to the brain. That's a hard question that no one has
yet managed to answer with any degree of certitude. Still, we
humans certainly do display the Freedom of Choice--more than
often wrong choices, alas! Even the Stoics got into this issue,
when it came to the Virtuous Life. We have concerned ourselves
over this issue nearly forever.

Lest we forget, Stoic physics did refer to the "pneuma," a Spirit,
a Breath, a permeating Force that stands behind the Intelligence
(or Reason or Law(s) of this Universe. If we humans are likened
to be a microcosm to the Macrocosm, well it can be inferred that
we, too, possess our own pneuma (or spirit, or soul) that stands
behind all that we are and will become. We may be coded,
hard-wired, but more than often we seem also to have the ability
to choose what we make of ourselves--and, eventually, of our

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

(7) Cosmology of the Ancient Stoa

The word "cosmology" is defined as the science of the origin
and development of the universe. In modern times we think
of the Big Bang, of Particle Physics, and AstroPhysics--all
assisted by cutting-edge technology--when we consider
the origin of the universe. However, more than two millennia
back in time, the ancient Greek philosophers were not privy
to the theoretics and the technology so familiar to us today.

Stoics nonetheless inherited a cosmic tradition, handed down
by Greek mythology. For example, "the analogy between
living beings and parts of the cosmos [was] extremely ancient
in Greece and antedates all written records." Indeed, the
analogy between microcosm and macrocosm can be traced
back as far as the sixth century b.c.e.
Ohio State University Press, 1977, p.63.]

Ancient Greek physics consisted of air, fire, water, and earth.
Consequently, Stoic philosophers forged their cosmology
within this context. Also, early on in Greek philosophy
"the idea became popular that the cosmos as a whole is a
single living being."
[Ibid, p. 63.]

Even more specifically, early Stoic philosophers stressed
a cosmic-biological character when it came to the universe.
For example, the early Stoics believed that the cosmos
originated out of the "fire of the conflagration." And as Zeno
reportedly put, the fire is "as it were a seed of the future
cosmos, possessing the *Logoi* (Reason) of all things."

Eventually this primeval fire changes into water. Out of this
comes the concept that body and soul are as two distinct
entities. As Hahm put: "Clearly the water is body and fire
is soul."

Continuing with biological terms, the Stoics refer to seed
in terms of sperm, which was wet, watery. As put, "as the
seed is embraced in the seminal fluid, so also this (i.e. god),
being a *spermatikos logos* of the cosmos is left behind--
making the matter adapted to himself for the genesis of the
next things..."
[Ibid, p. 60.]

In time Stoic physics moved into more sophisticated terms
when it came to discussing the cosmos. They considered
*Pneuma* (Spirit) as an all-pervasive intelligent force that
mixes with "shapeless and passive matter" and "imbues it
with all its qualities."
[S. Sambursky, PHYSICS OF THE STOICS, MacMillan
Company, 1959, p. 18.]

The Stoics also referred to *heimarmene*, an orderly succession
of cause and effect. To quote: "Heimarmene is the natural
order of the Whole by which from eternity one thing follows
another...[and] embodied in the definition of heimarmene
follows its meaning as *Logos* (Eternal Reason), as the divine
order and law, by which the cosmos is administered."
[Ibid, p. 58.]

Essentially this idea of Eternal Reason--the *Logos*--is about
an intelligently designed Fire that structures matter in accordance
with it's plan. Hence, out of a "shapeless and passive matter'
the Stoics endowed the cosmos with Intelligence and Reason
via the workings of the Fire of the Spirit, the *Pneuma.*

In due course the Stoics addressed the existence of human
beings in this Living Cosmos. They considered Man as a
microcosm to the macrocosm. Referring back to the Pneuma,
the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus considered that "the cosmos
is permeated and given life by the Pneuma, the same...makes a
man a living, organic whole." Hence, the Stoic emphasis on
the microcosm vis-a-vis the macrocosm!

Friday, May 18, 2007

(6) Cleanthes "Hymn to Zeus"

Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names,
ever all-powerful, Zeus, the First Cause of Nature, who
rules all things with Law, Hail! It is right for mortals to call
upon you, since from you we have our being, we whose
lot it is to be God's image, we alone of all mortal creatures
that live and move upon the earth. Accordingly, I will praise
you with my hymn and ever sing of your might. The whole
universe, spinning around the earth, goes wherever you
lead it and is willingly guided by you. So great is the servant
which you hold in your invincible hands, your eternal,
two-edged, lightning-forked thunderbolt. By its strokes
all the works of nature came to be established, and with it
you guide the universal Word of Reason which moves
through all creation, mingling with the great sun and the
small stars. O God, without you nothing comes to be on
earth, neither in the region of the heavenly poles, nor in
the sea, except what evil men do in their folly. But you know
how to make extraordinary things suitable, and how to bring
order forth from chaos; and even that which is unlovely is
lovely to you. For thus you have joined all things, the good
with the bad, into one, so that the eternal Word of all came
to be one. This Word, however, evil mortals flee, poor
wretches; though they are desirous of good things for their
possession, they neither see nor listen to God's universal
Law; and yet, if they obey it intelligently, they would have
the good life. But they are senselessly driven to one evil
after another: some are eager for fame, no matter how
godlessly it is acquired; others are set on making money
without any orderly principles in their lives; and others are
bent on ease and on the pleasures and delights of the body.
They do these foolish things, time and again, and are swept
along, eagerly defeating all they really wish for. O Zeus,
giver of all, shrouded in dark clouds and holding the vivid
bright lightning, rescue men from painful ignorance. Scatter
that ignorance far from their hearts and deign to rule all
things in justice so that, honored in this way, we may render
honor to you in return, and sing your deeds unceasingly,
as befits mortals; for there is no greater glory for men or for
gods than to justly praise the universal Word of Reason.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

(5) Assimilation

This encyclopedic item addresses the linkage between ancient
Stoic and Christian thought.
"The assimilation of Stoic elements by the Church Fathers was
generally better understood by the 4th century c.e. Stoic influence
can be seen, for example, in the relation between reason and the
passions in the works of St. Ambrose...and of Marcus Minucius Felix,
a Christian Apologist. Each took a wealth of ideas from Stoic
morality as Cicero had interpreted it in De Officiis. In general,
whereas the emerging Christian morality affirmed its originality,
it also assimilated much of the pagan literature, the more congenial
elements of which were essentially Stoic.

"Earlier, in the 3rd century, Quintus Tertullian, often called the
father of Latin Christian literature, seems to have been versed in
Stoic philosophy; e.g., in his theory of the agreement between the
supernatural and the human soul, in his use of the Stoic tenet that
from a truth there follow truths, and in his employment of the idea of
universal consent...Tertullian showed a fundamental grasp and
appreciation of such themes as the word 'logos' and the relation
of body to soul.

"Also, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the 3rd century revealed
the currency of Stoic views: e.g., in his Ad Demetrianum, a
denunciation of an enemy to Christianity, in which Cyprian
castigates the ill treatment of slaves, who no less than their masters,
are formed of the same matter and endowed with the same soul and
live according to the same law. The beliefs in the brotherhood
of man and in the world as a great city, commonly found in early
Christian literature, were current Stoic themes."
[Encyclopedia Britannica, Philosophical Schools and Doctrines, p. 607.]

"Stoicism influenced Christianity in many respects. Christians
converted from Stoicism expressed their ideas in Stoic terms. Thus
the term 'logos' found in the first verse of St. John's Gospel where
it is translated as 'Word'...[And, also,] the Stoics had emphasized the
essential similarity of all men and the moral responsibility of each man
to provide for the basic need of other men. They had insisted on
simplicity and frugality and on the independence of the individual
in the face of evil and hostile society. All these teachings were in
harmony with Christianity. It is not surprising, therefore, to find traces
of Stoic philosophy in Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen,
Lactantius, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and other Christian writers."
[Encyclopedia Americana, Stoicism, p. 736.]

"Much controversy has arrisen as to the origin of the terms 'the Word'
and 'the Holy Spirit' in Christian theology, and here we can only note
that both terms were in familiar use in the Stoic school at the same
epoch. They cannot, however, be claimed as distinctively Stoic.
But the way of thinking according to which God is at the same time
one and many belongs to the very core of Stoicism. Therefore,
whilst the doctrine of the Trinity is somewhat dimly adumbrated by
St. Paul, it has long ago been noted that its principle finds full
expression in the earlier writings of Seneca.

"From the 3rd century onwards Stoicism was rapidly absorbed in
Christianity...[Indeed] Stoic converts brought with them their scientific
methods and even their school text-books; the De Officiis and the
Discourses of Epictetus became for all practical purposes Christian
manuals. It is greatly to be desired that modern theologians should
be equipped with a better knowledge of the philosophy which more
than any other was a nursing-mother to the Church."
[Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stoics, p. 864.]

"Stoicism expounded a new outlook on personal dignity and on
the nature of law, together with a new conception of the state as
reflecting world order and as leading men of all origins and classes
to personal fulfillment. It may be said that this philosophy not only
presented a moral alternative to Christianity, but also that it helped
develop a climate in which Christian teaching could take
hold more firmly. Many of its doctrines were transposed into
Christian thought by the Fathers of the Church...

"Early Patristic Thought. In the patristic era the influence of this
philosophy was pronounced unto about 230 c.e., and became
sporadic thereafter. In bk. 2 of his Paidagogos, Clement of
Alexandria made at least 15 textual borrowings from Musonius.
In the same work he sometimes used the text of Epictetus. Seneca
provided lines for St. Cyprian and Minucius Felix, but the effect of
Stoicism is clearly noticeable in the thesis they elaborated.

"Man. The anthropology of all the Fathers had Stoic elements,
although none omitted the presence of a supernatural reality in man.
Almost all divided the human composite into body and soul in Stoic
fashion, and Tertullian saw in it a 'mixture' of two elements. The soul
itself was considered corporeal by Iranaeus and Tertullian, the latter
supporting his position with the Stoic principle: nihi si non corpus.
The psychology of Clement of Alexandria had a materialistic bent,
especially that in the Excerpta ex Theodoto. Finally Tatian and
Irenaeus noted in the soul an element shared with universal life
and thus reattached man to the cosmos.

"Ethics was frequently related to Stoicism in its terminology and
in certain of its themes: indifference (Justin Martyr, Athenagoras,
Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and with some variations, Clement
of Alexandria); apatheia and intellectualism (Justin, Athenagoras,
Irenaeus and especially Clement of Alexandria); conformity to the
'logos,' and to nature (Clement of Alexandria); natural law (Justin,
the Apostolic Constitutions, Clement of Alexandria, and particularly
Tertullian); equality of man and cosmopolitanism (particularly
Tertullian, Cyprian, and Minucius Felix); the model of the wise
man (Tatian and Clement of Alexandria, for whom the wise man
became the gnostic); and all the of the themes of the diatribe.

"There was less Stoic influence on matters relating to God. Some
Fathers emphasized God's rational nature (Athenagoras, Minucius
Felix, and Tertullian), others His material nature (Tertullian). Almost
all, and especially Clement of Alexandria, noted His impassibility.
All proved His existence rationally, taking the order of the universe
as their point of departure. Their theories of the 'logos-pneuma' also
exhibited a Stoic aspect, and this apart from the terminology used:
e.g., God's corporeal nature (Tertullian and the Excerpta ex Theodoto)
and His cyclic unfolding in the Incarnation (the paschal homily
attributed to Hippolytus). One may even detect an animistic concept
of the world in Tatian and Theoplhilus of Antioch, and secondarily
in Tertullian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Novatian, and Clement of Alexandria,
but for all these thinkers the pneuma of the world, instead of being God,
because of some ill-defined intermediate. Finally, Minucius Felix and
Clement of Alexandria made the 'logos' the law and order of the world.
In all this God was viewed more as present in the universe than as
function in his redemptive work.

"The World. Despite their theses about the initial creation, the Fathers
sometimes saw the world as undergoing a cyclic evolution. They
unanimously praised its beauty, order, and harmony, from Pope
St. Clement I of Rome all the way to Clement of Alexandria, who
was filled with wonder at the cosmos. The imperfection of detail in
the universe contributes to the perfection of the All (Tertullian
and Clement of Alexandria) which perfection results from the
complementarity of opposites (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian,
and Clement of Alexandria).

"For these writers, as for the Stoics, the world was at the disposal
of man and was explained in anthropomorphic terms with a
disconcerting optimism. Finally, the universe itself constituted
a great All (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Novatian), one 'vast body'
(Tatian and Tertullian)...and the meeting of body and spirit
(in anthropology, the Incarnation, grace,and the matter of the
Sacraments presented no difficulty for any of them.

"Finally, everything was conceived in a spatio-temporal framework,
even man, who was seen as subject to a uniform law of the cosmos.
This law was seen variously as a 'sympathy' among all
spirits (Athenagoras and Clement of Alexandria), an essential
connection (Tertullian and particularly Minucius Felix), and a
combined effort united in harmony (Novatian).

"A brief account does not permit the necessary references or
useful precisions, but the fact is that a Stoic current ran through
Christian thought before 250."
[New Catholic Encyclopedia, Stoicism, pp. 719-720.]

Monday, April 23, 2007

(4) Ancient Voices, Modern Thoughts

"Heraclitus: God, he called the Logos, Reason, Intelligence, a
Whole made up of the sum total of all opposites, constantly in
motion, birthing, living, dying, and being born again. The
Heraclitean universe is a place where all parts are related to
the whole, and its symbol is fire, a rarefied fire that permeates,
consumes, destroys, creates, and lights the cosmos as one
single organism of life His cosmology and ours describe a
universe that is a unified, organic view of the cosmos."
[With permission, from Erik Wiegardt's, THE PATH OF THE
Wordsmith Press, 1996, pp. 11-12.]

"Zeno taught a unified system of philosophy in three parts:
ethics, physics, and logic. He established principles...based
not just on what he said they should be but on an understanding
of man's relation to the universe (physics) that followed from a
careful and accurate method of reasoning and rhetoric (logic) to
confirm the truth of these principles." [p. 15.]

"Posidonius of Rhodes: ...the Stoic doctrine of the interdependence
of all parts of the whole...our intelligence was more closely akin to
the intelligence that ruled nature, and that our reason was our
special link to the Logos." [p. 17.]

"In the Roman Empire: The Stoa...was the only philosophy
addressed to all, regardless of sex, race, or social class." [p. 19.]

"The Roman gods were largely viewed with skepticism, and
religious activities were limited to formal ceremonies carried out
by State officials that held little meaning to an individual's daily life.
The Stoa, on the other hand, showed the right way to live each day,
provided counsel for the hard decisions that had to be made, and
promised a direct and personal identity with the God of all
Creation, of nature and reason." [p. 20.]

"The Stoa and Christianity: Stoic doctrine was gradually
absorbed into Western intellectual history with the help of
Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, St. Jerome, John Cassian,
St. Augustine, Peter Abelard, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas,
and Meister Eckhart, to name a few...Stoicism was permanently
impressed into the traditions laid down by the Christian thinkers
of the early Middle Ages...By the time of the Renaissance,
Stoic philosophy became even more central to Western
thought...And the ethics of the Stoa predominated and inspired
Renaissance philosophies and essayists in their creation of
the new humanism of that era that is still a powerful force in the
world today." [p. 25.]

"Classical Stoic physics, although entirely theoretical, more
closely resembled modern physics than any other early science.
Even so, much of it is dated." [p. 29.]

"Stoic physical theory [is] the first to propose that physical laws
on earth were the same everywhere, even though they didn't have
the experimental proof or the language of modern mathematicians."
[p. 31.]

"The Logos: A force endowed with reason, continuous in space
and time, pervading, defining, and uniting the cosmos. A world soul."

"The first and Ultimate Principle of Stoic physics is that the Logos
and Matter are one of a continuum. The Logos is the active principle
and Matter is passive, not dead, and each is contained in the other.
We see the cosmos as a single, living organism shining in the
emptiness of the void, and that which makes it alive pervades,
defines, and unites each part of the whole. The Logos, God, the
Natural Order is one whole made up of interrelated parts, and such
a One is by our reckoning self-contained and self-sustaining." [p. 33.]

"Question: Did the cosmos, the Logos, have a self-reflective
awareness *before* the development of noetic consciousness
here and elsewhere in the universe; or, is its consciousness only
now awakening to itself?" [p. 44.]

"Stoics believe we are *all* sons and daughters of God. And our
consciousness, our reflective awareness, our reason that we use
is our evidence for this relationship. Is the Logos more than
that, something higher and greater than reason? What we do
know is that we have the kind of consciousness that recognizes
the Natural Order, and from our recognition comes our own
designs and creations, technological manifestations of our
understanding..." [p.47.]

"The sub-atomic world is a web of relations unifying the whole...
we acquire a clearer vision of reality as it is. Knowing our world,
its seasons and cycles and laws, is how we can best determine
our actions and expectations. We are not exempt from natural
laws. We are in it, and it is in us." [p. 54.]

"The Mystical Position: What the whole does, we do. What the
whole is, we are. The fate of all is our fate, and the appearance
of separate individuals is an illusion of the ego, part of the game
nature plays with itself...Actually, the Stoa isn't that far away from
the mystical position. We are the Logos. Remember, our
cosmologist was Heraclitus--the mystical genius..." [p. 60.]

"For you free will enthusiasts, don't despair. There is a solution,
a way of viewing the situation--a solution, a way of viewing the
situation...a solution that can be summed up in a single world, an
idea that was reformulated from the Stoa by the Christian scholar
monk, John Cassian. ATTITUDE!" Cassian...taught that all virtues
and all vices arise from one source: our inner attitude directing
the choices we make. Therefore, all virtues are one and all vices
are one because they all come from one source: ATTITUDE." [p. 60.]

"The Stoa never encourages indifference. a term
the Stoics invented to describe those things preferred but not in
and of themselves a good. Values are neither good or bad
because a Stoic rises above both prosperity and adversity...the
larger view...these external things happen, they come and go,
and that the only certain refuge is inside, in the *attitude* he
has taken to them." [p. 65.]

"Evil: There is no evil in nature; evil only comes from human
vice; vice comes from only one source, the passions; the passions
we identify as pleasure, pain, fear, and desire to avoid becoming
slaves to these passions...if we find we can't regulate it, moderate
it to our own benefit..." [p. 66.]

"Apatheia: Don't forget our motto: live according to nature--which
includes the obvious fact that we have feelings, given to us by
nature, and to deny them is like asking a human being to be a
tree...we have emotions, we feel, but we make a distinction
between the positive and negative among them. It is in a state
of apatheia that one is freed from enslavement to the passions
allowing the Stoic to follow his reason, to focus and cultivate
positive emotions, feelings of benevolence, prudence, friendship,
sympathy, and everyone's favorite, joy..." [p. 68.]

"The Imaginal Realm: Traditionally the Stoa was divided into
three areas of study: physics, logic, and ethics. Today a more
complete understanding must divide it into four: history, physics,
ethics, and metaphysics...The laws of physics, of course, are an
attempt to understand the laws of nature. To know the laws of
nature guides us in our efforts to live well in this world...And,
finally, we can't help but wonder if there isn't something more.
Our pending confrontation with death, our mortality,is one
compelling reason for many of us to search further and deeper
into the cosmos to know what sages know in their serenity."
[pp. 71-72.]

"Where do we go from here, we who are the flowering of noetic
consciousness in the universe, we who are the mirror of cosmic
awareness? Is there another level to which we may aspire and
self-evolve? What is the next level of consciousness and how
do we get there? [Just maybe we need to] come to know the
mystical experience as a routine part of our education." [p. 94.]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

(3) Salient Points

The spiritual outlook of the Ancient Stoa dates back
some 2300 years. Here's an abbreviated encyclopedic
account of such:

•The reason of things--that which accounts for
them--is no longer some external end to which they
are tending; it is something acting within them, "a
spirit deeply infused," germinating and developing as
from a seed in the heart of each separate thing that
exists. By its prompting the thing grows, develops
and decays, while this "germinal reason," the element
of quality in the thing, remains constant through
all its changes.

•God is Fire (divine energy) and Logos (reason)
diffused throughout the cosmos. The Law of Nature
(physical law) is his material presence in the universe.
As Cosmic Reason (logos) he is ipso facto Providence,
ordaining all things, and as Fate, imposing upon man
a physical determinism that allows for freedom merely
as man's inner acceptance of cosmic necessity.

•Fire is like a seed having in itself the reason of all
things and the causes of what was, is, and shall be.
It is the vital principle from which all plants and animals
spring. At any stage of development God remains as
a living force, molding and dominating passive matter
in view of further progress.

•Soul is the inherent property of God, a mode of
life activity.

•The Soul of the world fills and penetrates it; the
soul of man pervades the body, informing and guiding
it, stamping man with his essential natural character.

•Inborn ideas are part of the soul's inheritance from
that Universal Reason of which the soul is a fragment.

•Each human soul is a fragment of the universal divine
force, yet not completely sundered from its parent-stock.

•An immanent active God fills every corner of the
universe and is the cause of everything that happens.
It is man's duty to live harmoniously with the Law of
the Universe and to accept all that comes to him as the
doing of God.

•In the rational creatures--man and the gods--
Pneuma (Spirit) is manifested in a high degree of
purity and intensity as an emanation from the

•What God is for the world that the soul is for man.
The cosmos must be conceived as a single whole,
its variety being referred to as varying stages of
condensation in the Pneuma. So, too, the human
soul must possess absolute simplicity, its varying
functions being conditioned by the degrees or species
of its tension.

•The nature of man is the universal on a small scale,
or a "microcosm." Each human soul is a fragment of
the universal divine force, yet not completely sundered
from the parent-stock. "We are thy offspring." We are
all his family.

•The relation of the Soul of the Universe to God is quite
clear; it is an inherent property,a mode of His activity,
an effluence or emanation. A Stoic might consistently
maintain that World-Soul, Providence, Destiny and
Germinal Reason are not merely synonyms, for they
express different aspects of God, different relations of
God to things.

•There are gradations of soul, by which a hierarchy of
rank is established among living beings. Virtue for man
is to maintain his rank as a son of God; vice is to fall to
the level of the animals or the plants.

•Sooner or later souls (upon death) are merged in the
Soul of the Universe. (Although it was a moot point
whether all souls survive--some Stoics believed that
only the souls of the wise and good alone survived.)

•Virtue is self-knowledge: the quality of a spirit in
perfect harmony with itself.

•A truly wise man was therefore to live as much as
possible in conformity with nature--meaning within
the confines of his natural in-born disposition and
the Laws of the Universe.

•The end of action is therefore a harmonious
consistent life according to nature.

•Cosmopolitan citizenship.

•No longer any difference between Greek and Barbarian,
male and female, bond and free.

•The wise man is free--the unwise are slaves.

•God is best worshipped in the shrine of the heart by
the desire to know and obey Him.

•Concession to popular beliefs: traditional religious
beliefs/practices are a means of communication
between God and Man.

•Traditional Religions: "And it is always appropriate to
make libations and sacrifices and give firstfruits according
to the customs of one's forefathers, in a manner that is
pure and neither slovenly nor careless, nor indeed cheaply
nor beyond one's means." [Epictetus]

•True Religion is the recognition by men of his relation to
deity, and its essential features are not ceremony and
sacrifice, but prayer, self-examination and praise.

•Goal of man is to live in agreement with world design:
the cosmic citizen. As a cosmic citizen, man has a loyalty
and obligation to all things in that city (the world, the
cosmos)--man's essential worth, universal brotherhood.

•Logic is to be used as an instrument--not as an end in
itself. Human happiness is to be treated as a product of
nature. And the wise man serves as a model.

•Usual objects of desire (such as wealth and honors) are
not necessary to a virtuous life--these things are morally
indifferent, possessing relative values.

•Man knows that he is part of the universe. He should
realize that the apparent interests of the part must remain
subordinate to the interests of the whole.

•Every event in the whole universe is necessary,
providential and due to the divine will. Man can choose
what his own nature suggests, and acknowledge that
which Fate will prevent his attaining.

•Actions should be the product of knowledge--not
of guesswork.

•Wickedness is closely associated with mistaken

•Belief in Providence was joined to a belief in
divination and prophetic dreams.

•Moderation induces decent behavior.

•The only thing in our own control is our will; we can
exercise that so as neither to desire nor fear the things
of the world, which are assigned by God.

•The Stoic wise man was independent of the society
in which he lived. Yet a man could become more
virtuous only by exercising his virtue in his relations
with other men, and the exercise of virtue was to be
found in areas demanding responsibility. Thus it was
necessary for him to earn his living and take part
in public life.

•The highest philosophy is to recognize that Reason
and Will are one.

[Gleaned from the following encyclopedias: Britannica,
Americana, Philosophy, New Catholic and others.]

Friday, April 20, 2007

(2) The Living Stoa

"The Stoa is a living philosophy. What that means is
that Stoic philosophy is more than just great thoughts
organized into a complete and coherent vision of reality.
It is first and foremost a philosophy to live by, a practical
application of ancient wisdom, a way of life, and a guide
to the choices one makes in this life.

"It also means something more. The Stoa is alive. The
reason it is alive after nearly 2300 years is because it is
universally adaptable and available to all people, men and
women of every color, class, and culture. And something
else: it evolves. As the human race learns and grows, so
does the Stoa. It evolves because of the strength and
conviction of the Stoics themselves. Stoics have a tradition
of independent thought, and we like it that way. We of the
Stoic school, as Seneca said, do not follow a tyrant. This
is not to say that what we are left with is a hodgepodge of
assorted ideas collected here and there. This is not the
Stoa. It's inner core of orthodoxy moves very slowly,
glacially, expanding and refining with the ages. Its
foundation is secure because it is built upon the
unassailable power of a single idea: Live according
to nature.

"That's the Stoic motto. Zeno of Citium said it first, and
he's the founder and father of our school, but he wasn't
working alone. He was following a path already begun by
two of the greatest thinkers in history, Heraclitus and
Socrates. These two men, one a mystic cosmologist and
the other a moral philosopher who lived and died by his
ideals, may rightly be called the Grandfathers of the Stoa.

"But Stoicism actually began with the teachings of Zeno
at the central market of Athens about 300 BCE. Zeno
regularly met with students on the north side of the
market at a stoa, a covered colonnade, called the
Painted Stoa, renowned for its spectacular murals.
In time, Zeno and his students became known as the
men of the Stoa, or Stoics. Here he taught a moral system
based upon nature: the guide to human happiness, he
said, is clearly evident in the processes and cycles of
nature. Upon these teachings the school was founded,
continuing through the Roman Stoa, the Christian Stoa,
and into the present period."
[ Quoted with permission from Erik Wiegardt's CYBERSTOA.]

Thursday, April 19, 2007

(1) The Stoa

I am going to take the opportunity to talk some
about the Stoa, the ancient school of Stoic philosophy,
which is some 2300 years old. Over the centuries it
changed, progressed, disappeared, came back, and
continues to change into ever new stages. I guess one
could say that the Stoa is a living, evolutionary philosophy.

In the Hellenistic world, in ancient times, the Stoa went
through three stages: Early, Middle, and Later. It had
schools all around, like in Rhodes, Athens, Rome, and
Tarsus (where some speculate St. Paul may have listened in).
Three of its greatest philosophers were Marcus Aurelius
(a Roman emperor), Lucius Seneca, (a member of the
Roman Senate), and Epictetus ( a freed Roman slave).

The philosophy of the Stoa preached equality amongst
classes and gender--which is incredible when it came to
the conditions of the Ancient World. And it's major focus
was on living a virtuous life as a child of God.

Upon the advent of Christianity, a good number of Stoics
became Christians and brought their manuals along with
them. As time went on, some of the Christian Fathers
(who were classically trained) inserted some of the thought
of the Stoa into their own theological thinking. So it's no
surprise that our modern-day encyclopedias oft declare
the Stoa as "the nursing mother of the Early Church."

What about the Stoa today? After being pretty much
ingested by the Church, it would have seemed to have
disappeared. But it's philosophy was re-discovered by
the Renaissance and eventually made its way back to our
times. Eventually we can determine the connections of
the Classical Stoa, the Christian Stoa, and the CyberStoa.

The Christian Stoa has been fairly active from the late
18th century unto our own times. It has included major
Christian thinkers as well as priests from religious orders,
like the Jesuits and the Franciscans. As for the CyberStoa,
well today's Stoa pretty much resides in the NetWorld, amongst
groups devoted to its great philosophy.