Epictetus was born into slavery in the eastern outreaches of the Roman empire. Sold as a child and crippled from the beatings of his master, Epictetus was eventually freed. He rose from his bitter beginning to establish an influential school of Stoic philosophy. Epictetus dedicated his life to outlining the simple way to happiness, fulfilment, and tranquillity.
At the heart of Buddha’s teachings are the three great truths known as the Seal of the Tree Laws: first, “All things are impermanent,” that is, all things and phenomena constantly change; second, “Nothing has an ego,” which is to say, all things in the universe exist in interrelationship with one another; and third, “Nirvana is quiescence,” that is, the ultimate freedom lies in getting rid of greed, aggression and self-delusion. The law, or truth, “All things are impermanent,” refers to the unceasing changes occurring in our minds, in all phenomena as also in solid, physical manifestation of matter as trees and stones.
Buddha believed that knowing that all things are impermanent subdues the proud and gives hope to the wretched, encouraging them both to make spiritual progress. By his own action he showed the wisdom of moderation. He was born into a life of great luxury, and he soon got tired of it. Then he tried a life of excessive mortification, and before long he grew weary of that too. At last he chose a middle course and found true happiness in the doctrine of “nothing too much”. Like Buddha, the true teachers have always emphasised the need for retaining the equilibrium between the material and spiritual scales of life. In an analogy, the Sufi master Rumi likens the world to a river and the individual to a boat. In order to float the boat needs the support of water, but when the boat develops a hole the same water fills the boat and drowns it. Similarly, an individual needs certain basic necessities for his daily sustenance. But once these material things preoccupy his mind, they ruin him spiritually.
Sufis consider the spirit and body to be one whole. They believe in integration, not dichotomies.
What we do in our physical lives affects us spiritually and vice versa. We cannot look at our lives in a vacuum. Spinoza says, “Nature abhors vacuum”. He might as well have said that life abhors a vacuum.
Thus, the achievement of an ideal and perfect life is not restricted to any particular class of people, nor is it related with the degree of learning, wealth or power. It is a mindset that grows out of a pure heart.
Moin Qazi is a well-known banker, author and Islamic researcher. He can be reached at email@example.com