The stomach is not insatiable, as the many say, but rather the opinion that the stomach requires an unlimited amount of filling is false.
– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 59
One can be an Epicurean warrior; one had better have the element in one I think. Glenn Morris was a natural Epicurean in terms of ethic — that is, a natural pursuer of untroubled pleasure by means of disciplining desire and reducing need.
One of the best times to meditate, in my opinion, is after sampling an anodyne you’ve learned to trust. The colorful sunset is fading after a two-day blizzard in January, and the wind chill is about twenty below as you face West and prepare to face the forces of night and death… There’s a certain “I’m still here!” about it… It’s called “The Pleasure Principle.”
Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993), p. 63
In Glenn’s approach the Smile is everything, and the simple recall of beauty, love, or laughter can be enough to seed the system’s relaxed preparation for areas beyond the façade. This is human life as a ritual leading to the transhuman.
The Epicureans are immortalised in a ‘do they mean us?’ context by the Pharisaic oral traditions written down in about 220 CE as the Mishnah, which denounce the apiqoros as ‘he who takes the piss out of the biblical scholar’, and since the Epicureans were also seen as atheists because they didn’t believe scripture was directly god-communicated, this need not surprise. The apiqoros has now passed into Jewish tradition as the “heterodox”, and the Christians were not polite either, yet the Epicureans lasted 800 years, discoursing sportively with the Stoics, and if not for Constantine, longer.
One should not spoil what is present by desiring what is absent, but rather reason out that these things, too, [that is, what we have] were among those we might have prayed for.
– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 35
Desire is the opposite of peace and contentment — of course a Buddhist would say the same. Desire ‘maddens’. “Personal desires multiply endlessly,” says Glenn, “forever creating new desires which create new dissatisfactions.” (p. 49). That pleasure and desire are opposites, that self-discipline is pleasure’s friend, occurs to few, and of those who are entrained to consumerism, none. (These ideas completely contravene Freud who partly created consumerism via Bernays.)
Gerald Durrell and friend
It’s not surprising such thoughts come to me as the weather turns hot here in London. I’m reminded very much of Gerald Durrell’s initial encounters with his Oxfordian teacher Peter, in childhood Corfu:
At first the lessons were painful to an extreme: interminable wrestling with fractions and percentages … But, as the sunshine worked its magic on Peter… he discovered that the intricacies of geological strata and the effects of warm currents could be explained much more easily while swimming along the coast…
My Family and Other Animals (1956)
There are those who would approve of this way of teaching today as more active in the body, and more conducive to absorption and interest/retention in the mind, of a child particularly. Learning is childlike — the ‘learning set’ of Milton Erickson recalls the rejuvenation of the Taoists. Legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom hastily declined a repugnant offer to move up to working on books for “dead dull finished adults”. Ellen Langer speaks of this teaching style in a video here; Glenn, himself a college professor of course, recommended her book, The Power of Mindful Learning (1998).
It is the ‘pleasant life’ which calls the Epicurean, and that means the reduction of life to its simplest essentials and the sharing of it with friends, whilst remaining self-sufficient and free of fear, and confident in the face of any pain. It is about the end of anxiety and is thus an earth-element way.
Don’t fear god
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure
– the Tetrapharmakos or ‘four-part cure’.
One of the movement’s more interesting achievements was the 80-metre wall erected by Diogenes of Oenoanda in the late second century CE. His inscription detailing Epicurean philosophy is the biggest of the ancient world. A third of it still stands
Pleasure should not be dubious, nor expensive, nor cost more pain than it yields pleasure. Discipline and the correction of character are the traits of the philosopher. Soberly, one must search out the reasons for turmoil and extirpate them. The goal is ataraxia, untroubledness. In attaining it, modern techniques would emphasise self-sympathy to counteract the centuries of yahwocracy.
Nothing is enough for someone to whom enough is little.
– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 68
I may live in the wrong country and time for this, since ‘pleasure’ to most in the UK at present consists in eating one wafer thin mint too many, then projectile vomiting the results at targets chosen for their class, race, or sporting allegiance. But there are times when Epicurus’ actual attitude to the divine, which although far from simplistically ‘atheist’ certainly was not visionary, does chime very well with the earthy-sublime Chinese approaches.
I know what you will say — the Epicureans were not big on sex and love. Indeed not, from Diogenes Laertius’ reports of them: “‘Sexual intercourse,’ they say, ‘never helped anyone, and one must be satisfied if it has not harmed.’” But this is really one of those mistakes history occasionally makes, which we are now able to correct.
Since the Epicurean meditative exercises were so good that the Stoics liked to steal them (and then they were purloined by the Christians with the decals sanded off BTW), their tendency sexual indifference or pessimism is much to be regretted. For the Chinese approaches to sex, which apply just such exercises to that activity, are absolutely Epicurean in philosophy, as Douglas Wile points out in his stunning and very highly recommended study and collection of translations, Art of the Bedchamber (1992, pp. 44 and 72):
The Ma Wang Tui and Ishinpõ texts, representing the Han to T’ang periods, strongly emphasize prolonged foreplay, female orgasm, and male
Su Nü initiates the Yellow Emperor in the arts amatory. Wile has the translation. The Chinese approaches move from the Epicurean approach of being happy when sex does no harm to knowing how — and even how to use it to heal.
reservatus as promoting not only superior health but also greater pleasure than ejaculatory sex. Pleasure is presented in these texts as a basic necessity of life, like food or air. The
Tung Hsüan tzu attempts to raise sex as a primal pleasure to the level of art, but clearly an art that serves to enhance pleasure as the core of esthetic experience.
Because of the onus of sin laid on sexuality by religion, Western sexuality has taken on an esthetic of “forbidden fruit”, heightening the thrill of abstinence for the prude and of conquest for the libertine. However, the Chinese sexual practitioner is neither prude nor libertine. In China, the medical emphasis on ching conservation led to an epicurean esthetic that maximizes pleasure by moderating the price — truly a strategy for “having one’s cake and eating it too”… The ability to relax and mobilize ch’i sets the stage for inspiration, while technique channels the energy and ensures that it is not dissipated. This is an esthetic of happy endings rather than climax and catharsis, of long volleys rather than smash and point, of riding the swells and avoiding the breaking waves….
(This book also contains an excellent discussion of the methods of Mantak Chia and Stephen Chang, by the way.)
Note the complete lack of antinomianism.
The ignorant regard this as indecent, but it is not a teaching that encourages lust and leads people to desire. In reality it is the marvellous art of cultivating life.
— Su Nü miao lun, Ming period
In terms of self-actualisation theory, as with all Greek philosophies there is plenty there to engineer non-identification with conventionality. Epicurus may be particularly helpful for the development of acceptance, serenity, sympathy, and the very Maslovian “comfortable relationship with life as it really is.”
There are now several sites at which to find him and his successor texts, since his philosophy (like that of the Stoics, incidentally) has a new crop of admirers. Of these Epicurus.info may be the best, relatively free of neopagan Orthodoxisms or preaching about who is a ‘real Epicurean’ etc. The civilised may prefer to sit quietly with the original — it can be had for a couple of quid in the form of a second-hand copy Inwood/Gerson’s The Epicurus Reader (1994), for instance.
No-one appears to know how a certain 14th century manuscript filled with post-Hellenistic philosophical texts arrived in the Vatican archives, but when discovered in 1888 it was found to contain a collection of sayings attributed to the school of Epicurus, mostly chiming well with the material we already have, the so-called “Vatican sayings”.
He who is free from disturbance within himself also causes no trouble for another.
– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 79