My Interview With The Stoic Philosophers
KB: Let’s begin with a major concern most people have with their own lives, namely their death. How should we deal with death and the possibility of an afterlife?
Epicurus: Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.
Epictetus: I must die. If the time is now, then I’m ready. If not now, but after a short time, I’ll have something to eat because it’s the lunch hour. After that, I’ll die. How? Like a man who gives up what belongs to another.
KB: I’m not sure I know what you mean by that.
Epictetus: Never say of anything, "I have lost it"; but, "I have returned it." Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? "But he who took it away is a bad man." What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don't view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.
KB: So, that is how we should view our life? Isn't it bothersome that one day we’ll die and no longer be able to enjoy the life we now live?
Cicero: But what a poor dotard must he be who has not learnt in the course of so long a life that death is not a thing to be feared? Death, that is either to be totally disregarded, if it entirely extinguishes the soul, or is even to be desired, if it brings him where he is to exist forever.
Epictetus: When death appears to be an evil, we ought to have this rule in readiness: that it is right to avoid evil things, but death is an unavoidable thing.
KB: But, if there is nothing more to life than what we have now how can life have any meaning?
Seneca: How often has what seemed to be terrible instead turned out to be the source and beginning of happiness?
KB: So, how can the recognition that we are mortal be the beginning of happiness?
Epictetus: I have learned to see that everything that happens, if it is independent of my will, is nothing to me. When you hear any report that could be disturbing, have this principle in readiness-the news is not about anything within the power of your will.
KB: How can this insight lead to happiness?
Marcus Aurelius: If you are pained by any external thing, it is not the thing that disturbs you, but your judgment about it. And, it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.
Epictetus: People are not disturbed by things, but by the views which they take of things.
KB: So, our attitude determines whether we are happy, not external things?
Seneca: No man finds poverty a trouble to him, but he that thinks it so; and he that thinks it so, makes it so. He that is not content in poverty, would not be so neither in plenty; for the fault is not the thing, but in the mind.
KB: How should we live our life each day?
Marcus Aurelius: First, do nothing without thinking it through and having a purpose. Second, make sure your actions always serve a social end. Don’t act as if you were going to live a thousand years. Death hangs over you now. While you are alive, while it is in your power, be good.
Seneca: Devote yourself to what should be done today, and you will not have to depend so much on tomorrow.
Marcus Aurelius: The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.
KB: I’d like my life to be free from pain, suffering, or difficulty. What can I do to further this goal?
Epictetus: Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.
Seneca: Fire is the test of gold; adversity of strong persons. An animal struggling against the noose, tightens it. There is no yoke so tight that it will not hurt the animal less if it pulls with it than if it fights against it. The one alleviation for overwhelming evil is to endure and bow to necessity.
KB: Still, that doesn't seem like a path to a happy life.
Seneca: The happy man is not that person the crowd considers happy, namely the one who has huge amounts of money flowing his way, but rather is a man whose true possessions are all in his soul.
Epicurus: I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.
Epictetus: They want the things that lead to happiness, but they look for them in the wrong place.
Marcus Aurelius: Always keep this in mind: that very little is necessary for living a happy life.
Epicurus: Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.