Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Mindfulness and Traditional Western Philosophy Part 2: The Ancient Greek Socratics

The following quotes are from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 1999 Edition):
"Pyrrho appears to have lived from around 365-360 BC until around 275-270 BC... . We have several reports of philosophers from whom he learned, the most significant (and the most reliable) of which concern his association with Anaxarchus of Abdera. Alongside Anaxarchus (and several other philosophers) he accompanied Alexander the Great on his expedition to India. We are told that in the course of this expedition he encountered some “naked wise men” (gumnosophistai); Diogenes Laertius (9.61) claims that his philosophy developed as a result of this meeting, but it is not clear what basis, if any, he has for this assertion. In any case, after his return to Greece Pyrrho did espouse a philosophy that attracted numerous followers..."

"...as noted at the outset, Pyrrho was associated with Anaxarchus and was reported to have encountered some unnamed Indian thinkers. The little that we know of Anaxarchus seems to suggest that his philosophy had a good deal in common with Pyrrho's. Diogenes Laertius (9.60) ascribes to him an attitude of apatheia and eukolia, ‘freedom from emotion’ and ‘contentedness’; apatheia is used in some sources to describe Pyrrho's attitude as well, and the combination of the two terms seems to describe something close to the state cultivated by Pyrrho. We also hear from Sextus Empiricus that Anaxarchus “likened existing things to stage-painting and took them to be similar to the things which strike us while asleep or insane” (M 7.88). This has often been taken as an early expression of a form of epistemological scepticism. But it may also be taken as an ontological comment on the insubstantiality of the world around us; it is things (as opposed to our impressions of things) that are assimilated to stage-sets and the contents of dreams and fantasies."

"We do not know the identity of the “naked wise men” whom Pyrrho met in India, or what they thought. There are reports of other meetings between Indian and Greek thinkers during Alexander's expedition, and these tend to emphasize the Indians' extraordinary impassivity and insensitivity to pain and hardship. It is not unlikely that Pyrrho, too, was impressed by traits of this kind. Though precedents for his ideal of ataraxia exist in earlier Greek philosophy as well, his reported ability to withstand surgery without flinching is exceptional in the Greek context (and quite distinct from anything in later Pyrrhonism); if we believe this story, it is tempting to explain it by way of some form of training from the Indians. Some scholars have sought to establish more detailed links between the thought of the Aristocles passage and various currents in ancient Indian philosophy. But it is not clear how far these similarities really go..."
Looking at potential overlaps between mindfulness philosophy and practice and ancient Greek philosophy seems entirely appropriate considering the interchanges ancient Indian and Greek philosophers had within the 200 years after Gautama Buddha's death.

Part 1 of this series looked at the relationship between mindfulness teachings and some of the main themes in the philosophies of some of the most prominent ancient Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, and this post will look at some of the Socratic philosophers of the Ancient Greek period.

"...all I know is that I know nothing." - Socrates (469-399 BC).
  • "The emperor said, “Who is facing me?” Bodhidharma said, “I don’t know.”" - Zen's Chinese Heritage - The masters and their teachings (2000), p15.
  • "Many centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates used to walk through the streets and marketplaces of Athens, teaching his students. He would say to them, “You must understand yourself! You must understand yourself! You must understand yourself.” Then one day a student said, “Sir, you always say we must understand ourselves. But do you understand your self?” “No, I don’t know myself,” Socrates replied. “But I understand this ‘don’t know.’ ” This is very interesting teaching. Buddhist practice points at the same experience...[...] One night, Siddhartha left the palace. He left his family, his beautiful wife, and his infant child, cut off all his hair, and became a monk. Then he went to the mountains. For six years he practiced very, very hard. “What am I? Don’t know . . .” He courageously kept this question with one-pointed determination. Then one morning, while sitting in meditation under the Bodhi tree, he saw the morning star in the eastern sky. At that moment—BOOM!—Siddhartha and this star completely became one." - Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn (1927-2004), The Compass of Zen (2012), p13-14.
  • "We will think, "Now it is raining, but we don't know what will happen in the next moment. By the time we go out it may be a beautiful day, or a stormy day. Since we don't know, let's appreciate the sound of the rain now." This kind of attitude is the right attitude. If you understand yourself as a temporal embodiment of the truth, you will have no difficulty whatsoever. You will appreciate your surroundings, and you will appreciate yourself as a wonderful part of Buddha's great activity, even in the midst of difficulties. This is our way of life." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p112-113.
  • "Contemplating "What is my Way?" is an excellent element to inject into our meditation practice. We don't have to come up with answers, nor think that there has to be one particular answer. Better not to think at all. Instead, only persist in asking the question, letting any answers that formulate just come of themselves and go of themselves. As with everything else in the meditation practice, we just watch, listen, note, let be, let go, and keep generating the question, "What is my Way?", "What is my path?", "Who am I?". The intention here is to remain open to not knowing, perhaps allowing yourself to come to the point of admitting, "I don't know," and then experimenting with relaxing a bit into this not knowing instead of condemning yourself for it. After all, in this moment, it may be an accurate statement of how things are for you. Inquiry of this kind itself leads to openings, to new understandings and visions and actions. Inquiry takes on a life of its own after a while. It permeates the pores of your being and breathes new vitality, vibrancy, and grace into the bland, the humdrum, the routine. Inquiry will wind up "doing you" rather than you doing it. This is a good way to find the path that lies closest to your heart." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p132.

"What learning is most necessary? How to get rid of having anything to unlearn." - Antisthenes (445-365 BC).
  • "The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. It is the kind of mind which can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p13-14.
  • "Our human perceptual habits are remarkably stupid in some ways. We tune out 99% of all the sensory stimuli we actually receive, and we solidify the remainder into discrete mental objects. Then we react to those mental objects in programmed habitual ways. [...] That which has been learned can be unlearned. The first step is to realize what you are doing, as you are doing it, and stand back and quietly watch." - Mindfulness in Plain English (2002), p23-24.
  • "Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!". "Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?" - Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (1998), p19.
  • "To cultivate the healing power of mindfulness requires much more than mechanically following a recipe or a set of instructions. No real process of learning is like that. It is only when the mind is open and receptive that learning and seeing and change can occur." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p31.

"...essence of true existence - whether essence of equality, beauty, or anything else ... having the same simple, self-existent and unchanging forms, and not admitting of variation at all ...  must be always the same..."
- Plato (428-347 BC).
  • "Its names vary but not its essence. Buddhas vary too, but none leaves his own mind. The mind’s capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible. Seeing forms with your eyes, hearing sounds with your ears, smelling odors with your nose, tasting flavors with your tongue, every movement or state is your entire mind. At every moment, where language can’t go, that’s your mind." - The First Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma (early 5th century AD), Bloodstream Sermon.
  • "Even though the ways we feel are different, they are not really different, in essence they are the same. This is the true understanding transmitted from Buddha to us." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p121.
  • "If we do not see the essence of something, our seeing still has leaks." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind (2001), p95.
  • "...it is important to emphasize that paying attention does not mean "thinking about." It means directly perceiving what you are attending to. Your thoughts will only be a part of your experience. They may or may not be an important part. Awareness means seeing the whole, perceiving the entire content and context of each moment. We can never grasp this entirely through thinking. But we can perceive it in its essence if we get beyond our thinking, to direct seeing, direct hearing, direct feeling." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p438.

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." - Aristotle (382-322 BC).
  • "Who knows others is perceptive, who knows himself is wise..." - Daoist Sage LaoZi, DaoDeJing, 33.1.
  • "Dogen said, "To learn something is to know yourself; to study Buddhism is to study yourself"." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p120.
  • "The Zen Master Thuong Chieu wrote, "If the practitioner knows his own mind clearly he will obtain results with little effort. But if he does not know anything about his own mind, all of his effort will be wasted." If you want to know your own mind, there is only one way: to observe and recognize everything about it. This must be done at all times, during your day-to-day life no less than during the hour of meditation." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness (1987), p37-38.
  • "Nisargadatta: By being with yourself... by watching yourself in your daily life with alert interest, with the intention to understand rather than to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, because it is there, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energies. This is the great work of awareness; it removes obstacles and releases energies by understanding the nature of life and mind. Intelligence is the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p10.

“By suspending judgement, one can attain a quiet and peaceful mind." - Pyrrho (360-270 BC).
  • "The Perfect Way knows no difficulties, Except that it refuses to make preferences; Only when freed from hate and love, It reveals itself fully and without disguise" - The Third Chinese Zen Patriarch Sēngcàn (5th Century AD), Faith in Mind (translated by D.T.Suzuki), 1st paragraph.
  • "Without stopping to reflect on our selfish judgment we say “He is good” or “He is bad.” But someone who is bad to me is not necessarily always bad. To someone else, he may be a good person. Reflecting in this way we can see things-as-it-is. This is buddha mind." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p30.
  • "We simply observe every occurrence in our body and mind with our mindfulness, and greet whatever arises without praise, reprimand, or judgment. This is called “mere recognition.” Mere recognition does not take sides. The object of recognition is not our enemy. It is none other than ourselves." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind (2001), p357.
  • "From the time we get up in the morning to the time we go to sleep, we are doing something; we are pushing our boulder all day long. It’s our judgment about what we’re doing that is the cause of our unhappiness." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p21.
  • "This habit of categorizing and judging our experience locks us into mechanical reactions that we are not even aware of and that often have no objective basis at all. These judgments tend to dominate our minds, making it difficult for us ever to find any peace within ourselves. It's as if the mind were a yo-yo, going up and down on the string of our own judging thoughts all day long.[...] If we are to find a more effective way of handling the stress in our lives, the first thing we will need to do is to be aware of these automatic judgments so that we can see through our own prejudices and fears and liberate ourselves from their tyranny." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p33-34.

"The art of living well and the art of dying well are one." - Epicurus (341-270 BC).
  • "...the reason why we need not fear life and death is that even before we have abandoned this life, we are already encountering death in the present. And even before we have abandoned death, we are already encountering life in the present. [...] Life is not one sort of thing, and death is not another, second sort of thing. Never does death stand against life: never does life stand against death." - Japanese 'Soto Zen' Founder Master Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253),  Shobogenzo (Translated by Hubert Nearman, 2007), p499.
  • "We see that life and death are but two faces of Life and that without both, Life is not possible, just as two sides of a coin are needed for the coin to exist. Only now is it possible to rise above birth and death, and to know how to live and how to die. The Sutra says that the Bodhisattvas who have seen into the reality of interdependence have broken through all narrow views, and have been able to enter birth and death as a person takes a ride in a small boat without being submerged or drowned by the waves of birth and death." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness (1987), p51.
  • "When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p94.
  • "The funny thing about stopping is that as soon as you do it, here you are. Things get simpler. In some ways, it's as if you died and the world continued on. If you did die, all your responsibilities and obligations would immediately evaporate. Their residue would somehow get worked out without you. No one else can take over your unique agenda. It would die or peter out with you just as it has for everyone else who has ever died. [...] Maybe you don't need to read something just now, or run one more errand. By taking a few moments to "die on purpose" to the rush of time while you are still living, you free yourself to have time for the present. By "dying" now in this way, you actually become more alive now." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p12.

"A bad feeling is a commotion of the mind repugnant to reason, and against nature." - Zeno of Citium (334-262 BC).
  • "There are good and bad tastes, good and bad feelings, agreeable and disagreeable ideas. It is our attachment to them that creates suffering. When you hear something good you will enjoy it. When you hear something bad you will be annoyed or disturbed. But if you understand reality completely you will not be bothered by things." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p75.
  • "...you may suddenly experience extreme anger, or some very strong desire-mind or bad feeling that appears out of a memory. “I don’t like this meditation. I want to eat some food now.” But you are sitting, and you cannot eat for another half hour, so you suffer. The minutes pass by like hours and days! That is suffering. Maybe you remember someone you don’t like, and you fight with them in your mind. [...] Many people attach to their animal-minds of desire and hatred. If you keep this mind, this mind controls you." - Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn (1927-2004), The Compass of Zen (2012), p181.
  • "If we want a life that’s peaceful and productive, what do we need? We need the ability (which we learn slowly and unwillingly) to be the experience of our life as it is. Most of the time I don’t want to do that, and I suspect that you don’t either." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen (1997), p118.
  • "A non-judging orientation certainly does not mean that you cease knowing how to act or behave responsibly in society, or that anything anybody does is okay. It simply means that we can act with much greater clarity in our own lives, and be more balanced, more effective, and more ethical in our activities... [...] When we are able to recognize and name the seeds of greediness or craving, however subtle, in the mind's constant wanting and pursuing of the things or results that we like, and the seeds of aversion or hatred in our rejecting or maneuvering to avoid the things we don't like, that stops us for a moment and reminds us that such forces really are at work in our own minds to one extent or another almost all the time. It's no exaggeration to say that they have a chronic, viral-like toxicity that prevents us from seeing things as they actually are and mobilizing our true potential." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p57.

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