Lately, I have been following a fascinating history podcast called the Hellenistic Age Podcast, a detailed look at a very fascinating and often overlooked period of world history. In particular, I am listening to the set of episodes regarding Hellenistic-era philosophy:
- 044: Hellenistic Philosophy – Epicurus & Epicureanism
- 045: Hellenistic Philosophy – Stoics & Stoicism
- 046: Hellenistic Philosophy – Pyrrhonian & Academic Skepticism
- 047: Hellenistic Philosophy – Cynics, Cyrenaics, & Peripatetics
It’s a great show, and lots of fun to delve into so many different, fascinating schools of thought. But, then inevitably, I have to come down. Enjoying ancient philosophy is great until you realize that sooner or later, you need to eat, shit, sleep, work, deal with getting sick, etc.
Much of this applies to many other aspects of life. Sooner or later, we have to come down and deal with mundane, hassles of life, no matter how much we try to escape from them. This applies to any kind of escape we do.
I think this is why the Zen tradition in Buddhism adopted such a strongly anti-intellectual streak, a reaction to the high-minded Buddhist-philosophical traditions from India: the Madhyamika, the Yogacara, and the native Chinese traditions of Hua-yan and Tian-Tai.
For example, a famous story attributed to a Chinese Zen master named Baizhang (百丈, 720–814, pronounced bye-jong):
When asked what the secret of Zen was, he told one disciple, “When hungry, eat – when tired, sleep.”
The anti-intellectual streak in Zen, especially modern Zen (and in some strains of Pure Land Buddhism), tends to rub me the wrong way. Maybe it’s just the nerd in me. But at the same time, I can’t deny that as much fun as philosophy is, including Buddhist religion, it is all just mental games compared with the reality of life itself. Life intrudes on us, and keeps us grounded, for better or for worse. 🤷🏽♂️
It also illustrates that the mind isn’t entirely reliable either. High-minded ideals will go right out the window when we are tired, hungry, etc.
All the more reason to stay grounded, and keep a watchful eye on one’s own mind.