Seneca and Valluvar (Post No.5434)


Compiled by London Swaminathan

Date: 15 September 2018


Time uploaded in London – 20-52 (British Summer Time)


Post No. 5434

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Who is Seneca?
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was a Roman stoic playwright, author of essays and nine tragedies. He was tutor to the future emperor Nero but lost favour after Nero’s accession to the throne, he lost his support and was ordered to commit suicide. His tragedies were accepted as classical models by 16th century dramatists.

Who is Valluvar?
The greatest of the ancient Tamil poets. He was the author of Tirukkural, an ethical work with 1330 couplets dealing with 133 topics. His aphorisms are famous for its brevity and clarity.


There are number of similarities between Valluvar and Seneca. Let us look at few couplets:
Tiru valluvar says in the chapter on the Importance of Virtue,

To be of pure, spotless mind is real virtue; all else is of no avail- Kural 34

He says a blemish less mind is the basis of all virtues. Every thing else is an empty show.
Seneca agrees with him ,
‘Between good men and the gods there exists a good friendship brought about by virtue (arising from a pure mind)’.– Seneca on Providence



Under the chapter on Forbearance or Patience, Valluvar said,

‘Overcome by forbearance those that harm thee by this overbearing act’– 158

Another translation of the same couplet is

‘Pride leads a man to do wrong; but this could be overcome
By the greater pride of one’s own forbearance.

Seneca also says,
Unkindness must be treated with kindness.

This, we find, in Dhammapada of Buddha and Mahabharata of Vyasa.
Almost all Hindu saints said this.



If you would protect yourself, guard against your own anger.
For anger, not controlled would lead to self- destruction–305

Seneca’s words fully agree with Valluvar,
‘Anger leads to self- destruction’.



We find in Valluvar’s Kural,
Refraining from doing harm in retaliation of harm done with animosity is the rule of conduct of the noble hearted- Kural 312
This is also said by all the great saints
Seneca said,
‘For the wise and the great injuries don’t exist.’

Once again we are reminded ‘Great men think alike’.

Source for Seneca s quotations- Tirukkural by Dr S M Diaz
Xxx subham xxxx

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1 Comment

  1. In the ancient world, [before the rise of Christianity] good conduct or virtue, ethics and morality, private or in the public sphere, were based on high principles. They were not directly derived from any type of theology but formed the basis of and preparation for theological study and investigation. if we examine carefully and with patience, we can trace all ethics and morality in the world to our Yama and Niyama!. There is nothing beyond and above it. And we know that Yama and Niyama are but the preparation for Yoga. That is, no one is qualified to take up any higher religious or spiritual quest unless they mastered and adhered to the discipline of Yama and Niyama. It assumes knowledge of and obedience to the idea of the Supreme, though this is not developed as a particular theology.
    Both Seneca and Tiruvalluvar are exemplars of this state of high ethics. Seneca predates Tiruvalluvar.
    The ancient Greeks were interested in the question of happiness, and found its foundation in “virtue”, ie right knowledge and conduct,, based on wisdom, quiet courage and justice. Socrates dealt with these themes. But it was the Stoics who developed it into a round philosophy, basing it on logic and ethics. Unlike modern philosophers, they did not bother with unending speculation on abstract ideas but concentrated on how to live in the world as it is.
    After the writings of the Greek Epictetus, we find extensive writings by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Seneca.
    They emphasised right knowledge and understanding of the world. There are things beyond our control; and , we are often guided not by what is but our perception of what is. So wisdom consists in distinguishing what is beyond our power and what is within it; virtue consists in ordering our life accordingly, accepting what is beyond our control, and dealing with others in accordance with our intelligence. The ethical frame they developed was meant to strengthen our will, develop courage (eg. overcome fear of death), control negative emotions like anger.

    Indeed, if we study closely, we will be stuck by how much Stoic philosophy is like a commentary on our Gita. Right understanding is what Gita calls ‘Sankhya’. [Distinguishing between the permanent and ephemeral, sat and asat, nitya and anitya] The world as it is- this is what Gita calls ‘Prakruti’. This is a “given”- we can’t change it, but have to prepare ourselves to deal with it. This is what Gita calls ‘Yoga’ [ Perform ordained necessary action but without ego, attachment, desire for fruits, etc.] And, the way to do it is through ‘Samatwa’. The world of nature is likely to bring us both joys and sorrows, high and low,, ups and downs, just as the changing seasons bring us heat and cold. Gita says, ‘bear them”. This is the exact line taken by the Stoics. Only, the Gita gives one extra resource: direct reliance on God. The stoics too accept the idea of God, but their emphasis is on human effort to control the will. This too is said in the Gita when it says man has to raise himself by himself! ((Uddhareth atmana atmanam 6.5)

    Seneca was an outstanding representative of the Stoics. He not only wrote, but lived his words. He lived through adverse times, having enjoyed high status and success before. He lived with quiet courage, and like Socrates before, took his own life with calm resolve.

    We are delighted and elated when we see how closely the ancient masters resemble and think like each other. Then we wonder whether divisions like East/West have any meaning!

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