WHAT IS THE GOOD LIFE? – 1 (Post No.8419)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8419

Date uploaded in London – – – 29 July 2020   

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R. Nanjappa

The ancients had a good idea of The Good Life
Every philosophy, religion and even socio-political theory is concerned with this question, and attempts to answer it in its own way. The result has been not only confusion about what constitutes the good life, but also uncertainty about how to attain it. Contending systems compete for the human mind and allegiance. In the resulting conflict, modern man seems to have become indifferent to the question.

Superficially, we may say that the East and the West approached this question from different angles and arrived at different answers. But a more diligent effort would reveal this to be faulty perception. It would be more accurate to say that the real difference is not between the East and West, but between the Ancient and modern attitudes. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the few who truly understood this issue and wrote about it in his “Hind Swaraj” in 1909. It is a pity that his involvement in active politics distracted his mind and diverted his attention and energies to a hundred other subjects. However, he had the economic key to this issue. 

We find the early Greek philosophers exercised over this issue. We generally associate the systematic development of Greek philosophy with Socrates and Plato. Even Roman Cicero said that it was Socrates who brought philosophy from the heavens to earth. However, it is not that philosophical efforts were lacking before, or that even Socrates and Plato systematised it. Philosophical efforts- inquiry about the nature of life and the world- have never been absent from human consciousness; at the same time, no attempt was made to make a ‘system’ out of the old insights or teachings.

Just as we Indians have the tradition of the 7 Rishis, the early Greeks are said to have had 7 sages!  And like in our case, their names vary. (In India, the composition of the 7 varies in each yuga). None of them was a philosopher in the sense of a mere thinker, but were rulers and legislators. Each one of them is associated with a main saying which gives a clue to their idea of the good life.

1. Cleobulus of Lindos. c.600 BC.

“Moderation is the best thing”.
“Seek virtue rather than pleasure”
“Be superior to pleasure”

2.Solon of Athens. 638-558 BC.

“Keep everything in moderation”.

3.Chilon of Sparta. 6th century BC.

“You should not desire the impossible”.
“Do not dislike divination”
“Do not speak evil of the dead”.
“Do not laugh at a person in misfortune”.

4.Bias of Priene.

“Most men are bad.”
“Do not praise an undeserving man because of his riches.”
“Gain your point by persuasion, not by force.”
“Cherish wisdom, as a means  of travelling from youth to old age, for it is more lasting than any other possession”.

5.Thales of Miletus. 624-546 BC

“KNOW THYSELF”. It is this  which was engraved on the front arch of the Oracle at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi

6.Pittacus of Mytilene. 640-568 BC

“You should know which opportunities to choose”.
“Forgiveness is better than revenge.”
“Power shows the man”

7.Periander of Corinth. c.627 BC

“Be farsighted with everything.”

“Pleasures are transient, honour is immortal.”
“Live according to your income.”
“Success brings many to ruin”.
“The soft speeches of the wicked are full of deceit'”

Roman copy from a Greek Original. Vatican Museums.  

It is remarkable that these sages lived around the time of our own Buddha! Their sayings too bear remarkable similarity to the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha taught the middle way- ie avoidance of extremes, which amounts to moderation.

                                                  **** to be continued

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