Philosophy of Life
~ Bunch of Flowers by Xiang Shengmo
A Chinese proverb states, ‘When you drink from the stream, remember the spring.’ No matter how far the stream flows, it never forgets its source. Therefore, return to the roots of your beginnings, go back to the basics, and ponder upon the great origin of all things. Wu-Tzu said, “From the visible I can fathom the concealed. From the past I can discern the future.” For this reason, you should place your family first and respect your elders.
2. Brevity of Life
Say to yourself in the morning, ‘Brief is the life of each of us.’ Man’s life is but a moment. Marcus Aurelius said, “We ought to take into account that day after day our lives are spent and a smaller balance remains. There is but one harvest of your earthly existence.” One should not live a life as though it will last forever. Instead, one should live as though there is no tomorrow. No living soul can fathom the decision of the Fates. A Chinese proverb states, “Man’s life is like a candle in the wind, or hoar-frost on the tiles.”
When you have life and vitality, make sure that you do not waste them on meaningless endeavours. Let your every action and the focus of your every thought be upon things that matter and have meaning. Knowing when to live is as important as knowing how to live. Horace said, “Seize today, entrust little to the future.” There is no greater crime than the lost of time. For the time that is lost cannot be recalled. For this reason, Virgil said, “Irrestorable, time flies.”
3. Purpose and passion
Avoid what is casual and without purpose. A Chinese proverb states, ‘Plan the whole year in the spring.’ See that nothing you do is undertaken without direction. Plan your life moment by moment; one action at a time. The purpose of life is a life of purpose. A life of purpose is a life of passion. Tai Kung said, “The True Man of Worth takes pleasure in attaining his ambitions; the common man takes pleasure in succeeding in his ordinary affairs.
When in need of guidance, refer to the Philosopher’s Code. Place knowledge above ignorance; truth above falsehood; industry above idleness; order above chaos; death above life. Reflect on the Code before pursuing your purpose. Remember, in life be reasonable; in actions be practical, and you will never do ill.
4. Virtues and vices
Remember that reversal is the movement of the Great Pattern. Be cautious when times are good and be hopeful when times are bad. Therefore, the wise reject extremes and excesses. Do not be quick to marvel and admire at excessive money or might. The Ancient Greeks preached, ‘Moderation in all things. Nothing in excess.’ For Lao Tzu said, “The five colours turn a man’s eyes blind; the five notes turn a man’s ears deaf; the five tastes turn a man’s palate dull.”
A Chinese proverb states, ‘Riches adorn the dwelling; virtues adorn the person.’ There is no poverty where there is virtue, and there are no riches where virtue is not.’ The poor lack much but the greedy lack everything. The greedy man does no one any good but harms no person more than his own self. He needs but little who desires but little. He has his wish, whose wish can be to have what is enough.
Let humility be your virtue. He who does not assert himself stands out. He who does not boast, has his merits acknowledged. He who is not self-complacent acquires superiority. Lao Tzu said, “He does not magnify himself, therefore he radiates out. He who displays himself does not shine. He who asserts his own views is not distinguished. He who vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged. He who is self-conceited is not superior.”
There are many vices in this world. Among them are pride, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, greed, and sloth. But the source of all vices and the enemy of all virtues are ignorance and idleness. He who is idle is ignorant of the passage of time. He who is ignorant has a mind that is idle. Ignorance and idleness are the roots of all evils. Lao Tzu states, “To know others is knowledge. To know oneself is wisdom. To overcome others is strength. To overcome oneself is virtue.” All men seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore Seneca said, “The man who is master of himself is the master of all.”
Know your limits. Do not seek to achieve something beyond your reach. Every man is born with his own talents and traits. Lower your desires to the limits of your achievements. To live in conformity with nature also means to know your limits and to ensure that you aim for the peak of your abilities. When you are aware of your limits and accept what fate has allotted to you, you will be happy knowing that you have changed the things that you can and accepted the things that you cannot.
5. Lifestyle and Habits
Remember the Laws of Lycurgus that made Sparta, the city-state with the lowest population, the most powerful and famous state in all of Greece. Lay down the rules of good conduct and embed them in the character and training of your children. Let your life be austere and not free of hardship. Cultivate perseverance, patience, self-discipline, self-control, moderation, and simplicity.
Crave improvement but not attention. Live in conformity of nature. Seneca said, “Philosophy calls for simple living.” Therefore moderate your diet and avoid drinking. Do not be fussy with your food. Let your attire and adornments be simple. Avoid personal luxuries and do not waste wealth. Be content with the bare necessities. Train yourself to enjoy plain food, water, basic clothing, modest shelter and fresh air. Never buy what you do not need. Pay as much attention to what you throw away as to what you keep.
Remember that whether you are walking, standing still, sitting down, or reclining, your conduct and manner you carry yourself will speak of your philosophy in life. Therefore, be mindful of your everyday conduct. Take regular baths, keep the body clean, and shave often. Do not live like beggars. Confucius said, “It is impossible to withdraw from the world and associate with birds and beasts that have no affinity with us.”
Seneca said, “Without wisdom the mind is sick. It is silly and no way for an educated man to behave, to spend one’s time exercising the biceps, broadening the neck and shoulders, and developing the lungs. Even when extra feeding has produced gratifying results and you’ve put on a lot of muscle, you’ll never match the strength or weight of a prize ox.” Remember the story of a powerful runner from Sparta that boasted he could stand longer on one foot that any man in Hellas. He was driven from the city by wise men because he prided himself upon an accomplishment that could be beaten by any common goose.
6. Learning and teaching
Cultivate your mind every day and every night. One loses nothing in cultivating an asset that improves in value as you age. When you have free time, commit yourself to the pursuit of knowledge and the sharing of knowledge with others. Be truthful to yourself. Never boast about skills you cannot perform or knowledge that you do not possess.
The upbringing of children is the noblest and greatest responsibility of a parent. Every individual should live as though he might one day become a parent to a child. When you are young you should set your mind on learning because when you are old you would have to devote your time to teaching.
Adopt a patient and tolerant attitude in respect to everything. Embrace the virtues you see and expel the vices that you find.
7. Conduct and Conversing
Men seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is a universal truth equally true in all different cultures and civilizations. Happiness is the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Aristotle said, “the wise man seeks not pleasure, but freedom from care and pain.”
Be mindful of your thoughts each hour. Constantly ask yourself, “what is in your mind now.” A Chinese proverb states, ‘Who know himself knows others.’ Consciously built your personality, bring order to your life, and regulate your conduct. Time spent with classical literature and cultural refinements is not wasted. Never do what is not necessary.
Seneca said, “Show me a man who isn’t a slave. Some are slaves to lust, others to money, another to ambition, and every one is a slave to hope or fear.” Beware of your thoughts, for they lead your actions. Beware of your actions, for they lead your habits. Beware of your habits, for they will enslave you. Epicurus said, “To win true freedom you must be a slave to philosophy.”
Seneca said, “Restlessness is the symptom of a sick mind.” At all times be composed, dignified, and quiet. When you are nervous or restless, self-reflect and restore your mind to its unfragmented origin. Sit quietly and count your breaths. Then tune your breaths to the beating of your heart.
Let your words be few but well chosen. Make your aim to express and imply a wide range of ideas with the fewest words possible. Know when to stay silent and when to speak. Know what to say and how to say it. A Chinese proverb states, ‘forethought is easy, repentance hard.’