Finding Happiness the Epictetus way #2


Image by Eka Wangsa via Flickr

After laying emphasis on focusing our attention to ‘things under our control’ & giving up struggling on ‘things outside our control’, the next thing Epictetus deals with in Enchiridion  are the concepts of ‘impermanence’ & ‘clinging‘.

He says “With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.”

“Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.

“If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool; for you wish vice not to be vice,” but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your control. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others else he must necessarily be a slave. “

Further Analysis:

Buddhism also stresses on the importance of understanding ‘impermanence’ and ‘attachment’ to attain Equanimity & Peace of mind.

Buddha said “Whatever is subject to oirigination is subject to destruction”  Impermanence is a fact of life. He said that suffering is not inherent in the world of impermanence; suffering arises when we cling. When clinging disappears, impermanence no longer gives rise to suffering. The solution to suffering, then, is to end clinging, not to try to escape from the transient world.

It is possible to find ease and grace in the world of change; it is possible to trust the mind of non-clinging and so find our liberation within the world of impermanence. One means of reducing clinging is to see the transient nature of what we cling to. This insight can either show us the futility of trying to find lasting happiness in what is impermanent, or it can encourage us to examine deeply why we cling.

 There is a very interesting story by Ghou Zeng , ‘Letting Go of Illusive Sentimentality’ where a non Buddhist encounters how Buddhists understand & deal with death. The non Buddhist comes across a father whose son dies after a snake bite when the father & son are working in a field. The father is unperturbed & continues to work.  The non Buddhist is shocked beyond belief & asks the father is he not sad, to which the father replies “What for?  Death is an element in life.  The prosperity and withering of things has its own clock.  Now that the person is dead, if he is kind, there will be kind arrangements for him.  If bad elements in his life have matured, he will experience retribution right away.  What good can I do to the dead person if I
cry?” .

Not only this the father asks the non Buddhist to go to his house & tell his family that he would need only one lunch that afternoon. Hearing this the non Buddhist is not only shocked but angry too. He things the father is the most selfish unfeeling person in the world who is not even skipping his lunch when his son has just died. Anyways he reaches the man’s house & passes on the message to the mother, sister & wife of the dead boy. Surprisingly their reactions are very similar to that of the boy’s father. They take the news as if it is something very normal & expected. They are neither shocked nor sad.

The non-Buddhist asked, “Aren’t you sad about your son’s death?” The old woman said, “This son came to my family out of his own will.  I didn’t ask him to come.  Now he is gone.  I cannot keep him.  We are like travelers spending the night at the same inn.  The next day, all of us leave for our own paths. No one can keep anyone else.  In fact, there’s no need to keep any one.  It is the same between my son and me.  I cannot direct my son’s coming and going.  It follows his karmic predestined relationship.”  The non-Buddhist heard this and thought that the couple was truly cold-blooded.

The sister remarked, “He’s already dead.  Why should I be sad?  We are like logs tied into a raft.  We are sailing together in the water.  When a big storm comes, the raft falls apart.  Each log follows its own way with the current.  The logs cannot be combined together any more.  We have become sister and brother due to random reasons and have come to the same family.  However, life is different for everyone.  There isn’t a set time for life and death.  He has left before I do.  What can I do as a sister?”

The wife said calmly:  “Our marriage is like flying birds in the sky.  They rest together at night.  They go out their own ways to find food at the next dawn.  Every one has each one’s destiny.  It is his fortune that he doesn’t have to come back once he flies.  I cannot replace him.  I cannot bear his karma for
him.  We are like people who get to know each other on our journey.  We have to go our own ways sooner or later.”

Then he meets Buddha, he didn’t ask any questions.  However, Buddha read his mind and asked, “What has made you so sad?”

The non-Buddhist told the story of the farmer family to Buddha.  He thought that the farmer family didn’t have any love not to mention compassion.  He didn’t think this kind of things should happen.

Buddha smiled & said “The family you met wasn’t wrong on the principle.  They knew that they couldn’t forever keep their human flesh.  When a person dies, everyone cries loudly for him.  What good does it do to the dead person?  Moreover, life has birth and death.  Happiness at birth and sadness at death are signs of the confusion that the secular world has towards life and death.  The circle of life and death never stops.”

After hearing the guidance from the Buddha, the non-Buddhist suddenly understood.  From then on, he converted to Buddhism and became a diligent monk.

The story of Kisa Gautami

Kisa Gautami was a young woman from a wealthy family who was happily married to an important merchant. When her only son was one-year-old, he fell ill and died suddenly. Kisa Gautami was struck with grief, she could not bare the death of her only child. Weeping and groaning, she took her dead baby in her arms and went from house to house begging all the people in the town for news of a way to bring her son back to life.

Of course, nobody could help her but Kisa Gautami would not give up. Finally she came across a Buddhist who advised her to go and see the Buddha himself.

When she carried the dead child to the Buddha and told Him her sad story, He listened with patience and compassion, and then said to her, “Kisa Gautami, there is only one way to solve your problem. Go and find me four or five mustard seeds from any family in which there has never been a death.”

Kisa Gautami was filled with hope, and set off straight away to find such a household. But very soon she discovered that every family she visited had experienced the death of one person or another. At last, she understood what the Buddha had wanted her to find out for herself — that suffering is a part of life, and death comes to us all. Once Kisa Guatami accepted the fact that death is inevitable, she could stop her grieving. She took the child’s body away and later returned to the Buddha to become one of His followers.


September 8, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Buddha, Buddhism, Greek Philosophers, Happiness, Meaning of Life, My lifestyle, My Values, Parables, Philosophy, Reflections/Musings, Teaching Stories, Wisdom.


  1. reflectionofabuddhistmonk replied:

    Very good article and well written, thank you for sharing your insights.
    Caine Das

  2. ritusthoughtcatcher replied:

    Hi Caine…thanks a lot for sparing time to read my blog & your kind words. 🙂

  3. Nishant replied:

    Epictetus is full of wisdom and inspiration. I have translated some of his quotes in Hindi. Thanx for this wonderful post.

  4. ritusthoughtcatcher replied:

    Hi Nishant, welcome to my blog, good to see someone who is enthusiastic about this ancient wise fellow & glad that you enjoyed the post. Now hopping over to your blog. 🙂

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