Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #32 – The Yoga of Slander and Sickness

August 10th, 2020

A friend recommended that I look through the discourses of Epictetus, one of the prominent Stoic philosophers who taught during the second century AD. He marveled how much Epictetus’s teachings paralleled basic Bhagavad-gītā philosophy. I was especially intrigued by how the Stoics described karmic challenges, such as slander and sickness, as God bestowing one with the means to go deeper in spiritual understanding. Their perspective would be analogous to the tougher and tougher challenges a trainer gives to the trainee when it is time to go to the next level of fitness.

 

The basic Stoic philosophy is that God has given us the gift of making good use of our will or choice. If we focus our lives on making the best use of that power by making honest choices, which is always within our control, rather than trying to focus on what happens to us, which fluctuates beyond our control, we can always live with dignity and satisfaction.

 

The word “stoic” therefore became synonymous with the act of enduring hardship without showing feelings, because a true Stoic is even minded in response to happiness and distress, knowing that glory and virtue lie not in destiny, but in free will. Sounds like Bhagavad-gītā:

 

“Act while fixed in yoga, abandoning attachment, and remaining the same in success or failure. Such even-mindedness is called yoga.” (Bg. 2.48)

 

This concept of Stoicism, as found in Epictetus, is especially comforting in relationship to one of the most disturbing karmic situations, slander.

 

When one’s objective is the reformation of consciousness rather than the outcome of events then even the most disappointing consequences, such as being slandered, are no longer disturbing because they serve one’s mission, which is to uplift one’s thoughts. Such consciousness is certainly not easy when one’s reputation is sullied or one is ill, but a yogi (stoic) trained as described above, is already naturally, as the Bhagavad-gītā says, “indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard,” (2.52) which certainly includes slander. In that regard, I love how Epictetus instructs a student who is concerned about how people will think of him:

 

“It is not in a good person’s nature to grieve, complain or whine; they don’t go pale, tremble and say, ‘What kind of hearing or reception will he give me?’ Idiot, that’s his concern—don’t concern yourself with other people’s business. It’s his problem if he receives you badly.” (Discourses and Selected Writings II.2. 17)

 

A perfect example of a yogic or stoic response to slander is Socrates’s response to the Senate assembly in Greece when they unfairly accused him of treason and condemned him to death.[1] His response can almost serve as a mantra for the yogic view of tolerating slander, which deems the offender who misuses his will as harming himself more than the victim who responds with reason:

 

“If you think you can harm me, you will not harm me; you will only harm yourself.”

 

The Stoic’s reaction to illness parallels his reaction to slander, so there is not much more to add. We do our duty to keep the body reasonably fit[2] and leave the results to God. As the results, whether health or illness, are the will of God, we remain equipoised towards the body’s condition and instead focus on the deepening of our consciousness in response to whatever God has brought us.

 

Conclusion: We do not suffer from the events in our lives, but to our response to them. We can thus always live with inner peace and integrity, especially in this increasingly turbulent world filled with sickness and slander that inevitably ends in death, if we simply choose to respond to what comes to us with dharma and devotion, rather than ceaselessly trying to alter our fate.

 

What gems of realization the Stoic’s shared with us, and how much they parallel the basic teachings of our eternal Bhagavad-gītā!

 

 

 “God’s greatest gift to man
In all the bounty He was moved to make
Throughout creation-the one gift the most
Close to his goodness and the one He calls
Most precious-is free will.”
 Dante Alighieri, Paradiso

 


[1] Although Socrates predates the Stoics, it is not surprising that aspects of their philosophy parallel his, as he was certainly one of their inspirations.

[2] When Epictetus was asked how much we should be concerned with external things like health he answered, “Only so far as not to trouble himself about them unreasonably.” (Discourses and Selected Writings I. 10.16)

 

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