Marcus Aurelius was a great Roman emperor. But he was also a great philosopher. In his book Meditations, based on concepts of Greek Stoicism, he reflects on his role in the universe, about death, about the order of things, and about concepts like good and evil. Come to know a little about the mind of one of the most famous philosophers in the world! Learn to accept the bad situations of life, to find meaning in things and to have more empathize with others!
There were several philosophical schools during antiquity, covering many different subjects, from nature to human reactions. However, a central aspect of these ancient philosophical teachings that goes through many topics is the concept of Logos.
This word, translated as "reason," was applied by famous philosophers like Heraclitus and Aristotle, and was also of central importance to the author Marcus Aurelius.
His view was that the Logos could be seen anywhere; it composes the earth, the trees, and human beings. However, Logos not only gives shape to everything; it also gives an order.
For humans, this means that the Logos determines the position of people in society, and how these people should be respected. So it is the Logos who decrees that slaves should be treated as such and that emperors should be treated differently.
Logos, the immutable essence of life and the fundamental plane for all events, encompasses the whole world. And, therefore, it is the ideal way of ordering it. In fact, Logos is working perpetually to move the universe in the best possible direction.
So even when the author went through difficult times in his life, he kept his faith that he was part of a great Logos plan, since everything that happens is right and no one should want change. So even when most of his relatives passed away, and rebellions defied his empire, Aurelius stood firm in his belief that it was all planned.
Despite being the emperor of Rome, Marcus was concerned to understand who he was and his purpose in the world. He was struggling to fulfill his political role as this post conflicted with the philosophical life he wanted to have. And he also understood that his destiny was not to be a full-time philosopher and that he had to fulfill his purpose in the world.
He had a philosophical exercise in trying to define who he was. But he placed no particular emphasis on his position; he attributed equal value to his citizenship and profession. He was an ordinary guy, trying to do what was right in his life until the day he died.
The leader of one of the earth's most powerful empires insisted on having a generic human identity, to maintain the harmony between his role as a citizen of the world and between his position of emperor.
Marcus saw the human being as a social creature who needs to participate in a community and the universe if he wants to fulfill his designated role. To try to fight with fate or to separate from people is to deny their humanity. The denial of rational nature to him was a sin against the gods and his self.
In the past, death was a constant fact of life - infant mortality rates were very high, and average life expectancy was very low. And like many unpleasant things in life, death was seen by Marcus as a practical concern: it is part of human nature. Without death, human beings could not contribute by returning their essential elements to the substance of the universe, and the Logos could not renew itself.
Therefore death comes only when the Logos needs it to arrive. After all, since Logos has a bigger plan, it does not make sense to be afraid of the millions of things that could kill you. So if the author was destined to die of cancer after old, or in a war, he could do nothing about it. Being afraid of an unavoidable situation is useless.
Also, he knew that even the best people die. So when the author felt overwhelmed by death, as when he lost his wife, he remembered that everyone eventually dies. Whether you are a great emperor, a philosopher, or a valiant gladiator, you must accept your mortality, and not live in fear of it.
Marcus tries to end the scary image of death by concluding that it is no big deal. Without involving emotions, he can see death as a necessary function of nature, such as growing or aging.
Marcus is not sentimental about the value of human life or the relationships and experiences of life. He understands that the same things happen in all generations and that we should not attribute value to fleeting things.
Marcus Aurelius was very concerned with personal Liberty for independence. It was a subject that caught his attention. But he is not talking about a democratic society in his book; here he addresses issues related to freedom of the mind.
The author believed that true freedom could not be attained unless you are self-absorbed in your mind and completely separated from the desires and concerns of the external world.
It may seem unusual that a Roman emperor is interested in democratic ideals such as personal liberty, but make no mistake: Marcus believed in individual liberty but within a hierarchy. The natural hierarchy of things in the universe, reinforcing a belief that lower beings should serve and obey beings of higher orders.
Marcus tries to demonstrate his values, and he tries to leave behind the earthly desires and behaviors, seeking to achieve a state of disinterest and independence. To better explain what he meant by that, let's think in actual terms: for Marcus, not having the cell phone or the fashionable computer and not being connected all the time, it was a good thing. How do you feel when you are without your gadgets? You probably feel like something is missing. And the author speaks of exactly that. We can not be free if we are dependent on ephemeral values and not on our internal principles.
The author's purpose in writing the book was to define for him a path to freedom and self-sufficiency. Despite being the Roman emperor, he was struggling with the same questions of all human beings: the desire to have a good reputation, to succeed and tranquility. He had to constantly remind himself that these desires disturb his mind - his mind only wants to be independent and happy in its world. Marcus works hard to protect his inner freedom from earthly concerns.
He also seems very willing to be humble and learn from people who have greater wisdom. He was a good student and admits that he will not lose any power and will not be shaken if he needs to acknowledge his mistakes on any subject. He also believed that he could choose to change his ways and correct his mistakes.
The author states that freedom and independence must be above all else; humans were created at the top of the earthly hierarchy and are the creatures most similar to the gods on earth. And if this is true, you need to take advantage of that privilege and behave properly.
Although he exposes the importance of freedom all the time, Marcus also states that it is not always good. Men need to remember that there are rules to follow if they want to be free. This is an important paradox, but the person who succumbs to his freedom and to the principles of philosophy becomes a slave to sin.
According to the author, good is what is right, which is part of its nature; and evil is the opposite of good. All things are merely the by-product of the order of the universe.
You will only see evil if you make value judgments about what happens to you - and if you believe in the Stoic philosophy, you will never do so. Evil is the wrong interpretation of things that happen or the realization of things against their nature.
The author believes that a person who makes a mistake is no different from him. He understands that all people are essentially the same in two respects: everyone commits sins or errs at some point, and everyone is right. When applying his philosophical principles, Marcus would never be nervous with a person who makes mistakes with him. He also knows that his mind is isolated from the outside world, so he does not feel offended by the attitudes of another human being.
The objective of the author, with his philosophy,is to see things as they are so that he learns to value them according to their natures. He also tries to see life with a disinterested look, without making value judgments in situations, keeping his mind pure.
The perception of wrong and evil disturbs the mind and causes unhappiness. The author tries to take the mind away from internal things so that it does not judge anything as good or bad. And that helps you see things as they are without your emotions. He also knows that each person has a chance to respond to situations with common sense. And that does not happen; you have to deal with it on your own.
The author believes that we must accept the bad situations of the world as things that come out of the whole and that somehow fulfill the purpose of the universe.
The author talks a lot about mistakes we made, and the answer we should have to that. He believes we should empathize with people who have made a mistake with us. You need to understand the other person's source of ignorance and try to remedy the situation. And as an emperor, he believed in rehab, not retaliation and revenge.
Marcus also thought that pain could enslave a man's reason since anguish could control the mind. And the anguish can be even worse if the man believes that his pain has a motive - punishment or reprimand, for example. But for the author, the pain itself has no power to cause harm. If the person manages to keep his pain in the body, the mind will remain free and pure.
And finally, evil does not exist in essence. iT is the opposite of good, of truth and righteousness, of all things that make man free in his mind.
Anyone can die at any time, be it from a heart attack, a car accident or old age. And since you do not know when your death will come, it's important always to be the best you can.
If you get upset about the things, you need to do just take the time you could spend living. No one should waste life complaining about its difficulty.
For example, although the author did not like courts, he always did so with joy because he believed he should not spend a moment in his life briefly complaining about his responsibilities. After all, if the Logos needed him to spend a day in court, he should do it and not let others suffer from his complaints or a useless court.
Furthermore, since our time on earth is limited, it is essential to do as much as we can. For example, instead of staying in bed until noon, the author has always tried to be more productive.
However, although he hated people who wasted time on pointless conversations and superficial arguments in court, he acknowledged that this was his duty and that he should serve Logos' great plan for his life, even if it meant letting other people wasting your time. And on the occasions when he felt like giving up, he only needed to remember his role as an emperor and participant in the Logos.
A calm and analytical mind is better than a mind dominated by desires and feelings
The author and the Stoic school of philosophy, of which he was a devout follower, valued reason and the logical perception of the world over all things. Therefore, they considered that a calm and analytical mind was better than a mind dominated by desires and feelings.
This approach makes sense since the Logos primarily represents government through reason and order. Logos is a system in which everything that happens should happen, and so it is good.
For example, if your home catches fire, you might see this as a disaster because all of your belongings are lost - or you could see the fact as beneficial since you could receive insurance money. The essence of any event depends on how you perceive that event.
So if you accept the premise that the Logos has good reasons for everything that occurs, you should see this event more clearly and accept it for what it is: necessary for the greater good. Maybe your house has caught fire so you can move to a new neighborhood where you will meet the person you are going to fall in love with. Or you can use the insurance money to make a radical change in your life and take a trip around the world.
However, it is important to keep in mind that the emotions of humans are a threat to reason. In reality, being obsessed with the idea that you are unlucky or that making decisions based on carnal desires will create so much confusion in your mind that you will not be able to see the Logos as the truth that it is.
And that's why the author hated being driven by his emotions like revenge, hatred, lust, and passion; keeping his mind calm and moderate was essential for him to govern effectively.
So whenever he felt overwhelmed, he meditated on the Logos and his role in the grand plan. By doing so, he could remember his place in the universe and find his calm.
Ancient Rome was full of dangers, especially for an emperor. Constantly, influential people were victims of torture, poisoning, and insults in combat, or would see their loved ones being killed by enemies.
The author has dealt with the pain caused by all this suffering by maintaining his belief that experiencing physical pain is still part of the greater good of the Logos. The plan that the Logos has for the universe requires that people suffer as a natural order of things.
So if someone is tortured and killed, experiencing terrible personal suffering in the process, that is still part of the grand scheme of things because that should have happened.
In fact, the author lost almost all of his 13 children during their childhood, and his wife also died young. But remember that all things happen for good and logical reasons, the author was able to remain calm during these difficulties. After all, as the Logos is sensible, anything that happens is a necessary good, and rejecting that destiny is not natural. Humans are also entirely responsible for the decisions they make. Any evil done to a person by an external source is beyond the control of that person, and therefore this evil cannot harm him. Since the Logos is part of all human beings, the only thing that people can do is accept the plan and move on without complaining. Complaints disregard the immortal logic of the Logos that is within each and impose even more pain on these people.
You can learn three lessons from Marcus Aurelius: Logic does not always make sense, but everything happens for a reason; life is too short to spend time complaining, and the only pain you will suffer is the one you create yourself. Only you can decide your fate and your attitudes. Understand your role in the world and seek to fulfill it! And do not let other people get in the way; if someone is unfair to you, do not take revenge, have empathy.
12min tip: Did you like this reading? We think you might also like the microbook 'Man's Search for Meaning.' The author explains how we can deal with suffering and find meaning in it!
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