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You can't get wisdom from reading a book or doing a PhD in some arcane area of 'spirituality'. The latter word comes with all the baggage of commercialised mush. If you try to be discerning, with luck, you'll find a volume like this which in its own very modest way adds to 'wisdom' as a drop of rain adds to watering the fields. This is one of the 'messages' of the book which examines a small part of what we know as Stoicism and Buddhism, examines them and queries them in the realistic paradigm of modern culture. The ghost of Aristotle spreads throughout the pages, for rather than explicate dogmas, slogans, pretty 'fridge magnet' phrases, it seeks moderation, gently suggesting - and no more - how certain aspects of the two traditions may be useful to not 'us' but to 'I', the individual reader. It is beautifully written. It never deviates from the idea that philosophy is or should be a guide to how to live a flourishing, best possible life. That life is limited, constrained and inescapably unsatisfactory. Suffering and mortality alone make it so, hardly an observation unique to Stoicism or Buddhism. I'll keep the book close by. It's full of quotations, and indeed can be read as a book of annotated quotations provided one appreciates it's much more. It deserves slow reading and returns to read again. It's difficult to see it as a 'self-help' book since this associates it with so much rubbish out there. Yet, among the common beliefs of Stoicism and Buddhism is the central emphasis upon following a way, disciplining the mind and being yourself the one, the only source of help in this life.
Macaro, who has previously written for the modern Stoic movement, is a therapist in active practice. (This is unusual - all but a handful of Stoic and Buddhist authors are scholars or in other occupations.) As such, she is interested in the relief and prevention of suffering, for which Buddhism and Stoicism can be of help. She limits the scope of Buddhism to the early writings, presumably closest to the historical Buddha's thought. Including later developments would have been completely impractical. There's no lack of material quoted - I was surprised at the range of the suttas cited. There's no problem restricting the range of Stoic material to cover since unfortunately so little survives. Macaro sees value in both approaches but not applied rigidly. Her approach is flexible, preferring what works to "what is written," so to speak. No stress is laid upon nirvana or the Stoic sage. Her approach takes what reasonable benefits regular people can receive. Her feet are fully planted on the ground, and her head not in the clouds. Highly recommended to students of practical Buddhism or Stoicism, or both. It's a fairly brief book and a quick read - no slogging!
The author describes in a very concise manner the beginnings and essence of the teaching of both Buddhism and Stoicism. The foundation of Buddhism is the doctrine of karma and rebirth. The main idea of karma is that our deliberate acts accumulate and cause consequences even after the end of our lives and direct us to good or bad rebirth. Stoicism and Buddhism both teach us that it is not about tracking our desires but about abandoning them and that this can bring us real peace. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, defines emotion as »a movement of mind contrary to nature and turned away from right reason«. The author comments that this means that the functioning of a rational person is disturbed by the emotions. Therefore Macaro is more inclined to the philosophy of Aristotle, which promotes life balanced between the mind and the emotions. Stoics think that when it comes to emotions, there is nothing that can be called moderation. Pleasant and unpleasant feelings are so intertwined that they can quickly turn into their own opposite. We have to stop trying to obtain things that we may lose or fail to get and stop trying to avoid things we can't control and instead concentrating on seeking only moral good and avoiding moral evil. The reward is peace of mind and "smooth and undisturbed mind".
The title was intriguing and so I purchased the book, and for the most part, Macaro does fair coverage to two traditions of theory and practice: Buddhism and Stoicism. I am skeptical that we live in a "sceptical age" (pardon the pun), but I understand many are seeking wisdom and guidance in various existential and philosophical approaches in our post-modern, post-truth, post-fact era (or whatever label captures the fluidity of reality). So...what better turn to take than to focus the lens on "ancient" approaches for our times.
The author readily admits that what is covered will be "ruthlessly lean" and where "cherry-picking" will be the theme for both traditions. Strong points: good introductory book; writing style is easy-going, not too heavy on the jargon; and a robust overview of clarifying the troublesome term of "happiness" (at least from a western perspective). Weak points: breadth, not depth; and a rather strange way to begin and circle back to the Aristotelian "way" - that is, the middle ground when it comes to emotions and role of virtue. I think the author wishes to highlight the practical sues of Buddhism and Stoicism, and yet maintain a very "even-keeled" approach that is more of a mixed hybrid of several approaches and somehow, we end up back in the Peripatetic School.
In the end, perhaps we are back to Seneca's perspective of what the journey looks like with philosophy: Still searching, as there is so much more to discover along the way. Some people seek the comfort in dogma and doctrine, others seek to "follow the facts"...but then what is philosophy for...if not to raise more questions, than answers.
I’ve read spiritual and self help books for years, and this is easily one of the best- well written, extremely clear and smart. The author also displays a true sense of modesty and “beginner’s mind”, as she approaches the key ideas of each tradition. Well worth the time and expense.
Before I read this book, Buddhism seemed too fairy-talish to me. I think I just needed an introduction to it through the lens of Stoicism which I have been practicing for some time now. The author explains core values of Buddhism better than many Buddhist practitioners and teachers do. Now I am serious about exploring Buddhism deeper and adding it to my practice. Thanks! The thought that I loved the most: both philosophies provide great guidance on how to live life happily, but one must be careful not to take too much redundant and extreme stuff from them.
Macaro has written an accessible and practical book bringing together the ancient traditions of Buddhism and Stoicism. It's a "how to" book on the practice of mindful living that will warrant rereading from time to time.
A masterfully written and very illuminating book. The author seems to really know the material and does a great job of portraying the similarities and differences of Stoic philosophy and Buddhism. Also she incorporates ways of using both approaches in our modern lives. Definitely recommend this book.