Author Topic: Differences between Buddhism & Stoicism?  (Read 15763 times)

Offline aelephant

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Differences between Buddhism & Stoicism?
« on: February 02, 2012, 03:37:13 PM »
Buddhism, when stripped of the magical and mystical, seems very similar to Stoicism to me.

Buddhism teaches equanimity and mindfulness. Both are essentially helping you to organize and cope with your own mental and emotional functions.

I'd be curious to hear what people think are the major differences. Do you see flaws in Buddhism and strengths in Stoicism or vice versa?

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Differences between Buddhism & Stoicism?
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2012, 04:36:53 PM »
Nice to see you posting here again, aelephant  :)

It's an important question that you raise.  Many have compared Stoicism to Buddhism.  In his book, "A Guide to the Good Life", William Irvine mentions that he started out attracted to Buddhism, but ultimately found it unsatisfactory because Buddhism tends to reject an analytical approach and embraces mystery over understanding. While both philosophies are similar in their attitude toward desire and suffering, Irvine found Stoicism to be more reflective and cognitive, and the "spiritual excercises" of Stoicism to be more practical.

I raised a somewhat different objection to Buddhism in my post on Stoicism on the blog.   My main beef with Buddhist is that it tends to embrace a kind of detachment that leads to resignation and disengagement from the challenges of the world.  

When I read the Greek and Roman Stoics, particularly Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, I encounter strong individuals who did not shirk from taking on challenges and embracing a concept of "virtue" that embodied a strong sense of right and wrong.  While Buddhists do confront suffering, they tend to do so in a somewhat passive way, rather than actively taking on challenges that may bring suffering or displeasure in their wake.

Two great works of modern Stoic fiction are Tom Wolfe's novel "A Man in Full" and the movie "Gladiator" (with Russell Crowe as Maximus).  The main characters (Conrad in "A Man in Full" and Maximus in "Gladiator") show nobility in how they confront evil and stand up for virtuous behavior, even when it is to their personal disadvantage and brings pain and suffering upon them -- even death.   There may well be Buddhist "heroes", but they are quite different in character from Conrad and Maximus.

Todd
« Last Edit: February 02, 2012, 04:45:40 PM by Todd Becker »

Offline aelephant

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Re: Differences between Buddhism & Stoicism?
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2012, 04:44:12 PM »
Hey Todd, I'm going to write quick and loose some of my thoughts in response to your post.

Nice to see you posting here again, aelephant  :)

Good to post again. :) Really appreciate what you're doing with this blog/forum.

It's an important question that you raise.  Many have compared Stoicism to Buddhism.  In his book, "A Guide to the Good Life", William Irvine mentions that he started out attracted to Buddhism, but ultimately found it unsatisfactory because Buddhism tends to reject an analytical approach and embraces mystery over understanding. While both philosophies are similar in their attitude toward desire and suffering, Irvine found Stoicism to be more reflective and cognitive, and the "spiritual excercises" of Stoicism to be more practical.

I have conflicting thoughts about what you say here. I am a very analytical person and I seek greater and greater understanding, BUT philosophically and scientifically, I accept that it is ultimately fleeting and that anything I think I know for certain could possibly be overturned tomorrow. Science is not certain, but probabilistic. We never "prove" anything, we can only show that something is more and more highly correlated. I guess what I'm saying is that the world we find ourselves in IS mysterious and understanding (at least in a final and ultimate sense) is impossible. Does that make sense to you?

Really, I don't think that Buddhism requires you to reject the analytical approach, only to see it for what it is and to use it as a tool in the appropriate instances.

I raised a somewhat different objection to Buddhism in my post on Stoicism on the blog.   My main beef with Buddhist is that it tends to embrace a kind of detachment that leads to resignation and disengagement from the challenges of the world.  
When I read the Greek and Roman Stoics, particularly Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, I encounter strong individuals who did not shirk from taking on challenges and embracing a concept of "virtue" that embodied a strong sense of right and wrong.  While Buddhists do confront suffering, they tend to do so in a somewhat passive way, rather than actively taking on challenges that may bring suffering or displeasure in their wake.

I used to think this way too, but I think it is another misconception about Buddhism. Unfortunately, I don't feel well enough educated about Buddhism to make a great case here. I do know that Buddhism does have a strong emphasis on "right thinking" and "right conduct".

Two great works of modern Stoic fiction are Tom Wolfe's novel "A Man in Full" and the movie "Gladiator" (with Russell Crowe as Maximus).  The main characters (Conrad in "A Man in Full" and Maximus in "Gladiator") show nobility in how they confront evil and stand up for virtuous behavior, even when it is to their personal disadvantage and brings pain and suffering upon them -- even death.   There may well be Buddhist "heroes", but they are quite different in character from Conrad and Maximus.

Todd

I get what you mean about Buddhist heroes. I'm also not familiar enough to come up with any counter examples.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I really do appreciate you taking the time.

- Adam

Offline Ralph

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Re: Differences between Buddhism & Stoicism?
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2012, 04:55:22 AM »
There is some evidence of cross-polination of the ancient Greek & Indian philosophical systems.  Plotinus for instance has a lot in common with Advaita Vedanta, and there is this similarity you mention above between Stoicism & Buddhism.

What must be borne in mind when discussing these is that no philosophy remains a 'hard and fast', tightly defined approach to life once it becomes popular; individuals and cultures influence their development and different people will choose to emphasise different aspects.  Where as some Tibetan Buddhist traditions may therefore seem very mysterious & magical, the Therevadan traditions or the writings of Thich Naht Hanh for instance are much more down to earth and completely engaged in living life.  There is also ample evidence of analytical thought within Buddhism - the 5 aggregates, dependent origination and interdependence etc are all concepts which require a damn good thinking about in order to understand them properly.

One difference I see, is that Stoicism has a pantheistic outlook on the universe.  Most Buddhist traditions would not have this aspect to them.  Alternative thoughts or counter-points welcome to this though....

One of the translations of Epictetus I have describes Stoicism as the 'western Dhamma', I think this is a fairly apt description, and am only sorry that our natural inclination towards the exotic means that most people in search of a philosophy to life tend towards the East rather than looking at our own western traditions, (that isn't supposed to sound as xenophobic as it does on paper!)...


Offline Ego

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Re: Differences between Buddhism & Stoicism?
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2014, 03:54:24 AM »
Stoicism Today had a good article contrasting Stoic and Buddhist philosophies regarding mindfulness meditation.

http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/2014/05/24/2567/