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The Analects of Confucius is a classic compilation of teachings by the well known Chinese philosopher. It can be downloaded for free if you google it.

Although some parts can be considered outdated to the enlightened modern mind, I enjoyed reading the many timeless principles scattered throughout.

  • There were four things from which the Master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egoism.
  • ‘The superior man is satisfied and composed; the mean man is always full of distress.’
  • Fan Ch’ih asked about benevolence. The Master said, `It is to love all men.’ He asked about knowledge. The Master said, `It is to know all men.’
  • The disciples of Tsze-hsia asked Tsze-chang about the principles that should characterize mutual intercourse. Tsze-chang asked, `What does Tsze-hsia say on the subject?’ They replied, `Tsze-hsia says: Associate with those who can advantage you. Put away from you those who cannot do so.”‘ Tsze-chang observed, `This is different from what I have learned. The superior man honours the talented and virtuous, and bears with all. He praises the good, and pities the incompetent. Am I possessed of great talents and virtue? who is there among men whom I will not bear with? Am I devoid of talents and virtue? men will put me away from them. What have we to do with the putting away of others?’
  • `The mean man is sure to gloss his faults.’
  • `When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.’
  • `The superior man is correctly firm, and not firm merely.’
  • `There are three friendships which are advantageous, and three which are injurious. Friendship with the upright; friendship with the sincere; and friendship with the man of much observation: these are advantageous. Friendship with the man of specious airs; friendship with the insinuatingly soft; and friendship with the glib-tongued: these are injurious.’

Definitions: “mean man” is an average person. “master” is an enlightened master of life.

I highly recommend reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It is available freely to read on the internet as it is out of copyright.

[READ FOR FREE HERE]

It provides great insight into his thoughts on living life.

Experience keeps a dear School, but Fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that; for it is true, we may give Advice, but we cannot give Conduct, as Poor Richard says: However, remember this, They that won’t be counselled, can’t be helped.

Here are a few excerpts:

On Attaining Moral Perfection

It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employ’d in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.

The Whistle

To Madame Brillon,

Passy, November 10, 1779.

I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that, in the meantime, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion, we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me it seems, that most of the unhappy people we meet with, are become so by neglect of that caution.

You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.

When I was a child of seven year old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.

This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.

As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.

When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.

When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.

If I knew a miser who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.

When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.

If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.

When I see a beautiful, sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle!

In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider, that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle.

Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me ever yours very sincerely and with unalterable affection,

B. Franklin

 

I highly recommend reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is famous as a children’s story in Europe. But this is no children’s story. It takes a more mature mind to fully appreciate the deeper themes.

One of the main messages is the importance of sentimentality and placing meaning on things. It is by giving things meaning that we give our very lives meaning.

“I am looking for friends. What does that mean — tame?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”

“To establish ties?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”

We should maintain all the good aspects of childishness while removing the bad aspects. Definitely one for reading over and over again because you always pick up something new.

The World as I see it is a compilation of various writings by Albert Einstein on a variety of topics. He discusses his philosophies on living, politics and hopes for the future. I think this excerpt speaks for itself.

The World as I see it

What an extraordinary situation is that of us mortals! Each of us is here for a
brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he
feels it. But from the point of view of daily life, without going deeper, we exist
for our fellow-men–in the first place for those on whose smiles and welfare all
our happiness depends, and next for all those unknown to us personally with
whose destinies we are bound up by the tie of sympathy. A hundred times
every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours
of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in
the same measure as I have received and am still receiving. I am strongly
drawn to the simple life and am often oppressed by the feeling that I am
engrossing an unnecessary amount of the labour of my fellow-men. I regard
class differences as contrary to justice and, in the last resort, based on force. I
also consider that plain living is good for everybody, physically and mentally.

In human freedom in the philosophical sense I am definitely a disbeliever.
Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance
with inner necessity. Schopenhauer’s saying, that “a man can do as he will, but
not will as he will,” has been an inspiration to me since my youth up, and a
continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the
hardships of life, my own and others’. This feeling mercifully mitigates the
sense of responsibility which so easily becomes paralysing, and it prevents us
from taking ourselves and other people too seriously; it conduces to a view of
life in which humour, above all, has its due place.

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