20. What philosophy teaches? Wisdom.

Philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak.

“What is wisdom?, it is, Always desiring the same things, & always refusing the same things.”

On Practising what you Preach

I ask & beg of you, on your part, that you let wisdom sink into your soul, & test your progress, not by mere speech or writings, but by stoutness of heart & decrease of desire;

Prove your words by your deeds.

Far different is the purpose of those who are speech-making & trying to win the approbation of a throng of hearers, far different that of those who allure the ears of young people & idlers by many-sided or fluent argumentation.

Philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak.

it exacts of every person that they should live according to their own standards, that their life should not be out of harmony with their words, & that, further, their inner life should be of one hue & not out of harmony with all their activities.

This I say, is the highest duty & the highest proof of wisdom,

that deed & word should be in accord, that a person should be equal to themselves under all conditions, & always the same.

“However,” you reply, “who can maintain this standard?”, Very few, to be sure; but there are some; It is indeed a hard undertaking, & I do not say that the philosopher can always keep the same pace; However one can always travel the same path.

Observe yourself then, & see whether your dress & your house are inconsistent, whether you treat yourself lavishly & your family meanly, whether you eat frugal dinners & yet build luxurious houses.

You should lay hold, once for all, upon a single norm to live by, & should regulate your whole life according to this norm.

Some people restrict themselves at home, yet strut with swelling port before the public; such discordance is a fault, & it indicates a wavering mind which cannot yet keep its balance.

Therefore, to omit the ancient definitions of wisdom & include the whole manner of human life, I can be satisfied with the following:

“What is wisdom?, it is, Always desiring the same things, & always refusing the same things.”

For this reason people do not know what they wish, except at the actual moment of wishing; no one ever decided once & for all to desire or to refuse, Judgment varies from day to day, & changes to the opposite, making many a person pass their life in a kind of game.

“Nevertheless, what” you say, “will become of my crowded household without a household income?”, If you stop supporting that crowd, it will support itself; or perhaps you will learn by the bounty of poverty what you cannot learn by your own bounty.

Poverty will keep for you your true & tried friends; you will be rid of the people who were not seeking you for yourself, but for something which you have.

Is it not true however, that you should love poverty, if only for this single reason, – that it will show you those by whom you are loved?, O when will that time come, when no one shall tell lies to compliment you!

Accordingly, let your thoughts, your efforts, your desires, help to make you content with your own self & with the goods that spring from yourself; &

commit all your other prayers to Divinity’s keeping!

What happiness could come closer home to you?, Bring yourself down to humble conditions, from which you cannot be ejected; & in order that you may do so with greater alacrity, the contribution contained in this letter shall refer to that subject; I shall bestow it upon you forthwith.

“May not a person, however, despise wealth when it lies in their very pocket?”, Of course; one also is great-souled, who sees riches heaped up round them &, after wondering long & deeply because they have come into their possession, smiles, & hears rather than feels that they are theirs.

It means much not to be spoiled by intimacy with riches; & one is truly great who is poor amidst riches, “Yes, but I do not know,” you say, “how the person you speak of will endure poverty, if one falls into it suddenly.”

Nor do I, Epicurus, know whether the poor person you speak of will despise riches, should they suddenly fall into them; accordingly, in the case of both, it is the mind that must be appraised, & we must investigate whether the person is pleased with their poverty, & whether my people are displeased with their riches.

It is the mark, however, of a noble spirit not to precipitate oneself into such things on the ground that they are better, but to practise for them on the ground that they are thus easy to endure.

They are easy to endure, Lucilius; when however, you come to them after long rehearsal, they are even pleasant; for they contain a sense of freedom from care, – & without this nothing is pleasant.

I hold it essential, therefore to do as I have told you in a letter that great people have often done: to reserve a few days in which we may prepare ourselves for real poverty by means of fancied poverty.

There is all the more reason for doing this, because we have been steeped in luxury & regard all duties as hard & onerous.

Rather let the soul be roused from its sleep & be prodded, & let it be reminded that nature has prescribed very little for us.

No person is born rich; Every baby, when they first sees light, is commanded to be content with milk & cloth.

Such is our beginning, & yet empires are all too small for us!

Farewell.

Seneca, StoicTaoist.

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