A few years ago I was involved in an interesting discussion on Facebook in a group called “Epicurean Philosophy”. Someone asked about the similarities between the teachings of Epicurus and Buddha. I admire the ideas of both of these men, so the discussion caught my interest.
Lots of varying views were expressed with some agreeing that there was a sharing of ideas between ancient Greece and India. One post in particular offered a Wikipedia link on Greco-Buddhism. I had never heard of this before and was amazed at the detailed history. I’ve linked the article below.
As I read the various posts, I felt there was something missing. The historical comparisons, the similarities of ideas, the points of divergence were all excellent and thoughtful. But they were abstract notions that were not as connected to lived experience as I would prefer. For me, philosophy and spirituality are only valuable if they assist in creating a better life (meaning more pleasant, less difficult). So here is what I wrote in the discussion:
Fascinating as I find this thread, I am more interested in the “how to live it” aspect of any philosophy. Epicurus’ claim that pleasant living is the goal of life rings true for me, as does the Buddhist claim of release from suffering being the goal.
There is a famous exchange between the Buddha and a potential follower. Upon being asked questions about life after death, reincarnation, nature of reality etc., Buddha replied “I never said I would teach you about these things. I teach suffering and its end. That is all.”
So while the details of each philosophy differ, and in the case of Buddhism they differ between countries (Tibetan has tons of religious iconography while Zen has almost none), it is the lived experience that I personally find compelling.
In my meditation practice I have witnessed the drive towards pleasant living. Even the practice itself is a manifestation of this drive. This is what attracted me to Epicurus initially. He was the only ancient philosopher who acknowledged the pleasure/pain mechanism as the prime motivator and set out ideas to work with it. Buddha stated the truth of suffering and set out ideas and practices to overcome it.
I have found that happiness, pleasant living, lack of suffering are deep drivers. As the Dalai Lama has repeatedly said “No one wants to suffer. Everyone wants to be happy”.
Epicurus would no doubt agree.
(Note – I no longer participate on Facebook due to its various privacy issues)