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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Shared Wisdom

Consider these two passages. The first is from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, chapter 6; the second from Matthew 7:13-14.
Again, it is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited, as the Pythagoreans conjectured, and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult- to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult); for these reasons also, then, excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue; For men are good in but one way, but bad in many.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Now lets do a similar exercise with these two. The first from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, chapter 9; the second is an internet summary of Buddhist thinking. (Sorry, no time to find something from the Dhammapada.)
That moral virtue is a mean, then, and in what sense it is so, and that it is a mean between two vices, the one involving excess, the other deficiency, and that it is such because its character is to aim at what is intermediate in passions and in actions, has been sufficiently stated. Hence also it is no easy task to be good. For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so, too, any one can get angry- that is easy- or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.

The Buddha claimed that the practices he advocated in the quest for enlightenment avoided the extremes of sensual self-indulgence on the one hand and self-mortification on the other and thus he gave his Noble Eightfold Path the alternative name of the Middle Way. (Majjhima patipada).
A similar comparison is frequently done with the teachings of Buddha and Christ. What explanation do we have for this other than one being directly influenced by the other? The teachings of Jesus might have been influenced by Hellenistic culture, and certainly the version of those teachings recorded in the Gospels was. But, I don't think there is any reason to believe that Buddhism influenced Aristotle.

Is the best explanation that they were all providing wisdom on the human condition, and there are certain universal truths about how to live life in the best way?

2 comments:

Derek said...

Great post. I believe in absolute truth, and that such truth can be discovered or revealed. I love this scripture from our Doctrine & Covenants 109:118: "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."

JimII said...

What a beautiful passage! Thanks, Derek.