Epicureanism And Life


There are a good many people always buoyant in spirit and mirthful in

appearance as if born optimists. There are also no fewer persons

constantly crestfallen and gloomy as if born pessimists. The former,

however, may lose their buoyancy and sink deep in despair if they are

in adverse circumstances. The latter, too, may regain their

brightness and grow exultant if they are under prosperous conditions.

As there is no
evil however small but may cause him to groan under

it, who has his heart undisciplined, so there is no calamity however

great but may cause him to despair, who has his feelings in control.

A laughing child would cry, a crying child would laugh, without a

sufficient cause. 'It can be teased or tickled into anything.' A

grown-up child is he who cannot hold sway over his passions.

He should die a slave to his heart, which is wayward and blind, if he

be indulgent to it. It is of capital importance for us to discipline

the heart,[FN#209] otherwise it will discipline us. Passions are

like legs. They should be guided by the eye of reason. No wise

serpent is led by its tail, so no wise man is led by his passion.

Passions that come first are often treacherous and lead us astray.

We must guard ourselves against them. In order to gratify them there

arise mean desires-the desires to please sight, hearing, smell,

taste, and touch. These five desires are ever pursuing or, rather,

driving us. We must not spend our whole lives in pursuit of those

mirage-like objects which gratify our sensual desires. When we

gratify one desire, we are silly enough to fancy that we have

realized true happiness. But one desire gratified begets another

stronger and more insatiable. Thirst allayed with salt water becomes

more intense than ever.

[FN#209] Compare Gaku-do-yo-jin-shu, chap. i., and Zen-kwan-saku


Shakya Muni compared an Epicurean with a dog chewing a dry bone,

mistaking the blood out of a wound in his mouth for that of the bone.

The author of Mahaparinirvana-sutra[FN#210] has a parable to the

following effect: 'Once upon a time a hunter skilled in catching

monkeys alive went into the wood. He put something very sticky on

the ground, and hid himself among the bushes. By-and-by a monkey

came out to see what it was, and supposing it to be something

eatable, tried to feed on it. It stuck to the poor creature's snout

so firmly that he could not shake it off. Then he attempted to tear

it off with both his paws, which also stuck to it. Thereupon he

strove to kick it off with both his hind-legs, which were caught too.

Then the hunter came out, and thrusting his stick through between

the paws and hind-legs of the victim, and thus carrying it on his

shoulder, went home.' In like manner an Epicurean (the monkey),

allured by the objects of sense (something sticky), sticks to the

five desires (the snout and the four limbs), and being caught by

Temptation (the hunter), loses his life of Wisdom.

[FN#210] The sutra translated by Hwui Yen and Hwui Kwan, A.D.


We are no more than a species of monkeys, as evolutionists hold. Not

a few testify to this truth by their being caught by means of

'something eatable.' We abolished slavery and call ourselves

civilized nations. Have we not, nevertheless, hundreds of life-long

slaves to cigars among us? Have we not thousands of life-long slaves

to spirits among us? Have we not hundreds of thousands of life-long

slaves to gold among us? Have we not myriads of lifelong slaves to

vanity among us? These slaves are incredibly loyal to, and

incessantly work for, their masters, who in turn bestow on them

incurable diseases, poverty, chagrin, and disappointment.

A poor puppy with an empty can tied to his tail, Thomas Carlyle

wittily observes, ran and ran on, frightened by the noise of the can.

The more rapidly he ran, the more loudly it rang, and at last he

fell exhausted of running. Was it not typical of a so-called great

man of the world? Vanity tied an empty can of fame to his tail, the

hollow noise of which drives him through life until he falls to rise

no more. Miserable!

Neither these men of the world nor Buddhist ascetics can be

optimists. The latter rigorously deny themselves sensual

gratifications, and keep themselves aloof from all objects of

pleasure. For them to be pleased is equivalent to sin, and to laugh,

to be cursed. They would rather touch an adder's head than a piece

of money.[FN#211] They would rather throw themselves into a fiery

furnace than to come in contact with the other sex. Body for them is

a bag full of blood and pus;[FN#212] life, an idle, or rather evil,

dream. Vegetarianism and celibacy are their holy privileges. Life

is unworthy of having; to put an end to it is their

deliverance.[FN#213] Such a view of life is hardly worth our


[FN#211] Such is the precept taught in the Vinaya of Hinayanists.

[FN#212] See Mahasatiptthana Suttanta, 2-13.

[FN#213] This is the logical conclusion of Hinayanism.