“When there is no desire all things are at peace.” – Laozi
Our final mode for seeking contentment takes us back to the topic of asceticism. I have already performed a detailed analysis of asceticism in the section titled Suffering.1 In that section, asceticism was posited as voluntary suffering, or at least privation, specifically with a goal to some philosophical benefit. Purported benefits included enlightenment, escape from rebirth, happiness, mystical union, salvation, resistance to temptation, and preparation for service to the divine. However today our interest is on its facilitation of inner tranquility. I will backtrack to some of that analysis apropos to our current focus.
Starting with Buddha, we saw that he professes that human suffering (discontent for our purpose today) is due to desire, but the paradoxical solution is privation and the elimination of desire, hence contentment comes not from satisfying desires, but from consciously neutralizing sources of discontent. Buddha proposes an Eightfold Path to enlightenment which includes three components that dovetail with our ongoing search for tranquility: right thoughts, right mindfulness, and right concentration. In the West, the Cynics, seeking the “happiness of a dog” identify contentment envisioned as complete freedom. For them poverty is the paradoxical avenue to peace and content. On the contrary, some Christian aesthetics seem to think giving up one’s freedom (i.e. living in a monastery) is the route to “security and peace.”2
In my synthesis on asceticism, I argued philosophically sound asceticism included five key requirements.3 Three of these reference contentment directly or indirectly: (1) it contributes to one’s happiness and contentment (2) it involves life in harmony with nature, and (3) it develops self-discipline especially the features of self-sufficiency and true freedom. I also noted that asceticism is most philosophically defensible when it takes the form of moderation following for example Buddha’s Middle Way.
We might be tempted to see asceticism and solitude as two sides of the same coin, but this is probably mistaken; both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche endorse solitude but denounce asceticism. In fact one can embrace solitude without surrendering the comforts of normal living and one can practice asceticism as a member of a community such as in a monastery. It seems to me that silence and stillness, solitude, and asceticism function as three portals (to borrow a term from Eckhardt Tolle) to contentment.
Next time, before summarizing this section, we will pause to examine the thoughts of Horace, the classical Roman poet, as one vision of the ideal life of contentment.
1See posts on this site: Suffering – Asceticism, Parts I to VII, dated 4/1, 4/3, 4/6, 4/24, 4/27, 4/29, 5/1, 5/4, and 5/6/20
2Durant, Will, The Age of Faith. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1950. ISBN 0-671-01200-1, page 519.
3See post on this site: Suffering – Asceticism – Part VII – Synthesis, dated 5/6/2020.