Having a pace of life different from today’s pre-modern style, people placed an emphasis on pondering over important questions and spending time alone. Speaking little was a sign of wisdom, because people with scattered minds and overloaded with worries could not stay in silence. Their minds are racing, and their tongues are wagging. Religions and philosophies usually would draw attention to the fact that in incessant talking, people can forget what they were concerning about, meaning that speaking did not help concentrate and think. Although China’s Confucius, Hindu’s The Upanishads, and Hindu’s Bhagavad Gita point out that wisdom is inevitable from the Good Life, and silence is necessary to attain wisdom, nowadays, people are overloaded with information, and it is much more difficult to keep one’s mind at ease and in silence.
Ancient philosophies praised wisdom, and one could understand that one’s opponent is wise through his or her actions and words. However, a person could acquire wisdom primarily in silence. Ancient teachers did not rely on books, but they contemplated the world, notices regularities and common factors, and when they opened their mouth, they had what to say, and their words were concise and insightful. Therefore, philosophers came to understanding that silent contemplation is the best way to peace and wisdom and, consequently, to the Good Life.
Confucius believed that silence was one of the virtues, because a wise person keeps quietwhile a talkative person is not wise at all. It refers to the fact that letting others see one’s wisdom, one gets the world’s fame, whereas storing one’s knowledge cultivates oneself. Confucius places an emphasis on cultivation of a true inner self so his willingness to put all efforts into it is understandable. Thus, Confucius contrasts the inner and the outer through silence.
Upanishads also makes a distinction between the two, but division is between the lower, knowledge, and the higher, self-realization. According to Upanishads, all knowledge is in vain, because it is impossible to understand everything: “The eye cannot see it; mind cannot grasp it” (20). However, in medication, people can imitate “the source of life, the deathless self” and through the energy released in medication people can get a higher knowledge and get self-realization (Upanishads 20). In meditation, silence helps people conquer their passions and get rid of their desires, and then, with clean hearts, people will be able to understand themselves and the world and live the Good Life.
Hindu’s Bhagavad Gita teaches that an absence of any desires is an ultimate bliss, and people should pursue it, if they want the best for themselves. This state is called ‘moksha,’ and it is described in Bhagavad Gita. One of the yogas for achieving moksha is jnana knowledge of yoga. Jnana yoga means getting the higher knowledge from the higher being. Given the fact that Krishna oriented people to get in touch with the Creator, jnana yoga was supposed to help in it. Moreover, silence is a key to communication with the higher self. People do not need witnesses of it, and they can do it only alone. In order to get to know the Creator, people had to hone down their discipline, both physical and mental, and consequently, all it transforms common human life into the Good life.
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Seeing how much importance pre-modern philosophers placed on being alone and being in silence, it becomes evident that modern people have troubles with it, because of electronic devices that became the continuation of people. Even though people find time in their hectic schedules and get away from the city and their jobs, they still have electronic gadgets that are very seductive to let them go. Information became a drug, and, for that reason, people are constantly abusing instant gratification. However, harder does not mean impossible. So, the goal of silence is absolutely attainable in our modern world. It simply needs more efforts and desire to do it.
Pre-modern philosophers privileged male gender, because, generally, females were believed to be inferior according to the patriarchal tradition. Taking their rationalization from a complex set of religious ideas and social conventions, the pre-modern world employed a dualist outlook believing that there is good and evil, white and black, day and night, right and left/wrong, as well as male and female. Logically, the latter is usually in opposition to the former. Therefore, males symbolize good, light, wisdom, and being right, while females are connected to bad, night, silliness, and being wrong. Given the fact that men had all the power, and women were in a slightly better position than slaves, male gender was more privileged. Furthermore, it is evident in the works of Solomon, Aristotle, and Kama Sutra. Sexual orientation was privileged depending on religion and tradition, and while Hebrew and Hindu tradition favored heterosexual orientation, Ancient Greeks were more favorable of homosexual orientation.
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All men in pre-modern time must have been happy at not being born women, because men had all power and authority in ancient times. In the ancient text of Kamasutra, the author Vatsyayana Mallanaga mentions that it was more difficult for women to pursue the aims of human life, because “women’s lack of freedom makes their pursuit of the three human goals dependent upon men” (7). Furthermore, Kamasutra says “females cannot grasp texts,” so all wisdom of the world is useless for women unless men explain them and show them in practice (13).
Hebrew and Ancient Greek philosophers also upheld the idea that women are inferior to men, and it was conveyed in conventions of the time and the way society functioned. Women stayed at home, and they could not step outside without an accompanying person. Females could not argue with their husbands or offer their ideas and decisions. Basically, women’s role was to bear children and take care of home. The most beautiful woman could end up in the king’s harem, and it was the pinnacle of her career. Hebrew King Solomon had around a thousand of wives and concubines, and his conclusion was that he did not find a single upright woman, whereas there can be found one in a thousand an upright man. In the essay “On a Good Wife,” Aristotle outlines how much submissive a wife should be. She should carry out all her husband’s orders, obey all his wishes, and reject all her desires, apart from the ones her husband has. These examples show that pre-modern philosophers clearly privileged males as the most perfect and good.
However, such subordinate position of women made the issue of sexuality ambiguous. Whereas ancient Hebrews and Hindus as well as Ancient Greeks in the time of Aristotle favored heterosexual orientation, earlier Ancient Greeks and the Epic of Gilgamesh show an alternative interpretation. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an example of a strong friendship of two males expressed in the words of heterosexual relationship. Before Gilgamesh met Enkidu, he is predicted to meet a man whom he will love as a wife. The epic does not reveal any sex-related details, but there is a strong connection between the two.
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In Ancient Greece, homoerotic relationships existed and were not outside the law. Apart from any innate orientations, the way Greek society functioned pointed out that it was a consequence from how women were treated. If women are low and uneducated, men find pleasure in communicating with people of similar mindedness. It is a well-known fact that Greeks favored homosexual relations between mature men and young men as a way to guide the younger ones in life. Similarly, women can get little satisfaction from relationship with their husbands who treat them only like incubators for children and, in turn, can start close relationships with women. Poet Sappho became one of the symbols of lesbian love, even though she does not refer to it in her poetry.
Pre-modern philosophy did not have a unite opinion on pleasure and its role in maintaining the Good Life. Given that usually life is pain, pleasure seems a way out of it and something that should be pursued. However, there were philosophic movements, which believed that pleasure and all mundane desires make an individual down to earth and maybe even superficial. Meanwhile, if an individual forsakes one’s desires, he or she can truly enter the blissful state. The answer depends on what people aim to attain. Even though some philosophies advise to reject desires and pleasure as something that is human and imperfect, those who want to be present at the moment and feel the life to the full believe that pleasure is an inevitable part of the Good Life.
Hindu philosophy and its religious traditions held both viewpoints. In Kamasutra, one may read that “The existence of men who hate pleasure is meaningless as the existence of blades of grass” (12). Especially, Kamasutra, as a book that teaches the art of fulfilled life and physical pleasure, cannot advocate a different viewpoint and argues that pleasure is a reward, and it is as much necessary for people as food. However, here is a contradiction, because Kamasutra also does not mention ‘moksha,’ even though it is believed to be the fourth aim of life, alongside religion, power, and pleasure. Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita talk about moksha, and it means a release from desires. Ancient Vedic practitioners believed that desire was natural so in order to achieve transcendence and understanding of the higher self, one had to renounce desire. The state of utter bliss and the Good Life could be achieved only when the “I” completely disappears that there is only the Universe and the Creator. In Ethics, Aristotle also wrote that “children and brutes pursue pleasure” meaning that mature men have other important things to pursue such as ruling of the state, solving problems, as well as talking about important issues (122).
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Whereas Hindu’s Kamasutra held a balanced understanding of pleasure as a part of life, Hedonism and Epicureanism propagated pleasure as the higher aim. The schools of Greek Hedonism aimed to always seek pleasure, knowing that only pleasure or pain motivates people. They did not think it was enough not to feel pain. They specifically wanted to feel pleasure. However, such approach made their living rather superficial, because they questioned how they could attain knowledge beyond their sensation. After the Greek school, Ancient Romans initiated their own school of pleasure called Epicureanism. The founder, Epicurus, also believed pleasure to be the highest aim in life, but his idea about pleasure was to pursue it in modesty. Epicurus propagated moderation, tranquility, contemplation and placed an emphasis on friendship. He believed that many activities can bring people pleasure and philosophy, spiritual life, family, etc. are among them. After all, this approach does not seem shallow.
Summing up, it becomes evident that human disposition plays a key role in choosing to live with pleasure or without. There can be people who choose the path of renunciation, but even they can take pleasure in minutiae such as a smile of a child or the sunset or a beautiful sight. However, the middle way usually seems a right choice, and it is wise to choose both pursuing wisdom and physical sensation and pleasure. An individual should try to understand what the Good Life is for him or her. If he or she agrees that the Good Life is a transfusion with the universe and desires hamper the way, the path of renunciation can be trued. However, personally, I agree with Kamasutra, Epicurus, and Aristotle that it is possible to be happy by pursuing pleasure in the form of family, philosophy, beauty, etc.
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The purpose of religions and philosophies is to equip people in such a way so that they could live fully and happily under any circumstances. In such a case, any life circumstances will not affect individual happiness. Even if an individual experiences discomfort and sees unfairness and pain, one can still remain quietly happy. Therefore, philosophers learn to attribute individual happiness to subjective attitudes about their life rather than objective life circumstances.
The Book of Job is the most vivid example of how critical and horrible circumstances did not ruin an individual. As a result of a wager between God and devil, Job was deprived of his family, wealth, health, etc. It happened to a person who was virtuous, and Job could not understand how it happened to him. Even though his friends told him that he must have done something wrong, Job was holding onto his integrity and his faith. After this harsh trial, Job came out with a better understanding of the world. He realized that good and virtuous people can suffer while evil people can wallow in their rich life. Also, Job understood that human life is too short to understand God’s plan. Of course, in the middle of God’s trial, Job did not feel happy, but his faith gave his strength to wait till it stops. In many cases, people break down under harsh circumstances, but faith and integrity helped Job to pass it with flying colors.
Socrates also got in a complicated life situation due to his opinions, but it was a natural consequence of the way he had chosen. Socrates believed that truly happy and fulfilled life should be examined. It means that one should converse about virtue in general and find our false beliefs. However, his questions reveal stupidity and rigid minds of other people, and, eventually, his stinging of Athenian gadfly became unbearable, and Socrates was sentenced to death. Even though he was on the threshold of death, Socrates did not feel miserable. He saw death as a blessing and did not want to violate the laws of Athens and run way as he had been advised. It signifies that despite his objective life circumstances, Socrates relied on his subjective attitudes and lived a full and fulfilled life.
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Given how Hinduism offers renunciation, it becomes evident that in this philosophy suffering has no meaning. Hinduism advocates individual happiness in reaching the full realization and joining the higher self in meditation. When the “I” disappears, objective life circumstances have no point. An individual enters the Ultimate Reality and down to earth reality is of no interest to one. Even though on the large-scale level, such approach is not able to stop suffering, on the personal level, it works as escapism. However, yogi and brahmans have nothing and, according to the measures of Westerner, they are penniless and homeless wanders and are worthy of pity. Yet they feel fine and happy and are full of inner calmness and wisdom. Through practicing yoga, they achieve inner peace, and for them, it means the Good Life. For many Westerners, who are harassed with mortgages and credit card debts and work for the sake of incessant compulsive consumption, such tranquility and detachment are happiness too, because they are so far from it, but they see it as bliss.
Summing up, it can be said that one should start from oneself and look for one’s identity. Based on that, one can reach out to the higher self. As in the example of Job, without identity and inner strength, it is impossible to transcend. Therefore, subjective attitude is always instrumental in personal happiness.