Buddhism and Stoicism


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Buddhism and Stoicism



Buddhism and stoicism were two philosophies that were remarkably similar but emerged in two different parts of the world with a time gap of approximately two years apart. Stoicism emerged in 300BC in Athens, Greece. While Buddhism prospered around 500BC in modern day India and Nepal. Both the philosophies aim at improving the quality of life and making human beings calmer and wiser.

According to Buddhist teachings Nirvana or enlightenment can be attained by following a noble eightfold path. This includes “right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration”.

The stoic philosophies on the other hand laid emphasis on being one with nature and accepting everything that happens in life. The stoics just like Buddhism believe that it is very important to pay attention to the present moment.  Stoicism believes that the only thing good is virtue while the only thing bad is a vice. In accordance to this temperance, justice, courage and wisdom are the prime virtues.

Stoic ethics are based on putting reason above passion. This is so because the stoics believe that virtues and happiness are embedded in rationality while passion results in suffering and other vices. This is very similar to the Buddhist philosophy that suffering is caused by choosing desire over reason which is the key to enlightenment.

In the aspect of self, Buddhist philosophies believe that all nature is one and the difference that we perceive is an illusion. Similar to this ideology the stoics believe that the universe is one and immersed in the divine essence of God.

Now the topic of God is what separates Stoicism form Buddhism. Stoics believe in the existence of God, while the Buddhists do not believe in God. The Buddhists rather believe in an endless cycle of causalities called karma. Buddhism talks about birth, rebirth and reincarnation. The stoics do not believe in rebirth or reincarnation and rather put emphasis on accepting death as a natural life process.

Apart from this there also exists a difference propagated by the two on how to conduct life and sexuality.

Thus, though both the philosophies are similar to a great extent there still exist some difference between the two as a result of the difference in where the ideologies developed and at what time.  

Buddhism and Stoicism



Stoicism is the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint. It is a practice which is pretty much visible in present day psychology as well. Most of the teachings of stoics can be linked to present day psychology.

The most important teaching of stoicism is self- control and control over one’s emotions and actions. Most of us try to exert complete control over everything and when we fail, which we are bound to, we feel angry. The only thing we have a control on is our reactions and beliefs. Example of this can be fighting against addiction.

The most important goal of stoicism is freedom from sufferings. The goal of psychology also is to free people from sufferings by reducing maladaptive behaviours.

One of the major aspects of stoicism called apatheia, which means having an objective and unemotional approach towards life, is used by psychologists even today, in order to come up with unbiased accounts of the patient’s state. Equanimity means a state of mind which is passive and has a neutral outlook. Even in psychology, it is taught to be neutral and not possess extreme emotions.

Another important philosophy of the stoics is the importance on practice, training, repetition etc. which basically can be translated into habits. So we being forgetful creatures need to keep practicing something over and over again to make it a part of our routine or schedule. Similarly, in psychology, for a behaviour to be learnt it needs to be repeated over and over again.

Also, more than the situation itself what matters more is our opinion on it. We can make a situation worse by holding a negative opinion about it. Even in psychology, a stimulus is based on the kind of reaction people give on it and that shapes the behaviour in itself.

Our opinions are unconscious but can be bought to consciousness by asking questions. This will invoke that particular opinion thereby bringing it to consciousness. This technique as it is, is used in psychology to make people aware of their unconscious desires, thoughts and opinions.

Another important aspect is living in the moment and thinking about the present. This includes leaving behind the past and not anticipating about the future. This is used in psychology to pump positive emotions and reduce overthinking and over assumptions.

In stoicism, fieldwork is important. It means that until and unless we don’t practice something, it will not happen. For example- if you are trying to improve your temper, try not losing it. It is an important practice of modern day psychology as well. For example- rehabilitation centres.

The stoics emphasized ethics as the main focus of human knowledge. They taught that if one found the good life in doing the right things rather than in materialistic things like wealth, then they would always be happy. Doing the right thing is always in our hand. This is taught in psychology as well.

The last and final aspect of stoicism that can be linked to present day psychology is a human being’s obligation towards the wider society and even the community of humanity.

Buddhism and Stoicism



The principles of Voluntarism can be carefully traced back to those of Stoicism. Stoicism talks about self control, in order to overcome destructive emotions. Hence, this can be related to the concept of will in Voluntarism. Just like Voluntarism states that an entity has the option to choose their own destiny, through self– Stoicism emphasises on self control. Self control– the ability due to which one is capable of controlling his/her own desires, and hence choose which emotion to act on, subsequently.

Similarly, Asceticism, a principles strongly followed in Stoicism,  talks about voluntary abstinence from worldly pleasures. Many philosophies have the underlying principle that states the sacrifice if materialistic pleasures. Stoicism presents the same, but also emphasises on how an individual is capable of doing so, simply by will, which again routes back to Voluntarism– one’s ability to change his/her choices solely by will. Stoicism believes in equinamity in the ups and downs in life, where it encourages an individual to have a neutral and passive outlook towards every situation. This can also be drawn towards how an individual’s outlook is driven by choice. Pessimism and Optism is born out of will, and it is up to the individual as to how the world can be viewed.


Buddhism and Stoicism


Stoicisma school of Hellenistic philosophy flourished in Greek and Roman antiquity. The term Stoic is derived from the Greek word ‘Stoa Poikile’, or Painted Porch, a public space in Athens where teachers and students regularly met. The Stoa was, in many ways, the center of Greek life. Around 300 BCE, the man now considered the father of Stoicism first opened minds.

Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century showed in his own doctrines the influence of earlier Greek attitudes. He was well versed in Platonic thought, for he had studied at Plato’s Academy both with Xenocrates of Chalcedon and with Polemon of Athens, who later on became the successive heads of the Academy. Zeno was responsible for the division of philosophy into three parts: logicphysics, and ethics. He thus provided the following themes as the essential framework of Stoic philosophy: logic as an instrument and not as an end in itself; human happiness as a product of life according to nature; physical theory as providing the means by which right actions are to be determined; perception as the basis of certain knowledge; the wise person as the model of human excellence; person as part of the environment and subject to the governing pressures of environmental determinants.

Cleanthes of Assos, who succeeded Zeno as head of the school, is best known for his Hymn to Zeus, which movingly describes Stoic reverence for the cosmic order and the power of universal reason and law.

The third head of the school, Chrysippus of Soli, who lived to the end of the 3rd century, was the greatest and certainly the most productive of the early Stoics. He devoted his considerable energies to the almost complete development of the Zenonian themes in logic, physics, and ethics. His work in propositional logic, in which unanalyzed propositions joined by connectives are studied, made important contributions to the history of ancient logic and was of particular relevance to modern developments in logic.

The Stoics taught that emotions resulted in errors of judgment which were destructive, due to the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will that is in accord with nature. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life (lex divina), and they thought that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said but how a person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they taught that everything was rooted in naturestoictimeline2

Buddhism and Stoicism



Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy, which was developed by the philosopher Zeno. It talks about self control and fortitude as a means to overcome destructive emotions. It seems to transform emotion through Asceticism. Asceticism is the voluntary abstinence from worldly pleasures. This enables one to develop inner calm, clear judgement and freedom from suffering.

Stoicism can be considered as a way of life, and hence can be polished with more practice and logic. Logic is an integral part of Stoicism, much like Aristotle. But the logic that Aristotle spoke of is also very different from that by Stoics. This is an approach to logic based on statements or propositions, rather than terms, making it different.

The basic principle of Stoicism was to deal with situations with absolute apathia(being objective and unemotional). Stoicism believes in looking at the world in a passive manner, that is, not having an opinion of “good” or “bad” for any of situation. It also believes in equanimity in the face of highs and lows. It believed that looking at everything in a clear and unbiased manner helps to understand the reason behind everything in the universe.

Later Stoics stated that virtue is sufficient for happiness. One of Zeno’s teachers, Diodorus Cronus came up with an approach to logic called propositional logic. Later, a deductive system was developed, called Stoic Syllogistic, which was a rival to Aristotle’s Syllogistic.

Buddhism and Stoicism


7761a9b7aeBuddha always preached four noble truths that life is full of sufferings that have a specific cause but we can stop and extinguish these sufferings. Buddha advocated Astangika-marga to extinguish the sufferings of life that includes right views, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Buddhism was started being assessed in terms of modern day psychology when British indologist Rhys Davids translated Abhidhamma Pitaka from Pali and Sanskrit. Over the last century many psychologists have drawn parallels between Buddhism and modern day branch of psychology like phenomenological psychology, cognitive psychology and existential psychology.



As Buddha said that life is full of sufferings and these sufferings are due to attachment, similar to that existential psychology says that we feel disgusted as we expect certain things to happen in a specific way and in a way that they will benefit us and when that doesn’t happen we fell disappointed. Buddha also said that this suffering can be extinguished (nirvana) which is quite similar to the existential concept of freedom, Buddhism emphasizes upon freedom from rebirth and from the effects of karma just like existentialists freedom of being ourselves. Buddha also spoke about the way of extinguishing suffering which can be compared to the assertive role of therapist who help the client to overcome the fears in their life.


All the therapies dealing with the cognitive restructuring have their basic principles taken from buddhist solutions to personal sufferings. From this,  there are about two types of meditative techniques to achieve higher level of non attachment to the materialistic world which is associated with mindfulness practices of Buddhism.



Kabat- Zinn who developed the essence of this technique after 8 week long program on over 4000 patients found that this technique preached by Buddhists have proven to be helpful for the people with depression, anxiety and anyone experiencing anxiety.


Gestalt therapy was developed based on Zen Buddhism. Perls after spending time in Buddhist monasteries discovered the ideas of mindfulness and found that the focus is given to the present. Gestalt theory also advocated that person should allow the present moment to reveal itself to him and then find the real essence of one’s life.


The Pali Canon suggests that Buddha distinguished between the physical and mental illness, later one arising from Kleshas or mental defilements which include greed, hatred and confusion. Milinda Panha another Buddhist source suggests that madness is caused by personal and environmental circumstances as it’s believed nowadays.

Both the things shares the concept of developing positive emotions and strengths with the goal of improving life. According to Buddhism striving is the very cause of unhappiness in human life, similarly positive psychology holds the view of futility of hedonic principle and gains in search of lasting happiness.

Buddha just like any therapist made a aim in life to identify, explain and end human sufferings. His therapeutic models based on mindfulness are helping millions of people today. Finally the western world has understood the real essence of Buddhism.


Buddhism and Stoicism


gautama-buddha-4There are various aspects of Buddhism that link it to behaviourism. Firstly, buddha considered religious rituals to be foolish and followed agnosticism that is the belief that god does not exist and he spoke about the good and the evil. His religion was considered a prescription for virtuous living which involved following simple rules of deportment leading to a sense of well-being. He taught that self-discipline and careful training would lead to happiness.

Similarly, behaviourism focuses on overt behaviour only i.e. only the externally observed behaviour. It follows that an individual or organism should engage in good habits and avoid bad habits in order to be happy.

Moreover, he said that sensory inputs are our only source of knowledge and dismissed the notion of soul or mind. This relates to behaviourism as it studies only external behaviour and not the mental processes involved. It focuses on environmental factors as responsible for causing a behaviour.

According to Buddhism the perceived unity of personality is caused by successions of habits and memories. It believes that our actions are influenced by habits, heredity and the environment. This can be related to behaviourism as it to considers an individual’s behaviour and actions as a result of habits and environmental influences like reward and punishment. watson

Buddhism and Stoicism


history-of-buddha-1The history of Buddhism spans from the 5th century BCE to the present; which arose in the
eastern part of Ancient India, in and around the ancient Kingdom of Magadha (now in Bihar,
India), and is based on the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama. This makes it one of the
oldest religions practiced today. The religion evolved as it spread from the northeastern
region of the Indian subcontinent through Central, East, and Southeast Asia.
Early Buddhism remained centered on the Ganges valley, spreading gradually from its
ancient heartland. The canonical sources record two councils, where the monastic Sangha established the textual collections based on the Buddha’s teachings and settled certain disciplinary problems within the community.

The first Buddhist Council was held just after Buddha’s Parinirvana, and the second Buddhist Council was held at Vaisali, after a dispute that had arisen in the Sangha.

The Mauryan Emperor Aśoka (273–232 BC) converted to Buddhism after his bloody
conquest of the territory of Kalinga (modern Odisha) in eastern India during the Kalinga War.

Regretting the horrors and misery brought about by the conflict, the king magnanimously decided to renounce violence, to replace the misery caused by war with respect and dignity for all humanity. He propagated the faith by building stupas and pillars urging, amongst other things, respect of all animal life and enjoining people to follow the Dharma. Perhaps the finest example of these is the Great Stupa of Sanchi, (near Bhopal, India). It was constructed in the 3rd century BC and later enlarged. Its carved gates, called toranas, are considered among the finest examples of Buddhist art in India. He also built roads, hospitals, resthouses, universities and irrigation systems around the country. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics or caste
Then, the third Buddhist Council was held by the monk Moggaliputtatisa.
This was followed by the Rise of the Shunga (2nd-1st century BC), Greco-Buddhist
Interaction(2nd Century BC-1st Century AD), Rise and Expansion of Mahanya, Emergence
of Vajrayana, Theravada Renaissance and the expansion of Buddhism to the West.

Buddhism and Stoicism


buddha_pictures_download_724827935Buddhism is a religion and dharma that encompasses a lot of traditions and beliefs.

It originated in Ancient India, somewhere between 6th and 4th century BCE, after which it spread throughout Asia. It is primarily attributed to Buddha. Buddha, born as Siddhartha Gautama, in Lumbini and grew up in Kapilavasthu.

The Basic Tenets of Buddhism are as follows:

The Four Noble Truths:

Buddha stated that there are four basic truths in life–suffering, causation, cessation and the right fold path. He said that suffering is the ultimate truth of life–everyone suffers. He said that causation(desire, wanting for a change) is again, one of the most important truth of life. Everyone wants to create a change in pre existing situations and criteria. Cessation is how every individual their own wants and desires, and this can be easily controlled by avoiding our desires and wants.

He went on to elaborate and explain the Right Fold Path, which is a way of life. One doesn’t necessarily have to transcend each level to reach the next, but can do so too. The Eight Fold Path consists of :

Right Understanding

Right thought

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Right Effort

Right Concentration

Right Mindfulness