Temperance: Stoicism, Bushido, and “Getting After It”
by Donavon L Riley
In an era where fitness influencers offer us exhortations, such as “embrace the grind” and “get after it,” it is worth delving into the ancient philosophies of Stoicism and the Bushido ethos to rediscover the profound wisdom of temperance. While these philosophies hail from different cultural backgrounds—Stoicism from ancient Greece and Rome and Bushido from feudal Japan—they share a common thread of virtue that offers a refreshing perspective on the contemporary mantras of relentless pursuit. In this article, then, we will explore how Stoicism and Bushido shed light on the art of temperance and its significance in mastering the self and achieving a life well-lived.
Stoicism provides profound insights into the art of mastering oneself through the virtue of temperance. Seneca, one of its prominent voices, guides us toward the path of contentment through his words: “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” This fundamental Stoic tenet underscores that true riches lie in recognizing the sufficiency of what we have, discouraging us from chasing excesses that ultimately leave us unfulfilled.
While modern culture may lionize relentless ambition and insatiable desire, a Stoic ethic is, in fact, the antithesis of such behavior. Epictetus, another stalwart of Stoicism, elucidates this through his teaching: “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” This Stoic maxim urges us to channel our efforts wisely, directing them toward what we can control and accepting with grace the aspects beyond our grasp. In essence, it urges us to exercise discipline and restraint.
Practical examples of Stoic temperance abound in everyday life. Think of a moment when faced with the allure of indulgence, perhaps in the form of excessive spending, overindulgence in food and drink, or even the pursuit of material possessions. In such instances, Stoicism invites us to pause, reflect, and consider whether these pursuits genuinely align with our values and contribute to our well-being. As Marcus Aurelius wisely noted, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” In this manner, Stoicism encourages us to practice self-control and make choices that lead to a life marked by contentment and inner peace.
The Way of Discipline and Honor
Similarly, the Bushido ethos provides profound insights into the essence of discipline, honor, and the virtue of temperance. At its core, Bushido extols the principle of discipline, both in the domain of martial prowess and in the realm of personal conduct. It is a philosophy that encourages warriors not to seek glory through reckless abandon but to embody the virtues of honor, integrity, and restraint.
Legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, revered not only for his formidable skills but also for his wisdom, imparts a crucial lesson in his timeless treatise, “The Book of Five Rings.” His words resonate with a profound sense of balance and discipline: “In strategy, your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in fighting and in everyday life, you should be determined though calm.” This fundamental tenet of Bushido underscores the importance of remaining composed and resolute, even in the face of adversity.
Bushido’s emphasis on discipline and temperance can be found in the actions of samurai throughout history. Consider a samurai’s unwavering commitment to their code of honor, which demanded not only martial excellence but also a meticulous adherence to principles of integrity, loyalty, and self-control. This disciplined approach to life extended beyond the battlefield into everyday interactions, as samurai sought to maintain harmony and balance in all aspects of their existence.
Applying these principles to contemporary society, the Bushido philosophy teaches us that discipline is not synonymous with restriction but, rather, a source of strength and freedom. It teaches us to approach life with a sense of purpose, to cultivate our skills and character with unwavering dedication, and to exercise restraint and composure even when faced with challenges. In a world that often glorifies impulsivity and excess, Bushido offers a timeless lesson in the value of disciplined temperance as a path to honor and excellence.
Temperance Amidst the Grind
In today’s fitness and self-improvement culture, the rallying cries of “embrace the grind” and “get after it” resound as anthems of unwavering determination in the pursuit of physical and mental excellence. These mantras, while undeniably powerful motivators, often emphasize an unrelenting, almost relentless, approach to achieving one’s goals. Yet, within this fervor, the wisdom of Stoicism and Bushido offers a crucial counterbalance—a reminder that temperance and self-mastery are not to be overlooked on the path to success.
Seneca’s words resonate powerfully in this context: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” This Stoic insight underscores that the relentless pursuit of excellence, while admirable, must be tempered by an awareness of our own limitations and the need for balance. It encourages us to consider whether our zealous drive for success may, at times, lead to unintended consequences such as injury, burnout, or neglect of other vital aspects of our lives.
The Bushido ethos further complements this perspective. In the pursuit of physical and mental excellence, the true warrior does not forsake the principles of temperance and restraint. Instead, they harness their determination and dedication with composure, remaining steadfast in their commitment while exercising self-control. This balance is epitomized by the samurai’s ability to remain calm and focused, even amidst the heat of battle.
Consider those individuals who excel in their respective fields while maintaining a sense of balance and well-being. For example, an elite athlete who dedicates themselves wholeheartedly to their sport but recognizes the importance of rest and recovery understands that overexertion can lead to injury and exhaustion. Or, contemplate a high-achieving professional who, despite their ambitious goals, makes time for family, relaxation, and self-care, acknowledging that life’s richness extends beyond the pursuit of success.
In essence, Stoicism and Bushido offer a valuable perspective for those navigating the demanding mantras of contemporary self-improvement culture. They teach us that temperance and self-mastery are not at odds with determination and hard work; rather, they are the guiding principles that ensure our relentless pursuit of excellence remains sustainable, fulfilling, and true to our values. In a world that often extols unbridled ambition, the wisdom of these ancient philosophies serves as a counterweight that helps us keep our balance, so we can travel along a path to success with integrity and honor.
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