The Virtue of Temperance: Insights from Stoicism and Bushido

by Donavon L Riley


In a world often characterized by excess and indulgence, the virtues of temperance and self-control stand as time-tested pillars of strength, offering a path to balance and inner peace. Both the Stoics and the samurai who followed the code of Bushido understood the profound significance of temperance in the pursuit of a virtuous life. So we will explore their teachings, to understand the role of temperance in shaping good character and righteous conduct.  

The Art of Self-Mastery

The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, wrote that, “No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” 

Stoicism, with its emphasis on rationality and virtue, places temperance at the forefront of self-mastery. To the Stoics, temperance is the art of restraining desires and impulses, a potent means of achieving tranquility and wisdom. It’s not about denying oneself pleasure but about cultivating the discipline to enjoy life in moderation.

Seneca, another notable Stoic, urged that “we must resist the inborn appetites” and that “self-control, that is, the motive which resists passions, must be brought into play against pleasures.” In essence, the Stoics recognized that the pursuit of wisdom requires the ability to navigate the storms of desire with a steady hand.

 The Way of the Warrior’s Control

On the other side of the world, over fourteen hundred years after Epictetus died, Miyamoto Musashi wrote that, “It is not the moon that makes a man a lunatic, but the man himself that makes himself a lunatic.”

So even though they were separated by geography and time, the code of Bushido, followed by the samurai, mirrors Stoicism’s emphasis on temperance. In the Bushido ethos, self-control is not only a virtue but also a path to mastery. It is the way of the warrior to restrain his impulses, to channel his energy, and to act with precision and purpose.

Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary swordsman, understood the importance of self-control. His words, “It is not the moon that makes a man a lunatic,” remind us that external circumstances do not dictate our behavior; it’s our own mastery of self that determines our actions. In the world of the samurai, like that of the Stoics, temperance was a mark of honor and strength.

Both Stoicism and Bushido recognize that temperance is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of strength and wisdom. It’s the ability to withstand the allure of excess and to maintain a virtuous equilibrium

As Seneca, the Roman Stoic, declared, “So, in life, you must make yourself a judge of pleasures and an arbiter of desires.” This is echoed in the Bushido principle of self-control, where the warrior becomes a judge of his own actions, guided by the principles of honor and virtue. 

So then, how do we apply these principles to our lives in a practical way?

Practical Strategies: Embracing Temperance

  • Mindful Awareness: Cultivate mindful awareness of your desires and impulses. Recognize when you’re tempted to excess and pause to assess whether it aligns with your principles.
  • Discipline Through Practice: Practice self-discipline as you would a martial art. Train yourself to resist immediate gratification and choose actions that align with your values.
  • Virtuous Role Models: Seek inspiration from virtuous role models, whether it’s a Stoic philosopher like Epictetus or a samurai like Miyamoto Musashi. Learn from their examples of self-control.
  • Contemplation of Consequences: Before succumbing to impulse, contemplate the consequences of your actions. Consider whether they lead you toward a virtuous life or away from it.
  • Inner Strength: Recognize that true strength lies in mastering oneself. Embrace the Stoic and Bushido ethos that temperance is a mark of honor and courage.

In the union of Stoicism and Bushido, we find a resounding message: temperance is the cornerstone of virtue and self-mastery. It is the art of restraining desires, the discipline of a virtuous life, and the path to inner peace. As we navigate a world teeming with excess and temptation, let us take serious the wisdom of these ancient philosophies, drawing inspiration from Stoic philosophers and the principles of Bushido, to put to good use the virtue of temperance and forge a path of honor, wisdom, and strength.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

By Donovan Riley

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, and contributing writer for 1517. He is also a co-host of Banned Books and Warrior Priest podcasts. He is the author of the book, "Crucifying Religion” and “The Withertongue Emails.” He is also a contributing author to "The Sinner/Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms" and "Theology of the Cross".

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