Interest in Buddhism often goes hand in hand with an interest in exploring the parallels and relationships between the Buddha’s teachings and some of the Western philosophical and spiritual traditions. One of these is, without a doubt, Stoicism.
This philosophical school was born a century and a half after the Buddha, but together with Buddhism, it belongs to the same period of human history.
Today, we’ll talk about some of the differences that exist, which have arisen from different parts of the world where these two practices originated, different goals, and different perceptions.
1. Their Origins
Buddhism is a religion that is followed today by about 500 million people worldwide. Its name comes from the word bodhi, which means “to be awake”. It originated about 2500 years ago, when an Indian prince named Siddhattha Gotama, better known as the Buddha, awoke at the age of 35 to the reality of life.
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy popular from the 4th to the 2nd century BC, in particular among the educated elite of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The founder of the school was Zeno. He emphasizes in a specific way the meaning of returning to nature and shrinking from social activities.
2. The View On Reincarnation
Like other Indian religions, Buddhism affirms rebirth or reincarnation. The mental continuity of an individual, with his instincts, talents, and so on, comes from past lives and will continue in future lives. Depending on one’s own actions and the propensities accumulated by them, an individual can be reborn in any form of life within a wide variety, be they better or worse: human, animal, insect, and even as a ghost and other invisible states.
Stoics don’t believe in the survival of the soul after death. For Stoic Philosophy, the idea of accepting death as a natural event that cannot be escaped is fundamental because it reaches everyone, some sooner, others later, likewise the absurdity of anguish over death stands out.
3. Killing Animals
Buddhism considers that eating meat is ethically correct, but killing itself is ethically incorrect. Therefore, it also considers it ethically wrong to pay to have them killed for us and to accept meat from animals killed for us as gifts.
Stoicism doesn’t provide a clear answer to the question of consuming meat from animals and animal products. Some of the philosophers of Stoicism were vegetarians. But they don’t give any concrete answer to the question of killing animals. Seneca, who was a vegetarian, stopped being a vegetarian after he became a Stoic, so we can say that Stoicism didn’t influence his decision.
4. Stoicism Preaches Asceticism While Buddhists Teach Equanimity
Asceticism is a spiritual practice related to the physical body and deprivation of something or enduring some kind of physical discipline. Stoicism is known for practicing abstinence from material things and practicing mental exercises to strengthen both body and mind.
In Buddhism, equanimity is considered to be one of the four sublime attitudes. According to Buddhists, it’s a way to achieve mindfulness, wisdom, and life balance.
5. The View On Happiness
For the Stoics, happiness as a goal stems from the joy of perfection on the path itself, while for classical Buddhism the path leads to the ultimate happiness of Nirvana or Buddhahood. The Buddha made it very clear in his famous saying about the raft that one who has achieved a goal no longer needs a path.
6. Mind Training
While some Stoic disciplines of mind training are similar to Buddhist disciplines, Buddhists, in turn, have a rich arsenal of mind training tools not found in Stoicism (and switching to them can be beneficial).
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