“It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what does not benefit men he will leave alone” – Mo Di, 5th century BC
Mohism was a philosophical school founded by Mo Di (also referred to as Mo Zi, Master Mo) that for 700 years rivaled Confucianism in what would become China. Though the whole ‘school’ of Mohist thought covers a lot of area (as does Confucianism), one principle, and the one I wish to focus on here is that of Jianai: “impartial caring” or universal benevolence.
Mohists believed that all people deserve benevolence, versus the teaching of Confucius that loyalty to hierarchical commitments such as parent, boss and ruler was most important. Mohists were less interested in ceremony and ritual and believed that goodwill must be universal in nature. It is not enough—in fact it is wrong to just love your family, tribe, or nation (or then, kingdom) but your compassion must be universal. “The benefit of all under heaven,” and that everyone, no matter class, status or ethnicity deserved heaven’s (Tian) blessings.
The Mohists of that time were rather ascetic: They were not fans of luxury or even musical performances, saying such efforts are better directed towards feeding and clothing of the populace. They opposed aggressive war, but volunteered as warriors for states being attacked. Remember, this was during the historical period called “Warring States” in China.
Asia would likely be quite different had Mohism not died out—quite literally it seems, in the Qin dynasty when scholars were buried alive and books were burned. Like Confucianism, it was more of a philosophy than a religion.
Beyond anything else, the central tenet of Mohism remains true today.
“It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world.”
Be good to yourself, be good to others.
Do not fall for myth, legend or superstition.
Follow principles, not men.
Learn to control your emotions rather than allow your emotions to control you.
It is fine to feel, we are human. But only make decisions based on reason & logic.
Never stop asking why; never stop seeking understanding.
The intelligent person is full of doubt, while it is the fool who is sure in his belief. (from Bertrand Russell)
Never stop questioning. Challenge every thought you hold dear. Anything worth believing is worth scrutiny.
The seven worthy values are the following:
Without kindness, nothing else matters. If you are kind, you don’t need a single sacred text. If you are unkind, all the sacred texts in the world won’t help you. Be kind to all living things. If you eat meat, be merciful to your prey. Be respectful even unto the crops that feed you and all the inhabitants of nature. Remember, everything you take, you owe. Be kind to yourself as well.
Be kind but be strategic. Kindness doesn’t imply being a victim or made a fool of. Being kind does not mean being defenseless or tolerating abuse against yourself or against others; quite the opposite. Kindness requires vigilance and prudent opposition against injustice. Kindness does not mean sacrificing yourself to predators. After all, that is being unkind to yourself.
Kindness does require constant cultivation of compassion for all living things. True kindness requires seeing all humankind as belonging to your tribe—the only real group is the human group. Ethnic, religious, political, cultural divisions are all divisive and artificial. Kindness requires generosity, being unselfish, seeking the wellbeing of others; from your family to your neighbors to the people you have never met in far off lands. Everybody counts, no exceptions.
Our ability to reason is a gift from The Universe. Our ability to reason in a systemized way is one of the greatest differentiators between humans and every other living species on Earth. Reason is the foundation for our intelligence, and intelligence plus judgement equals wisdom.
Cultivating our reason to its ideal means that we have a healthy skepticism without falling into cynicism. We seek to see our surroundings with a realism that is neither unduly pessimistic nor excessively optimistic. We should seek to see the world as it is rather than as we are—a self-centered illusion.
Reason is a rejection of superstition and myth, but in order to do this, we must learn to recognize superstition and myth. Often they are so central to our culture,society and world view that we accept them without question. We see them as self evident.
Think for yourself! Don’t passively accept what you are told to think by others!
True reason is not as common as it seems, and calls upon logic.
We are human, it is natural that we feel, that we experience emotion, but our ability to make decisions based on what is rather than what we wish or pretend is the virtue of reason, evidence over wishful thinking. Challenging our beliefs rather than holding them sacred.
Of every value, reason is probably the hardest to embrace for most people, because it requires thought, and thought—unlike emotion—takes effort.
Be decent. Take others into account. If you drink, don’t be a drunk. If you love food, don’t be a glutton. There is a reason the finest restaurants tend to serve small portions. If you like sex, don’t be a pervert. Never sacrifice others to your own desires. The Buddha spoke of a middle path, neither ascetic nor gluttonous. Neither scarcity nor excess. Be a good steward of both natural and human resources. Take care of your environment. Keep yourself clean and keep the world clean. Consume we must, but we don’t have to fall into consumerism. It is good to enjoy life but avoid becoming materialistic. Evade the temptation of materialism. Material possessions are never virtues. Net Worth has no correlation to self worth. Decency means clean living. One doesn’t have to become an ascetic, one can enjoy life, but without becoming selfish, always taking into account our belonging and our responsibility to humanity and the world we live in.
You don’t have all the answers. Epictetus says “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” Business sage Ray Dalio says to “Be radically open-minded and radically transparent.” A study of history will show that “truth” is something that we have approximations of and then that gets refined as we advance in knowledge. Men once thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Then they thought the Sun was the center of the universe. Today, cosmologists explain that the concept of a “center” doesn’t really even apply to the universe. Surely in the future our understanding of the universe will continue to evolve, making our current understanding seem primitive and obsolete.
Anyone who tells you that he or she; or his or her group, creed, religion, superstition or belief has the monopoly on truth, they are certainly wrong, but you also must be careful not to commit the same sin. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism said “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.” And the one who is most sure, is likely most wrong.
It is sad and silly how much blood has been shed in the name of “faith.” Crusades, pogroms, genocide, ethnic cleansing. “God likes us best!” they say. Today, in 2020 a brief look across the world sees Hindu against Muslim violence in India, Buddhist against Muslim violence in Myanmar, Muslim against Christian violence in Syria, Jewish against Muslim violence in Gaza, Christian against Jewish violence that even led to the creation of Israel.
How much blood has been shed over Color? Nationality? Culture? Politics? Reject all these false groupings. All humans are your brothers and sisters. This is not a call for “one world government or other such dystopian nonsense.” Government is best when it is local and most responsive to the people that it serves (not rules, serves).
What others do, how they choose to live, whatever myths they believe are none of your business as long as they are not impinging upon the liberties of others. Don’t like homosexuality? Don’t be homosexual. Don’t like meat? Don’t eat it. Leave others alone. Be tolerant. Live and let live. Don’t go around telling people not to do something you don’t like and blame it on God. “God said don’t eat that!” No he didn’t, you read it somewhere or someone told you, and you now want to beat someone about the head with your beliefs.
Just as Reason is built on a foundation of Logic, Tolerance is built upon Liberty. Liberty is the ability to live your life, to reach for your goals of your choosing and unrestricted by anyone else to the extent that you are not harming others or diminishing the rights of anyone else. Just as responsibilities follow rights, tolerance follows liberty. You should be able to live your life as you see fit, but with that is the tolerance that cedes the same right to others. For everyone to experience liberty, everyone must practice tolerance. Intolerance is the theft of the liberty of others. Never confuse liberty with entitlement. You have the right to seek happiness and fulfilment but no other person, group or government owes you happiness or fulfillment. Those states come from within, not from without.
Curiosity leads to intelligence and discovery. Practically every human discovery has come from curiosity. What is on the other side of that mountain? What is on the other side of that ocean? What is on the other side of the galaxy? What happens if I mix this with that? An intellectual is simply a person who loves learning for its own sake.
Without curiosity, there is no progress. Mohammed, the founder if Islam is said to have said “He who leaveth home in the search of knowledge walketh in the path of God.” Not everyone has the genetic build of an athlete, and sadly not everyone has a genius intellect, however even the most humble mind can be curious. No matter where we are, no matter what our IQ, we can seek to learn and to discover.
We have a duty to encourage this trait in our children. When a child asks “why” we have a duty to help find the answer, to explain and to teach, and to nurture this virtue. We all should strive never to lose this virtue and to encourage it in ourselves. Learning something new is an ingredient to a great day.
The ability to laugh is a gift from nature, and a powerful healing medicine. Take it in copious doses. Healthy laughter, not bitter laughter. Vicious laughter is injurious to both the subject and the object. Just as lifesaving medicine can be harmful when misused, when your laughter causes pain to others, you are also poisoning yourself.
Still a person with every other virtue but lacking humor is a failure. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously: you aren’t getting out of here alive so lighten up. Epictetus reminds us that “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Make sure you react often with laughter. A sense of humor is a prerequisite to a good life. Just as important as laughing yourself, spread joy to others by sharing smiles and laughs as often as possible. A life well laughed is a life well lived.
Take care of yourself, take care of others. Wellness is mental and physical health, and nurturing your interconnectedness with humanity, your environment and the universe. Wellness goes beyond health, because not everyone can be healthy at all times; life throws curves at us sometimes. Important is to nurture whatever health we have, and our reaction to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
It is not pure vanity to take care of your body or to feel good about yourself. Learn to be happy with who you are and be the best that you can be mentally and physically. Monitor your stress, meditate, and consider yoga, which is meditation for the body. If you have trauma inside yourself that persecutes you, seek professional help to overcome it.
Again, physical and mental health are core, but wellness goes beyond this to our attitude, our serenity, our outlook.
If you internalize these seven values, they will serve you well. Keep in mind, your beliefs should serve you, rather than you serving your beliefs; and anything worth believing is worth scrutiny.
Whether your crisis is this pandemic, financial, or otherwise, stoic philosophy teaches us that it is an opportunity, a gift in fact, to define yourself by your reaction to your situation and what you do with it
Take it as an opportunity to evolve, to remake yourself. The situation “is what it is,” but what you do with it is up to you.
Finding opportunities in a crisis is not a bad thing because the world needs to move forward.” – Michael Boricki
There once was an old man who lived alone in a small cottage just outside of a town. The man was constantly tormented by an infestation of rodents that ate his food, gnawed at his meager belongings, and left filth and excrement about.
So the man trapped a viper and let it loose in the house, knowing that snakes prey on rodents.
Soon, all the rats were dead. So was the man.
Lesson: The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.
Photo credit LC Moss, Scottsdale AZ 2015
The Aztecs in their theology believed that their gods sacrificed themselves to create the Earth, the heavens, and everything in them. Because of this, humans owed a debt to the gods. Everything they ate or drank, the air they breathed, the land; in their theology the gods provided this for them, and thus they owed their gods. They believed that their gods also depended upon them, and just as their gods fed them, they had to feed their gods.
They did this with gruesome human sacrifice.
Many people distant from Mexico don’t realize that not all Mexicans were Aztecs. The 15th century Aztec civilization was based in their capital of Tenochtitlán, in a lake that has since dried up and was where Mexico City now sits. The surrounding peoples were not Aztecs but other tribes and civilizations that were either subjugated by or enemies with the Aztecs. The Aztecs, to pay what they thought they owed to their gods, would sacrifice, in a bloody gruesome ritual, captives from the surrounding peoples. They sincerely believed that if they did not do this regularly, the world would end.
Not surprisingly these peoples, victims of the Aztecs were only too eager to team up with Hernan de Cortez and the Spanish conquistadores to battle and bring about the fall of the Aztecs and their then-ruler Moctezuma, but little did they know the Spaniards would unleash their own brand of horrors on the locals for the next 3 centuries.
The Aztecs show how a true principle, a good idea, corrupted by myth, superstition and theology can go horribly wrong.
Right principle, wrong interpretation.
Everything you take, you owe. Every breath of air, every bite of food, every sip of water, every ray of sunlight. We are too often oblivious of this basic principle. The better off we are, the more stable our environment, the less we need to think about it. Certain religions from the Indian subcontinent have the concept of Karma, which is a somewhat similar idea.
Some people take very little. They consume little energy, few resources, they “walk with a small footprint.” That’s not bad.
But it may surprise you that it is not, in itself, good either. Big fish in the sea eat more than little fish, but they have no more or no less virtue than little fish.
The question is: Are you giving as much as you are taking? Many people, maybe even most people in the modern world reach the end of their lives having taken more than they have given. This is not about money or economics or consumption, though all those are part of the grand equation. It’s not even about charity or penance or guilt. Are you making an impact? It’s not so much what you do, as what you do with what you do.
Are you the big man in the big hut in the little village? Are you using your power to bully and steal from your tribe, or are you protecting and providing for the weak and the old?
Are you the big shot in the private jet or the motor yacht? That’s great. There is not a thing wrong with that. Just make sure you are balancing the equation.
Relative to the resources you had, the opportunities you encountered, and what you took, when you are dead and gone, how much better off is this earth and all the life on it, on account of your existence?
If you are a parent or a teacher, what impact did you have on the children entrusted to your care? If you are a cook, do you take care to provide clean, safe nourishment to those you feed? If you are a rancher, do you care for your animals and provide for their happiness as well as their physical care?
Do you take care not to be wasteful? Everything you take, you owe. Keep that in mind, each and every day. Avoid selfishness. The principle is the same for everyone, rich or poor; famous or unknown. Whether you live in a mansion or a tree.
However you live your life, whatever your circumstances, are you keeping a tally? Everything you take, you owe. You have a lifetime to pay it back, just make sure you are doing so.
It isn’t as difficult to apply this principle as the Aztecs made it out to be, after all.
Photo: Huaxtec female deity, Tlazolteotl. Ethno. Q 89 Am 3.1. British Museum. by Ophelia Summers. Tlazolteotl is the Aztec goddess of filth and purification.
If your motivation to do good to others is because of fear of a hell or supernatural punishment, if your motivation is to attain a reward, a post-mortem heaven, or to return to life in a higher caste, you are still unworthy.
The correct reason to do good is simply because it is good. That is the best reason. It is the end unto itself.
But when we help others, when we do good for others-with others, we still are planting a seed that will be harvested later. When we are good to others, whether to people known or unknown, it spreads; especially when combined with the acts and gestures of others. Not every act or gesture and not every time, and not even with every person. Every drop does not raise the level of the creek, but countless drops together do create the flood.
People generally think of a smile as an expression of happiness. A smile can also create happiness. You smile and you feel better. If you are sad, you are slightly less sad. If you are in a bad mood, smiling makes you less cranky. (Try it if you don’t believe!) Doing good works the same way. Do good to others, and you are doing good to yourself. This doesn’t need any supernatural lever to make it true. Sorry, no hocus pocus. Comfort others and you are comforted. Help others and you are helped. Nothing supernatural is necessary.
In the larger sense, the result is that we create a society, a humanity with a higher propensity to be good to one another. That means there is a higher propensity that others are good to you, and if we keep feeding our humanity with goodness then we create a better future for our descendants.
Your only reward is more goodness. Don’t do it and your only punishment is less goodness.
But isn’t that enough?