I have just read an interesting quotation by the Greek philosopher Epictetus who said “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.” Epictetus was born in Phrygia around 55 AD- though he spent much of his life in Greece after his banishment there by the Roman Emperor Domitian. Although born into slavery he studied philosophy and rose to prominence in the Stoic school. He taught that philosophy is not just an academic pursuit but is a spiritual path. Put another way he believed that it is not sufficient to merely understand what is good- the true philosopher must also put his ideals into practice. As a rational being the individual has a responsibility to care for all human kind. Epictetus explained human suffering as arising from a futile attempt to control external events whilst abandoning control of our personal desires and actions. Happiness is to be found in calm acceptance of what we cannot control and doing what is within our control to promote the greater good. This emphasis on detachment in the name of a greater good brings to mind a quotation from ‘The Hidden Words’
ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE! Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower. Not a pure breath have ye breathed, nor hath the breeze of detachment been wafted from the meadows of your hearts. Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion.