Epicurus – The Philosopher who believed in the power of Friendships
What if I told you that a philosopher in ancient Greece cracked the code for a happy life ?
He’s not Socrates. He’s not Plato or Aristotle. In fact, many don’t recall his name as much as the other philosophers.
His name is Epicurus, the philosopher who said that the key to a happy and content life is a life shared with friends.
I found Epicurus by accident. I’ve read books across several disciplines, but I never understood philosophy. Even though it sounded simple, it can be confusing like hell.
Last year, I came across a quote by Epicurus that said “Let us live when we are alive.”
It sounded simple, yet was impactful. That was my starting point towards reading philosophy. And, the teaching of Epicurus was the first philosophy book I read in my life. It was a book titled ‘Tending the Epicurean Garden’ written by Hiram Crespo.
A philosopher’s words are empty if they do not heal the suffering of mankind. For just as medicine is useless if it does not remove sickness from the body, so philosophy is useless if it does not remove suffering from the soul.
Mindfulness in Life
The way Epicurus talks about pleasant or a content life is similar to the Buddhist concept of Mindfulness. Even though Gautama Buddha and Epicurus were far apart geographically and across different time periods, their approach towards a happy life was more or less similar.
Epicurus says that a pleasant life can only be achieved if we train our minds everyday to enjoy the little things. He says one must discover the pleasure of breathing, walking, doing the dishes or even eating a simple fruit without mindlessly going through those motions.
Epicurus refers to this state of mind as ‘Ataraxia‘
According to him,
Ataraxia is satisfaction with life as it is here and now, not seeking its perfection but accepting its limitations and never minding them. It’s the mental “aboveness” of one who’s learned to be happy and to live in a pleasant state always, regardless of conditions.
Where does the soul lie?
I don’t know if it was the amount of free time they had or the lack of distractions like social media and WiFi, people like Epicurus came up some really kickass ideas about philosophy, life, and relationships.
When I was in my tenth grade, I asked my Zoology teacher “Does the mind and soul live inside our brain or is it outside?”
People laughed at me and my teacher dismissed the question saying it was irrelevant. But, before two thousand years, Epicurus had thought about it.
Epicurus said that our mortal souls are atomic. In other words, the nervous system and the brain, with all its neural networks, together form the physical soul. Therefore, it is not difficult to surmise that our souls, in their natural and healthy state, know how to survive just as our bodies have the wisdom to survive and that they both have immune systems which are discernible in the body.
Death – Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo.
Everybody fears death. But, Epicurus had a different perspective on death. In fact, one of his key teachings called “The four remedies” talks about how to approach death without fear.
In his book “Tending the Epicuran Garden” Hiram Crespo quotes Epicurus saying
Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation.
Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer. But in the world, at one time men shun death as the greatest of all evils, and at an- other time choose it as a respite from the evils in life. The wise man does not deprecate life nor does he fear the cessation of life.
Ancient Epicureans had “Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo” inscribed on their gravestones. It translates to “*I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care.”
Amazing memories are created with Friends
Epicurus is someone who believed in the power of friendship. He said that one can find happiness in life and built fond memories with friends.
He also realized the challenge of keeping up and meeting friends on a regular basis.
So, he took the matter in his own hands and decided to conduct a little experiment.
He decided to build a house and live in it with his friends and their family. He bought a small piece of land outside Athens and built a place for him and his friends could live. Every family had their rooms, and there were common areas for them to interact as a group. This way, the residents were always surrounded by people who shared similar interests and thought process. It was the world’s first proper commune.
And, instead of working elsewhere, people who lived in the commune grew their own produce and focused on their interests, be it art or philosophy or making furniture. They weren’t rich, but they were content.
This experiment of Epicurus became really successful and spread across countries like wild fire. Epicurean communities opened up all around the Mediterranean and drew in thousands of followers. The communes built during this period lasted or generations – until they were brutally suppressed by a jealous and aggressive Christian Church in the 5th century. But even then, their essence survived when many of them were turned into monasteries.
The best thing about Epicurus is that he simplified philosophy for the common man. He made sure that whatever he’s saying doesn’t go over one’s head, and instead make them understand the key to a happy life. He understood the benefit of enjoying the little things life, the importance of friendship and how to approach death without fear. And, he popularized the idea of living as a commune.
Today, we live in apartment complexes where thousands of people live in the same building, but hardly speak to each other. It would be nice to go back to living in a commune with our friends.
- Tending the Epicurean Garden by Hiram Crespo. View on Amazon