Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Simple Book Review: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations (originally published around 170-180 AD) by Marcus Aurelius

This book is published under Penguin Books – Great Ideas (2004) and was translated by Maxwell Staniforth in 1964. What can I say, this book is small in volume, only 164 pages. But the effect of it for my mind and motivations is invaluable. Meditations (or literary “that which [is] to himself”) is a series of personal writings – not intended to be published, but as guidance and self-improvement – by a Roman Emperor-Philosopher, Marcus Aurelius (on which persecutions of Christians seemingly increased during his reign as Emperor. May or may connected to him).

This book is the most significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. Even though I read “God” or “the gods” or “Nature” I know that he doesn’t mean the Christian God but the Greek gods, who, mainly rule by Zeus. Nevertheless, Christians must not throw this pagan writer/book simply because all truths (even in this book) belong to the Truth. When I read Meditations, it felt like I’m reading the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes only in different contexts and background. “Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you” (Book 7, verse 21). Doesn’t it sound like “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”? (Ecclesiastes 1:2) Of course, there are lots of differences too.

When I read this book, I noticed that Aurelius always emphasis that: #1 Life is short; #2 Do your best in everything you do; #3 God (or gods) desires the ultimate Good for us; and most obvious of all #4 Reason is under our control. “A little fresh, a little breath, and a Reason to rule all – that is myself” (2:2). Here are some of my favourite quotes on the use of the mind (or reason):

Concentrate every minute … on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions … you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centred, irritable.”

You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random and irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious.”

“You can lead an untroubled life provided you can grow, can think and act systematically.”

“Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.”

“Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds.”

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.”

Because contemporary self-help books is mainly repetitious, read classics for fresher perspectives on life and the way to think. I recommend Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Try to read it. 

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