Epicurean substitute for prayer

  • I have a toddler who has a going-to-bed-routine that now involves prayer. The reasons for why this is are rather complex for me to explain here, but it shall suffice to say that it’s a deeply ingrained custom.


    The prayers are catholic, since this is the religion we were brought up with; I don’t feel comfortable making him repeat every night a prayer asking for permission to go to sleep to a non existing being and to thank another for guarding him during day and night.


    Since I didn’t have a better option, and thinking I’d have opportunity to fix this later on, I let it slip for a while, but now I’m thinking I should stop it early on.


    I say I didn’t have a better option because I do believe that this ritual puts him in the right state of mind to go to sleep, so I do think having something to reflect upon, and repeat, would be valuable; it’s the content of what he’s repeating I’m having trouble with.


    During my stoic phase I substituted the prayers, with a phrase I took from reading Marcus Aurelius, which goes something like this: “everything suits me that suits your designs oh universe, nothing comes to early or too late but in your own good time oh nature; everything comes from you, everything persists in you, and to you, all things return”


    It seems pretty innocuous and neutral, with no supernatural elements except for perhaps the “design” part of it... I think it is better than the catholic ones, but not good enough yet.


    Are there any epicurean sayings that you could recommend that could work for this?

  • That's a great question. Here are some first off the cuff thoughts.


    One thing that immediately comes to mind and was apparently memorized would be perhaps the first five or so principal doctrines.


    Another would be an excerpt from one of the opening sections of the six books of Lucretius. Of these:


    1. Maybe most obvious would be from book one, and for this purpose, pure "ring," I have always preferred the Humphries version:
      1. When human life, all too conspicuous,
        Lay foully groveling on earth, weighed down
        By grim Religion looming from the skies,
        Horribly threatening mortal men, a man,
        A Greek, first raised his mortal eyes
        Bravely against this menace. No report
        Of gods, no lightning-flash, no thunder-peal
        Made this man cower, but drove him all the more
        With passionate manliness of mind and will
        To be the first to spring the tight-barred gates
        Of Nature's hold asunder. So his force,
        His vital force of mind, a conqueror
        Beyond the flaming ramparts of the world
        Explored the vast immensities of space
        With wit and wisdom, and came back to us
        Triumphant, bringing news of what can be
        And what cannot, limits and boundaries,
        The borderline, the bench mark, set forever.
        Religion, so, is trampled underfoot,
        And by his victory we reach the stars.
    2. These sections from Torquatus in "On Ends" have potential to be edited into something usable
      1. The truth of the position that pleasure is the ultimate good will most readily appear from the following illustration. Let us imagine a man living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous and vivid pleasures alike of body and of mind, undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain: what possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? One so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is proof against all fear of death or of pain; he will know that death means complete unconsciousness, and that pain is generally light if long and short if strong, so that its intensity is compensated by brief duration and its continuance by diminishing severity. Let such a man moreover have no dread of any supernatural power; let him never suffer the pleasures of the past to fade away, but constantly renew their enjoyment in recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement.
      2. The great disturbing factor in a man's life is ignorance of good and evil; mistaken ideas about these frequently rob us of our greatest pleasures, and torment us with the most cruel pain of mind. Hence we need the aid of Wisdom, to rid us of our fears and appetites, to root out all our errors and prejudices, and to serve as our infallible guide to the attainment of pleasure. Wisdom alone can banish sorrow from our hearts and protect its front alarm and apprehension; put yourself to school with her, and you may live in peace, and quench the glowing flames of desire. For the desires are incapable of satisfaction; they ruin not individuals only but whole families, nay often shake the very foundations of the state. It is they that are the source of hatred, quarreling, and strife, of sedition and of war. Nor do they only flaunt themselves abroad, or turn their blind onslaughts solely against others; even when prisoned within the heart they quarrel and fall out among themselves; and this cannot but render the whole of life embittered. Hence only the Wise Man, who prunes away all the rank growth of vanity and error, can possibly live untroubled by sorrow and by fear, content within the bounds that nature has set.
      3. Here is indeed a royal road to happiness—open, simple, and direct! For clearly man can have no greater good than complete freedom from pain and sorrow coupled with the enjoyment of the highest bodily and mental pleasures. Notice then how the theory embraces every possible enhancement of life, every aid to the attainment of that Chief Good which is our object. Epicurus, the man whom you denounce as a voluptuary, cries aloud that no one can live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly, and no one wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. For a city rent by faction cannot prosper, nor a house whose masters are at strife; much less then can a mind divided against itself and filled with inward discord taste any particle of pure and liberal pleasure. But one who is perpetually swayed by conflicting and incompatible counsels and desires can know no peace or calm.
      4. On the other hand, without a full understanding of the world of nature it is impossible to maintain the truth of our sense-perceptions. Further, every mental presentation has its origin in sensation: so that no certain knowledge will be possible, unless all sensations are true, as the theory of Epicurus teaches that they are. Those who deny the validity of sensation and say that nothing can be perceived, having excluded the evidence of the senses, are unable even to expound their own argument. Besides, by abolishing knowledge and science they abolish all possibility of rational life and action. Thus Natural Philosophy supplies courage to face the fear of death; resolution to resist the terrors of religion; peace of mind, for it removes all ignorance of the mysteries of nature; self-control, for it explains the nature of the desires and distinguishes their different kinds; and, as I showed just now, the Canon or Criterion of Knowledge, which Epicurus also established, gives a method of discerning truth from falsehood.
      5. If then the doctrine I have set forth is clearer and more luminous than daylight itself; if it is derived entirely from Nature's source; if my whole discourse relies throughout for confirmation on the unbiased and unimpeachable evidence of the senses; if lisping infants, nay even dumb animals, prompted by Nature's teaching, almost find voice to proclaim that there is no welfare but pleasure, no hardship but pain—and their judgment in these matters is neither sophisticated nor biased—ought we not to feel the greatest gratitude to him who caught this utterance of Nature's voice, and grasped its import so firmly and so fully that he has guided all sane-minded men into the paths of peace and happiness, calmness and repose? You are pleased to think him uneducated. The reason is that he refused to consider any education worth the name that did not help to school us in happiness. Was he to spend his time, as you encourage Triarius and me to do, in perusing poets, who give us nothing solid and useful, but merely childish amusement? Was he to occupy himself like Plato with music and geometry, arithmetic and astronomy, which starting from false premises cannot be true, and which moreover if they were true would contribute nothing to make our lives pleasanter and therefore better? Was he, I say, to study arts like these, and neglect the master art, so difficult and correspondingly so fruitful, the art of living? No! Epicurus was not uneducated: the real philistines are those who ask us to go on studying till old age the subjects that we ought to be ashamed not to have learnt in boyhood.
    3. There are probably sections from Frances Wright that ring almost as poetry;
      1. I will have to think of appropriate sections and add them here
    4. And this from Thomas Jefferfson's letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820:

      ‘I feel: therefore I exist.’ I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of a particular organisation of matter, formed for that purpose by it’s creator, as well as that attraction in an action of matter, or magnetism of loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking shall shew how he could endow the Sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the tract of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and, by that will, put matter into motion, then the materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise.
  • Ah, toddlers! I fondly remember nighttime going to bed "rituals". One of ours was reading short books, mostly by Sandra Boynton, especially the Going To Bed Book. I can still repeat it after oh my... Well over a decade now! Time flies! Enjoy your child every step of the way!


    It might be helpful to know the specific prayer your toddler enjoys saying. I know the one I would say when I was very young was traumatizing to think of now, including ..."if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to keep."


    I think a toddler is too young for the Tetrapharmakos. And besides it also introduces death, do I'd steer away from that for now.


    I don't have any specific saying of Epicurus or Lucretius right now, but one option might be focusing on gratitude. What are you most thankful for today? Or come up with a rote litany like a prayer: I'm thankful for ... And... And...


    Or pleasure. What made you the happiest today? Let your toddler reflect on what makes them happy throughout that day. Or again let them come up with a rote list and make that into a "prayer."


    There might also be something about Nature you could use.


    This is an intriguing question you pose. I'll continue to give it thought and share anything I can come up with. I think you also open up a new area in the idea of how to introduce Epicureanism to children.

  • Thanks guys, as usual you don’t disappoint. From your first post Cassius, I was thinking something derived from this:


    no one can live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly, and no one wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly.


    It’s short and it has a nice rhythm to it. Plus it’s useful to know by heart, as it would be expected to happen after daily repetition.


    But as of now, for me, honorably falls within the realm of platonic ideals, but I’m open to a more pragmatic meaning for it, like justice (don’t harm and don’t be harmed) or wisely (use sensations, feelings and reason as criteria).

  • Yes I think that the material I cited has lots of good stuff in it, but it would need to be reworded for use with a young child. I think you are right especially about PD5 and the wise/honor/just issue being dangerously Platonic-sounding for someone who doesn't yet understand that those terms are relative/subjective rather than being absolute.


    It might be that one of more of the Vatican Sayings is more easily employable. I've always thought that some kind of wording of 47 might be good:



    47. I have anticipated thee, Fortune, and I have closed off every one of your devious entrances. And we will not give ourselves up as captives, to thee or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for us to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who cling to it maundering, we will leave from life singing aloud a glorious triumph-song on how nicely we lived.



    But I think depending on how long you feel like is workable, pretty much anything needs to be reworded for simplification.

  • I don't have any specific saying of Epicurus or Lucretius right now, but one option might be focusing on gratitude. What are you most thankful for today? Or come up with a rote litany like a prayer: I'm thankful for ... And... And...


    The thing with gratitude is, as I understand it, that someone has to be the object of your gratitude, because you’re grateful that he/she has been willingly good to you, and thus you recognize this good will. Being grateful to nature or some other non human thing would have to imply endowing them with the ability to will something unto us; please share a different point of view about gratitude if you can.


    So When we tried this gratitude prayers we focused on being grateful to mom and dad for whatever (which seemed rather boastful since he’s not coming up with these thoughts 8|) and to his kinder teacher and to his grandparents and such...

  • Or pleasure. What made you the happiest today? Let your toddler reflect on what makes them happy throughout that day.


    I think this is a great idea, although I’d think more suited for older children, since right now I don’t think he’s yet ready to articulate something like this by himself.


    But I see the potential in getting him accustomed to doing this, and later on being able to reflect each day on how he felt about such and such, to develop this awareness of sensations and feelings. I know I would’ve benefitted from doing this, instead of just asking to be kept safe and such.

  • Camotero it's great that you are giving thought to where to start. Given the Epicurean emphasis on being up front and frank and not "hiding the ball" like they accused Socrates of doing, no matter what you choose to emphasize you're in the role of leader and it's not necessarily a problem that you're asking them to repeat things that they don't fully understand. On the other hand if they don't understand it at all there's not much point in it. I keep thinking that perhaps the most fruitful path to explore is epistemological issues kind of like in the pattern that Jefferson was thinking (in what I quoted above).


    Perhaps even, after unwinding it to make it much more simple and repeatable, the point here:


    24. If you reject any single sensation, and fail to distinguish between the conclusion of opinion, as to the appearance awaiting confirmation, and that which is actually given by the sensation or feeling, or each intuitive apprehension of the mind, you will confound all other sensations, as well, with the same groundless opinion, so that you will reject every standard of judgment. And if among the mental images created by your opinion you affirm both that which awaits confirmation, and that which does not, you will not escape error, since you will have preserved the whole cause of doubt in every judgment between what is right and what is wrong.



    ’ I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need.

  • The thing with gratitude is, as I understand it, that someone has to be the object of your gratitude, because you’re grateful that he/she has been willingly good to you, and thus you recognize this good will. Being grateful to nature or some other non human thing would have to imply endowing them with the ability to will something unto us; please share a different point of view about gratitude if you can.


    So When we tried this gratitude prayers we focused on being grateful to mom and dad for whatever (which seemed rather boastful since he’s not coming up with these thoughts 8|) and to his kinder teacher and to his grandparents and such...

    I would concur with your basic idea of gratitude. When my reminder alarm for keys in the ignition goes off, I find myself saying Thank you to whoever invented that. Literally :)

    I like some of the Buddhist gratitude practices I've seen, especially the meal "prayer" that starts

    "I am grateful for this food, the work of many people..." On a basic level, it makes us stop and think how we're connected to people and the world from who made the meal to who grew the food to who shipped the food and so on.


    With Nature, maybe gratitude isn't the right word. I think we can feel fortunate that we're alive and able to experience the pleasure of the sunshine on our face, the sight of stars in the sky, the power of a thunderstorm.


    I so wish Epicurus's work On Gifts and Gratitude wasn't lost to us.


    And I hear what you're saying about mom and dad. "Thank us! Thank us! How great are we!" :)

  • Regarding gratitude, I don't agree that this emotion in the subject implies or requires an object.


    I find myself alive in the universe. I know that there is sorrow, and fear, and that life sometimes hurts—but I also know that it is wonderful, really wonderful, sometimes sublime, just to be alive here. There is beauty and delight here that will move me even at my last breath. There is knowledge and philosophy to dull my pains, and to enhance my pleasures. There is friendship, romance, love, art, and literature—all the choicest fruits of a peaceable and prosperous age, in a free and civil society. To say that I am grateful is simply to say that I appreciate it. To appreciate something, and to appreciate the gift of something, are two different things. One who appreciates wine recognizes its worth and its specialness in a deep and penetrating way.


    That's what it is to appreciate life and its blessings; to pause for a time and take stock. To see it deeply, and recognize its worth.


    Because it could so easily have gone the other way.

  • On the other hand if they don't understand it at all there's not much point in it.

    Yes, I agree. The point right now would be to have a placeholder for later, and not to continue reinforcing something that later on could certainly bring more confusion (the current prayers).

    24. If you reject any single sensation, and fail to distinguish between the conclusion of opinion, as to the appearance awaiting confirmation, and that which is actually given by the sensation or feeling, or each intuitive apprehension of the mind, you will confound all other sensations, as well, with the same groundless opinion, so that you will reject every standard of judgment. And if among the mental images created by your opinion you affirm both that which awaits confirmation, and that which does not, you will not escape error, since you will have preserved the whole cause of doubt in every judgment between what is right and what is wrong.

    I'm afraid I don't fully comprehend what this paragraph reads. I believe my English is not so bad, but please bear in mind that it is not my first language and there may be nuances here that I'm not being able to grasp. What I'm getting is: If you reject one sensation your judgement will certainly be incomplete? That first long sentence is particularly difficult for me to follow all the way to the end. The second sentence I understood as: If you affirm an image which is not confirmed by the senses in combination with the ones that have been confirmed, you would be contaminating your judgement?

    I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need.

    :thumbup:

  • Your English is great, Camotero; have no fear on that point ;)


    The classic example is the square tower that appears to the senses to be round from far away.


    Reality: the tower is square

    Misleading sensation: the tower is round


    Option 1: discard the evidence of the senses because they are misleading. Knowledge cannot be derived from the senses.


    Option 2: analyze all relevant sensations to arrive at a more complete understanding. Knowledge can be derived from the senses.


    Pyrrho, the Skeptic, chose option 1.


    Epicurus is emphatic; Choose option 2!

  • JJElbert : I know I liked your post above on gratitude and appreciation but had to say out loud "Well done!" I wish there was a Like button on this forum as well as a Really Like button. :)

    I think you absolutely nailed the idea! Thanks!

  • Quote

    Regarding gratitude, I don't agree that this emotion in the subject implies or requires an object.

    Well put Joshua! A key word that you used is "emotion."


    I would add that one can be grateful for without being grateful to. Religion teaches that a person should give thanks, but what is important is to feel thankful. The emotions are central to being human; the more we are in touch with them the better. Unlike the Stoics.

  • "I am grateful for this food, the work of many people..." On a basic level, it makes us stop and think how we're connected to people and the world from who made the meal to who grew the food to who shipped the food and so on.

    Yes this is a good point.

    With Nature, maybe gratitude isn't the right word. I think we can feel fortunate that we're alive and able to experience the pleasure of the sunshine on our face, the sight of stars in the sky, the power of a thunderstorm.

    Well, yes. Acknowledging that it is good that we are where we are and can experience what we can experience, and to be able to reflect on it. Lucky lumps of atoms we. I agree this is a reason to be happy and good to have in mind before going to bed.

  • I find myself alive in the universe. I know that there is sorrow, and fear, and that life sometimes hurts—but I also know that it is wonderful, really wonderful, sometimes sublime, just to be alive here. There is beauty and delight here that will move me even at my last breath. There is knowledge and philosophy to dull my pains, and to enhance my pleasures. There is friendship, romance, love, art, and literature—all the choicest fruits of a peaceable and prosperous age, in a free and civil society. To say that I am grateful is simply to say that I appreciate it. To appreciate something, and to appreciate the gift of something, are two different things. One who appreciates wine recognizes its worth and its specialness in a deep and penetrating way.


    That's what it is to appreciate life and its blessings; to pause for a time and take stock. To see it deeply, and recognize its worth.

    Yes, I agree with you. It's a matter of appreciation and to gifting to yourself that pleasureable feeling of wonder. Perhaps, what could be a good prayer would be something that comprises this: An expressión of acknowledgement of our existence as something wonderful, and with this renewed vision, an appreciation of whatever concrete things we have experienced during that day.

  • Let me share that I am very glad that in this forum my nerdiness for looking up the etimology of words in order to understand things better is more likely to find ressonance.

    I would add that one can be grateful for without being grateful to. Religion teaches that a person should give thanks, but what is important is to feel thankful.

    Aligned with your comment, lLet the nerdiness begin:


    Adjective

    grateful (comparative gratefuller or more grateful, superlative gratefullest or most grateful)


    >>>Appreciative; thankful.


    Adjective

    thankful (comparative more thankful, superlative most thankful)


    >>>Showing appreciation or gratitude.


    Noun

    thank (plural thanks)


    >>>(obsolete) An expression of appreciation; a thought.


    Etymology 1

    From Middle English thank, from Old English þanc (“thought, favour, grace, pleasure, satisfaction, thanks”), from Proto-Germanic *þankaz (“thought, remembrance, gratitude”)...


    ---


    No object is mentioned. Once again, it seems like the word may have been repurposed.