Walking in the Garden

  • What is it like to have a taste of Epicurean Philosophy in a world saturated in idealism and superstition? It's lucidity. It's freedom.

    Among the older venerable members of this group some remember my fire and zeal for Epicurus early on after years of being saturated in idealism and mystical philosophy. I was on fire because I was freed from illusion. Battle lines were drawn and I went headlong into battle against Stoics, charlatans and religionists. My people were the people of the Garden and the walls of the Garden could not be torn down.

    But the idealistic philosophies of my past still haunted me, religious guilt and social pressure pulled me back. Doubt clouded my mind and I was thrust back into my old ways and I left the Garden. But the Principal Doctrines stuck with me. I over the last few years have found myself being an apologist for the specifically Epicurean way of life. Though I thought I had abandoned it and even waged war against it.

    There is a stirring in me to find pleasure, my pleasure, among like minded people. To battle superstition.

    Do any of you have stories or testimonies about the internal battles with religious guilt, former philosophies etc?

  • Religious guilt? Not at all. My firmest conviction is of materialism. I am not a materialist because I am an Epicurean—I am an Epicurean in part because I am, above all, a materialist.

    The things I do miss, I miss from Buddhism. First, a vast and rich textual canon, against which ours is quite paltry. Second, a living tradition in uninterrupted practice for over two and a half thousand years. Third, a profound sense of place attached to this tradition. The temples, the pagodas, the gardens and monuments. All bearing the unmistakable stamp of their origin. I miss the meditation altar in the front room of my old apartment. Some days I even miss being a vegetarian!

    I irregularly kept a journal in those days, and reading it a year later I was amused to find what I wrote down as my rationale (to myself) for not 'taking refuge'. Taking refuge is the ceremony of conversion to Buddhism, and at the height of my practice I wrote in my journal the reason I couldn't do it. I wrote just three words, but they were enough.

    Atoms and Void.

    Atoms and void...atoms and void...

    Those three words expressed everything that on some level I already knew I felt—atoms and void.They indicated my latent distrust of a religion that traffics in the fear of death, while promising a nebulous bliss in another life. Atoms and void.They encapsulated the sum total of everything I hoped, and everything I dreamed. In this life, not another or another. Modern Buddhists will tell you that rebirth and nirvana and heavens and hells are metaphorical. No, thank you; I prefer to take my metaphysic without metaphor. State the case as clearly as you can, or leave off trying to convince me. Atoms and Void!

    And you know what? I don't miss it. I really don't. I don't miss the nagging sense of doubt of what I've known all along. I don't miss the cargo-cult of meditation pillows and candles and tea, when deep down I know that nothing is happening inside.

    Unlike Jesus of Nazareth (who I really do think was either a lunatic or a pious fraud), Siddhartha Gautama may actually have been a compelling and insightful historical figure—and possibly even a good moral teacher. The story of Kisa Gotami and the mustard seed in Buddhism is far superior to the story of Lazarus, because its final conclusion is the truth; people don't come back from the dead. It simply doesn't happen.

    But I'm happy to leave them both at the gate, and follow that pleasant path to the garden where nobody ever asks me to lie to myself.

  • Joshua I can't remember if the two of you came in contact back when Matt was more active here. I was just telling Matt that he and Eoghan Gardiner had a lot in comment but the same applies to the two of you.

  • Personally the journey hasn't really involved battles. Looking back, it's more like explorations along a path. It began with Christianity in my youth and proceeded through Daoism, yoga, Zen and Stoicism, all the while involving a search to placate the lingering dissatisfaction. Finding the Garden has eliminated the dissatisfaction, and the longer I linger, the better and more natural it feels.

  • I would suspect that a lot of the "battle" aspect comes from how much someone is involved with close family members who are also religious. In my case I was surrounded by a good many of those, but I was at an advanced enough age, and independent enough at that point in my life, that it really wasn't a problem. Someone who is younger and/or closely involved with very religious family members probably would have a much rougher time, but in some respects even that is good because it probably pushes you along faster than you'd otherwise go.