Happy Twentieth! The Year of the Pig

Varaha, the Pig Avatar. Picture taken at the Art Institute of Chicago

Happy 20th of January to everyone! 2019 is the Chinese year of the Pig of the Earth. What better time to promote Epicurean philosophy? I recently came across the myth of Varaha, who is an avatar (a divine incarnation) of Vishnu in Hinduism in the form of a Cosmic Boar or Pig. In the myth, Varaha takes an incarnation in order to save the Earth from a demon who is tyrannizing her. In the end, Varaha heroically kills the demon and restores the Earth to safety. It is interesting to me that the pig in the West is seen as the embodiment of Epicurean philosophy, which is materialistic and a steadfast affirmation of the value and reality of matter, of bodies, and of this world, while in India this boar is the protector and savior of the Earth, of matter also. Varaha beautifully mythologizes the role of Epicurean philosophy in defending the value and dignity of, and giving meaning to, this world. The story is told here.

Speaking of the Year of the Pig, this year began with the Partially Examined Life podcast dedicating an episode to Lucretius’ poem On the Nature of Things, with a Part II, and there are a couple of new initiatives this year by New Epicurean:

Epicurean Radio

Epicurus College – Coming Soon!

We also have a new Garden of Epicurus Facebook group

A fellow student of Epicurus shared the piece Constant cravings: is addiction on the rise?, and called our attention to the following passage. Together with the curriculum for control of desires that we see in Epicurean therapy, this seems to validate the idea of wholesome association (friendship) with people who are invested in our moral development as a means to both secure happiness, and to avoid unwholesome behaviors. We know that isolation is a health risk, and we can prescribe friendship as a solution to that, but the rat park study also points to positive reasons why friendship is a natural and necessary pleasure.

Another theory about what is driving the diversification of addictive behaviours stems from a series of experiments conducted in Canada in the late 1970s known as Rat Park. The psychologist Bruce Alexander found that lab rats, while isolated in empty cages with the option of drinking either plain or drugged water, easily became addicted to heroin; if you put rats in a vast, toy-filled enclosure with other male and female rats for company, the heroin couldn’t compete. The context was driving addiction, rather than the drug itself.

Benjamin A. Rider published The Ethical Significance of Gratitude in Epicureanism in academia.edu. Many of its passages are reminiscent of contemplations about insatiable hungry ghosts in Buddhism. In it, he says:

… Gratitude anchors one in a harbor, securing (literally, ‘locking down’, katakleisas) the goods of life. Unlike the young man ‘wandering by chance’ (Vatican Sayings 17, 19) from excitement and joy to disappointment and pain, his state of mind blown by the uncertain winds of a churning sea, the old man achieves stability and peace, using his ‘secure sense of gratitude’ both to focus attention on the goods in his life and to insulate himself from misfortunes and set-backs.

… Gratitude contributes positively to a person’s experience in at least three ways. First, feeling grateful is itself pleasant. While I am enjoying a friend’s gift, a stimulating conversation, or a beautiful sunrise, the gratitude I feel contributes an additional variation or tone to that experience (Epicurus uses poikillō, ‘embroider’—see PD 18). Second, while I am grateful, it helps to etch the experience more firmly in my memory. Finally, gratitude also plays a role later, when I must draw on memories to ameliorate present suffering. It helps me to remember, to make the memory ‘fresh’ and, as it were, to inhabit that experience, blocking out or diminishing the occurrent pain or misfortune.

… Lucretius shows how ingratitude and unnatural, empty desires arise together. The soul of person who is ungrateful for what he has experienced resembles a leaky jar. His desires become insatiable and he can never experience ataraxia because he always seeks to fill the next craving.

In my book, I translated the Greek word katastematic as abiding pleasure, a term that got accepted into Urban Dictionary and that caught on a bit among the Dudeists, who like to abide. These passages point to a practice of “abiding in pleasure” and in gratitude, employed by ancient Epicureans to emancipated them from having to rely on the pleasures of the immediate moment. This, we know, is one of the things that made them different from the Cyrenaics. Anyone dealing with anxiety or insatiability should develop his or her own way to practice abiding.

There’s another article there titled Epicurus and Lucretius on the Origins of Language–which argues that language first evolved instinctively as crude vocalizations, and only later did humans apply reason and attempt to control the evolution of their language by naming things–and a related TED Speech titled The Origins and Evolution of Language, by Michael Corballis, which accentuates the importance of gestures in the emergence of language, based mainly on examples from ape behavior.

Here are some additional educational resources for those interested in delving into EP this year:

Introduction to Epicurean Philosophy Session 1

There’s also a free Spanish-language course here / También tenemos un curso en castellano aquí:

Eight Short Videos on Epicurus’ Thought – the source is not Epicurean but the videos are of a professional quality

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of societyofepicurus.com, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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