Monday, July 23, 2007

Diogenes the Dog

The notion of living simply is nothing new. It's been around for centuries. Some of the earliest practitioners of simplicity were the cynics, a school of ancient Greek philosophers. They rejected the social values of their time, often flouting conventions in shocking ways to prove their point. They claimed that wealth, popularity and power tend to dethrone the authority of reason and pervert the soul from the natural to the artificial. While some of their practices may have been crude, they saw rejecting the dross of materialism as a virtue.

One of the prominent cynics was Diogenes, who lived during the 4th centure B.C.E. He was a vulgar and sordid man who disavowed worldy possessions and chose to live in poverty. He slept in a tub and destroyed the single wooden bowl he possessed upon seeing a peasant boy drink from the hollow of his hands. Marveling at the boy, Diogenes remarked, "A child has beaten me in plainness of living."

When asked what was the proper time for supper, Diogenes replied, "If you are a rich man, whenever you please; and if you are a poor man, whenever you can."
Diogenes also said "He has the most who is most content with the least."

The story goes that while Diogenes was relaxing in the sunlinght on the side of the road one morning, Alexander the Great came upon him. Thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, Alexander told Diogenes that he would grant one request and give Diogenes anything he wanted from his kingdom. Diogenes motioned with his hand and replied, "Could you please move? You're blocking the sun."

Diogenes asked Alexander what his plans were. Alexander answered that he planned to conquer and subjugate Greece. "Then what?" Diogenes asked. Alexander said that he planned to conquer and subjugate Asia Minor. And then? Alexander said that he planned to conquer and subjugate the world. What next? Alexander the Great told Diogenes that after all that conquering and subjugating, he planned to relax and enjoy himself. Diogenes responded: "Why not save yourself a lot of trouble by relaxing and enjoying yourself now?"

Diogenes was particularly upset by extravagant and lavish interior decorations, and at one rich man's house, on finding himself surrounded by expensive carpets and sumptuous cushions, Diogenes spat in the owner's face, and then wiped it with his rough cloak and apologized, saying it was the only dirty place in the room he could find to spit.

There are numerous examples of simple living throughout history from which we can learn. Can you think of any others?
- David

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