On Meditations by Aurelius

This is a picture of a statue of Marcus Aurelius. I've used it because my essay critiques his philosophy.

I like Aurelius. I like his notion of withdrawing into yourself irrespective of the space and time you’re in, his idea of mortality and fatalism, and a few of his thoughts when it comes to controlling impulse with reason.

I love his philosophy of the present, and never adding more to an unfortunate circumstance. But I disagree with his concept of this being the best of all possible worlds, or the Whole, or the absolute Reason. This world we live in, is often more absurd than fiction, and it doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out. Things go unexplained and you’re never going to find answers or that quaint room with its beautiful symmetry and archaic charm.

No, you’ll often find yourself in a space that’s disjointed and fractured from your convictions: a room with yellow wallpaper, and yes, please catch the allusion, or a frightening, unnerving blurred mass enveloping you with zombies and tricksters breaking free, threatening to bite through flesh, and chew on your bones. And this isn’t paranoia. Just one panoramic glance with keen insight and you’ll see it: the horror, the miasma of living decay that’s abominable choking you, making you want to retch.

And I also dislike his insistence on man being social. Being social comes with both its flaws and its breakthroughs. Sure, it’s good to meet people, but finding yourself in a clique that stereotypes, or a group that hates with an unwarranted agenda makes void the entire notion of socializing being something always productive. He says it’s terrible to fracture yourself from society, but you find artists who’re are complete misfits or loners, giving you masterpieces. I think this is related to his notion of the divinity of man, or looking within to find the light. Now, I always interpret the latter in a very general way, and never make mystical or spiritual connections to it. You must look within to change, but that’s pretty much it.

I don’t believe in human divinity because when I see the world, I see a swirling mass of darkened grey. I use this color because humanity is prone to wickedness although it’s capable of good. The notion of humanity’s inherent nature is a subject that’s hotly debated ever since the first man and woman came into existence. Some say Adam’s fall led to a shift in balance and total depravity; others say we’ve not connected with our innate goodness, but I think both views fail.

We’re not totally depraved, and we have the freedom to choose, but we’re not innately good either. Just one glance at the holocaust tells you enough of the anti-divinity that’s present in man, unless you say that divinity itself is evil. I think man has no divinity, but I agree with Aurelius on the concept of a soul. But his overemphasis on morality puts me off. It’s preachy and becomes self-righteous. But then again he’s addressing himself. Also, is it humanly possible to exist with absolute mastery over impulse and emotion? Still, all said and done, concepts like embracing death without fear, knowing that you’ll be forgotten one day, and that it’s pointless weeping for the dead since they aren’t coming back makes sense.

But the idea of us being recycled by the universe, and just being reduced to mere atoms is only partially true, in my opinion. Sure we’ll all die and go back to dust or ashes, but that’s only the body. I believe that the soul lives on, not one with the Whole, but in another dimension. You can call it heaven, hell or purgatory, but the soul is immortal, but definitely not divine. But I’ll contradict myself here and say that it’s possible that complete soul-annihilation takes place. Hell, I’m open to change.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

7 responses

    • Well, I think it’s an old Lutheran concept that some people still believe in. God doesn’t want people to eternally suffer in hell. And so he annihilates them. Makes it as if they never existed in the first place.

  1. I think it’s important to note that Marcus Aurelius is discussing the traits of a good emperor. His insistence on living a moral and natural life are a mix of his understanding of Greek Philosophy and on his view that a moral ruler is the most effective.

    This comes to light when discussing societal connectedness. A hermit emperor is a figurehead, not a ruler- and not one who can accomplish any great feats of a progressive society.

    I would argue that Marcus Aurelius agrees with you about the nature of the world- that it is no beautiful thing. While he may accept that a man adhering to nature is one with his divine form, he would argue that those who intentionally deprive themselves of pleasure to test their endurance are those of the highest moral standing. He argued to see the world at face value and to accept that its nature is most often uncontrollable.

    Seneca is another good read on these topics.
    Looking forward to seeing more of your insights.
    Keep thinking my friend.

  2. Yeah you’re right. Aurelius is addressing himself or an authority figure. Still, I usually bring everything down to my level when I read. I think of how a certain philosophy can be applied in my life. Maybe it’s a post structuralist way of interpreting things, which may or may not be right. But I look at my life, my circumstances, my pain and read a text against the grain. In a way this author is dead. We do not know his exact motivation for narrating something. Did he want it read? Did he want to keep it to himself? Did he think it’ll improve society? So, when you think along those lines, you place yourself in the midst of the text, which like I said may not be the right thing to do. I haven’t read Seneca yet. The problem is that there are so many books that I want to read, but don’t find the time to! And thank you for such an insightful, beautiful comment.

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