Although views and opinions on Buddhism and Stoicism vary, there are some similarities and differences between these two ways of life.
When we learn about Buddhism, we often encounter this idea of non-attachment and freedom.
Although Buddhism is commonly regarded as a religion, its true essence is more than that.
Buddhism is not merely about theism or merely worshiping some higher forces or beings.
In a way, many see Buddhism as a philosophy or a way of life—just like how Stoicism is considered a philosophy.
Buddhism transcends all notions and ideas, including the idea of Nirvana itself.
Nirvana in Buddhist teachings is the place where one reaches when they free themselves from all attachments. In other words, this view looks at the world through an impermanent lens.
Because of this, it helps in times when we are suffering deeply inside. If we can somehow understand that these feelings, the things around us are impermanent by nature, we can truly appreciate the present moment and try to let go of what is holding us back.
Because everyone suffers at some point in their lives—whether it’s financially or relationship-wise—understanding can be born at moments like these. And with understanding of each other’s suffering, compassion is born. With compassion, every part of our soul can start to heal.
As you can see, Buddhism is the transformation of emotions. Because Buddhism sees things as inter-are—there is no left without right and there is no fragrant lotus without stinky mud—the moments in life when you feel the most painful are often the best opportunities given to you for your most beautiful transformation.
In stronger language, if we may, we transform sh** into beautiful growth. Many plants, fungi or micro-beings on this planet do flourish from that stuff.
It truly takes courage from an individual to not cling on to their thoughts too tightly and be willing to let go of their ego when it seems necessary. To understand true Buddhism, which is a tool to deeper insights, we are invited to look deep into ourselves and the nature of things.
Surely, Buddhism is not meant to be something to cling to, to fight, to kill, or to die for. People who misunderstand this do not really understand Buddhism.
The idea of mindfulness in Buddhism is simply an invitation for you to watch your own thoughts. You are aware at the moment you’re feeling angry. You are aware at the moment when you’re feeling like hurting someone. You are aware at the moment when you may be thinking negatively.
With the mindfulness energy, you invite all your thoughts up, face them with your courage, and embrace them like a caring mother embracing her child. It’s okay. It’s alright. I know you are inside me and I am taking care of you. I am here for you.
Oftentimes, we tend to run from certain thoughts or feelings because we are afraid of the suffering that they may cause. This is, however, not the most effective way to deal with our own emotions.
Handling fears, doubts, or any strong emotions with the gentle energy of mindfulness, you are being kind to yourself and taking care of the inner child within. Strong emotions become weaker and weaker the more we practice embracing them this way a little bit every day. Your miraculous transformation begins, one step at a time.
Thanks to this, you can better handle your emotions in different situations, understand more about yourself, and be more compassionate toward others. All of this circle us back to the invitation to look deeply into oneself and practice a lifestyle that reduces suffering, which is at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings.
Stoicism is somewhat a more logic-based philosophy. Rather than the elimination of emotions, Stoicism is more like the domestication of emotions. Stoicism shares some similarities with Buddhism in that it does look at transformations.
For example, someone who is fearful can practice turning his fear into prudence. A person in pain can turn such suffering into information. Mistakes made can help us with initiation. Or we can turn our desire into undertaking.
Stoicism also offers us some ways or even effective tricks to deal with strong negative emotions. A Roman Stoic, for instance, would wait a day to cool the flame off before hitting a slave. Thomas Jefferson waited weeks to ease the tension before deciding whether or not to go to war with the Great Britain.
Like Buddhism, Stoicism encourages good social deeds and acts of virtue, which are things that are never forgotten in the vast universe.
An interesting discussion on Stoicism is how it looks at wealth, which makes sense practically because this philosophy is more logic-based than Buddhism.
The way a Stoic, Seneca, looked at wealth was that it would bring about an asymmetry. When we now have too much, we now have so much more to lose than to gain. In other words, it may be kind of a burden for our soul.
When the feelings we get when we lose an amount of our assets overwhelm the feelings we get when we gain more wealth, we start to be on a treadmill of emotional stress.
We lose sleep over worrying about where our assets will go, we become a slave to our own wealth. This is the exact point where the Buddhist teaching of worldly non-attachment can help free us from moments of turbulence.
Unlike Buddhism, however, Stoicism takes a more practical approach. Our Stoic, Seneca, went through mental exercises to keep him the upside (the wealth or benefits) and eliminate the downside (too much stress).
To insure the protection of his emotions when losses occurred, Seneca would often start a journey with the bare minimums that he would be left with after a shipwreck.
Also, Seneca did something called moral bookkeeping. If anyone returns the benefits he has given them, he considers it a gain. If they don’t return it, it is not a loss but a good deed he has given for the sake of giving.
This is somewhat like a cost-benefit analysis from Stoicism. It protects you from being fragile in a practical way. For any upside-downside asymmetry like this, you can benefit greatly by applying the insights from Stoicism approach and Buddhism.
With these two together, you are pretty much creating an anti-fragility for yourself in the most challenging situations for you financially and emotionally. This may be more of a protective way against future or repetitive sufferings.
When we are suffering, the enlightening insights from Buddhism can help us transform those emotions into something beautiful, making us much stronger and resilient than before.
If we may sum up Buddhism and Stoicism in one word, which may not be the best way to describe it, we can say Buddhism is transformation and Stoicism is indifference.
Obviously, the discussion on Buddhism and Stoicism may not just end here. As you can see, both of these philosophies are guides to help us lead a more meaningful life that avoids doing harm to others and to help us understand more of the soul inside us.
While Buddhism may be more spiritual, Stoicism may be a bit more logical. Either way, they are meant to be applied into our lifestyles as much as possible. Only then will these teachings really become meaningful and continue bearing fruits through generations.