Last week I started reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
It felt rather overdue since the biohacker, entrepreneur, and practical philosophy crowds were raving about it for years.
Amongst many themes, the Roman Emperor touches upon fame. How worthless it is for the individual and everyone else. And while his Meditations were not meant to be seen by anyone other than him, their publication will always be relevant and useful.
That’s what timeless means. Not to aim for short-term fame but rise above the muck, above the months, years, centuries of time and space, onto a higher altitude of universal service.
It’s interesting how the study of classics of such caliber makes me appreciate time. Why spend my limited reading hours on books that are anything less than timeless?
And here is something I’ve noticed about books. The more timeless they are, the more spiritual their inclinations prove to be. They are timeless because they speak the truth, and truth is spiritual. Truth is God, as Mahatma Gandhi professed. Here is an excerpt from Meditations:
A horse that has raced, a dog that has tracked, a bee that has made honey, and a man that has done good—none of these knows what they’ve done, but they pass on to the next action, just as the vine passes on to bear grapes again in due season. So you ought to be one of those who, in a sense, are unconscious of the good they do.
Reading it, gave me pause. And the pause lasted for a while until I recalled something along those lines in another timeless text: Zen in the Art of Archery 1.
This little tome was penned in the last century but the principles of Zen date back to 6th century China. The ultimate root of the word is the Sanskrit dhyāna, hailing from several centuries BCE. Here is an excerpt:
The spider dances her web without knowing that there are flies who will get caught in it. The fly, dancing nonchalantly on a sunbeam, gets caught in the net without knowing what lies in store. But through both of them “It” dances, and inside and outside are united in this dance. So, too, the archer hits the target without having aimed.
True mastery is so effortless and natural that it becomes spiritual. It doesn’t matter what it is that we become masters in. It is the state of Zen that matters, more so than the Art itself.
His conquests and spiritual transformations, so long as they remain “his”, must be conquered and transformed again and again until everything “his” is annihilated.
True mastery, it seems, is about forgetting ourselves— forgetting time and space. What’s more spiritual than that?
Think about it. The science of weaponry, as in the arrow, or the art of fighting, as in Kung Fu, or even money, as in investment, can all be used as a weapon. But true mastery is the exact opposite, as evidenced by Master Awa Kenzô, Bruce Lee, and Warren Buffet respectively.
How does one become Good then?
Honest to God dedication to work seems to be the answer. Work without bullshit or self-talk. Quiet and disciplined long term effort.
What are you working on this Christmas?
1 [Click here for my reading notes from Zen in the Art of Archery]1