Book notes: The Tao of Seneca

Tao of Seneca book summary by Marlo Yonocruz

The Tao of Seneca, by Seneca presented by Tim Ferriss Audio

Synopsis: “The Tao of Seneca (volumes 1-3) is an introduction to Stoic philosophy through the words of Seneca. If you study Seneca, you’ll be in good company. He was popular with the educated elite of the Greco-Roman Empire, but Thomas Jefferson also had Seneca on his bedside table. Thought leaders in Silicon Valley tout the benefits of Stoicism, and NFL management, coaches, and players alike – from teams such as the Patriots and Seahawks – have embraced it because the principles make them better competitors. Stoicism is a no-nonsense philosophical system designed to produce dramatic real-world effects. Think of it as an ideal operating system for thriving in high-stress environments. This is your guide.” -Amazon

Opening thoughts: Recommended by Tim Ferriss on several occasions. How could I say no? This installment has been on my Audible wish list for a while now, so it was only a matter of time. Going in, I had no idea what Stoicism was. However, based on what Tim says, it’s an effective framework by which to operate in your daily life. Also per Tim’s recommendation, I would listen to these letters separately and reflect on each one. I would listen to one letter each time I got into my car and commuted to work, so I listened to two letters per day.

Key ideas/notes:

  • Periodically rehearse the worst case scenarios to toughen up yourself mentally
  • A well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company
  • Linger among the limited number of master thinkers and digest their works if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind
  • If a man is contented, he is not poor. It is not the man who has little, but the man who craves more that is poor
  • What is the proper limit to wealth? First, to have what is necessary. Second, to have what is enough
  • If you consider someone a friend whom you do not trust as much as you trust yourself, you are mistaken
  • Make judgement before when getting to know someone, and then make them your friend without anymore judgement
  • Share all your worries and reflections. Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal
  • No man can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about lengthening it
  • Nature provides what is necessary. It is the superfluous that makes men sweat
  • He who has made a fair compact with poverty is rich
  • Be persistent with your studies and make it each day your endeavor to become a better person
  • Do not be conspicuous with your philosophy. Inwardly, we are to be different in all respects. Our exterior, however, should conform to society
  • Try to maintain a higher standard of life than the multitude, but not a contrary standard. Otherwise, we shall frighten away and repel the very persons we are trying to improve
  • The first thing philosophy aims to give is empathy and sociability
  • Motto: live according to nature
    • Plain living, but not penance
  • Limiting desires curves fears
    • Fear follows hope, they are closely aligned together
  • Memory recalls the torches of fear, while foresight anticipates them
  • No good thing is pleasant to possess without friends to share it
  • Withdraw into yourself, associate with those who will make a better man out of you, welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual for men learn while they teach
  • Despise everything that useless toil creates an object of ornament and beauty. Nothing except the soul is worthy of wonder
  • The very service of philosophy is freedom
  • The wise man is self-sufficient, though he does desire friends
  • If you are loved, love. There is great pleasure in maintaining old and established friendships and in beginning and acquiring new ones
  • The wise man is sufficient unto himself for a happy existence
  • As we hate solitude and crave society, as nature draws man to each other, there is an attraction that makes us desire friendship
  • Whoever does not regard what he has as ample wealth is unhappy, though he be master of the whole world
  • Unblessed is he who thinks himself unblessed. What does your condition matter if it is bad in your own eyes
  • Happy is the man who can make others better not merely when he is in their company but even when he is in their thoughts
    • We must have someone according to whom we may regulate our character
  • Life is most delightful when it’s gone its downward slope but not its abrupt decline
  • Death should be looked in the face by old and young alike
  • Let us go to sleep everyday with joy and gladness
  • The best ideas are common property
  • The only man who can go in confidently is the one who has seen his own blood
  • We suffer more in imagination that in reality
  • We are in the habit of exaggerating or imagining or anticipating sorrow
    • Consider whether your proofs of future trouble are for sure, for it is more often the case we are troubled by our apprehension
    • We too quickly agree with what other people say and do not put to the test those things which cause our fear
  • You will suffer once suffering arrives so don’t anticipate it and suffer beforehand. Look forward to better things
  • Counter your one weakness with another, and temper your fear with hope
  • Believe in what you prefer, and cease to harass your soul
  • We can indulge the body once in a while, but do not be a slave to it
  • 3 main causes of fear: want, sickness, and the troubles which result from the violence of the stronger
  • It is burdensome to keep the friendships of all peoples, but it is enough to not make enemies
  • The wise man will never provoke the anger of those in power, and would even turn his course precisely as he would against a storm as if he were steering a ship
  • A wise man does not seek safety openly, for what one avoids, one condemns
  • Let us not possess something that can be snatched from us by a plotting foe. Let there be as little booty on your person as possible. More murderers speculate on profit than give vent to hatred. Along an infested road, the poor travel in peace
  • Avoid 3 things: hatred, jealousy, and scorn
  • The power to inspire fear has caused many men to be in fear. Let us withdraw ourselves in every way, for it is just as harmful to be scorn as it is to be admired
  • Philosophy is peaceful, mind your own business, and is respected by all
  • He who needs riches least enjoys riches most
  • He who craves riches feels fear on their account
  • Philosophy, or health of the mind, is more important than health of the body, which is easier and simpler
  • By overloading the body with food, you strangle the soul and render it less active
  • Exercise the body quickly and don’t spend too much time. Come back to exercising the mind day and night
  • It is noble to demand nothing and not depend on anything
  • No man can live a happy life or a supportive life without the study of wisdom
  • Important is the practice of daily reflection. It is more important to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make nobler ones
  • Philosophy will teach you to follow God and endure chance
  • If you live according to nature you will never be poor. If you live according to opinion, you will never be rich
  • Opinions, the false, and human desires are limitless. The necessity of nature is limited
  • When traveling on a road there must be an end, but when astray your wanderings are limitless
  • Poverty may not have to be feared by you. Riches have shut off many a man from the attainment of wisdom. Poverty is unburdened and free from care (ch 19/1:38)
  • Hunger costs a little, squeamishness costs a lot
  • If you wish to have leisure for your mind, either be a poor man or resemble a poor man
  • Study cannot be helpful unless you take pains to live simply, and living simply is voluntary poverty
  • Learn while you are acquiring something to live on
  • Your plan should be this: be a philosopher now whether you have anything or not. Seek understanding first before anything else
  • The acquisition of wealth is not an end but a change of troubles. The fault is not in the wealth but in the mind itself
  • It shows greater self-control to not withdraw from the crowd and go along but in a different way
  • Eating and dressing minimally while asking, is this the condition that I feared?
  • Train a man to not flinch when a crisis comes by training him before it comes
  • Let us become intimate with poverty so that fortune does not catch us off guard
  • Persuade yourself that you can live happily with or without riches
  • The outcome of a mighty anger is madness, we should avoid anger to escape excess and have a healthy mind
  • Your retirement should not be conspicuous, though it should be obvious
  • Trifling debt makes a man your debtor, a large one makes him your enemy
  • Philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak. It exacts a man to live according to his own standards that his life should not be out of harmony with his words
  • The highest duty and proof of wisdom is that deed and word should be in accord
  • You should lay hold once and for all upon a single norm to live by and should regulate your whole life according to this norm
  • What is wisdom? Always desiring the same things and always refusing the same things
  • Love poverty for the single reason, that it will show you those by whom you are loved
  • No man is born rich, as nature makes man content with milk and rags
  • Your greatest difficulties are with yourself, for you are your own stumbling block and you do not know what you want
  • If you wish to make life more honorable and pleasurable, subtract from desires
  • Look about you for the opportunity. If you see it, grasp it. With all your energy and all your strength, devote yourself to this task
  • Men love the reward of their hardships, but curse the hardships themselves. Men complain about their ambitions as they complain about their mistresses
  • People who complain about things they cannot do without
  • No one in life has anything finished because we put off all our undertakings
  • We are worse off when we die than when we are born for nature did not give us desires, fears, treachery, superstition, and other curses
  • Men do not care how nobly they live, only how long. Although, it is within the reach every man to live nobly, but within no man’s power to live long
  • What is the foundation of a sound mind? It is not to find joy in useless things
  • We have reached the heights if we know what we find joy in, and if we have not placed our happiness in the control of externals
  • Learn how to feel joy
  • Take joy in the things that come from your own store, not from things given to you by another or externally
  • It is foolish to be unhappy for now you may be unhappy at some future time
  • We reach death at one moment, but we have been in the process for a long time
  • It is absurd to run towards death because you tire of life, when it is your manner of life that has made you run towards death
  • What is so absurd is to seek death when it is through fear of death that you robbed your life of peace
  • You do not love someone unless you’re willing to hurt their feelings
  • You should withdraw into yourself the most when you’re forced to be in a crowd
  • It doesn’t matter how old you are, there is no fixed count of our years. You do not know where death awaits you, so I’ll be ready for it everywhere
  • There is only one chain that binds us to life and that is the love of life
  • With guilty pleasures, regret remains even after the pleasures are over
  • No man is able to borrow or buy a sound mind
  • Real wealth is poverty adjusted to the law of nature
  • You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate
  • Traveling the world, seeing new sights, and fleeing doesn’t work because you flee with your self
  • The person you are matters more than the place to which you go
  • I am not born for any one corner of the universe, this whole world is my country
  • You must discover yourself in the wrong before you can reform yourself
  • One must not talk to a man unless he’s willing to listen
  • Wisdom is an art, not blind chance. Like an archer you should try to miss only a few times, not try to hit some only a few times
  • I do not choose to appeal to the crowd, for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know
  • What do you think of yourself is much more to the point than what others think of you
  • One is braver at the very moment of death then when one is approaching death
  • There is no evil in death. It is foolish to fear death as it is the fear old age for death follows old age
  • Fear only that which is uncertain
  • No one cheerfully or peacefully welcomes death except for those who has long since composed himself for it
  • Death is ready for us in all places at all times
  • Work is not a good, but the scorning of work. He rebukes men who toil without purpose
  • Choose which fortunes you want and would work towards. Make yourself happy through your own efforts
  • There should be an even temperament and scheme of life that is consistent throughout
  • We need a knowledge of things and the art which enables us to understand things human and things divine
  • Nature has given you gifts that you may rise level with God. Your money, however, will not place you level with God for God has no property. Neither can beauty nor strength make you blessed for none of these qualities can withstand old age
  • The soul that is right, good, and great, a soul like this can be descended into any person regardless of class or title
  • Be peaceful and calm as you enjoy life and not worry about tomorrow
  • He who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating
  • The larger part of goodness is the will to become good
  • If a man’s acts and words are out of harmony, his soul is crooked
  • Anyone who loves you is not in every case your friend. Friendship accordingly is always helpful. But love sometimes even does harm
  • Put yourself under the control of reason. If reason becomes your ruler, you will become the ruler of many
  • Lectures on philosophy are great, but conversations are better as they creep into the soul
  • If the aim is to make them learn and not merely wish to learn, then we must use the low toned words of conversation. They enter more easily and stick in the memory. We do not need many words, but rather effective words
  • Excessive productiveness does not bring fruit to ripeness. The soul is ruined by uncontrolled prosperity
  • Men sink themselves in pleasure and cannot do without them once they have become accustomed to them. This is most wretched because what was once superfluous is now indispensable.And so they are a slave to their pleasures instead of enjoying them
  • The height of unhappiness is reached when men are not only attracted but even pleased by shameful things, and when there is no longer any room for a cure now that those things that once were vices have become habits
  • Remedies do not avail unless they stay in the system
  • If you see a man who is unterrified in the midst of dangers, untouched by desires, happy in adversity, peaceful amid the storm, won’t you not have a feeling of reverence for him?
  • When a soul rises superior to other souls, when it is under control, when it smiles at our fears and our prayers, it is stirred by a force from heaven. A thing like this cannot stand upright unless it is propped up by the divine
  • What then is such a soul? One which is resplendent with no external good but only with its own. For what is more foolish than to praise the qualities of a man that comes form without or qualities that can pass to another in the next instant
  • No man ought to glory except in that which is his own
  • Praise the qualities in a man that cannot be given or snatched away, such as material goods, which is the soul and reason brought to perfection within the soul
  • We are not troubled by loss, but the thought of loss
  • You will scarcely find anyone who can live with his door wide open
  • A noble mind is free to all men. According to this test, we may all gain distinction
  • Every king springs from a race of slaves, and every slave has had kings among his ancestors
  • If there is anything that can make a life happy, then it is good on its own merits
    • They regard the means of producing happiness is happiness itself, and while seeking happiness they are really fleeing from it
  • The sum and substance of the happy life is un-alloyed freedom from care, and though the secret of such freedom is unshaken confidence, and yet man gather together that which causes worry and not only have burdens to bear but draws burdens to themselves
  • The happy man is one whose possessions all lie in his soul, who is content and would wish to not switch with any other man. Who rates other men only as their value as men, who takes nature for his teacher, etc
  • Custom serves as an excuse for telling each other lies
  • Slaves are not enemies when you acquire them, you make them enemies on how you treat them
  • Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters
  • Value a man according to their character, and not to their duties
  • Don’t evaluate or value a man based on his rank or exterior points like clothes, but rather his soul
  • All men are slaves to one thing or another, lust, greed, ambition, and all are slaves to fear
  • No servitude is more disgraceful than that which is self-imposed
  • Respect means love, and love and fear cannot be mingled
  • Friendship produces a partnership in all our interests
  • The good life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it
  • Learning virtue means unlearning vice
  • What is freedom? It means not being a slave to any circumstance, to any constraints, to any chance
  • Being trained in a rugged country strengthens the character and fits it for great undertakings
  • Seek help in guidance from the ancients, for they have time to help you
  • Seek teachers who live by example, both old and non-living
  • You can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise
  • Only he who is awake can recount his dream, similarly a confession of sin is proof of a sound mind
  • When you are sick, drop everything and focus on getting better first. However, also always focus on getting a sound mind through study of philosophy
  • The wise man does nothing unwillingly. He escapes necessity because he wills to do what necessity is about to force upon him
  • A person is at leisure who has withdrawn from society, is free from care, self-sufficient, and lives for himself
  • Real tranquility is the state reached by an un-perverted mind when it is relaxed
  • The evils of leisure can be shaken off by hard work. The much occupied man has no time for wantonness
  • All unconcealed vices are less serious. A disease is also farther along the road to being cured when it breaks forth from concealment and manifests its power
  • The bitterest part of slavery is doing what one does not want to do. Doing something gladly removes that
  • Spend time in the company of all the best no matter in what they may have lived and what age
  • Let not our eyes be dry when we lose a friend, yet not let them overflow
  • Reflect now not only that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality is subject to no fixed law. Whatever can happen at any time can happen today
  • God’s purpose for the universe is goodness
  • The soul is not disfigured by the ugliness of the body, but rather the opposite. The body is beautified by the heart of the soul
  • You cannot add to virtue, for being able to add to something perfect means it wasn’t perfect to begin with
  • No difference between joy and an unyielding endurance of pain
  • Every honorable act is voluntary, not compulsory or unwillingly
  • Fear means slavery. The honorable is wholly free from anxiety and is calm
  • Virtue is just as praiseworthy if it dwells in a sound and free body as in one which is sickly or in bondage
  • Virtue is nothing else but right reason. All virtues are reasons. Reasons are reasons if they are right reasons
  • No good is without reason, and reason is in accordance with nature. Reason is copying nature. The greatest good that men can possess is to conduct oneself according to what nature wills
  • The absolute good of man’s nature is satisfied with peace of the body and peace in the soul
  • It is more of an accomplishment to break one’s way through difficulties than to keep joy within bounds

Closing thoughts: For the most part, I accomplished my goal of listening to this book in segments. For a while, I listened to an entire letter every time I got into my car, and if I finished before I reached my destination, I would switch to another book. I kept this up until the last 2 hours of Seneca. I had finished my other two books for the month, so I ended up binging the last dozen or so chapters of Seneca.

Overall, this book was fantastic. I found myself pausing after many letters and just thinking to myself. I took plenty of time to reflect on how there were several aspects of my life where applying Stoicism would help me create better results as it would force me to keep my emotions in check. Rather, I knew where I could use more logic and rationale to make better decisions.

Nutshell: Guiding principles of stoic philosophy from Seneca that one can use in daily life.

Rating: 4.5/5


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