Friday, August 16, 2013

A Cosmopolitan Meditation

One of the reasons that I savor the accumulated wisdom of the people of the Mediterranean is that there are so many sage meditations, reflections and epigrams from this region that help us today. The Greco-Roman world, from the Hellenistic culture spread by Alexander the Great to the Late Antique Roman Empire, was decidedly cosmopolitan. Encountering the diverse cultures of the Mediterranean, the Near East and Persia, the Hellenistic Greeks and later the Romans chose to broadly incorporate indigenous religions and philosophies rather than suppress them (unless they posed a political threat). Even the word, cosmopolitan, is derived from the Greek, kosmos and polites, roughly meaning citizen of the world.
The concept of cosmopolitanism was originally proposed by the founder of the Greek Cynics, Diogenes of Sinope (Greek colony on the Southern Black Sea coast) and a contemporary of Alexander. When Diogenes was asked, "Where do you come from?",  he responded, "I am a citizen of the world".  Later, the Stoics embraced this notion of world citzenry--most notably a stoic named Hierocles, circa 100-150 CE who left a marvelous meditation to train our souls to encompass concern for all beings. I list here a modification of Hierocles' meditation adapted to our context:
"Imagine a series of concentric circles with yourself at the center point. The first circle would be your mind and your body, the next your family, then your community, friends, your communal associations, your city, country and all the world. Now, allowing the most distant circle to contract toward yourself and the inner circles to expand to encompass all beings."

This reads almost like a Buddhist Metta meditation. You almost wonder whether Greco-Roman cosmopolitanism adopted aspects of Buddhist ethics in its encounter with South Asian culture. But that is another story...

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