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There is something I must dwell on
because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself.

— Marilynne Robinson

Ancient Greek history contains many tragedies but it also has many teachings as the following story shows…

King Philip II was an ambitious man who wanted to raise an army combining both Macedonia and Greece which would then attack and conquer Persia.  King Philip was assassinated before he could carry out his plan, but his son who was just twenty, would continue his father’s work and his name was Alexander.

Alexander was a brilliant warrior and military genius. He had a bright and subtle mind. His tutor was the great Greek philosopher Aristotle, whose thoughts and writings have had a huge influence on western thoughts concerning ethics, beauty and politics.

Alexander created a huge army and invaded Persia, of which he conquered along with Egypt, Phoenicia, Palestine, Babylonia, Assyria and Asia Minor. Alexander now commanded a vast empire, but was not satisfied so went on to invade India. When he was making his way through India he came to the Indus Valley.  Whilst there, he encountered a small group of yogi’s who were sitting in meditation on the banks of the river. Alexander’s party of soldiers were trying to get through but the meditating yogis were blocking their way and were refusing to move.  One of Alexander’s Lieutenants started shouting at one of the yogi’s, “This man has conquered the world! What have you accomplished?”  The yogi looked up calmly and replied, “I have conquered the desire to conquer the world” and upon hearing these words Alexander laughed; he admired the wisdom of the yogi. 

Alexander the Great created a huge empire and conquered half the world, which was an extraordinary military feat but, as the yogi had wisely pointed out, through his practices of yoga and meditation he had, “…conquered the desire to conquer the world” and now his life appeared to be one of far greater contentment.  We could imagine that he was quite happy to sit with his other yogi’s enjoying the beauty and delights of the world without desire to appropriate them.

I really like this story of Alexander and the meeting with the yogi. I feel it illustrates two of the extreme positions we can sometimes take towards life: one is that of trying to conquer the world and the other is that of completely renouncing the world.  It may be beneficial for us to see that with the right tools we can explore a middle way between these two extremes.

“When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.”

  • Dalai Lama