Wednesday, June 20, 2012

TETRAPHARMAKOS - The Unsung Cure for Happiness

Recently I came across this “Four-part cure,” a remedy by the Greek philosopher Epicurus for leading the happiest possible life. As I went through this, my respect for Epicurus went even higher. I mean, here is a man whose thinking was way ahead of people of his times, and yet not many recognized the message he wanted to convey apart from the Epicureans (his followers).

It is called as Tetrapharmakos, and it goes like this-

“Don’t fear god,
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure”

The “Tetrapharmakos” was originally a compound of four drugs (wax, tallow, pitch and resin); the word has been used metaphorically by Epicurus and his disciples to refer to the four remedies for healing the soul.

As someone said “Meaning is what you give to it” the following is an attempt to decode it in our modern times along the lines of how Epicureans understood the concept. If you find it useful for yourself i would encourage you to think further, if not then you will always have another beliefs to help you seize the day!

As I was reading them, I thought why not have a go and see how this can be linked to people with a business point of view i.e from an employee point of view and hence my article follows.

1. Don’t fear God

For a man like me it makes sense, even for believers it must because from what I have read about Epicurus, in his times the concept of God was a hypothetical state of peace rather than personified image of a governing body.
So what people have done actually is personified the concept of god into a deity who must be feared, worshipped. Nothing wrong with that (Yes, I do say there is nothing wrong with that!), what I don’t agree is, don’t use it to stop someone else’s growth in life, don’t use it to make others do as you do as it kills the rationale of a human being.
In his time, the concept of God was incompatible with his belief system. Like many intellectual scientists day – if there is a supreme powerful being, all knowing, and all wise and so on, he would not be bothered at all by what every individual does, he’s got a universe to run! When it comes to corporate world, the God here becomes your Boss! And as I have seen in many places, people have a tendency to be afraid of their bosses. I would like to step up and ask, Why? Why fear your boss, when he has other important things to do than judging you?
If it’s a private run organization, I believe every employee must believe that he/she is working for the organization and not for the person. This belief alone would help the person to do their job without any fear. I understand that we do need approvals from bosses to do certain work, but the case in point here is most of us don’t start working in first place! The reason being, of course no authorization from the boss, and I fear what he/she would say?
So really, the major burden of our professional life not working out the way we want it to lies on our shoulder. One finds comfort in the garb of fear of their bosses, and chooses not to do any work that would make them happy!
Hence Epicurus is right when he says – Don’t fear GOD!  

2. Don’t worry about death

Epicurus says - "Death means nothing to us...when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist".

According to Epicurus, Death is one of the greatest anxieties causing agent. Due to certain conditioning in our life, we abhor the very thought of death, it depletes our bank of happiness and also controls our actions in present to ensure that it gets translated well in the afterlife! This is absolutely not worthy of a thought for the rational mind.
I want you to draw a parallel of death with failure. Like we fear death in life, in any area of work we always fear failure and that stops us from doing what we want to do. I mean, if we are not living a life where we can’t do what we want to do within the legal and judicial system of this society, what is the whole point of existence?
Most of the time if you observe, we don’t fail because we started a work and didn’t get what we want; we fail because we don’t start the work at all! And the reason for not getting what we want would be, you are right, because we thought we would fail!
If you want to succeed at something, stop worrying about the failure or as Epicurus’s says – Don’t worry about Death.

3. What is good is easy to get

We all have dreams when we start our career, most of the times the dream will consist of a lifestyle way beyond of what we can achieve in reality at this exact moment and this actually puts us in unwanted pressure. It’s one thing to chase the dreams of our life and another to live it with that pressure.
If we break down our needs to the basics, it comes down to sustenance and shelter, these things can be acquired by anyone, with minimal effort, regardless of wealth and education.
But if one wants more than what one needs, which we all do. One is limiting the chances of satisfaction and happiness, and therefore creating a “needless anxiety” in one’s own life.
What it implies is that the minimum need it takes to satisfy our dreams is the maximum amount of interest a person must have in satisfying those dreams.
Hence - What is good is easy to get was rightly framed by Epicurus and that is also what most philosophers and thinker agree upon, because once we understand our goals, we can understand the means to fulfill our dreams.

4. What is terrible is easy to endure

This goes almost in line with Buddha’s teaching of accepting the pain to make it easier.

Epicurus and his followers understood that Pain and illness was a part of life and the suffering caused by it was not permanent. It would be either mild or intense but not every time will it be chronic and intense together. The idea here is to understand one’s limit of withstanding pain, how much it is that your mind and body can actually endure. AS you accept this fact, you would understand that the more you endure the most resilient you become towards it, the more you condition yourself to fight against it. This gives you the courage to go ahead and work on yourself and your goals
In a corporate world, we are bound to face challenges caused by setbacks, delusions, backbites and that leads to prolonged suffering within the course the time we decide to stay in an organization. Many times we say- Enough of this, I can’t handle this stuff anymore. We say it very soon, without realizing the benefits of hanging in there. On the other hand we have people who keep on suffering the whole time they are, what drives them is ultimately hope, but they are blind towards their own goals and that’s why they stay positively foolish.
So, What is terrible is easy to endure, doesn’t  means that you stay positively foolish, it just means that learn to know how much your mind and body can take  and maintain this confidence that pleasure only follows pain.

Thank you staying till this sentence of the article, I am sure as you are reading this line you would notice that you have read probably the longest article in this blog, and as the fourth line in “Tetrapharmakos” says – What is terrible is easy to endure.

Drop your comments on this article below or shout out your concerns.  Till then have a great time. 


  1. Good one! Translating this into "action" is where the difficulty lies. Again, what is good, is easy to get, isn't it? :)