on Notable People — 08 February 2015

Diogenes (ca. 400 B.C. – 325 B.C.) was born in the Greek colony Sinope (modern day Turkey) and lived in Athens, Greece.

He was initially a student of Antisthenes, a staunch scholar of Socrates who believed that happiness was only obtained by complete independence, discarding pleasures and living with nothing and in extreme poverty.

Diogenes rejected social conventions and comforts and decided to live in a tub and beg for a living; he threw away his utensils, ate and drank with his hands. He became known for being a totally unconventional and controversial philosopher. Famously he would carry a lantern during daylight, looking for ‘an honest man’. He aimed to show the hypocrisy of the masses and became known as one of the founders of Cynicism, living a life of honesty and virtue. His goal was to show people how pathetic their superficial lives were and how totally dishonest society was.

Alexander The Great, the King of Macedonia, conqueror of the Persian empire and the greatest military genius of all time, admired Diogenes and asked him if he may do anything for him, to which Diogenes replied, “Only step out of my sunlight.” He became known as the only person to make fun of Alexander the Great and actually live.

None of Diogenes writings have survived, but he supposedly wrote numerous books and tragedies. He died in Corinth, Greece.

Diogenes bw

I’m reminded of Diogenes again: he used to live naked; he was a very healthy and beautiful man. Even Alexander the Great felt a little jealous. He had everything, but the beauty of Diogenes, his marble-like body, his statue-like firmness….

He was lying one day by the side of the river which was his resting place. Four thieves, whose function was… because in those days almost all over the world man was sold and purchased. Women particularly had a good price, and healthy strong men also had a good price. Slaves were an accepted fact almost all over the world. So these four thieves were engaged in the business of catching hold of people and taking them to the marketplace.

They saw this man and discussed among themselves: “This man will fetch a good price, perhaps the best ever. But he seems to be too strong even for four persons. He will kill us if we try to catch hold of him; he looks dangerous.”

And Diogenes was listening because they were discussing what to do just behind the bushes. Diogenes said, “You idiots! You don’t have to do anything! Just come out! Follow me!”

They said, “But where?”

He said, “To the marketplace where you want to sell me! There is no need to catch hold of me. I am coming on my own. Let this be also an experience. Anyway I am good for nothing.”

The thieves became very afraid seeing the strangeness of the man. “Even to follow him is dangerous; he may turn, or jump and hit somebody.” They kept their distance.

Diogenes said, “Don’t be afraid! Just stay close! Are you taking me to the marketplace or am I taking you?”

With great fear they came close to him. And in the marketplace where people, men and women, were auctioned, Diogenes jumped on the table and shouted at the crowd that had come to purchase people, “Here is a master for sale! Is there any slave who is ready to purchase him?”

There was great silence, the man certainly was a grandeur in himself. Even kings had come to purchase but they had to think twice whether to purchase this man. He could be dangerous, he could be ferocious if he can jump on the table and declare himself, “Here is a master! Is there anyone ready to purchase him?”

Finally one king dared to purchase him, and he said, “To whom is the money to be given?” Diogenes showed those four persons who were hiding in the crowd. “Give the money to these four people. They have brought me here. And bring your chariot closer so I can come in the chariot.”

Now slaves are not supposed to order kings, but even this king felt a weakening of the heart. He told his charioteer to bring the chariot close by. Diogenes jumped on the chariot and sat by the side of the king, and the king was trembling. He had purchased unnecessary trouble. This man can simply take him by the neck and throw him out of the chariot. “Rather than purchasing a slave I have purchased a master; he was right.”

But Diogenes said, “Don’t be afraid; I’m not going to do any of the things that you are thinking. I am a peace-loving man. Let us make an agreement: I shall not disturb you, you should not disturb me.”

The king was very willing. He said “I am absolutely ready, I will not disturb you. You can have a part of the palace, and whatever you need will be provided. But please keep the agreement, don’t disturb me. I am a man with a very weak heart, and you seem to be very dangerous.”

Diogenes said, “Don’t be worried. As far as killing is concerned I am absolutely against it; harassing anybody I am absolutely against. You will find in me a great master; you can learn much. You have purchased the only master who has ever been sold, and I have sold myself. In fact I needed some disciples. Now you, your wife, your brothers, your children, all are my disciples – agreed?!”

In the forest the chariot was moving towards the kingdom. Not to agree with this man was very dangerous because there was only the charioteer and the king, and he was enough for both. So whatever he said the king went on saying, “Yes, absolutely agreed.”

And as they were entering the kingdom, Diogenes jumped out of the chariot, said goodbye to the king and said, “I was just joking! For those four poor men I had to play this role. My river has come. If you want sometime some advice you are welcome. Take note of my address: this river, and do you see that dog?”

He had only one dog as a friend. Because of this dog as a friend, his name became “Diogenes the Cynic.”

The friendship with the dog also came in a very special way. One day he was running towards the river with a begging bowl, just as Buddha had a begging bowl. He was thirsty, but just as he was reaching to the water, a dog came running, overtook him and started drinking the water.

He said, “My God! Why am I carrying this bowl? The dog is in a better position!” He threw the begging bowl in the river and learned the way of drinking water like the dog.

The dog certainly became very friendly to the man, so he invited the dog to share with him whatever he got for food. The dog was his only companion, and he would talk to it.

Even when Alexander was standing by his side, he was making a joke of it. Alexander said, “I’m going to conquer the world.”

Rather than answering him, he looked at the dog and said, “Do you hear? This fellow is going to conquer the world!” Then to Alexander: “Before conquering the world you will be finished. If you are as wise as this dog, you would rest here, because what will you do after conquering the world?”

Alexander had to concede: “After conquering the world I will certainly rest and relax.”

Diogenes said, “Look at my dog, how relaxed! You can come on this side, I have no objection; I don’t possess this river. I don’t know who possesses this river, but we both live here and we welcome you. There is no need to take so much trouble to conquer the world and then rest; why not begin rest now?”

Alexander said, “I can understand your logic, and I am not able to answer it. But now that I have started my journey of conquering, I will have to go and fulfill my desire.”

Diogenes said, “It is up to you, but remember the day you die that I have told you life is very short and the world is very big. Most probably you will die before you have conquered the world.”

And Diogenes was right, Alexander died at the age of only thirty-three, and the last memory in his mind was of Diogenes: “That wise man told it right. Even his dog agreed by waving his tail, ‘You are right. If he wants to rest he should begin now.'”

Diogenes is not historically very much in the line of the great Greek philosophers: Socrates, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus. Nobody mentions Diogenes much for the simple reason that he was not a man who took the world seriously.

Somewhere he found a lamp, an old lamp, which somebody may have thrown away. So he lit the lamp and, still with his dog, carried it day and night always lighted even in full daylight and people would say, “It is strange, Diogenes; why are you carrying this lamp in the full sunlight?”

And he would say, “I am in search of an authentic man. Just to see into his eyes, I keep this lamp. Up to now I have failed.”

The day he died in Athens, the dog was sitting by his side and the lamp was there, and somebody asked, “Diogenes, you are dying; can you say something about what happened to the authentic man? Did you find any authentic man?”

And his last words were, “Unfortunately I did not find an authentic man, but fortunately nobody has stolen my lamp; that much I can say in favour of humanity. I am a naked man, I sleep and anybody could have stolen it.” He never took life seriously but lived with as much joy and glory as any buddha.

Osho, Nansen: The Point of Departure, Ch 8 (excerpt)