Fame or virtue?

The vast majority of famous historical leaders were cruel tyrants with loose morals.

Alexander the Great, Hannibal Barca, Julius Caesar, Constantine, Atilla the Hun, Genghis Khan, Temujin, Babur, Napoleon Bonaparte, Otto von Bismarck, Winston Churchill. Most of these men are revered even today, but none of them were paragons of virtue.

Besides, most of them also didn’t live a happy life that was free from agony. Most of them suffered greatly throughout their lives despite their ‘lofty’ achievements.

On the contrary, the vast majority of people who led virtuous and moral lives were ‘ordinary’ people with ‘boring’ lives that we don’t bother to document in history books. Yet, during their lifetime, these people were filled with happiness and well-being. Through their virtuous lives they minimized suffering and quietly spread joy, even if they did not wield power or influence over thousands of other people.

There is an inherent tension between the experience and the memory of our lives. If we wish to be remembered, we need to gravitate towards power, influence and status. If we wish to merely experience a good life, we probably need to drift in the opposite direction.

It is important for us to have a clear answer to the following dichotomy – would you rather be famous and internally tormented, or be obscure and internally at peace. In the rare case, like the Buddha, you can be both famous and internally at peace. But if you had asked the Buddha, he would have had a clear pereference.

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