The story of the Buddha’s life, like all of Buddhism, is a story about confronting suffering. He was born between the sixth and fourth century BC, the son of a wealthy king in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.
We know very little for certain about the life of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (a westernised version of his name, which means ‘Master Kong’). He is said to have been born in 551 B.C. in China; he may have been a student of the Daoist master Lao Tzu.
From a distance, philosophy seems weird, irrelevant, boring – and yet also just a little intriguing. But what are philosophers really for? The answer is helpfully already contained in the word 'philosophy'.
We’re particularly down on people we call ‘defensive’. They blame others for what’s their own fault. They hear reasonable criticism as cruel attack. They deny they have a problem when they clearly do.
Modern architecture produces truly innovative work: glittering, staggeringly tall buildings, opera houses that look like folded origami, even museums that look like spaceships.
The 19th-century designer, poet and entrepreneur William Morris is one of the best guides we have to the modern economy - despite the fact that he died in 1896 (while Queen Victoria was still on the throne).
They happen in the privacy of our minds, pretty much everywhere. At the pool, the conference, the aisles of the supermarket. The dynamic is always the same: very little knowledge – indeed complete ignorance.
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, who was born in 341 BC, spent all his life trying to work out the largest question there is: what makes people happy?
Frustration with one’s appearance is an embarrassing - but in truth highly serious and valid - pain. Mature, reasonable people are not supposed to go around regretting their nose or hair.
Few philosophers have achieved fame as cooks. However, many of their theories can be perfectly explained through the medium of food. Here we inaugurate a new series, Philosophy in the Kitchen.
The English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott developed the idea of a Transitional Object. He wanted to draw attention to the very important work done by children’s much-loved teddy bears.
Abstract art continues to provoke annoyance and confusion in equal measure. You know the kind of thing: a large empty white canvas, with a solitary deep black line down the middle.
Our assessment of politicians is torn between hope and disappointment. On the one hand, we have an idealistic idea that a politician should be an upright hero.
We live in a world saturated with false glamour. In truth, the problem does not lie with glamour itself, but with the things we have collectively agreed to regard as glamorous.
One of the unexpectedly important things that art can do for us is teach us how to suffer. It can do so by evoking scenes that are dark or melancholy, and and lend dignity to the suffering we may be experiencing.
Abroad is, as we know, the exciting bit. You’ve been so far recently. You were in Abuja only on Tuesday. Yesterday lunchtime, you were having fried plantain in the Wuse district with Promise and Chinwe.
There are many guide books suggesting what you might do when you get to Seville. But they all agree, pretty much, that you must go both to the Plaza de España and then to the Alcázar.
You've been in the air for 12 hours. Now this anonymous box. It was your company's idea. You'd have a chance to sleep a little, then catch the next 11 hour flight, before heading straight into the conference.
On the first day, it was difficult. You went into the corner shop just off the main Motomachi shopping street to buy a prepaid mobile card. You pointed at your phone, you pretended to make a call. It was useless.
At the dawn of the modern age lived a French philosopher who wrote a book, barely 60 pages long, that can deservedly be counted as one of the true masterpieces of philosophy.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of the most impassioned 19th-century social reformers. He was, at first sight, an improbable reformer because he seemed to care mostly about one thing: beauty.
Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) was an English paediatrician, who early on in his career became passionate about the then new field of psychoanalysis.
Augustine was a Christian philosopher who lived in the early 5th century AD on the fringes of the rapidly declining Roman Empire, in the North African town of Hippo (present day Annaba, in Algeria).
Max Weber is one of the three philosophers best able to explain to us the peculiar economic system we live within called Capitalism (Karl Marx and Adam Smith are the other two).
We generally hold culture - by which we understand art, museums, cinema, literature and the study of history - in extremely high regard. But, equally, we tend not to look very closely at why culture has such prestige.
In the developed more secular parts of the world, it is common, even among unbelievers, to lament the passing of the great days of religious architecture.
We’re used to the idea that a year should be punctuated by a sequence of special public days: Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, some kind of national day, May Day, the August Bank holiday etc.
The modern world is in love with entrepreneurship. Starting your own business holds the same sort of prestigious position as, in previous ages, making a pilgrimage or spearing multiple enemies in battle.
Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno was born in Frankfurt in 1903 into a wealthy and cultured family. His father, a wine merchant, was of Jewish origin but had converted to Protestantism at university.
The Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was born in 341 BC, on the island of Samos, a few miles off the coast of modern Turkey. He had an unusually long beard and wrote over three hundred books.
There is no more ridiculed genre than the self-help book. Admit that you regularly turn to such titles to help you cope with existence and you are liable to attract scorn and suspicion.
We don’t always feel comfortable admitting it to our friends. But, secretly, the idea of being famous has great appeal. Fame is deeply attractive because it seems to offer very significant benefits.
The things that get us sexually excited can often sound rather improbable. On the face of it, Wellington boots, a heavy knit fisherman’s jumper or a car park seem unconnected to erotic satisfaction.
You are queuing to go through to Departures; one of the guards at security has lovely, almost turquoise eyes. You are intrigued by the way they're frisking the occasional passenger.
In almost all countries and communities around the world, there is one central (usually unvoiced) suspicion that arises whenever someone lets slip that they are ‘having therapy’: they are crazy.
It’s one of the grandest and oddest words out there, so lofty, it doesn’t sound like something one could ever consciously strive to be - unlike say, being cultured, or kind.
Under such a title, one expects something properly heroic: inter-planetary travel. Perhaps the flotation of a public company. A breakthrough in renal cancer research.
If you had the misfortune to do too much, or the wrong kind of it at school, you’ll probably remember one thing about history: how dull it can sometimes be.
Anyone of childbearing age will be surrounded by examples of catastrophic parenting in their own and previous generations. We hear no end of gruesome stories about breakdowns and resentments.
Today, like most days, you are anxious. It is there in the background, always present, sometimes more to the fore, sometimes less so, but never truly banished - at least not for longer than an evening.
Having a decent conversation is something most of us imagine we can do without problem - and certainly without much thought. These things just happen naturally. Don't they?
It is, of course, a form of madness. You pick up the largest jam jar and fling it to the floor. You go up to the attendant at the counter and deliver a stream of obscenities.
No one, probably, has ever much doubted that these things are nice. Clouds, trees and streams represent nature in its most gentle, tranquil guise. Their appeal is instinctive. But we take them for granted.
You are introduced to someone at a conference. They look nice and you have a brief chat about the theme of the keynote speaker. But already you have reached an overwhelming conclusion.
In general, we are very much alive to the benefits of exercise. In learning to speak another language, drive a car or play an instrument, we recognise the value of rehearsing and memorising.
We tend to reproach ourselves for staring out the window. You are supposed to be working, or studying, or ticking off things on your to-do list. It can seem almost the definition of wasted time.
Typically, envious feelings swirl around unexamined. We carry them about guiltily but blindly. This gives rise to outbursts of bad temper directed at innocent bystanders (especially one’s partner).
Our minds are filled with out-of-focus feelings and ideas: we dimly experience a host of regrets, hurts, anxieties and excitements. For the most part we never stop to analyse or make sense of them.
It’s late and, across the nation, people are sinking back into the soft corners of sofas, clutching glasses of wine and TV remote controls and numbing their minds with soothing images and sounds.
On a good day, Capitalism can seem pretty impressive. Take the sheer organisational might of corporations, with their incredible ability to focus the efforts of thousands of people on precise goals.
It comes naturally to most of us to think of music as therapeutic. Almost all of us are, without training, DJs of our own souls, deft at selecting pieces of music that will enhance or alter our moods for the better.
For years, you felt burdened with thoughts, feelings and opinions that didn’t seem to make much sense to anyone else. You sometimes wondered if you were going mad.
Many people will note a particular brightness to the light today, and a balminess to the air, which may trigger a surge of hope and a willingness to look at familiar problems with renewed determination.
They have a habit of ruining embarrassingly long stretches of our lives. They will - by nature - seem absurd to others for they are triggered by what are, ostensibly, the very ‘small things’.
Insomnia leaves us horribly exhausted, but there are a few benefits to sleepless nights, which we might focus on to alleviate the sheer panic that a failure to sleep can cause.