Taking Measurements for Diogenes Barrel

Diogenes was a Greek philosopher.  He lived in a barrel.

As an extreme Cynic, he we would object to the grandiose title “Philosopher”. He preferred to compare himself to a dog: eating, walking, sleeping, and on occasion urinating as he pleased, in any place at all – even in the marketplace. Also, he didn’t live in a barrel. That would require a showy feat of contortion. That was not his style. He lived in large urn intended for wine.

To live in Diogenes barrel – to be “homeless” – is to carry nothing through this life. We do not cling to external comforts. Whatever wealth, power, esteem and other “worldly” blessings we may enjoy have no intrinsic value. The only thing that matters is to discover – by objective reasoning and the study of nature – the Truth, and to act accordingly. Acting accordingly does, of course, involve teaching. (Cynicism wouldn’t be counted as a school of philosophy if its adherents didn’t prattle on a bit). Words and actions matter. With wisdom comes compassion.

The barrel is an inspiration and a goal: an image of detachment from the craving for power, comfort and respect that consumes our daily lives.  These preoccupations hold out  an illusory promise of permanent security,  whereas the ultimate, inescapable reality is our homelessness.  “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58).

Original image

For most of us acknowledging and manifesting this psychological “homelessness” is  an impossibly lofty aspiration.  Personally, I am just “taking measurements” for Diogenes Barrel, as I contemplate quitting my job. In Buddhist terms, this means that I am testing my commitment to developing “Bodhicitta”: the aspiration to live for the benefit of all sentient beings. A treasured, precious number of those creatures live right here at home. Their well-being  is my first obligation.  How can I reconcile the two?  I must maintain the material conditions of our life together but offer them up freely as a gift, without attachment.


Only when we live in the barrel can we realize the boundless possibility of compassion for all life.