Chapter 4

  1. So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.
  2. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living which are yet alive.
  3. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Solomon considers the reality that all beings experience suffering. This is the same as the first noble truth of the Buddha, that all people must suffer. Solomon points out that there are people who are powerless in the world: the poor, the sick, the helpless. They have nothing in the world that brings them comfort. But the powerful, the rich, the beautiful, the mighty, they also have nothing that comforts them. So none of the things you can acquire in this earth, even if you become powerful, will be able to bring you peace. The conclusion that Solomon drew from this reality was a nihilistic one; that it would be better to be dead, or even to never have been born, than to experience the suffering of the world.

  1. Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbor. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
  2. The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.

Even good works, even accomplishments that others respect you for, brings you no deeper reward. It too is vanity. To strive for this sort of reward is foolishness, it is like devouring yourself for sustenance. You will gain nothing from it

  1. Better is a handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.

It is better, says Solomon, to have less, to be more simple, to strive less. In doing so, you will be more capable of finding peace. Jesus said that those who are poor are blessed; this is not because they are poor, or because they have something inherently spiritual. Most of the poor are worse off than the rich. The only difference, what Jesus meant, is that if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. You will be more willing to risk jumping into the unknown. The more you surround yourself with distractions, with pursuits, with seeking accomplishments, the more you will feel as though you have something to lose. You have nothing more to lose, if you are rich than if you are poor, both have nothing as far as peace is concerned. But the person with riches, with prestige or respect, will be more afraid. Even though their possessions bring them no peace, they will hold to them stubbornly. But Solomon says that it is better to have less and find peace, than to have more of that which does not satisfy. Then you only have more of what is worthless.

  1. Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.
  2. There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.
  3. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.

Now Solomon speaks of the spiritual path. But he speaks here of one who seeks out the spiritual on his own. He does not let himself be attached to riches or prestige, he seeks peace. But Solomon expresses that if you seek out this path alone, you will only end with nihilism. You will come to the same theoretical conclusion that Solomon did, that it is better to not even be alive. When you have a sincere desire for the spiritual, you are on the right track. But for almost everyone, it cannot be done by one's self, by one's own efforts. If all you know is the world of ego, of attachment, of the mind, then how can you escape it? You will go around in circles, there will be no one to give you a push out of your illusion and toward reality, and eventually you will fall back into old patterns. And when you fall, there will be no one to help you back up. Many have missed this way.

  1. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 
  2. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
  3. And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

TempleIf you are only surrounded by false people, then no matter how difficult it is better to stand alone. Always stand alone rather than follow the herd of fools. 

But if you find even one sincere seeker to join you, it is better than being alone by a hundred times.

If you find a seeker who has attained a bit of meditation, it is better than being with a hundred sincere seekers who haven't.

If you find a seeker who has become an adept, it is better than being with a thousand meditators.

If you find a master, who has attained to the ultimate, it is better than being with a million adepts.

Having a group, or even better having a true teacher, is the surest way to make sure you will not fall back into illusion. And if you do, having a group, or a teacher, is the surest way that you will be raised back up again.

  1. Better is a poor and a wise child, than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.
  2. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.
  3. I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.
  4. There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Solomon gives the teaching that Jesus would so often repeat afterward. To become one with the universe you must become once more like a child. If you start with much in the world, even your own kingdom, in time you will have to give it up. If you start with nothing, it would be far easier for you. If you start out thinking you are someone special, you will be less likely to hear the call to the spirit, you will be less likely to be able to give up all that you have for the sake of finding peace. But if you are innocent, like a child, you will be able to give up what little you have.

If you think you are already wise, you will resist anything or anyone who challenges your perceptions of wisdom. When you hear a teacher speak, you will only accept the parts that you think confirm what you already believe. This will lead you nowhere. Instead, you must become childlike again, let go of all you think you already know, and hear everything with total openness. Only then will you be able to plainly receive truth, and grow from it.

Worst of all is if you reach a level of surety and comfort in what you know. Always doubt what you know, question what you have grown comfortable with. If you reach to heights of power or respect in this life, you will not be able to accept truth when it is presented to you. But if you do not make these assumptions, then you will be able to gain the real peace that can be found. The powerful men and kings who are respected in life will someday be forgotten, but if you become one with God, in peace, you will be praised forever by those who seek and find peace. 

But remember, this praise too is meaningless. It is vanity. Only the peace itself matters. Seek it for nothing other than its own sake.