The Practical Philosophy of the Amish

Mottoes and Axioms of Schools That
Follow the Original Teachings of Christianity

Carlos Cardoso Aveline


Living with voluntary simplicity, the Amish avoid
modern cities and prefer traditional means of transportation

 

Amish communities follow the Anabaptist ideals of primitive Christianity.

Having as their source of inspiration the teachings of the New Testament and the Acts of the Apostles, the Amish adopted the principle of voluntary simplicity. They are radical in the non-violence, reject the use of cars, leave aside advanced technology and keep away from blind consumerism. Most forms of attachment to personal comfort are shunned by them. They live away from materialistic cities and practice solidary forms of economy. 

A clean life and a pure heart are priorities for the Amish. Without losing the focus of their central goals, they have an open mind.  There are no professional priests among them. No theological bureaucracy. They prefer the original teaching. They are the most traditional among the Mennonite groups, and try to preserve the spirit of the best elements in Christian teachings, while cultivating humbleness.  It is easy to see that their way of life deserves a respectful study from the theosophical point of view. The ecologically correct society of the Amish, their cooperative economy and their cult of modesty are examples to be followed in the civilization of the future.

However, life is seldom easy for those who seek for a noble goal. Obtaining anything of great value requires a large amount of effort. The ideal of building a correct life needs an iron determination and firm detachment, because one needs to challenge the organized ignorance of human communities.  

The history of the Amish is made of heroism and sacrifice. For a long time they were persecuted, tortured and assassinated in Europe. The campaign against them was organized by the predominant forms of Christianity, which were associated to the power of the State.

We see this testimony in a chronicle of the persecutions against the first Anabaptists:

“Many were tormented day and night with unheard-of tricks and cunning. Monks and priests came with smooth words, and scholars of Scripture with false teaching; they insulted and threatened, stormed and abused, with lies and horrible blasphemy. But this did not make the faithful lose heart. Some of those who suffered such cruel imprisonment sang songs of praise to their God because they were full of joy. Some did the same when taken from prison to the place of execution. They sang joyfully, their voices ringing out as if they were going to meet the bridegroom as a wedding. (…) From the shedding of such innocent blood, Christians arose everywhere. The number of [Anabaptist] believers increased in all those places…” [1]

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Amish and other Mennonite groups – Anabaptists – found places to live in peace, mainly in the United States. Although they make no proselytism, or perhaps because of this, their communities flourished.  They now can educate their children in accordance with their traditional philosophy of love for Life.

Mottoes of Amish Schools, on the Art of Living

“The interiors of Amish schools”, says an anonymous Amish, “are frequently decorated with drawings and mottoes made by the children”.  They contain valid lessons for adult persons of any religion or philosophy.

These are some examples of mottoes collected from Amish schools in Pennsylvania:

* I am only me, but I’m still someone.

* I cannot do everything, but I can do something.

* Just because I cannot do everything does not give me the right to do nothing.

* It is my duty to do what I can and I must never say I can’t until I try, then if at first I don’t succeed I must try again.

* Remember when you talk you only repeat what you already know; but if you listen you may learn something.

* Let us pray not for lighter burdens, but for stronger backs.

* The longer you put off doing a job, the harder it becomes.

* Do not rush over your work in school or at home.

* Naturally, you will always try to do your best, but do not feel sad or discouraged if you cannot make a perfect score.

* Even though our minds may work slower than some children’s, let us bear in mind that it is only a blessing that they work at all.

* Start each day with a fresh beginning; as if this whole world was made anew.

* School is a good place to get along with other people; this will help you when you grow up.

* We are known by our actual deeds and not by what we boast that we can do.

* Be contented, and do not worry or try to catch up with the world’s uneasiness and speed.

* Never, never be afraid to do what is right, even if all the others are doing what is wrong.

* Do not count the mistakes of your parents or teacher; rather, help them along in life’s strife, and your own will become sweeter.

* People who are always in a hurry, seemingly, get very little satisfaction out of life.

* A person who lives only for himself never knows the real joys of life.

* You can be pleasant without talking a lot. Think twice before you speak once.

* Singing [religious songs] is a pleasant pastime, good exercise for the lungs and a nice way of giving praise to God. [2]

“God”, in theosophy, is the universal law of justice, or one’s own spiritual immortal soul. The singing of religious songs is a Western variant of the Eastern mantras.

The philosophy of the Amish contains central elements of the art of living taught by classical philosophy. Its study is useful for theosophists of a sincere heart, as long as they are open to an intercultural approach and to the comparative observation of different traditions.

The fraternal use of silence as a means of communication, the absence of hurry, the art of teaching by example and the practical respect for the rhythms of nature are basic principles in the life of the Amish, which remain widely unspoken. They constitute sources of inspiration for Western society.

Every citizen of good will can see lessons in and learn from the different aspects of life.  He knows he shares the essence of every tradition whose goal is the practical search of universal truth. In any time or place, the student of esoteric philosophy lives according to the principle of non-violence, as much as he can, and is a companion to all who – like the Amish – place the search for wisdom above personal comfort.

NOTES:

[1] From the book “Amish Roots, a Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore”, edited by John A. Hostetler, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1989, 319 pp., see p. 20.

[2] “Amish Roots, a Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore”, edited by John A. Hostetler, see pp. 220-221.

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On 14 September 2016, after examining the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to found the Independent Lodge of Theosophists. Two of the priorities adopted by the ILT are learning from the past and building a better future.  

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