Holistic Living - Back to basics
Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in
the multiplication but in the deliberate reduction of wants. This alone
promotes real happiness and contentment.
When Jayesh Shah quit stock broking in 1993, he said good-bye to a company he had built from staff strength of two to 110 employees and 40 computers. As the owner of one of the top 10 stock broking firms in India, Shah's life was opulent.
Today, as publisher of Humanscape, an Indian magazine dealing with social and political issues from a humanistic angle, Shah, more often than not, travels by bus. Save for an occasional family dinner, he rarely socializes, and the lifestyle his family maintains, though comfortable, is thrifty, and free of frills. The changeover for him has meant "freedom to do what I really want to do".
Dr. Manesh L.Shrikant, 61, is another success story. At 30, the youngest general manager and then chief executive of Mukand Ltd, he was living in a palatial apartment in Darsham, Bombay's most prestigious high-rise, when it struck him that he would need a proportionate income to sustain his life style. Sensing a threat to his freedom, he moved his family to a two-bed-room apartment, even as his general manager stayed in a luxurious bungalow in Juhu.
"Neither the corporate power nor the affluence was of any use to me," he says. Today, his values are derived from his childhood, when money was scarce. "Having experience poverty, I knew that simple food tasted as good or better than a five-star meal. I tell my children their worst luck is that they have a very rich father".
"The more I cut down,"Shrikant adds, "the more time I have to be happy." Today, he is honorary dean of the S.P.Jain Institute of Management, where he is experimenting with synthesizing business efficiency and humane values. "We make our students aware of the pitfalls of success and their training projects are usually in slum areas, not air-conditioned multinational offices."
Another cameo. Derek Monteiro, a former student at IIT Bombay, he is a New Age artist-singer-composer. His livelihood is precarious, but Monteiro is blissful. "I've given up chasing ego-based goals," he says. "Life becomes simple when you realize that there is a creator who creates us and sustains us. Life is complete." The American have an utterly unpoetic term for this new romantic phenomenon: downshifting - a move away from materialism towards a simpler, more fulfilling life. Downshifting, also known as "simple living" or "voluntary simplicity"' is a roaring trend in the land of the shopping mall, provoking a flood of literature and a slew of action groups. Books such a Voluntary Simplicity By Dune Elgin and Simplify Your Life:100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter by Elaine St Janes are runaway bestsellers.
A nationwide public opinion survey in the USA on consumption, materialism and the environment once revealed that 28 per cent of the respondents had voluntarily taken steps to make less money in the past few years. John Robbins, heir apparent to the Baskin Robbins ice-cream empire until he renounced it at 21, says: "Among my parents' friend were some of the wealthiest people in the world, and I must tell you in all honesty, they were also some of the most neurotic people in the world. So I've had the opportunity to learn firsthand that acquiring things is a total distraction."
While the American Dream is being redefined in its home turf, its stock has never been higher in India. Years after liberalization led to the flooding of the market with irresistible goodies copiously promoted by the parallel satellite revolution, Uncle Sam struts through every small town, chomping on a burger, sipping a cola, wearing denims and chasing money.
Yet, as a nation, we have never fully bought into the philosophical base of materialism, perhaps insulted by our ancient culture of renunciation and our poverty-stricken masses. We remain deeply suspicious of the phenomenon, and survivors or refuseniks of the consumerist culture routinely surface every day.
Rajshekharan Nair, a talented journalist, would rather earn a pittance than leave his beloved Kerala, a coastal state in southern India. At the opposite end of the scale, we have former sybarites like Titoo Ahluwalia, chief of MARG, a leading Indian market research agency, enthusiastically embracing the isolation and quiet of country life.
So how does a potential exodus to simplicity begin? Like all big truths, it radiates from an infinite number of paths and possibilities. For Jayesh Shah, it derives from the humanist philosophy of the Argentine, Silo, who defined all actions that ended with death as meaningless, thereby excluding personal goals such as money, power, status or fame, in favor of goals larger than or transcending the individual.
For Dr A.Sadanand, managing trustee of the Bharati Sanskrit Vidya Niketenam an Indian institute teaching Sanskrit, simple living is a function of individuality and freedom. "The source of joy and happiness is to live life according to individual philosophical, emotional and psychological molding, not according to the expectations of other." For Baiju Parthan, artist and writer, simplicity is an existential stance, which enables him to lie in equilibrium with the universe. For Vedanta teacher Acharya Ram Mohan, simplicity is a function of who you are: "Simple living emerges from being a simple person. Developing trust in life, dropping survival attitudes leads to simplicity."
Whether fuelled by intellectual conviction, philosophical stance or spiritual prompting, priorities are recast away from money, power, position, and famewhat one might call tangible goalstowards a more intangible fulfillment. Shrikant explains the movement succinctly: "For some people success is not an eternal source, it is internal. It's a question of what I am, rather than what I have."
My own search for simplicity began, ironically enough, a year after I became editor of Society, an elitist lifestyle-and-people Indian magazine. Those days I was unhappy, confused, godlessan unlikely candidate for spiritual awakening. Nevertheless, to my astonishment and gratitude, that is precisely what I underwent. In less than a moth, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together, I received a series of insights that revealed the secret of happinessindeed, of life itself.
I learnt that happiness could only be found through that of others; that universal welfare was a conduit to one's own well being; that interconnectedness was the stuff of life. And conversely, that any action in conflict with universal welfare led to suffering.
Using the larger good as a parameter clarified much of life for me both at the individual, and the collective level. As much as it would keep a mother from bullying and browbeating her child, it could make the political system shift from selfish power play to selfless service. As much as it kept an employer focused on the employee's welfare, it could keeps the economic system focused on the welfare of the environment. Husbands wouldn't beat their wives and nations wouldn't wage war against nations. Caste, creed, community, wealth would cease to divide. Keeping our sights fixed steadily on universal welfare as the means to our own welfare spells the end to all conflict, and the reign of enduring harmony, for both ourselves and the world at large.
There is no convert as zealous as the atheist, no saint as ardent as a sinner. Having drunk deeply of misery, I clutched at happiness with almost inhuman ferocity, determined not to let anything come between it and me henceforth, no matter how high the price. Since then, my one abiding purpose in life has been to reach that spot where focusing on universal happiness would be my natural state.
My journey has been both internal and external. Even as I looked within and embarked on the perilous task of discovering and deactivating the factors that blocked my happiness, I was also widening my sights, attempting to see not just the roots of our social, economic and political conflicts, but also their possible solution based on universal welfare. In or out, both paths led to simplification.
Internally, my pursuit of happiness simplified priorities, illuminating not just the futility of such goals as fame, money, power or possession, but their potential danger as well. The broad spectrum of human misery showed me how much unhappiness was caused by desire alone. Then I began to understand that only by going beyond desire could I hope to truly secure happiness.
This idea has a time-honored place in our tradition; indeed, it may be said to be the central tenet of the spiritual path. "The man who forsakes all desires and moves without longing, without the thought of mine or I, attains peace" is the wise counsel of the Bhagavad Gita.
The process of elimination is not easy, especially as it is threefold: emotional, psychological and physical. Emotional simplification is to let go of feelings that endanger happinessfeelings such as anger, hate, greed, envythe cardinal sins. Above all, it means letting go of the past. Says Kartik Vyas, a personal growth trainer and yoga enthusiast: "Through yoga, I realized that thought can cause both joy and stress."
Psychological simplifications entail going beyond ego gratification by power, status, dominion or needs such as those of survival and security. According to Vyas, yoga identifies two attitudes that hinder growth: asmita, identifying with feelings, and ashnivesh, resistance to change. Acharya Ram Mohan points out the Gita's formula for simplification: adamvitam (dropping pride), and amanitvam (humility).
At the physical level, the impact is on lifestyle, the life choices of career, marriage, food, clothing and shelter. Baiju Parthan says astutely: "Most people don't live, they have lifestyles. Not to have a lifestyle, in fact, is the true way of life."
For Parthan, that translates into vegetarianism, and a delicately balanced way of life: "It is said that each of us is allotted a certain number of breaths after which we die. In the same way, each of us has been allotted certain resources, which we must eke out over a lifetime. Overusing the resources leads to scarcity later."
Parthan views simple living as an existential issue, a question of deserving the gift of existence. "Whether it is food or water, I would feel that since I did not waste them yesterday, I am worthy of receiving them today. Wasting would stop that flow between existence and me. Besides, limiting your wants intensifies the experience. It keeps perception open .Too much food or fun satiates."
Elimination, however, is only half the exercise. The other half is to develop and cultivate opposite tendencies. For Ram Mohan, "a sense of internal security "is crucial. For Vyas, it is developing clarity about the value system. For me, the crucial question was self-esteem. My sense of self was perilously shaky until I learnt through an insight that I was whole and perfect. The realization of not needing to derive my confidence from an external source freed me of all psychological needs, which, in turn reduced my emotional overload.
But nirvana was far from sighted because I still had to contend with 16 years of conditioning wrought by depression and unhappiness. To rid myself of my absentmindedness, disorganization and indifference, I had to venture deep within myself to embark on yet another process of elimination.
Every time my inner growth registered a notch, the aperture through which I viewed life widened. I began to see even more clearly that only simplification could possibly safeguard universal welfare by eliminating all conflicts.
Take the most obvious casethe conflict between capitalism and the environment. The conflict arises out of capitalism's profit-orientation which leads it to see nature purely as an exploitable resource base, man as either labor or consumer, and nations as markets. In its single-minded pursuit of profits by generating and satisfying a potentially infinite number of wants, capitalism ignores the fact that the Earth's resource base is limited, that technology pollutes, and that mankind's spiritual quest is hampered by this proliferating satisfaction of the senses. The tottering stockpile of complexity it unleashes is not just destructiveit is needless.
The only thing we can do to combat this is to reduce our own wants and cut loose from the consumerist trap. What has already been seen to be the route to individual happiness also becomes the route to that of the environment. Says Diana L.Eck in her book Encountering God: "Many think of (Mahatma) Gandhi's personal austerity, including his food and dress, as one of his idiosyncrasies. For Gandhi, however, what one eats and what one wears are the very first political decisions one makes. The 'personal' is the 'political'."
With capitalism's underbelly so clearly exposed, I made up my mind two years ago to leave Society. My desperate quest for integration, and through it happiness, militated against editing a magazine that favored consumerism, capitalism's offspring.
It was a crucial crossroads for me. Departure from Society had meant letting go of an editor's power and privileges. The issue was one of security, for along with the job I has to part with the company house and car. But I had known ever since I first started the quest that no matter how rocky the road, turning back was not the answer. Accordingly, with nothing in hand, and determined not to go back into a journalistic system that thrived on advertising revenue and pursued bottomline compulsions through sensationalism, I quit my job.
This is where the relationship between faith and letting go became clear to me. True, in the past three years, I had relinquished almost all control over myself. I boomeranged back to the state of mind that prevailed before my awakening. The painful task of acknowledging and releasing all my inbuilt indifference, sloth, indiscipline without recourse to the motivations of guilt and fear that had earlier served me, meant that I had to be willing to stand still, allowing life to do with me as it pleased. It was faith that came to my rescue, telling me that all would be well in the end.
And, in the most miraculous manner, all was indeed well. A day after I left Society, I was offered a job with Life Positive, out of the blue.
No one who wishes to walk along the path of simplicity can do so without faith. For faith alone gives us the strength not to hold on to security, not to take insurance against an unknown tomorrow. Only faith tells us that tomorrow will be taken care of.
Ram Mohan experienced this sense of a bountiful universe when he voluntarily became a bhikshu for seven years in Hardwar. "It was a good experience because I not only realized how little you need, but also that life takes care of you. Not only do you get what you want, but if you don't, you learn how to do without it."
Some adopt the devotional approach. Nothing is ours, for all is God's. Says Shantanand Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math in The Man Who Wanted to Meet God: "The Isha Upanishad says that the universe is permeated by the Absolute. Whatever one sees in creation, whatever movesone should use it fully and enjoy this absolute everywhere, but one should enjoy it with renunciation. One should not try to hold it or covet it. One need not try to possess it. Enjoy it and give it up."
With every step, I understand ever more clearly that my life is guided by a higher power, that not just external circumstances, but even my thoughts and actions are in a sense "done " for me. I believe that I am being prepared for the ultimate letting go of the sense of self itself.
The simple life is as much a necessity as a choice, but no less of a learning experience for that. My aim upon entering it was to learn to value money 100 per cent and to adopt a way of life that was need-based and rational, consonant with my lean budget. Instead of substituting money for time and effort, I intended to reverse the equation.
Like Ram Mohan, I quickly realized how little I actually needed. Clothes my mother and I had enough of. Shelter was temporarily provided by my sister, into whose empty flat we moved, for she lived in a company house. However, when she left her company two months after we moved in, we were obliged to think of a long-term solution, buying a house, for instance. No easy task in Bombay, but again I can take no credit of having accomplished itand in the last few months we have had the enormous joy and satisfaction of having our own home. But loan repayment has imposed a severe limitation on our budget, which has helped me hone our lifestyle to utter simplicity.
Food dwindled into rice, wheat flour and vegetablesnot just affordable, but positively busting with sattvic qualities, ideal for mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Being traditional non-vegetarians, meat is an occasional indulgence, rare enough not to disturb the budget. We divested the maid of her cooking duties, which were assumed by my mother, with me as undercook. Today, the food tastes better, my cooking skills have improved, and we have saved a fortune in oil. Convenience food has no place in our house, not even that urban catchall, white bread, which we have replaced with delectable south Indian breakfast items.
Eating out is an indulgence, a sensuous experience, but fatal for digestion, complexion, figure, health, and eventually, the environment. I am supported in my belief by one Joseph Addison who says: "When I behold a fashionable table set out in all its magnificence, I fancy that I see gouts and dropsy, fevers and lethargy, with other innumerable distempers, lying in ambuscade among the dishes. Nature delights in the most plain and simple diet." The mystic-farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One -Straw Revolution, says:"When you no longer want to eat something tasty, you can taste the real flavors of what ever your are eating."
Having surrendered the company car, travel is an expense, but I have no compunction about buying a second-class railway pass rather than the usual first class. My logic is that working at home saves me the rigors of daily commuting. I also travel by bus or just walk. Today, I am more in touch with life and mobile, in contrast to the days when I commuted on a lumbering automobile, divorced from the world around me, while busily adding to its pollution.
Straitened resources really unleash the creative juices. Take gifts: earlier, they were uninventive and expedient; I simply gave away currency notes. Today, neither my budget nor my values will allow me to practice that sort of careless generosity. I am now more discriminating not just about what to give but why to give. I refuse to be railroaded by social customs, and I am, therefore, far more zestful about my gift. Besides, scarce money must be made to yield maximum value.
However, I still have a lot to learn from my friend Mukta, a freelance journalist. She makes up in terms of thought, time and effort, what she cannot in terms of money. Her gifts are sensitive, practical, unusual and delightful. I recall the beautiful door handle she gave me at my housewarming (her canny eyes had noted the absence of one), varnished to safeguard against the marsh air. It may not have been the most valuable gift I received but it was certainly the most cherished.
I dream of the day when I will make my own gifts, calibrated to the taste, need and temperament of the recipient, a testimony to the love and regard I hold for the person.
Giving my fantasies free wing, I think about stitching own clothes, and of gifting my friend's bouquets of the beautiful dried grasses that grow so plentifully around my house instead of expensive hothouse flowers. Unlike Man, whose products are both shoddy and expensive, nature charges nothing for her perfect creations. I've kept my house relatively free of adornments. Over time, I'm determined that nature alone shall have the charge of beautifying it. Take away your serves, your Chippendale and your Belgium cut glass. I'll do with potted plants, birds' nests and dried flowers.
The more I streamlined my possessions, the more I learnt to give away. Today, I'm consumed with the urge to divest myself of all save the bare necessities, and give the rest to those who need them. Vimla Advani, a friend, feels similarly. Her deceased mother has left her a house in Colaba, Mumbai, the contents of which she intends to give away. "I don't need anything," she says. "But the more I give away, the more I get."
That is one of the paradoxes of the simple life. It is the route to plenty. Indu Kohli, a personal growth trainer, began 1997 by giving away all her wardrobe disposable. "I've never hung on to what I cannot use," she says," and I've noticed I always get more than I give."
Ours was a civilization that revolved around the concept of simple living: "want not" and "waste not" were its two watchdogs. Nothing, not even what was in plenty, like coconuts in Kerala, was allowed to be wastefully used. Clothes and footwear were severely rationed and expected to last, like diamonds, forever.
Elud Sperling , head of the publishing house Inner Traditions, which specializes in publishing spiritual texts, recalls his bemusement when he found that the extensive joint family of the friend he was staying with disposed of no more than a handful of garbage daily. The West is currently going overboard over recycling but we've been doing it for centuries. Our mud huts with their thatched roofs and cow dung-treated floors were in tune with the needs of a tropical country. The natural material had inbuilt climate control, while the cowdung was not just an antiseptic, it also warmed the floor, making it safe to sleep on. Contrast it with the glass and concrete structures we call home today. The alien material separates us from nature, the concrete floors strike us with lumbago and rheumatism, the air conditioning damages our respiratory system, and the artificial lighting hurts our eyes.
For Kartik Vyas, eating naturally available, lightly cooked food helped improve his digestion, his mental equilibrium, and changed his lifestyle. Getting up early and going to bed early put him in harmony with nature, which enhanced his harmony with people. Eventually, from being a lawyer, he became a personal growth trainer. "Living simply has brought about a fundamental shift in seeing that every aspect of life can take us to growth, "he says.
"Human being are the only animals who have to work, and I think this is the most ridiculous thing in the world," says Fukuoka. His prescription for the good life is as radical as it is complete: surrender to nature, for nature has ready-made all that we need. He argues that there would have been no need for children to learn music if they had grown up among the natural sounds of nature. And that local seasonal food is perfectly attuned to the bodily needs of that time and place. Perfect harmony is in the nature of Nature.
Fukuoka's central principle, echoed by both Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism, is that God (or nature) is all, and that man can neither conquer it nor understand it. The purpose of life is to surrender to it, and live unafraid and free, for nature lives our life for us. Dr Manu Kothari, professor of anatomy at the G.S.Medical College, Mumbai, and author of Dying Declaration of Mother Earth: Gaia's Will, says: "Only food, water and air are your needs because they are you. The rest is not you."
Jesus Christ had expounded on these same truths when he said: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put onů. Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things."
Contrast this with the contradictory complexities of modern life: capitalism, globalization, liberalization, technology, the information revolution, every one of our institutions has contributed to creating a network of wants and counter wants. Technology has freed us of the need for physical exercise, but has not found a solution to the health problem it has foisted upon us, compelling us to either work them out in gyms or excise them at the surgeon. To cope with capitalism's compulsive need to generate wants and supply them, we have to work harder and harder, make more to buy more and by paying more. Meanwhile, the stress and strain sends us spinning into ill health or depression. Single incomes are laughable, dual incomes barely sufficient. Pedaling the treadmill desperately to survive, we ignore relationships, family, children, life itself. Our growing unhappiness, alienation and loneliness rob life of its very meaning and gradually everything falls apart.
I believe that the root of the problem lies in the western approach to controlling life, through controlling external circumstances, unlike the internal eastern approach that has always sought to control life through controlling the self. Rather than attempting to satisfy limitless wants, we would seek to limit our wants. Rather than inventing more and more complex computers, we would develop our minds. It is the internal route that, eventually, has lasting answers.
This reasoning, of course, not only turns western civilization upside down, but our own as well. From being the shame that dare not seek its name, poverty can actually be seen to be an elevating state. The movement to simplicity is a process and it is evident in the very extremity of today's complexity. As Parthan says: "The system is purging itself."
This is true even at the individual level. Simplicity cannot be forced. It is meant to be a response to an inner urge. Depriving yourself of desires before outgrowing them will only further inflame the mind. This explains the seeming discrepancy on the issue of renunciation, insisted upon by some spiritual masters, and criticized with equal vigor by others like Osho. Parthan explains that point of view: "As long as you don't possess possessions, you can have everything."
The New Age is often painted as a place where the material and the spiritual meet, where it is possible to be both successful and happy. Wealth, like everything else, is value neutral. If one makes and, more importantly, spends money keeping universal welfare at heart, it can be a beneficial, not destructive force. The danger is that a narrow perspective will not pull this off, rendering the slogan just another glib way of chasing money without having to feel guilty about it. No harm in that, of course, but it will delay your transition to simplicity and the happiness that lurks within.
Are you willing to wait?
Subject: hmm - 10 February 2012
‘honorary dean of the S.P.Jain Institute of Management‘ they given up everything... apart from that... oh and selling their books and stuff..
Subject: suma article - 26 August 2009
such a good article regarding life,which gives you insight sipurality,modert living without any pretenction
by: narendra kumar
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