Friday, April 24, 2009

The hardship of virtuous living

When I was a young boy, I had always felt that to be a good student entailed hardship. It was no fun. You will have to be punctual, attend school all the days without playing truant, do homework without fail, be attentive in class without chatting with other mates, score good marks and be obedient. It was fun for others who had no desire to be a good student-they did what pleased them, chatting while classes are on, playing all the time without doing home work copying during tests and making fun of teachers behind their backs. To be good entailed suffering it seemed to the young mind.
Like wise to be virtuous, we are to suffer in life. While people who are not driven by the desire to be virtuous adopt various means, fair and foul, to enjoy life. They lie, deceive, and perform less than what they promise, they are corrupt, are self centred without consideration for others and so on. Life to them seems a bed of roses, all luxury, convenience and comfort. The virtuous often lead a humdrum life , mostly in want and pass through life amidst misery. Despite this our elders constantly preached to us when we were children that we must lead a virtuous and straight life no matter the hardship it may cause. We were told stories of Raja Harischndra who underwent great hardship to stick to his principle of truth or Prahladha to pursue the path of devotion. Even the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata extolled the virtues of their heroes and decried the faults in others..We were told that sinners were punished by God in this or subsequent births and virtue was rewarded likewise later.The punishment or reward did not always visit immediately in this life itself. We were told an account was maintained for future dispensation of justice..Even the sages and saints underwent severe pain by renunciation of all comforts and led a secluded life often in hostile conditions.Virtuos life is always accompanied by pain we were told for the ultimate distant reward of a life in heaven while sinful life though gave immediate pleasures was always followed by long periods in hell. The distant incentive of a place in Swarg does not appeal to most of us as much as the alluring immediate pleasures in this life with only a threat of suffering in hell.
In his article Mr.S.H Venkataramani has argued notwithstanding the “divine dispensation of justice or not, virtue is its own happy and fulfilling reward, and vice carries within itself the seeds of its own punishment. He adds that “The way out of suffering inherent in sin is to make ourselves fully and deeply attentive to the nature of what we imagine, in our delusion, to be the stimulus for our happiness. We will then perceive the real cost of our selfish striving for sensual pleasure, and the inevitable but futile craving to perpetuate it when it is fundamentally transient”.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tact-a tool for happiness

Not infrequently we come across well meaning people irritating others during their interactions. They do it unwittingly and often suffer as a result. They are always misunderstood and ignored. They say the wrong things at a wrong time to wrong people. They are not smart enough to know when to speak, what, where and how. They may be highly educated, specialized in some field or attained a name in some area like a writer, sportsman, a musician and similar such vocations. Despite all these they may be tactless. Without that special quality they do not reach high and far. People with lesser attainments but with greater tact succeed in life than those capable without adequate tact. In this highly competitive world when everyone is trying to get a space for himself be it a marketing man looking for new customers, an hospital seeking patients, a lawyer wanting clients or performing artists wanting an audience, it only those with tact that thrive. Subject to all things being equal, people prefer those who are friendly, courteous and cooperative. There are some who take pride in being outspoken and blunt and tell hurting things even if they were true. They think it is a virtue and not aware that it is a serious drawback. One need not lie but it is always a good policy to tell the unpleasant truth in an agreeable way if at all one must or remain silent. What is needed is abundant commonsense and consideration for others.
Tact is a great virtue. It enables people to extricate themselves from tricky situations. It makes life easy for them and they generally succeed. Tact is being sensitive to delicate situations. As some one said. “Tact is a combination of good temper, ready wit, quickness of perception and ability to take the exigency of the situation instantly. It is never offensive but is a balm allaying suspicion, and soothing. It is appreciative. It is plausible without being dishonest, apparently consults the welfare of the second party and does not manifest any selfishness. It is never antagonistic, never opposes and never strokes the hair the wrong way, and never irritates.” The test of tact lies in our ability to put all types of people at ease by interesting ourselves in others and striking a receptive chord.
"Tact is one of the first mental virtues, the absence of which is often fatal to the best of talents; it supplies the place of many talents"

Monday, April 20, 2009

We are just tenants,not owners

Do we ever confuse the house we are living in on a rental basis as our own and invest money on it adding facilities and beautifying it beyond what is necessary for our day to day living? We are aware that once the period specified in the lease, that has a clause of no renewal, is over we must vacate it. We keep in mind our temporary occupancy in the house and do not bestow much attention on it beyond the essential for keeping it clean and habitable. If we remember likewise that we are mere tenants in the impermanent body, we will get a new perspective on the meaning and the purpose of life. The whole problem arises due to our confusing that ‘I’ am the body and the mind. In actual fact, we are neither. We are mere tenants. The body is just a house on lease to be vacated on the appointed day that cannot be deferred even by a second. With such impermanence on our retaining the body, would it not be foolish to spend time and money in acquiring things to satisfy it lifelong? Remember the house one lives in crumbles immediately the lease is over just as the body starts to stink with a disgusting odour. It is so unbearable it is burnt or buried immediately. Does it make sense to pamper this impermanent body and its cravings and spend our precious life in pursuit of them?
If only we are able to detach ourselves from the transient body and have a look at our lives and those around us, we would realize the utter foolishness of our lopsided priorities in pursuit of material happiness and wealth. A mere realization that we can take nothing of our material possessions with us would expose the futility of acquiring wealth except for service to fellow beings. We would then realize that this body given us is to be used as an instrument of service to serve ourselves in the real way and others. The body that we are living in is to be paid only that much attention to keep it healthy, strong and clean for serving the society. There is no need for decking it with avoidable fineries, costly apparels and exotic scents. The body is meant to facilitate one’s moral and spiritual advancement and as an useful tool to serve others.’Paropakartham idham sareeram’ is an adage always to be kept in mind. Swami Vivekananda said that “They alone live who serve; the rest are more dead than living.” Let us bear in mind that we, the souls, are mere dwellers of the body and that mind is our servant and that we are neither. Without the soul the body dies. Body and mind are two servants. The body keeps always asking for satisfaction of its physical needs while the capricious mind would take us away from our goal by undesirable thoughts and eventually ruin our lives. Both these servants are to be kept under strict control and the mind under tight leash if we are not to waste our lives.. As wise people, we must employ the body and mind for the nobler pursuits of realizing ourselves and for service to the needy and hapless..

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Standing on one's own legs

It is a natural tendency in all of us is to give a head start to our children. The idea being that they should not pass through the difficult time we had to as youngsters. But what we call as a start or help actually pulls them back. I know of parents carrying the school bags of children, doing their home work, and attending to the various things they ought to do by themselves. As a result the child starts looking to mom, dad or sister for assistance and starts leaning on others for something or the other. The urge to be self reliant and independent and to do things by him/her is lost. The mother tries to make his school project better by doing herself. But allow the child to do his own work and see the immense joy and satisfaction he derives in his face when he completes it. The outcome of child’s work may not be as good as mom would have done. But the child would have derived a great sense of accomplishment and built self confidence in his ability and self respect in his independence. The greatest service to the child by a parent would be to train the child to be independent as far as possible and to trust his own powers. If the youngsters are prevented from being self reliant, they would turn out to be weaklings and failures later in life.
How many of the youngsters are independent and ready to face life on their own? Take for instance getting a seat in educational institution or a job. They lean on their money power, on friends and people in high authority or on their own social status. How many are willing to walk alone without crutches? Can you blame them if we allow them to lean on us right from young age? As Emerson put it “He who sits on the cushion of advantage goes to sleep.” I know many youngsters fondly and sincerely hoping for some lucky break without any serious attempt on their part to stand on their own legs. It is only those who divest themselves of all props and learn to work their way up who finally succeed. One cannot learn swimming in shallow waters. It is only in adversity that man’s abilities are truly tested. By jumping into deep waters (of course with guide around) where one has to swim or drown, one learns faster. So in life too when they are compelled to fend by themselves or live by their own wits, they will surely be a success. To quote Orison Swett Marden ”We do impossible things in life simply because we have to.Self reliance has the best substitute for friends, influence, capital,a pedigree, or assistance. It has mastered more obstacles, overcome more difficulties, carried through more enterprises perfected more inventions than any other human quality. The man who can stand alone, who is not afraid of difficulties who does not hesitate before obstacles, the man who believes in his own inherent power to do things-he is the man who will win.”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pay attention to personal appearance

Does a good appearance give an edge over others in all human transactions? Not all are endowed with beautiful features, good complexion or handsome physique. These are god given advantages. But appearance by way of cleanliness of body and comeliness of dress are within ones control. How many of us pay full attention to these two aspects of our personalities? I believe the outward appearance is a reflection of the inner self. An unclean man with an unshaven face, unkempt hair and dirty clothes on him cannot be expected to be orderly and methodical in his affairs. We can never relate efficiency, high ideals and clean work with a person who has poor standard of personal cleanliness of body and dress. He is bound to be slovenly in his approach in all matters. Many a people have lost in the race for positions in career due to smelly dress, unshaven faces with bristles, careless teeth, poor mouth hygiene, undressed hair, soiled hands, and undesirable habits of nose picking. The one tip for youngsters who wish to succeed in life is best contained in the quote “The apparel oft proclaims the man” To put in lighter vein when the ocean was churned for taking out the Amrita(nectar), the well clad Vishnu got Mahalakshmi, while the ash smeared Shiva got only poison Aaalakala.
It is not necessary that one should be dressed in expensive or rich clothes. One can be simple and yet elegant. Subject to all other things being equal, whom would you select for a position between two candidates, a neatly clad smart looking guy with good personal appearance or a slovenly chap who is careless in his appearance? True like a rough unpolished diamond getting passed over for a well polished glistening glass, capable persons may get a short shrift and an inferior person passing the muster. Apart from this the consciousness that one is clean and dressed well befitting the position gives self confidence and poise. I give a quotation that impressed me very much. “One cannot but feel that God is a lover of appropriate dress. He has put robes of beauty and glory upon all His works. Every flower is dressed in richness; every field blushes beneath a mantle of beauty; every star is veiled in brightness; every bird is clothed in the habiliments of the most exquisite taste. And surely He is pleased when we provide a beautiful setting for the greatest of His handiworks

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is love self centred?

Can there be a love without expectation in all human relationships? Is there an element of quid pro quo governing these? When you confer love on someone, is there something that you expect in return? Is the love of a parent for the children unconditional or with expectation of a reciprocal love from the children? I believe that there is an unstated expectation of a return of love immediately and certainly when they grow old. People may not concede but there is hardly any love without some consideration. Even the love of a husband for his wife is tinged with self interest. His love for her is in expectation of his happiness that her company gives. Even the caress, hug or a kiss is more for the happiness to self than a demonstration of love towards the other. Deny the opportunity of a physical touch, stop giving what he wants and behave in a manner different from his expectations, the love would gradually fade and may possibly move elsewhere. It may be crude to say in most cases that all love is self based and is in direct proportion to the happiness derived.This applies to both sides. I read somewhere that it is like rearing poultry. The feeding of the birds, the care taken to prevent them falling from disease are all motivated by the eggs they are likely give or as chicken for eating at the table. The poor birds may be thinking that the master loves them while he is in actual fact self centred. Can we find men and women who love each other for their own sake even if one of them has nothing but inadequacies like in accomplishments, looks, conversational skills, even though good natured?.How long would such marriages last in the present day times? Some may last more out of sense of duty or societal compulsions than motivated purely by love.
The same is true where the old parents have nothing to give by way of help physically or monetarily. The children in most cases drive them away. How do we explain the phenomenon of burgeoning poor and old age homes? Some keep them out of a sense of duty or fear of what others may think of them but treat them miserably without a tinge of affection. In such cases, there is the absence of love. This is not to deny that there are grateful children who take care of the old parents out of a sense gratitude for all they have done. The burden of this article is to express the view that love for others is mostly self-centred for the happiness derived by self –which could be simple companionship as in friends,physical intimacy as in married couples,material benefits as from spouses, parents and siblings, physical help and support from others .Take away this happiness, the love may not be of same intensity. Even love towards God is in anticipation of grant of wishes through prayers and has a trace of awe and fear than unalloyed love
I would expect readers to post their views freely on this controversial post

Friday, April 3, 2009

Preparing for death

When a man is born, death is inevitable. .Birth is an accident but death is a certainty. As every day passes in a man’s life, the distance to death is correspondingly reduced. The inexorable march of time will bring the cold hands of death at his door at the appointed time. Not all the advances of medical science can defer the date with destiny by a second.It is a standing wonder despite this knowledge man is oblivious to this reality. He is busily engaged in acquiring wealth and is after sensory pleasures as if he were permanent in this planet. He works to buy a house and once done proceeds to get one more, A business man is not satisfied with one business; he dreams of a business empire and spends all his time and energy. At another level people are after sensory pleasures and devote their full time in their pursuit.

As long as people are young and in good health, death is no where visible in their horizon.It is only when death claims the life of someone close in the family or when the man himself falls seriously sick, there is the fear of death appearing. Even the death of near and dear would not affect as much unless, he himself stares at death waiting for him. All his dreams of acquisition give way to panic and the fear of the unknown overtakes him. His life had been totally unprepared for death. He had not done anything to invest for life after death. He had been self-centred working for his goals. The ‘others’ were never in his radar. He had not devoted any time or money for service to others, the needy, the sick and the downtrodden. He had not invested in good deeds that would have prepared him mentally for spiritual progress and to face death.. Greed and selfishness are the major hurdles in spiritual path.Spiritual enlightenment are not acquired on death bed. It is only fear of death that envelops his mind.
The good people and the sages who have spent their life time for the needy took light of death as it appeared. It was deliverance for them from bondage while for the ordinary man it is a penalty for his wasted life. The former welcomes death in a cool and collected manner while the latter cries in fear and clutches the hands of the near and dear. The moral is always to evaluate the progress in life against the backdrop of death.Mid-course corrections for the deviations made from a virtuous and helpful life is a must as and when death takes place in the family or friends circle. An appraisal needs to be made whether we are ready to face the death and answer the creator of the noble deeds we have accomplished in our life time. We should be reminding ourselves daily with the quote “I expect to pass through this world but once. If therefore there be any kindness I can do for my fellow beings, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Learning to enjoy without possessing

I was reading a book by Orison Swett Marden wherein he had argued that we can enjoy what others own without our necessarily wanting to own them.Taj Mahal is a beautiful piece of art that we enjoy without wanting to possess them. The roses in the Mughal garden are no less enchanting even If they belonged to the President’s estate. A diamond necklace on a beautiful woman’s neck was admired at by an ordinary woman placed in not so fortunate circumstances and when she expressed her thankfulness, the rich woman wondered why the thanks when she had done nothing to the poor woman. The latter replied the thanks was for letting her see the exquisite necklace which she herself could not see and which she had to carefully protect and preserve for others to see on her neck. The quote .”I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate” summarizes the message.
One need not be wealthy to derive pleasure out of things not belonging to them. The quality to derive joy from all sorts of sources is a rare gift and is not a function of wealth..It is only when you aspire to own them or feel jealous of others owning them, you miss the see the beauty and fail to enjoy in full measure. As Rev Dr.Charles F.Aked. put it “If you are not wealthy yourself, be glad that somebody else is, and you will be astonished at the happiness that will result to yourself.”We must cultivate the the habit of feeling rich and happy at the wealth, beauty and good experiences of others even though we are modest in our circumstances. Let us learn to rejoice at all good things around us without wanting to possess them ourselves.

Controlling anger by channelising

Everyone gets angry. When we are treated unfairly, anger can help us stand up for ourselves Injustice makes us angry. We react to wrong doings either against us or others. Not all anger is bad. Public anger against government’s apathy to injustice makes them take note of it. It is the anger of the people against atrocities to and killing of female children in Nitihari that got the accused the deserved punishment. It is the public anger against misgovernance that throws out inefficient governments or dictators. Destructive anger however is not acceptable. Anger can even be a good thing as otherwise the timid or the docile person would be trampled upon by others. There should be controlled indignation that should be made clear to others who treat us unjustly. Uncontrolled anger would harm us and the cause. Like the unrestrained river in floods, it will bring havoc all around. Anger should be channelized to higher purpose and the extra energy spent for noble causes.
There is nothing to be ashamed about being angry. It is like any other emotion like happiness or sadness. Anger should not be suppressed but the surging energy given vent in some other way like exercise, sports, or social work. Otherwise the buried anger will harm the health of the individual. The hard part is learning what to do with these strong feelings. It helps to discuss about our anger with a friend or family member. Once we talk about anger, those bad feelings usually disappear. Never getting angry is well nigh difficult. We should instead remember that how we react when we are angry would decide ultimately the situation getting better or worse. We should in no case permit anger taking control of us. We should learn to control it.