The number of letters I received in response to “Living A Simple Life” made me realise that there are many who follow the rules of simple living, and even more, who desire to do so. For simplicity to work as part of the ahim sa way, many felt that there has to be a spiritual element to it. Mr. Sreedharan pointedly asked, “What merit is there in giving away what I am not intrinsically fond of? One must give away what one loves most.”
What does one love the most? It is the self — so getting rid of the harsh parts of the self that one loves and clings to …the anger, bitterness, jealousy, .greed, possessiveness, prepares us inwardly for an outwardly simpler way of life.
In these days, when life is about climbing the ladder, being on top, in control, being the strongest, the best, being “right” and, ultimately, judging and competing with others, this inner preparation is necessary to be able to give up those outward things which seem to hold our hearts.
The way down
When everyone is wanting to climb up the ladder to cling to power, and be in control, living simply, is also “climbing down the ladder”. Mr. Ananthu and his wife relate, “We shifted from our professions — she was a professor, I was in the corporate world as a software engineer — to a simpler life. For 15 years, we were at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi, then we set up ‘Navadarshanam Trust’ and shifted to a village in TN, and have tried experimenting with eco-restoration, simple housing, farming, health and food and energy.” There are many more like them who have willingly given up powerful positions and lifestyles, to “climb down”, to share their knowledge and skills with those who are poor and marginalised. Part of “climbing down” is to recognise that there is a vast section of society that needs us and doing something about it.
Along with simplicity comes freedom. The freedom that enables us to be ourselves without the pretence and support of all the material things that surround us. The freedom to accept ourselves as we are, without wanting to change because of what fashion or adverts suggest. The freedom, too, to relate to each other as human beings, without being self-conscious or wary of the other. At the local corner shop where I buy vegetables, the vendor knows me and asks almost a hundred questions about my family. I in return ask about his. It takes time. Next to me is a lady who is not angry or threatening me because we take so long, but is friendly and curious as she asks me how to cook the gourd I have just bought. I tell her the recipe. The freedom of just being able to talk to each other and treat each other as human is facilitated by the grocer who has made simple living an enviable art. Here, time is to be spent bonding. “You can’t pay today? No problem, pay tomorrow or whenever,” he says. Those who have the freedom that comes from living like this, wear it about them like an attractive shawl. We admire it and want it so much for ourselves, but find that it is not for sale.
Acts of compassion
One of the products of a simple life is tenderness — a word we don’t often use these days. For a simple person, tenderness comes easily. My driver is a man from a small hill-top village near Vellore, where people still matter to each other. One day, during the summer, I stood in a long queue which snaked out into the road. I had a bottle of water tucked into my arm. An old man with dry lips came up and asked me for some water. The well-to-do men and women standing in the queue beside me told me not to give him any. “The minute you give it to one person, another will come up and there will be no end.”
Well, I did give the man some water, and within a few minutes, more raggedy, old people circled me. My driver, standing nearby, had seen what happened. He quickly went to the nearest shop and returned with several bottles of ice cold water, which he generously distributed to the old folk. Their faces lit up at this unexpected treat. Each one now had a whole bottle of deliciously cold water. They pressed the bottles to their faces, and revelled at the iciness. Some washed their hands and faces pouring a tiny bit on to their hands and splashing it all over themselves. They even sprayed it on each other, squealing as the chill water hit them. It was wonderful to see.
Later, I asked my driver what had made him do such a thing. “I too have a very old father and mother,” he said. “I thought, what if it was them, walking around in the heat.” Then he added shyly, “Actually it is my birthday today and my sister gave me some money to buy a shirt. I don’t need another shirt,” he said. Tenderness like this towards others comes from having a heart that always beats with compassion, and shows us humanness in all its pain and beauty.
Be what you want to be
The hermit on a mountain lives a simple life, but he doesn’t have to struggle the way we do with busy lives and complicated relationships, so there is little merit or challenge in the kind of life he leads. For us today, the challenge in leading a simple life is to become people who can give away their most precious possessions to those who need it, and still feel content and rich; feel deep compassion for those who need it and still feel the vulnerability of being open and sensitive to others; and to live with the freedom to be what we want to be, rather than be moulded by consumerism and advertisements.
Living a simple life like this is not easy. It will not eliminate the complexity of our modern life to which we are all bound to some extent. But if we try, what it will do, is to allow us to live in harmony with all the complexities around us, so that we do not feel fragmented and soulless.
If you wish to share your story in the ahisma journey, please write to the author at www.ushajesudasan,com or firstname.lastname@example.org