Happy New Year 2015


Thursday, August 09, 2007

'The Art of Living' by Swami Atmananda

Socrates says that many of us live, but do not know the art of living. That is why we are always miserable. He who knows the art of living alone can enjoy life.

The art of living makes life worth living. In the absence of such an art, man tends to be like an animal driven by instincts. Thinkers and law-givers have referred to a person devoid of such an art as an animal without horns and tail. There is a story of a dog which had saved a child from a wolf; but for that reason, nobody would gratefully garland it. This is because the dog acts in this manner not due to its intellect, but purely due to its natural instinct and inherent tendency. The art of living is directed by our intellect and not by instinct.

Man makes himself miserable by being ignorant of the art of living. A number of examples can be given, but one will suffice.

One of my friends is holding a very high position in the Indian Administrative Service. He is very honest and hardworking. But he never learnt the art of living and so he has become outspoken. Honest people become somewhat rough. Very often, those who speak the truth are short-tempered. This friend of mine is also a strict disciplinarian, and does not like to bow down before anyone. As a result, everyone curses him behind his back. When he comes to know about it, he becomes a bit depressed. Living constantly under such circumstances, he has become a victim of tension and neurosis. For example, when someone asks him to do some work, he at once shouts back at him that work would not be done. Later, however, he might even do the work, yet he has already made him an enemy right from the beginning. So, even if the work is done, the person does not think that it was possible only due to the officer, because he had already rebuffed him. So I suggested to him that whenever someone approached him for any work, let him not shout at him, or rebuke him. But instead, let him express sympathy and make him understand that although it was difficult to do that work due to some reasons, he would do his best to help him. After all, a man wants to listen to a few sweet words. We cannot always oblige everyone, but at least we can talk obligingly. This is one aspect of the art of living.

There is another aspect to it – to be ready to face anything unexpected. Let us understand very well that the world does not go on according to our wish and will. As long as life is smooth, we should thank God for it, considering it to be His grace. When the happenings are not according to our calculations, and things become topsy-turvy, we should not become depressed or hopeless but must pray to God to give us mental strength to face such difficult situations. Actually, only under such unfavourable circumstances, a man is put to real test. We must realize that prosperity and adversity, happiness and sorrow, make the warp and woof of life. Such a realization saves us from faltering and falling during such moments of adversity.

There is a third aspect of the art of living – converting the habit of fault-finding into creativity and through practice, trying to develop in us a habit of seeing virtues. The faults of others appear too tasty to us – we delight in them and go on spreading them around. We should try to convert this tendency of fault-finding into a creative activity. For example, a doctor looks at a patient’s faults, nay, he even magnifies them with the help of instruments. But his idea behind it is to remove them from the patient. This is known as creative and positive fault-finding. In order to learn such an art, we should try to develop the tendency of looking for good in others. Unfortunately, it is not our nature. We shall have to cultivate it by conscious effort. It is natural that we see others’ faults all at once. But when this tendency of finding fault in others arises, let us also try to see their virtues. There can be no one with only good or with only evil.

These three aspects of the art of living enrich us spiritually and help us to make our life meaningful.

(Excerpted from 'The Vedanta Kesari'. December 2000, A Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai Publication)

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