Sunday, March 18, 2007

Simple living and the pursuit of happiness

Quest for Humane Living

By Pathik Basu

The reason for human distress in modern technology dominated world can be traced to specialization, where only people with the required orientation can survive. People outside this sphere are redundant. Off and on, workers are thrown out of their jobs, peasants are uprooted from the land they had been tilling for generations. A faceless market economy is fast eliminating the human factor. The affluence of the few in the midst of the rudderless poverty-stricken majority, should be a matter of concern.
Hence, we started with the resolve that the above situation needs to be changed calling for a change in our attitude and practice to begin with. A compassionate creativeness should imprint our life style. Our daily schedule would naturally encompass our fellow men. So, certain factors should be kept in mind, such as -
a) the strength of our individual conviction and practice;
b) the strength of our collective wisdom and collective action;
c) the importance of connecting influential people with the marginal people and involving all classes of society in our action;
d) finally, an understanding of the role of Nature in our experiment. We should try to appreciate and understand Nature’s strength - her beauty, glory, as also the science that operates behind her.
Our understanding of the above four premises is to be accompanied by practice. Otherwise, our dream will remain elusive. If, gradually, we can tune our life-style to the harmony of Nature, we will surely be able to create a humane world notwithstanding that a heartless market economy has gained footing among us with all its potential for human misery. Yet, that does not necessarily mean that human misery will stay which we can eliminate if we can try to understand the science behind the working of Nature, the strength that is hidden within us, and the networking of compassion between the higher and lower strata of society. Those who pioneered these thoughts and taught us to think logically in this light, as also to work and experiment in their style were, to name a few, Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, Tolstoy, Gandhi and Rabindranath who basically preached pious and good living which we shall try to understand under the following heads:

We all want to live comfortably by fulfillment of the material needs of food, shelter and clothing along with peace of mind which may be gained by perpetually being close to one’s real self based on one’s inner simplicity, good deeds, calmness, love of beauty, truth and plain living which will also be benign for all around. Fulfillment of material needs, while varying from person to person, one must cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth through simple life schedule for economy of money, time and labour which alone is the road to pious and peaceful life, for one’s own self and the society and the Nature at large, and must be aimed, however challenging. At the same time, one should realize one’s debt to the society and nature and try to repay it. Our prescriptions for the above goals follow.
Eating simple and nutritious meals wearing simple clothes and simplifying household activities, sympathizing the downtrodden along with selfless service to them and to Mother Nature as well are the hallmark of good and pious living. We have framed a schedule for this living - friends here and abroad have worked accordingly (making change in accordance with their own requirements) - we are continuously taking notes from their findings, their success and failure, everything. And we have come up with a brief commentary on this life style. We present this to our readers and they have liberty to modify it according to their situations and needs.

The Daily Schedule
At time in night when one retires
We prescribe showering of one’s mind with pious thinking while retiring to bed just as we shower to cleanse our body after the day’s hectic ordeals. It deepens one’s sleep and energizes one to look ahead to a better tomorrow.
Time in morning before one leaves bed
We prescribe a few Yogasanas for practice around 10 minutes or so for relaxation of various organs of the body, ejection of accumulated gas in the belly overnight helping easier bowels movement, to conclude with a Yogic exercise for abstinence of thoughts to free the mind. The extra circulation of oxygen in the process energizes the entire biological system.
Good morning
Our prescriptions include drinking plenty of water on leaving bed early in the morning which flushes the entire biological system to expel waste matters of the bowels and the rest of the body. Next we suggest cleansing of the room to be followed by a song, prayer or mantras and practicing breathing exercises (pranayam) and vacating the mind of all thoughts for sometime, all these preferably in empty stomach. The breathing exercises may be resorted to any time during the day at the moments of excitement which, within a few seconds, may douse the excitement.

Musings on God
There are myriad concepts of God but, possibly, the preaching of the Vedas/Upanishads that God is the fearless truth that resides in me, will be universally accepted. We mainly preach this concept of God, that is, He is myself and I must believe in my own integrity to believe in God which is beyond the laboratory analysis of the scientists.
The moments of our life do come in various forms, sometimes diffused with simplicity, beauty, peace and euphoria and yet, there will be moments of challenge and compulsion where we have to retain our positive outlook in spite of those moments to our disliking. Rabindranath, whose life was replete with varieties of woes, anchored on the Upanishada’s solemn advice –“happiness or suffering, whether desired or not, whatever one receives, has to be welcomed and accepted with an invincible mind”. We try to pass down this sort of eschatology to the masses whose quality of lives we are trying to improve.

Daily Essentials
First, we would like to suggest some easy ways of preparing nutritious food. These recipes are meant for Indian people. People in Indian climate can easily procure these ingredients. Similar low-cost, easily grown nutritious vegetables are obviously available in other countries as well. Local people would know better about their utility and usage.
In brief, we may outline 3 items of food, as follows –
(a) a beverage made of sprouting grams such as pigeon pea or lentil or chickpeas, dried in the sun and powdered and stored. This is an incomparable health drink, yet very cheap.
(b) Again, food may be prepared by soaking pigeon-pea, lentil or chickpea which will sprout overnight which indicates presence of life force streamed in the gram and that Nature has endowed it with precious micronutrients. Boiled, sliced potatoes, lemon juice and salt may be added to this for a complete and tasty food.
(c) The traditional Indian Khichudi, hotchpotch or mishmash cost very little and are also nutritious, hygienic and easily digestible. The recipe may comprise rice or any kind of millet, mixed with grams (dal) mixed 1: 1/3 proportion and added to that all kinds of seasonal vegetable (preferably organically cultivated) of double the weight of rice and gram where may be added grated coconut, spinach or kalmia or amaranth with requisite addition of salt, pepper, boiled and sauté with ‘Jira’ etc. in very little oil to make excellent tasty dish.
Our studied economics of the above simplified food, as opposed to the costly packaged synthetic food widely marketed now-a-days to which a vast populace, including those not so affluent, is that a family comprising 5 members may save nearly Rs. 600/- per month by changing their food habit to our above prescription at least for one meal a day. This saving may be diverted for philanthropic programmes for those below poverty line, which is nearly 50% of our population for all practical purpose. However, this simplistic idea for wide implementation will need sincerity and courage. But, we may claim that we have made an encouraging start and, our conviction is, if this scheme is pursued vigorously, it will be a big step forward for poverty and hunger eradication.
Beside food, we are producing daily essentials also on cottage industry basis. The major items covered till now are tooth cleaner, washing soap and bath soap. We can dispense with the costly tubes of chemical toothpaste and take to ‘neem-stick’ and/or guava-stick instead. Use of bazaar soaps can be drastically reduced to achieve great cost cut on this item. Softened myrobalan (haritaki), baleric myrobalan (amla) and emblic myrobalam (boyera) by soaking in water and then pasted serves as an economic low cost as well as medicinal bath soap to purify our skin. In addition, the liquid extract taken in moderate doze in the morning brings balance in our inner system. An alternative to the above procedure is the following - place 10 to 12 neem leaves in a cup of water and continue to boil it till the volume is reduced to half. Add proportionate amount of ground turmeric. Rub the mixture well over the body, and then take a bath, which will be equally effective as above.
When on road
While on road one should insulate one’s mind by practicing Pratyahar-Yoga. Extraneous thoughts should be banished. Only thoughts exclusively one’s own, thoughts that need one’s attention for performance of duty at hand should be entertained. For this purpose one can continue to observe one’s breathing pattern. Engaging oneself with one’s own task alone gradually enhances self-confidence. We impart special lessons toward this goal.
Pursuit of Profession
We should pursue our profession not only to serve our personal need but also for welfare of others. If we work with on this mantra our work will never be a boredom and we can more easily overcome the obstacles on our way which will help us enjoy our work.
Family Life
A sense of responsibility and at the same time a calm detachment is to be cultivated. With respect to the family, a quiet, disciplined and inspired life may be achieved by imbibing the preaching of Ma-Sarada, a rough rendering of which is as follows -
a. for your own peace of mind refrain from finding fault of others,
b. subject yourself to self-criticism,
c. make this world your own,
d. consider no one as an alien in this world, and the world is yours.
Upon these guidelines one should be genuinely concerned about one’s family members, their likes and dislikes and should act accordingly without giving indulgence to prodigality of any member.
Our experience is, the adolescent generation, girls and boys in their teens, usually take tremendous interest in social service more than in their home task which they consider a drudgery. We, as guardians, can involve these youngsters right from their boyhood in social services, and in future there will be no dearth of socially committed persons.
In a family life there should be a place for virtuous discussion or worship. We prescribe 10 – 15 minutes of daily discussion among the family members to purify mind by reading suitable books e.g. the stories of Tolstoy, The Ramayana, The Mahabharata. The Dhammapada, the preachings of Muhammad etc.
Additionally, the elders in the family could be involved in the social activities we undertake. Given responsibility, these senior citizens will have a feeling of belonging. They will not feel neglected by society at large.
Serving Nature
Food grains scattered daily in small quantities on your verandah will bring birds crowding there. An earthen nest built for the birds in a corner of the verandah will provide them shelter for night and encourage the birds to proliferate. If gardenia and mulberry trees are planted the birds, bees, beetles, butterflies etc. will flock around those to taste their fruits and flowers. Thus, a nature festival can be organized almost at no cost.
The city dwellers also can plant trees or shrubs in their verandah, and those on the countryside may also plant banyan and neem trees in the open space around their house or in the fields beyond, and thus prevent denuding of the Nature and assist afforestation program.
In addition, we suggest rain-water harvesting, devising various means of trapping solar power at least by planting fast growing trees to harvest fast fuel, usage of organic manure, sericulture, and maximum use of air and space.
Social Service
Charity begins at home and so does social service which one may render right from one’s home without visiting remote slums, villages etc. Just at our doors people below poverty line, malnourished and without privilege of educational facilities abound. They are our domestic helpers, rickshaw pullers, vendors, bus drivers etc. with whom we interact commercially but not socially. We should cultivate sociability with them by sharing their joys and sorrows. We may share with them our aforesaid low-cost meal at least once a day. Further, eschatological sessions may be arranged for them where epics, scriptures etc. may be read to them and discussed to enrich their benign ideas to make them socially conscious and committed. We can also motivate them to secure their future financially by taking to insurance facilities, savings in banks, floating their independent cottage industries and/or building their own low-cost houses out of their savings or taking loan on low interest rate which facilities may be launched by the village Panchayats etc. Each affluent person may meet the liabilities of at least one of this poor group in this respect in part or full, as loan or charity, at least on temporary basis, preferably as a group scheme of the neighbors.

Other Activities
Vegetable gardens can be grown anywhere, even in urban spaces, in any corner of the house, even in slums, provided enough sunlight is there. Latin America, especially Cuba, has shown remarkable innovativeness in this respect where vegetable gardens now abound, both in the rural and in the urban areas which are seen in the terrace, balconies, corridors of houses. Amazingly, the entire economy was revived and strengthened as a result.
Indigenous medicinal herbs like Tulsi, Vasaka, Kalomegh, Sheuli, Thankuni, Gandhal and Punarnaba are daily essentials to cure chronic as well as seasonal diseases. These herbs should be grown in our vegetable gardens in plenty. Friends abroad should help research what other medicinal plants found in their respective countries can be transplanted in the climatic variations in India. Research is also required in recycling of domestic garbage to produce vermin-compost.

Any escape for the doomed humanity?
“The precious, irreplaceable riches of the world, including its waters and its forests, have all been transformed into raw materials. These are to feed an economic growth without end, because humanity, no longer limited by what it needs, has been set in an infinite chase after its runaway greed, euphemistically described as wealth creation.” –(Jeremy Seabrook). With this dismal vision, this great humanist among us to-day may peer a ray of hope in ‘Shrayan’ and its ilk. We welcome communications from persons interested in sharing our philosophy and experiments.
The author is a leading member of SHRAYAN (= refuge), an association of some like minded persons primarily engaged in academic study in subjects like advent of globalization through science & technology; grass root banking; modernity & tradition; inequality; child education; present situation and seeking solution from Tagore’s widely written letters & diaries, inter alia, and publication of books on these subjects. They have started implementing the ideas on social & environmental reformations, as outlined in the following essay, at grass root levels in the border areas of Midnapur & Bankura districts of the West Bengal state in India. They are also consultants to 8 to 10 NGOs in India working in similar lines.


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