Sunday, April 24, 2011

The sophisticated beggar

The word ‘beggar’ conjures up images of destitute people in dire straits looking for the very basic necessities of life such as food and shelter. If you look at the wants of a person in this unfortunate position, it is in direct correlation with that individuals needs. For the more fortunate rest of us, we have the ability to meet the basic needs of life without putting much thought into it. Food is the basic necessity of a poor man and gasoline is the basic necessity of a rich man. However, what we have in common with a ‘beggar’ is our needs and wants in life. The only difference is the degree of correlation between our needs and wants. Most of our wants are on a mental level. For a person in desperate search for food such as what we see in TV images from the poorest parts of the world and for someone on a diet, the common theme is hunger. In the former case, hunger results from need for food that is not easily available. In the latter case, hunger results from the need to stay away from food that is easily available. There are no right or wrongs here, only differing perceptions. All are born equal. Feeling rich or poor depends on how you perceive life on a mental plane. The more you want something, the more have to beg in the inner silence of your mind. This in turn makes you mentally poor. Recently, when asked about his net worth, Donald Trump said, “I am worth whatever I feel”. If you feel that you don’t lack anything and feel well equipped to deal with life whatever maybe your circumstance, mentally you are a very rich person. If you always think that you are as well equipped physically and mentally as anyone else in the world, there is no reason you cannot achieve what you set out to do. Most humans can function adequately with one eye, one ear and one kidney, we should consider ourselves lucky to be born with the gift of a pair of eyes, ears and kidneys. We have a spare just in case one goes bad. So, why feel that you were born with limited resources.

Everybody has differing perspectives on life. Even in individual lives, perspectives change as frequently as wind changes direction. All of us are looking for some fulfillment in whatever we do. The fulfillment we seek can be as simple as a hungry man satisfying his hunger. Others may have very lofty goals in life, the attainment of which provides fulfilment. You may also refer to fulfillment as contentment. People seek fulfillment and contentment as it provides one with a sense of happiness and it gives us peace of mind. This feeling of contentment comes when your needs and wants are fulfilled. A lot of things in life give us happiness and peace of mind. However most things in the world that give us happiness in the present are quite temporary and may in fact be sowing seeds of sorrow that may manifest later on. So one may ask, what is the right kind of fulfillment or contentment should I seek? The answer would be one that makes you truly happy. However, if you are going to call it true happiness, this happiness should last your entire lifetime. In order to get to the source of true happiness, you have to first wade through all your wants, needs and desires and pick the ones that are most beneficial to your individual circumstance. If you pick a few important desires and dwell on it for a while, only you can say which want and need of yours once fulfilled will give you lasting happiness. As you fulfil your needs and wants, if you look deeper you will see that before your needs and wants are fulfilled, there are many people along the way that are involved before your desires are quenched. For example, take a cup of coffee. Every coffee bean that goes into your cup of coffee each morning has passed through several hands right from the grower to the person grinding the seeds and roasting them. Whether the coffee bean ends up in a poor man’s coffee or in the cup that the head of the nation depends on the play of chance. The coffee bean gives the same aroma regardless of where it ends up. Similarly if you establish noble qualities within yourself, regardless of how your circumstances change, you will remain the same inside.

Everything that you have and want to acquire has a link to someone else in the world. The car that you drive to work every morning is the result of several people putting hours of work into manufacturing the car. You may say that the price you paid for the car more than compensates the efforts put into making the car. But no matter how much money you put in, it cannot buy back the time those people put into making that car. To make even the most trivial of objects involves someone paying the price of time, which can never be recovered.

The happiness we seek from worldly objects involves the sacrifice of time on someone else’s part. Why not sacrifice your time to seek a more reliable source of true happiness within yourself?

The mind is a good place to start this journey. Most people wrongly think that the mind is to blame to excessive wants and desires. When you are driving someplace and get lost, you don’t blame the car, you blame the directions you have. Whatever destination you program into your car’s GPS, you will be prompted to go there. Similarly, if you look at the mind as a car with its GPS, however you program your mind so will be the destination. You can also think of the mind as a bridge that takes you across a river. Imagine that you are standing on a river bank that represents a mixture of happiness or unhappiness that is a product of fulfilled and unfulfilled worldly desires. The current that drives the river downstream represents your thoughts and desires. The bridge that takes you across the river is your mind. Across the river on the opposite bank, lies your inner self, your very own treasure of long lasting happiness that is not conditioned by any worldly object. If the river (thoughts and desires) overflows, the bridge (mind) and both banks of the river get inundated. Similarly, you have have endless thoughts and desires, which are usually a product of what you see, hear, feel, taste and touch, your mind can get overwhelmed. Your mind is a bridge taking you from the relative happiness of the world to a more permanent source of happiness within yourself. If this mental bridge is inundated with thoughts and desires, it becomes unsuitable for transporting you from relative worldly happiness to a more permanent inner happiness. Instead of providing safe passage across the river of thought and desire, the mind becomes a treacherous place. This is when people start blaming the mind for their problems. Some try to get away from the mind by getting mired in the ever deepening vortex of desires that provide fleeting sense of happiness, others try to drown the mind in drugs and alcohol. Some even try and deny the mind by suppressing thoughts. Suppressing thought gives one temporary respite. It is like trying to hold back a river with a poorly constructed wall. Sooner or later, the wall gives in to the force of the river and you may get washed away. By wrongly attributing your mind as a cause of your troubles, without knowing it, you are burning the bridge to your own happiness.

So if mind is the bridge that takes you across the river of thought, it needs to be sturdy in order to provide safe passage. Just as you would close a weak bridge and warn people not to travel, if you don’t make your mind steady and strong, you are better off remaining on the side of the river providing high ground even if this is not where you really want to be. If you find that your mind is not steady and you need to work on your will power, you are better off remaining in the relative existence of worldly happiness till your mind bridge is fixed. You can strengthen your mind by decreasing your wants and desires, deeper introspection into the true motivations behind your actions and thinking of a good goal and keeping your mind fixed on that goal. Whatever your goal, if getting there will benefit the world around you, the nuts and bolts of your mind become that much stronger. Just as you have faith that the ground you walk on is not going to give under your feet, you need to have the same faith that your mind is strong enough to offer you safe passage once you decide to make the journey across the river of your thoughts and desires. Limited desires can be compared to a tiny stream and a lot of desires can be compared to a wide river. So if you have limited desires, whatever your present state of mind, you can easily cross over to your inner self and real happiness is easily accessible with minimal effort. If you have a lot of desires, you will need a sufficiently strong mental bridge to get you to a state of peace and happiness. If you chose to put efforts into decreasing desires, the mental effort needed to get you to a state of lasting happiness is proportionately reduced. If you don’t have to exert your mind, it becomes peaceful. A peaceful mind does not “beg”. With a peaceful and contented mind you turn from a sophisticated beggar into a rich man.