A Life lesson in minimalism from Comrade Bardhan

Important Note: This Blog will continue to feature my daily blogposts. In addition, on Sundays, public holidays and long weekends, I will feature The Happiness Road Series and my #HelpYourselfToHappiness Vlog Series!

Here’s today’s blogpost!

The best way to be happy and content is to want nothing, cling on to nothing and just be!
A.B.Bardhan (1924 ~ 2016)
Picture Courtesy: Jitendra Gupta/Outlook
Three weeks ago, veteran Communist leader (CPI), A.B.Bardhan, passed away. I am not a communist. But I admired Bardhan’s simplicity, integrity and down-to-earthiness greatly. Even so, I was surprised when I saw a picture (see below) going viral on social media. Shot by someone called Bhupinder and shared by Bardhan’s close associate Vineet Tiwari, a writer from Indore, the picture shows the only possessions that Bardhan left behind: a rusted almirah, some clothes, a pair of shoes and a red suitcase that he used while traveling. Bardhan, I gleaned, did not even own or rent a house – after his wife Padma passed away in 1986, he moved into the CPI headquarters in New Delhi, Ajoy Bhawan. I have never known Bardhan personally. So, I am not sure if he was happy or what his idea of happiness was. But going by the tributes that flowed upon his passing, I believe that he was a much loved and respected man.
Picture Courtesy:
Bhupinder/Internet/Vineet Tiwari
My own admiration for Bardhan grew exponentially when I saw the picture. I have learnt from Life that minimalism – the art of living with bare essentials – is the key to happiness. Isn’t it a great idea to live with just a few sets clothes, and perhaps a passport if you love traveling, a mobile phone and a laptop with high speed internet connectivity? You may want to consider owning a house if you can afford one, or perhaps just rent one. After all, at the end of the day, you just want a roof over your head, meaningful work to do and some food to keep your body nourished and healthy.
I am reminded of a Zen story. A visitor arrived at the home of a Master. The home was just a small hut. It was absolutely barren. No furniture. No bed. The Master sat and slept on the ground. He ate fruits from the orchard in the neighborhood and drank water from a stream nearby. He had one robe which he washed and re-wore every day.
The visitor was intrigued. He asked: “Master, how come you have nothing here. How do you live without anything – no furniture, no utensils, no clothes?”
The Master looked at the visitor and said: “Sir, you too have come empty-handed – no furniture, no utensils, no clothes!”
The visitor was surprised with the Master’s remark and exclaimed: “But I am just a visitor!”
The Master, beamed a big, glowing, smile and replied: “So am I!”

That’s what we all are. Mere visitors on this planet. And to live here – and be happy – we need nothing more than the bare essentials! For almost 7 years now, my wife Vaani and I have been following a simple principle: anything, barring our passports and important documents, that we have not used, we have been giving away – every six months. This process helps us sustain a free flow of positive energy while keeping our home clutter-free. This energy, we realize, is the key to inner peace and happiness. Each person’s idea of peaceful living and therefore their version of the bare essentials will vary. But our experience has been that the lesser we want, the lesser we cling on to, the happier we are.
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Letting go of your wants can magically transform your Life

Choose what you need, drop your wants, and you will always be happy – despite the circumstances!
There was once a time in my Life when I did not know the difference between what I wanted and what I needed. I was driven by an urge then to gratify myself every single time that I thought of acquiring something. I wasn’t a spendthrift exactly, but yes, I indulged myself a lot in acquiring material stuff that enhanced the quality of my Life’s experiences. Then, Life’s Master Plan pushed me and my family to a state when we could not, on our own, even afford what we needed – bare necessities like food, clothing and a roof over our heads. Yet, with amazing grace, we always got what we needed. Our needs were eventually fulfilled, each time, in the nick of time. One moment it would appear as if we did not have something and suddenly someone would walk into our Life and give us what we needed at that moment – this never happened in ways we could have imagined, but it certainly did happen unfailingly. This experience of being cared for and provided for by Life has helped me understand the difference between want and need.
To be sure, intrinsically, all of us are simple folks. We know what we need. But it is when we start confusing our wants as our needs that we become dis-satisfied with the Life we have. In the days when we owned cars, I ensured that our Hyundai Accent and Santro were maintained in top-notch condition. Every time the cars got dented beyond an acceptable level or the upholstery got worn out, I would just sell the cars and buy new ones. I did not buy luxury cars. I simply bought the same models – Accent and Santro. And when I felt my cars needed to be changed, I was restless until I actually did that; a process that often took weeks. Over a 7 year period, I had changed my cars four times. This prompted one of my friends to quip: “Hey AVIS! You change cars as if you are changing your shirt!” I realize now that it was my want, my desire, to have gleaming new-looking and great-smelling cars that I was confusing in my head as a need to maintain them in “top-notch” condition. Today, I am car-less. The last car we had, a 15-year-old Mitsubishi Lancer, a gift from a friend in 2009, had to be disposed of in January 2014 because its maintenance costs were huge. Having got used to living without a car, using auto-rickshaws, Uber or Ola, to get around, I understand now that I don’t even need a car! Life is far simpler without one. I am not saying I will not acquire one. I well may – when I feel the need for it, surely not because I want it!
Our wants actually enslave us, holding us hostage. Clearly when something is possessing you, like your want will, how can you be happy? The way to ring in happiness and inner peace is to understand what you need and be content with it. Even if you don’t have what you need, always trust Life to provide it for you. Letting go of your wants can magically transform your Life. Here’s a Zen story to illustrate the point. Someone asked the Buddha: “I want happiness. Please teach me how I can get it.” The Buddha replied: “Drop the ‘I’, drop the ‘want’, you will be left with ‘happiness’!” Beautiful, isn’t it?

What all of us need is a ‘Life Unconditioner’

Don’t expect predictability in Life. There is no such thing. You can only be sure of Life’s unpredictability. Period.
Over the last few weeks, while watching the IPL 8 season on TV, I have seen an ad for a brand of air-conditioner that claims to have graduated to being “your Life Conditioner”. ‘Life Conditioner’, I wondered, thinking about that flippant ad for several days?
Can Life really be conditioned to perform in a particular way, conforming to your wishes and producing outcomes that you want? Of course not! Even so, the tragedy is most of us have been subjected to so much social conditioning already that we need a ‘Life Unconditioner’ more than a ‘Life Conditioner’!!! From what we must eat to what we must wear to how we must marry to what are ‘safe and predictable’ careers we have been conditioned. I read a story in this morning’s Times of India where Chidanand Rajghatta reports from Washington D.C that a professor at UC San Diego has, for 11 years, been asking his students to appear in the nude for an exam in an elective course on visual arts. When the exasperated mother of a student created an uproar on social media last week, when she discovered this “perverse practice”, the professor himself has been unfazed by the controversy it has stirred. He has said, “It’s a standard canvas for performance art and body art. If they are uncomfortable with this gesture, they should not take the course.” I am not taking either side here. I am only presenting a case for how conditioned we are as a race – what the professor is doing is that he’s simply choosing to work outside the confines of such conditioning!
All our grief and suffering comes from our wants being unmet. Now, to be sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting. It is the expectation that our wants must be met that causes us agony. And that expectation invariably arises from a perceived sense of predictability that conditioning invariably delivers. For instance, we have all been raised to believe in truth, honesty and hard work. We have been fed one myth after another to prove this point. But when you arrive in the ‘real world’ you see that there is so much falsehood, dishonesty and ‘easy-get-luckiness’ around – and it is creating wealth too for sure – that you wonder if your belief systems are wrong in the first place. (Think of the week that was and of Salman Khan, Jayalalithaa and Ramalinga Raju!) No. Your beliefs are right. And they are still relevant. But your expectation that just because you have the right value systems, everything must go to a plan and must lead you to your just rewards, well, that expectation is wrongly placed! In Life, some times, 2 + 2 will not equal four. Life is not an input = assured output linear progression in the short-term. Eventually, Life’s math will add up, but not before going through a sea of unpredictability, highs and lows and gut-wrenching turbulence of its own inscrutable kind.

The best way to live is to not expect anything from Life. Simply do what you feel good about. And do it well. Leave the outcomes to Life. Important, please don’t be button-holed into social conditioning either. To take on that TV ad on a spiritual plane, choose a ‘Life Unconditioner’ approach to living – that alone can deliver a truly liberating, aha!, experience. 

Eliminate the wanting to be in peace and to be free!

To have wants is not what hurts us. To keep wanting does.
Desire by itself is normal. You see a beautiful woman and you say, “Wow!” That is a normal reaction. If you said, “Gee, what nonsense?” that would be abnormal. You see the waiter at a restaurant taking away your plate, without asking you, while there’s still some food you are finishing over a conversation. Quite obviously, you will want that plate to stay. If you said, ‘By all means, thank you!’, while you were still intent on eating, well, that will be abnormal. So, as long as we live, wants will arise. Who doesn’t want more money? Or a more fulfilling relationship with a companion? Or children to behave well? Or bosses to be more empowering? Or who doesn’t want more comfort in Life __ a bigger apartment, a bigger car, business class travel?
Wants are not lethal. Fueling your imagination basis the want is what is dangerous. You keep thinking about that woman, night and day, and your Life will become miserable. You keep expecting your boss to become more nurturing and dignified, when he clearly is a tyrant, is making your own work Life a drudgery. You continuing to think of a bigger car, pining and lusting for it, when you can’t afford one, is sure to depress you. Don’t, therefore, try to eliminate desire. Eliminate the thinking that continues to dwell on that desire. Eliminate the wanting. Move on.
This does not mean you should not be ambitious. There’s nothing wrong in wanting a more successful, profitable, happy future. But when you have an ambition like that, a vision, a goal, go to work on it. Ambition always is a call for action. Merely wanting, with no follow through action, is a surefire way of inviting suffering in Life. Know also that desires are also contagious. One will lead to another. The big car in your driveway, the woman in your bed, the properties in your name, the money in your account, the desire for more and more will create more and more wanting. Endlessly. And that means more suffering.

Legendary playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856~1950) says in his 1905-released four-act drama, ‘Man and Superman’, “There are two tragedies in Life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” The long third act of the play is Don Juan in Hell and consists of a philosophical debate between the play’s lead character Don Juan and the Devil. Shaw’s play’s third act covers much ground on the debate between desiring and not getting what you want. But the key learning here for us is that we have a choice of journeying through Life, hopping from one want to another or moving from one joy to another. To kill the wanting process, all you need to do is to simply interrupt the thinking that follows a want. Interrupt it with either action to go after what you want or with action to stop the wanting. In either case, replace the wanting with a simple ‘Do I need it now or can I do without it?’ question, and believe me, all will always be well! You will always end up being happy, in joy, with what you have, than live suffering, wanting! Try this test on the next desire that pops up in your head. It works! 

We have become ‘wanting’ beings

Give up all that you don’t need, don’t have or keep pining for. Life then, most certainly, will be bliss.
You – and I – thanks to instant gratification in a facebook and SMS era, have become obsessed with wanting things now and urgently. You try to reach someone and the lines are jammed. You get irritated. You get a mobile phone but you are not satisfied. You want an iPhone. You have a roof over head, but you want to own a property. You want to buy gold because prices are up now and you want an investment backed-up. You have a child, but you won’t leave the child alone; you want the child to be doctor, engineer, class-topper, cricket player, and such, never pausing to think what the child wants to do! Wants. Wants and more Wants! This has made your Life miserable. You have become a wanting being. Than being human! Which is why you are running from pillar to post. Trying to earn more and more thinking you will be happy some day in the future. Now, if you get all that you want it is fine. But Life doesn’t work like that. So, when you don’t get all that you want, you become desperate; you sulk, brood, and plunge your Life into an abyss of worries. Then you attend therapeutic programs and read spiritual books to ‘cleanse’ yourself. The feeling of oneness with the Universe lasts only as long as the programs do. Soon you have resumed the wanting in you and have lost yourself again.
Know that you will always get what you need and never always what you want!  If you have all that you need, just be happy with it. And stop pining for what you don’t have. Only then will you be in bliss!

“wotsubusu” craving, feel liberated!

No object of desire is the cause of any agony in itself. It is your craving for that object that makes you suffer.

Take for instance, a hot summer day. And you are thirsty. You see nice juicy watermelons on the street and want to stop your car. But you find the parking slots by the stall crowded and you see a policeman standing under a tree nearby. You believe the cop will object to your parking your car outside of the earmarked space. You are miffed and drive away cursing the crowds and the cop, ruing the missed opportunity to take some of those melons home. Even when you narrate this experience to your wife when you get home, you are complaining and are not merely reporting. There’s a sense of loss and evidence of frustration in your reportage. Now, did the humble melon on the street cause your agony or did your craving for it__and your eventual inability to buy it__cause it?

Think about it. All of us are victims of this cravings-brings-suffering trap. What we crave for is not the cause, it is the act of craving that causes misery. We crave for attention, adulation, understanding, respect, fame, rewards, recognition, wealth, opportunity, love and followership. And when we don’t get it, we are disappointed. Now, if you are disappointed and if your disappointment doesn’t affect your Life, it is fine. But when you are disappointed, you are mourning. Your energies are low. You start operating in a low energy__scarcity__spectrum. This naturally affects the way you live and experience Life. On the other hand, consider the situation when there is no craving, and so there’s no disappointment, so there’s no suffering. In such a scenario, you are operating in a high-energy__abundance__spectrum. Remember: Wherever your attention goes, your energy flows. In Buddhist teachings, they advocate the complete cessation of craving. Which means to eliminate all craving. In Japanese, the word wotsubusu means to annihilate. When you wotsubusucraving, you feel liberated. Such freedom opens up a whole new opportunity spectrum of playing to your strengths – to what you have. Than to worry about, lament over, what you don’t have.


Simplify Life: Give up the craving. And you will immediately stop suffering!

It is up to us to change the stories of our lives

Nothing in Life is worth suffering for.
Not money. Not health. Not love. Not career. Nothing. And contrary to popular notion, Life is not about suffering. Yet we suffer in Life because we try to force outcomes. Don’t. Just do what you can do in a situation. Do your best. And let the outcomes take care of themselves. It is when we try to ensure outcomes that the strife, the struggle, the suffering begins.
A friend called yesterday to say that his attempts, over the last five years, to try his hand at business had all failed. He said he was out of money and out of luck. He confessed that he was gripped by fear and insecurity. He did not know what the future held for him. And he said he did not see a way out of this situation immediately. He wondered if I could share with him how to be calm in such a crisis and avoid suffering.
I told him that there are no methods to deal with Life. The best way is to do what you can and must do in a situation and live each day fully – engaged in turning the situation around, without bothering if the results were coming the way you wanted them to. There will be some times in Life when, despite your best efforts, the results will not come. This doesn’t mean something is lacking in your effort. It only means you must now try once more. Outcomes, I said, are not in our hand. Efforts are. We must be engaged in making our efforts with focus, purpose and joy – relentlessly. Leave the outcomes to themselves. If they happen as envisaged, great. If they don’t, we must learn to try again. It is only when we expect outcomes to be the way we want them to be that we suffer.
Think about why you force outcomes. Because of your wants. You want someone in your Life. So you desperately woo that person. If she rejects you, you suffer. You want more money. So you will do anything for it__even if you don’t like doing it. Because you don’t enjoy doing what you are doing, although you are making money, you suffer. You have been let down by someone. So you sue them. Because you want them to feel your pain. Little do you realize that in trying to bring them pain, you are hurting. Your want to fight your battle with them is causing you a lot of harm. Invariably, it is the wants that lead you to expectations of outcomes and therefore plunge you into suffering when they are not met.
So, the simplest way to avoid all suffering is to stop wanting. Just live Life fully not worrying about the outcomes. If the outcome’s meant for you, it will come your way. If it is not, it won’t. Why struggle? Why suffer? Know this__clearly, surely: We are the authors of all the struggle in our lives. We are the script writers of all our miseries. And so, it is up to us to change the stories of our lives.