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Posts Tagged ‘self-improvement’

A long time ago, there lived a king. His huge empire demanded a lot of work. The king had all the resources he needed to run the empire but he still was never able to relax in peace. His mind was never at ease. The grandeur of his lifestyle did not give him any solace either. He was very unhappy.

One day, a wise saint was passing by the kingdom. The king immediately sent out an invitation to the saint requesting the honour of the holy man’s wise company for a few days. The king thought that this way he would have the opportunity to discuss his problem with the saint and learn the secret to be happy.

The saint agreed to visit the royal palace. The king showed great hospitality, as was befitting for both the king and for the spiritual visitor. In his conversations with the saint, the king told him that he was under a great amount of stress, with all the work involved in managing the kingdom. “My routine is very hectic. I have a lot of responsibilities and often I have to take care of multiple issues at a time. As such, I cannot relax and be happy. I am very discontented with my lifestyle and seek happiness. I pray you, O venerable one, to help me find happiness.”

The saint listened to the king’s problem patiently. He put to practice one of his many worldly-wise ways of teaching and said, “The solution is very simple, dear king. You will have to find a person in your kingdom who is leading a very happy and peaceful life. You will have to request that person to let you have his shirt. Once you will wear that shirt, all your sorrows and stress will go away. Remember that this individual should be someone who considers himself to be the happiest person in your entire kingdom.”

Although the advice sounded quite out-of-the-ordinary, the king was very pleased as he found the solution very simple. He thought, “I will get rid of such a huge problem so easily and I will not even have to lift a finger.” He thanked the saint and asked his prime minister to arrange a meeting of all the members of the senate the first thing in the morning.

The next day, the king was quite enthusiastic. For the first time, he reached his courtyard before time. Without proceeding to sit on his royal throne as was customary for him to do, he started to address the audience hastily. The hall was full and everyone was looking at the king, slightly surprised at his anxious behaviour.

The king asked, “Please rise if you consider yourself the happiest person in this kingdom.” To his extreme surprise he found that everyone kept sitting. He repeated loudly but nothing changed. He felt disappointed and adjourned the meeting, asking his team of advisors to stay back.

The king told his advisors what he was looking for. One of them said, “This should not be a big issue, my lord. I have an idea. We should make a call for the wealthiest one percent people of our empire. Those who are rich have everything they want. Undoubtedly, we will find several among them who will claim to be happy. We will thus find what we need.” The idea seemed quite logical. Everyone, including the king, liked it. Royal invitations were sent to the big industrialists, businessmen, landlords, merchants and all other wealthy inhabitants of the kingdom.

Next week, the esteemed elite class was at the palace. There were fabulous arrangements of food and other amenities in their reception. After a magnificent welcome party, the king asked the question he had been waiting to ask since the moment they all arrived. “My respectable friends”, he said to the whole crowd, “Which amongst you considers himself to be the happiest person in the kingdom?” Instead of loud cheers of “It’s me! It’s me!” that the king was expecting, there was a sudden, uncomfortable silence. The king’s question seemed to have thrown cold water on everyone’s spirits. Everyone froze. No one dared to meet the king’s gaze or even to look at each other. Slowly and painfully, it registered in the king’s mind that none of these people were living a happy, peaceful life. Dejected, he left the grand hall.

The situation was presenting a lot of difficulty. The king had not anticipated that the task that he had considered so easy would actually turn out to be so hard to accomplish. He was now losing hope of finding any solution to his problem and it was upsetting him even more.

As days kept passing, the prime minister noticed the king’s growing sorrow. He suggested one day, “Sir, you should not lose hope. I will order our soldiers to go out to each and every city, town and village of this kingdom. They will search for the happy residents of our empire and bring them to the palace.” The king replied, “We could not find a single happy person in our own royal administration. Nor did any of the wealthy people claim to be happy. I doubt that we will find the person we are looking for among the rest of the residents. But it seems like I am left with no other option. You have my approval to carry out the suggestion.”

The very next morning soldiers were sent out to all corners of the kingdom. They were instructed to first meet the rich people, then the middle class and then the poor people. They were advised not to waste much time in areas where there already was little hope of finding happiness, namely, the places stricken with poverty.

The soldiers searched for almost a month. Some of them started coming back to the palace empty-handed. The prime minister and the advisors also started getting worried. No one had thought that the situation would become so severe.

Then one day, one of the soldiers heard the first bit of positive news on reaching a village. The villagers told him, “There is a farmer here who always says, ‘I am the happiest person in the world’. Everyone calls him ‘Sarju’. Why don’t you go and look for him?” The soldier went where he was directed and found Sarju’s small, thatched-roof hut. He found Sarju’s wife making a watery soup in an earthen pot on the small fire in one corner of the hut. Remembering the royal instructions not to waste too much time in poor surroundings, he hurriedly asked the woman where Sarju was. She said, “He is always at the farm at this time of the day. Take that mud-path over there until you reach a clearing. That’s where the farm is.”

It was a scorching afternoon. The soldier took the path shown by the woman. When he reached the farm, he saw a man ploughing. He called out, “Hey, are you Sarju?” The man put his hand over his forehead to block the sun out of his eyes and regarded the soldier with curiosity. He answered, “No sir, Sarju is taking a nap under the bullock cart behind you.”

The soldier turned around and sure enough, under the bullock cart was lying a thin man, his face towards the soldier, eyes closed, and a peaceful expression on his face. The soldier bent down and tapped him on the leg a few times. Sarju slid out. He rubbed his eyes with surprise on seeing a royal soldier in front of him. “Welcome, sir”, he said, “What can I do for you?” The soldier asked him bluntly, “Sarju, are you a happy man?” Sarju was even more surprised at the question! But he smiled and said, “Yes, sir. The happiest in the world!” The soldier wanted to embrace him with relief. He said, “Okay then, my good man, the king would like to see you.

I am here to take you to the palace. Do you need to take anything from your house?” Sarju was reluctant at first, but realizing that these were the king’s orders, he obeyed. “Let’s go sir. No, there is nothing that I need to take.” He then called out to the other farmer, “Badri! Tell my wife the king has called for me. I will come back as soon as his majesty’s business with me is done.” So saying, Sarju accompanied the soldier silently.

Sarju was taken to the king’s visiting chambers right away. As soon as the news reached the king’s ears, he jumped up with joy. He left everything and rushed to see who the happiest person in his kingdom was. When he saw Sarju, he stopped in his tracks. This was certainly not what the king had expected to see. The tall, lean man looked tanned and toiled. His frail body looked like it could use at least a week of nutritious food. Yet, he had a pleasant face that smiled gently on seeing the king. The thing that perplexed the king the most, however, was that this man was not even wearing a shirt! Skipping conversational formalities, the king got straight to the point, “Why are you not dressed properly, young man? Where is your shirt?” Sarju bowed his head and said, “I apologize, my lord. I am not wearing a shirt because I do not have one, my respected sir. Neither can I afford to buy myself a shirt, nor do I need one.” The king stood stunned! All of his earlier excitement turned into bewilderment. He started to wonder how a shirtless man could be the happiest person.

Baffled, the king asked Sarju, “There seems to be a mistake. Did the soldier not ask you if you were a happy man or not?” “Yes sir, he did”, replied Sarju, “and I told him as I tell you now, that I am the happiest man in the world!”

***

I am told that the above story originated as an Italian folktale hundreds of years ago. Traveling through time and places, it has undoubtedly undergone several modifications. The crux of the story however, remains unchanged. I heard this story from my father almost twenty years ago. My childish mind could not then grasp the essence of the story. I could not quite understand why the wealthiest men were not happy and how the poor, shirtless farmer  was.

But now, having experienced some of the world’s ways myself, I have come to realize the enormous potential this story holds. We all seem to lead a life like the king’s. First we collect things and then we strain ourselves to manage and maintain them. No matter how much wealth we collect, it does not lead us towards happiness. None of us are able to say with confidence, “I am the happiest person in the world.” We are awed when we hear about the wealthiest, most influential people in the world and feel envious of what they have. Little do we realize that wealth has no connection whatsoever to happiness.

For most of us, happiness is a thing of the future. We think, “Once I have this or once I achieve that, then life will become comfortable and peaceful. Then I will become happy.” We keep running after happiness and it keeps eluding us. We are never able to catch it. It remains a mystery that we are never able to solve.

We have to stop chasing happiness and start feeling it. Happiness is right here, right now. It is in our minds. It is in the air that we are breathing, in the life that we are living every moment. It is not something that will happen ‘one day’. Whatever we already have is more than enough to keep us happy. If we cannot be happy in the present moment, then we never can be. If Sarju can be the ‘happiest person in the world’ without having proper clothes, housing or food, it is a wonder that we cannot be happy amidst the countless resources that we have.

We have all heard, “Very little is needed for happiness.” I have started to feel that ‘very little’ is actually a ‘pre-requisite’ for happiness. The more we have, the more troubled we are bound to be. 

 — Prashant Shori

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Introspection is a process which involves analysing, evaluating and appraising what one has already done. These ‘done’ actions could be physical as well as mental. When one thinks about these actions and reflects over the past, it leaves a positive influence on his present and future. By introspecting, one cannot go back to rectify the past. But one can definitely understand its effects and can avoid the chances of repeating the past mistakes.

Before I started writing on this topic, following my old habit, I checked the dictionary-meaning of the word ‘introspection’ and found it to be stated as, “The act of looking within oneself”. I found this meaning quite simple and understandable. After contemplating over it for some time, I realized that this may sound simple but the process is not so simple.

To explain its complexity, I want to share a story that a preacher had once shared with me and my family :

A family once came to the preacher for some counselling. The problem the family was facing was constant disputes, quarrels, and unhealthy arguments among the members. The head of the family was complaining, “My son never listens to me, my daughter-in-law always disobeys, my grandson does not know how to talk to his elders and my wife always counters whatever I say.” The preacher asked him if there were any flaws or problems in his own behaviour  towards others. He said that he did not have any problem. It was the other members that had the problem. They were the ones responsible for the quarrels. The preacher further asked the man if he got involved in the quarrels. He spontaneously replied, “I do, but I never initiate those arguments. It is always someone else who does.” After a small pause, the preacher asked him what he thought the solution should be. Quite confidently, he replied, “Tell all my family members to improve themselves and to start behaving the way they should.”

“What about you?” asked the preacher.

To this, the man assertively said, “Once everyone else improves, the problem will automatically go away.”

The dialogues of the head of the family in this story clearly depict that he is the last person in the family who wants to change himself. He wanted everyone else to make a change but he realized neither the need, nor the importance of contemplating and reflecting over his own behaviour. Interestingly, most of us share the same views as that of the character in the story. It is very easy to blame others, but it is really hard to sit down and think, “What was my role in the situation? What could I have done differently to make the situation better? Is it the environment, surroundings and other people who are the cause of the problem or is there something wrong with me which contributes in making the situation worse? Honestly speaking, we all avoid thinking of our own responsibility. We wish for the world to be a better place full of responsible citizens, sans our own selves. It is easy to pass the buck on to others, isn’t it?

Sometimes I find myself getting entrapped in situations that demand introspection but I feel that I have failed to do so. The two major reasons which I think act as obstacles are ignorance and ego. Depending upon the situation, either one or both the factors are  at play.

Ignorance is the lack of understanding about the importance of introspection. Introspection refines the mind and behaviour. It helps a person to figure out whether his mistakes were intentional or unintentional. In the case of intentional mistakes the process of introspection helps to find out the reasons and the validity of the actions performed by the doer. He asks himself, “What made me do what I have done? Are the expected benefits of this action worth it? Which direction am I going in with my life?” Such questions help us to review and recover.

In the case of unintentional mistakes, introspection helps to figure out our carelessness that caused a mismatch between the intention and the action.

The other obstacle in the process of self-introspection is ego. In many situations, somewhere in our heart we know that we should evaluate our actions, but our ego comes in the way, telling us impressively that all our actions are foolproof and we are devoid of any mistakes. This ego, on the other hand, does an ‘excellent’ job of finding faults in others – just as the story mentioned above has showed – but totally fails to demonstrate the same in the person himself.

Self-Introspection is a basic tool required in our life. It can make us better with each passing day. Moreover, the betterment it brings will not be limited only to us  but will spread in the environment to make it healthier and happier.

Indeed, introspection is a pre-requisite for a journey within ourselves.

— Prashant Shori

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