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Simplicity – In All Its Grandeur

What is that which attracts us most when life’s complications cross into the unbearable? When, in the sea of possessions surrounding us, we cannot find a single thing pointing towards peace and tranquility? At such times it is the idea of a simple life that becomes most attractive. Indeed, we begin to feel as if it is the answer to all our problems. To some, embracing simplicity may appear as audacious thoughts of giving it all up and moving somewhere peaceful; to others it may mean retaining a handful of basic essentials instead of a houseful of clutter. But these remain within the realms of “How I would love to...” and we settle back to life as it is, to the humdrum, until the next wave of restlessness hits.

So how do we switch to a simple life? And is it truly for everyone – the average person with a family, job, and social life, and all the necessities each create? Here is where it gets interesting. When simplicity is defined merely as having minimal possessions, following old-fashioned techniques, or simply remaining static in a dynamic world, its lack is often traced to modern life. And our accusing gaze falls on our cellphones and laptops among other things. We make those very objects we craved, acquired, and have happily used the emblem of our troubles, and the reason for our ever-shrinking time and energy.

Modern life is easily vilified. A combination of nostalgia, selective memory, and a certain affinity for all things beyond reach (such as the past) makes it a prime target for our ills. But should it really be that way? After all, life has never been easier – back-breaking work has been reduced manifold, communication has never been this good, and precious time has been freed up with modern gadgets. Unfortunately for us, it has not stopped at that! Along with the benefits of these modern objects and technology has come a silent but all-consuming longing for more and more. In the end, modern technology has become a mute spectator to our frenetic desire to have it all.

Desire! The masters point straight to desire as the reason we are unable to live a simple life. If the masters had thought that having possessions and using technology were the main reasons we couldn’t live a simple life, they would have advocated hermetic living from the start, which is something they in fact tirelessly discourage. Instead, the saints say that it is the mind which is complicated; it is that which is possessed by possessions. Simplicity is achieved when mind lets go of its desires and attachments.

This state of the mind has been sought after since time immemorial, even when technology as we know it was nonexistent or taking its very first steps. History is crowded with failed attempts, for then, as now, the real culprit – desire – always remained at large. There were successes too, though few and far between and quietly hidden within the noisy workings of the world. For rare are the souls who have been chosen by a perfect saint and inculcated in the art of defeating the mind and its desires. The saints tell us that the mind has its ways, and unless it finds something more captivating than what it sees in the world, it will not budge. That captivating Nam, Shabd, or Word is the essence of the saints’ teachings and takes us out of the orbit of the mind, its avarice and cravings. In following the practice, the mind itself becomes tame – a friend urging us inward and upward as it senses the nearness and bliss of the eternal Shabd.

And thus does the turning of the mind lead to simplicity, in all its grandeur – when one can live in the world, move with the times, use for one’s own and others’ benefit all that there is, and indeed, enjoy the fruits of technological progress without ever becoming enslaved by them. Huzur Maharaj Ji’s evocative example would then play out in full: “The fly who sits at the edge of the honeypot both enjoys the honey and flies away at will.” Eventually we would taste the sweet, fine and everlasting joy of Shabd. The burning fires of desire would be doused, layer after layer of coarseness would shed away, and the soul would behold its own immaculate and pristine nature. The goal of simplicity would finally be within our grasp.