Simplify your life! | Sunday Observer

Simplify your life!

20 February, 2022

Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed to be simple is to be great - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Pope John XXIII in his Journal of a Soul wrote: “I must strip my vines of all useless foliage and concentrate on what is truth, justice and charity. The older I grow, the more clearly I perceive the dignity and winning beauty of simplicity in thought, conduct and speech, a desire to simplify all that is complicated and to treat everything with the greatest naturalness and clarity.” However, he did not confine his simplicity to his sermons or writings. He gave his actions the force of parables.

Some of us may have forgotten him. He was Pope from 1958 until 1963. Peace was his grand and simple idea. He was well known as a reconciler. Although Catholics lived apart from Jews for 19 centuries, Pope John welcomed Jewish leaders, telling them, “I am Joseph your brother.”

Like Pope John, Henry David Thoreau simplified life by going to live for two years in a cabin he built at Walden Pond. There he continued to keep his journal begun in 1837, and largely from that record wrote his masterpiece ‘Walden’.

It is a book that challenges the way we live today. Some of us are born into wealthy families, but others are not so fortunate. In fact our world is full of more poor people than those who are rich. Even if you are born poor, love your life. You may still have some pleasant, thrilling and glorious hours while living in a hut. The sun brightens up your hut as well as a rich man’s mansion. The latter has no time or inclination to bask in the sun as he has other priorities in life. His time is mostly spent on earning and amassing wealth. The poor man walks to his field early in the morning and works till noon. He feels that he is part nature.

Craving for luxuries

The rich man is never satisfied and he craves for more and more luxuries. The poor man, on the other hand, has a few needs which can be met easily. He does not think of living in a mansion surrounded by aides. Even the towns’ poor often live independent lives. Most of them do not support themselves in dishonest ways. They cultivate poverty like a garden herb. They live like sages.

Whatever happens to be your status, do not trouble yourself to get more and more new things whether they are electronic equipment, clothes or shoes. The celebrated Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “From an army of three divisions one can take away its general and put it in disorder; from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot take away his thought.” Be humble because humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. The rich do not realize that superfluous wealth can buy only superfluities. One day, Thoreau called on a king, but he made Thoreau wait in his hall. The king came with his retinue like a man incapacitated for hospitality. Then he visited a man in his neighbourhood who lived in a hollow tree. Thoreau found that his manners were truly regal.

All the truly deep people have at the core of their being the genius to be simple or to know how to seek simplicity. Our inner and outer aspects of lives match but there is something transparent about them. Part of genius is simplicity, in the sense of oneness of life. We admire Albert Einstein’s childlike simplicity and his own power of wonder and concentration. On the other hand, Albert Schweitzer was a musician, philosopher, historian, and physician. However, his profundity lay in one simple idea: reverence for life.


Many books written on successful living emphasize that life should be simple. Simplicity is sometimes equated with spirituality. This is because when you lead a simple life, you realize a sudden enlightenment. Philosophers such as Schweitzer changed the world with simplicity and spirituality.

When you lead a simple life, you achieve a kind of inner peace and grace. According to French mystic Francois Fenelon, when we are truly in this interior simplicity our whole appearance becomes franker and more natural. True simplicity makes you aware of a certain openness, gentleness, innocence and serenity.

For most people, however, simplicity is a difficult journey in life. Sometimes simplicity looks like a grace to be achieved rather than a gift. Modern man, with his diary full of appointments may not be able to put a premium on simplicity. He has too many battles to fight to earn his living and achieve success in life. Sometimes he may not find the time to reflect on simplicity.

Services of a guide

Sometimes you may need the services of a guide to achieve simplicity in life. In the absence of such a guide, you can rely on biographies of people who have led simple lives. In addition, it is useful to maintain a journal of your soul’s journey. In Western countries people turn to Jesus Christ to find simplicity. In Eastern countries, they turn to the Buddha who led a simple life. However, some of his adherents have not realized the essence of simplicity. In India, Mahatma Gandhi led a simple life. When he visited the Buckingham Palace in England, the king asked, “Who is this half-naked fakir?”

The lives of such leaders give us inspiration and guidance. However, each one of us has to discover and nurture the appropriate path for ourselves. Some people have banded together for the difficult journey. Others have found simplicity through their own efforts. Whatever method you adopt, the ultimate goal is simplicity. When you lead a simple life, you live in harmony with nature.

Despite religious teaching and views expressed by philosophers, the life of those living in affluent countries is quite bewildering. While they lead a materialistic life, a few of them travel to the East looking for simplicity. When they visit India or Sri Lanka, they walk bare-footed and try to lead simple lives. They know that simplicity seekers have to prune and sort ideas until they find what they want. Simplicity should not be misunderstood. In the name of simplicity we need not turn back to the good old days and travel in buggy carts.

Return to nature

When we discuss simplicity, we are reminded of Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates. Until after the death of Socrates he lived in the aristocratic circle of his fellow disciples and showed no sign of unorthodoxy. However, after the death of Socrates, he began to despise the things he had formerly valued. He began to value simplicity and associated with workers and dressed like them. He said all refined philosophy was worthless and he wanted to return to nature. Although he was not an ascetic, he despised luxury and all pursuits of pleasures of the senses.

Antisthenes’s disciple Diogenes went a step further and lived like a dog. He was called a “cynic” which meant “canine.” He lived like an Indian fakir by begging food from the people. He proclaimed his brotherhood, not only with the whole human race, but also with animals. When Alexander the Great visited him and asked if he desired any favour, Diogenes said, “Only to stand out of my light.” Diogenes had no desire for worldly goods. He only sought virtue and moral freedom.

While living in a materialistic world, we may not be able to live like Diogenes. However, we can take a cue from him and try to lead a simple life without going to extremes.

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