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Let Us Learn To Live: The Art Of Living

Published: 17.02.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

Why lose today As, who has seen tomorrow?
The moments we can smile, Why spend them in sorrow?

Life begins with birth and ends with death. Both the body and the soul form life. Where there is only body, there is no life. Conversely, where there is only a form of consciousness, life cannot exist. The combination of body and soul is what we know as life. Every embodied being in this world, whether human, animal, bird, or plant, represents life. But simply living is a wasted life experience for the sentient being. What humans should aspire for is to lead an "artistic" life.

What Is Artistic Living?

An "artistic" life is inspired by religion and dexterity. Humans strive for expertise in multiple spheres and may attain perfection in some. In ancient texts, seventy-two types of teachable arts and crafts for men, and sixty-four for women, have been mentioned. A person may learn and even master all of these arts, but this does not imply he has learned the art of living. In fact, he has probably not learned anything at all!

In his poem "Vyavahar Bodh," H.H. Gurudev Tulsi writes:

"Sabhi kalaen bain vikalaen, Pandit sabhi apandit hain.
Nahin janate kaise jina, keval mahima mandit hai."

"All arts are maimed, all scholars are ignorant.
If they don't know how a life should be spent,
They are only overwhelmed with grandeur."

A king, annoyed by some incident, ordered his chief minister to be hanged to death. The execution was set for 6 p.m. A few hours before this time, the minister was observed sitting relaxed and engrossed in his work. The king, who had been informed about the minister's demeanor, was surprised to hear that, despite his doomed fate, the minister was calm and at peace. He called him and asked, "How could you be so serene when death is looming before you?" The minister replied, "Your Majesty! Death will come in a couple of hours. Why should I die before that? I must enjoy every remaining moment of my life. It is said:

"Kal ka din kisne dekha hai, Aaj ke din ko khoyen kyon?
Jinghadiyon mein bans sakte bain, Unghadiyon mein rqyen kyon?"

"Why lose today As, who has seen tomorrow?
The moments we can smile, Why spend them in sorrow?"

Impressed by the minister's attitude, the king said, "I can't hang a person who can truly live in spite of any circumstance."

The purpose of an artistic life is to remain in a state of happiness, peace, and equanimity until the end. To attain such a life, one needs to change their outlook on life and learn to self reflect. In the Jain scripture, Dasavaikalika, it is said:

'Jo puwarattavara-rattakale, Sampikkhae appaga-mappa-enam.
Kim me kadam kirn cha me kichcha-sesam, Kim sakkanijjam na samayarami."

"In the silence of midnight, let a man look within himself and contemplate: What I did, what remains to be done, and what I can do that I am not yet doing." Such contemplation is self-observation or introspection, the process of seeing yourself through you.

Procedure for Introspection

The natural tendency of humans is to see vice and weakness in others, simply because these qualities are easy to spot, and overlook their own flaws even when they may be clearly evident. When they do recognize their own shortcomings, they try to ignore, even hide them. It is important to acknowledge this behavior within the self and to pledge, "I must refine and cleanse my own thinking. I should be aware of my mistakes and faults. Regardless of whether or not I am being watched, I should be cognizant of my conduct. If I know I have done wrong, I should not repeat it."

Awareness is an integral part of introspection and with these practices, every single page in the book of a person's life can be written anew.

Once there was a spiritual practitioner - a Mahatma - dedicated to self-improvement. He was engrossed in meditation and doing penance all of the time. He had no interest in miracles, which he considered unspiritual. One day a youth came to the Mahatma. So impressed was he by the Mahatma's personality and knowledge that he requested to become his disciple. The Mahatma agreed and thought, "My old age is fast approaching. If I have a pupil, he will be of help." He initiated the youth then and there.

The disciple was very restless and unsteady. He could neither concentrate on religious studies, nor did he have the patience for meditation. The Mahatma tried very hard to awaken him spiritually and to engage him in the quest for knowledge, contemplation, and selfless service, but he did not succeed.

Convinced that knowing the power of miracles could confer instantaneous recognition upon him, the disciple came to the Mahatma and said, "Gurudev! Please teach me a miracle." His Guru said, "Son! Miracles are not advisable or prudent for us, as we are saints. Miracles might lead to fame and celebrity for a while, but in the end they will not serve any meaningful purpose and may even distract us from our noble mission."

Respite this explanation, the disciple insisted on learning more about "uracles. Eventually, his Guru gave in. The Mahatma took a crystal bar from his bag, handed it to his follower, and said, "This is a magic suck. If you pass it over the heart of any person, their vices and weaknesses will become visible." Intrigued by this possibility the student excitedly took the stick.

The disciple was already capricious and flippant, and the rod exaggerated these traits. When he experimented with his stick to discover the weaknesses of others, he soon began to exploit the situation by divulging this information. His actions exemplify a famous Sanskrit poet's writing:

"Markatasya sura panam, tatra vrisbchika-danshanam.
Tatrapi bhoota-sancbaro, yad va tad va bhavisbjati."

"A monkey is fickle by nature. Then, when he drinks wine, gets stung by a scorpion, and the devil enters him as well, his fickleness reaches a level beyond imagination."

The helpless people felt ashamed. They wondered, "Who doesn't have weaknesses? Until he becomes omniscient man will continue to have faults. And of course, nobody wants their weaknesses to be exposed."

One day, a few people garnered the courage to complain to the Mahatma. "Mahatmaji!" they said, "What kind of tool have you given your devotee? He is ruining our honor and reputation. Please restrain him before he does irreparable damage." The Mahatma tried hard to subdue his follower, but the youth was obsessed with the vices of others and would not return the magic stick.

One day, when the Mahatma was asleep, the disciple thought, "I have looked at the vices of so many but I've not yet seen the vices of Guruji! This is a great opportunity, while Guruji is sleeping! Why don't I move this stick toward Guruji's heart?" When he did so, traces of deceit, greed, anger, pride, jealousy, aversion and hatred appeared on the stick. This revelation prompted him to conclude that he did not need such a "phony" Guru. "I regarded him as a pure soul, but he has hidden vices. As soon as he wakes up, I will inform him that I am no longer his disciple.

When the Mahatma got up, the devotee said, "Guruji Good morning. I have decided to go back home." When the Mahatma asked him why, he replied, "Guruji! I considered you a very noble soul, but you have anger, pride, jealousy, aversion, hatred, deceit and greed in you. Why would I stay with you?"

The Mahatma immediately realized what had happened. He said, "Son! You are absolutely right. I am not free from vices. I am also on trial but I am doing my best to overcome these shortcomings. If you want to go, by all means do so. But, before you leave, place the stick on your own heart, so you may judge yourself as well!" The disciple agreed, and moved the stick towards his heart. When he did so, to his shame, a multitude of his vices appeared on the stick. The Mahatma said calmly, "Son! Now compare yours to mine." The disciple was taken aback by the intensity and magnitude of his faults. Whereas his Guru's weaknesses were as small as mustard seeds, the disciple's vices were as enormous as the mountains. He immediately fell at his Guru's feet, asking for forgiveness. He said, "I will never again commit the mistake of looking for the imperfections in others but rather, watch for my own instead."

Until one identifies his own vices, inner cleansing is not possible. One must contemplate ones weaknesses with detachment. For example, a person should reflect on how long and how unnecessarily he has talked in any given day, or how forgetful he has been. When he acknowledges his own faults, this is the first step in an attempt to correct them. Even if he cannot rid himself of all his bad habits and weaknesses, he can at least try to rectify them one at a time. Always remember, "Iyanim no puwa-makasie pamaenam." which means 'Whatever I did out of delusion, I shall never repeat." This awareness!s like a lamp that illuminates a dark path, the path to enlighten the slumbering mind.

When to Introspect

Introspection is essential for self-development. It is necessary not just on a given day or on a particular occasion, but is needed everyday and on every occasion - from the moment we wake up to the instant we go to sleep. Before sleeping, one should ask:

"Utthayotthaya bodhavyam, kimadya sukritam kritam.
Ayushah khandam adaya, ravir astamayam gatah."

"Did I do any good today? This life is transitory and its span progressively decreases. With each sunset, a part of life has passed." Only when there is true purpose in life will good deeds tend to accrue and real success be achieved.

Through contemplation one's preoccupation with the vices of others can be eliminated. With self-awareness one acquires a positive atiitude and steers this attitude in the right direction.


Let Us Learn To Live

Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun With Best Wishes:
Buddhmal Chordia Charitable trust
Charwas - Kolkata 1. Edition: June 2011
2. Edition: November 2011

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anger
  2. Body
  3. Consciousness
  4. Contemplation
  5. Deceit
  6. Equanimity
  7. Greed
  8. Guru
  9. Gurudev
  10. Jina
  11. Kal
  12. Mahatma
  13. Meditation
  14. Omniscient
  15. Pandit
  16. Pride
  17. Sanskrit
  18. Soul
  19. Tulsi
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