The cardboard chair

Money can’t buy one happiness. So, what is true wealth for the human mind?

February 22, 2020 11:39 am | Updated 11:40 am IST

Looking around at the increasing sounds and sights of sudden changes and conflicts in the world I thought I would share two accounts of the human condition in lectures I attended by proxy since I only listened to recorded versions.

The first is about dependability. If you depend utterly on the world — persons, things, money, possessions, social and professional situations — to make you feel secure, you will surely be disappointed because any of them and all of them, might, can, and indeed will disappear one day. They all have (exactly like ourselves) an expiry date. Would you sit on a cardboard chair? Well, no. You can admire it as a model of a wooden chair but you know it would be absurd to sit on it when you feel the need to take the weight off your feet. I thought this was a good thing to remember when we think about securities and insecurities. The only secure and lasting things we have are our own strength of mind and integrity. No one can take them away.

The second is about what we work for and why. Very few people do not need to work at all. Most of us need to ensure survival by either working at home or in an institution of some kind towards building a cushion of comfort and material possessions. We all know that these are the guarantees against failure of health and the onset of a time when we can no longer earn enough to keep up with the ups and downs of the economy. And of course this is true. But if it were the only and greatest truth, every wealthy person should be extremely happy. We know that this is not the case. Many people who are not so rich are very happy with their lot. So what is true wealth? Is it resignation or realisation that most of the things people hanker for are not really required to make us happy?

Quest for satisfaction

In this regard I would like to share a story which is both magical and haunting. An unremarkable but honest man used to make a living collecting forest produce. On one occasion when he was digging around the root of a plant he found a bag. Strangely, the mouth of the bag was not fastened. He noticed that two-thirds of the bag was filled with gold coins. He took it home. Instead of his sudden riches making him happy he became obsessed with trying to top up the bag with gold coins earned by working harder than he had ever worked before. He lost his sleep, health and peace of mind because no matter how many gold coins he slid into the bag, it simply would not fill up.

One day a yogi came visiting and when asked about the mysterious bag he said: this bag is made up of the human mind. It can never be satisfied. It would be best to replace it exactly where you found it.

I hope these messages will help my readers as much as they helped me.

The writer is Series Editor, Living in Harmony, (Oxford University Press).

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