Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The difficulty of simplicity

I was discussing this matter of simplicity with many people and I am amazed at the different connotations associated with it. I was aware, and expecting a few, but these many? I suppose they were different shades of those few that I was expecting. In short, simplicity appears to be a complicated affair.Being utterly simple is the most difficult thing. It is not this difficulty that I referred to in the previous paragraph. There it was the meaning of simplicity, which seemed difficult. Here it is the understanding and essentially the being of simplicity which is very complicated. Ask any man how to become famous, and they have a hundred sound means to recommend. Ask them how to be simple and they give you broken paths. Ask them more, and you realise how difficult simplicity is. Simplicity is not a matter of a decision or process, unlike it cousin, fame. Fame can be achieved through a well practised method. Simplicity cannot be arrived at through any path. Simplicity cannot be achieved or arrived at. Simplicity fills an individual. I do not think there is any design which can make you simple. If someone says, I will give up all riches and titles and I will become simple, god save her/him. At the end of a few years, s/he is going to open her/his eyes and look around and ask "So where is it?". A rigorous process and determination can make you famous and rich, but simplicity has to fill every cell in your body. The need to be simple cannot co-exist with simplicity, for need and simplicity cannot co-exist.
Being simple is the most difficult thing! To not want and be satisfied with everything cannot be a decision; it has to be a natural propensity, something like breathing. To be devoid of pretense is very difficult in a world where images interact with each other. To view something and not categorise it as good, bad, desirable, not so desirable, is very difficult. Try this exercise:
Sit silently on your terrace or on the beach and close your eyes. For 10 minutes, do not let any thought run through your mind. If you hear a noise do not recognise it as a sound of a child. If you hear a bell ring, do not recognise it as a doorbell, or from a cycle or snything like that. Do not focus on any image (thereby cutting off all thoughts) because that is equally uninvited. For a stretch of 2 minutes (120 Earth seconds), keep your mind blank. Listen to whatever falls upon your ears but do not recognise it (imagine if you were asked to listen to a new musical instrument and asked to name it. Would you be able to? No. You would simply hear it as long as it is available). Infinite trials are allowed. Don't ask me what is the purpose of this exercise. If you manage 2 minutes of a silent mind, then you will know yourself.
This is not spiritual you-know-what. This is not even pop philosophy. This is merely a quest to understand simplicity. We award degrees to people who master a few theories and equations, so why not allow a quest into simplicity.
I am reminded of a story told of a Chinese Philosopher, Yang Chu:

It seems a gent approaches Yang Chu (hereafter referred to as YC) and asks him thus: "My parents are ambitious for me. They want me to pursue success. Should I obey my parents in this?" YC replied: "Most of your life will be spent in things other than pursueing success. Your childhood has consumed a significant portion and old age will do the same. The active years will be spent partially in sleep, eating and maintaining yourself. Inspite of this you will fall ill. So very little of your life is left to pursue success." The gent continues, " Should I pursue pleasure instead?" YC replies, "You will spend most of your active years in searching for means of pleasure and means to maintain them with you, so you will spend very little actually pleasing yourself. No point." The gent presses further:"What about status and reputation?" YC replies:"Respect entails that you depend on those whose respect you so desire and you will be nodding your head to their whims. Not worth it." The gent (who I am sure must have figured out the right question to ask such a "pessimistic" person!!) continues: "Then what should be my aim" YC replies:"To have no aim."
Having no aim and being aimless are subtly different. I would have prefered YC saying "Your aim should be to embrace a state of no aim", for aiming for having no aim is ambitious too.

I look at my nephew. He is very young- a couple of months old. What does he know about the world? What does he care about the world? He knows nothing, or at least he cannot prove to me in an acceptable way that he knows something. He has simple requirements: food, sleep, someone to carry him at times, clean him up (though I don't think he would care). He doesn't try to impress anyone and doesn't wonder about anyone's opinion of him. He has no ambitions for he knows not what is more desirable than a good night's sleep. He doesn't recognise (yet) black from green or his father whistling versus a bird outside. He enjoys them both or gets irritated by them both. He looks in the direction of the sound and keeps looking. If a new noise comes from another direction he turns his head in that direction. Pretty simple.

(Picture above is ©


  1. Hmm... a baby has no aim and yet observes everything around him. Also they have virtually no memory atleast the first few months. Maybe thats the reason for their simplicity.

    I remember JK saying that all misery comes from trying to recapture past joys. In other words when the memory does not yield as much pleasure as the original joy, one tends to be miserable. He states this as a reason for sexual appetites, especially.

    After all, "reality is the interval between two thoughts" :)

    I wonder why we are born unconditioned, then acquire conditioning and later try to break free.

  2. Parvati7:04 PM

    @Eroteme: I think Simplicity is to be oneself always. It need not necessarily mean that we should go back to being a baby, all helpless and powerless and always dependant on a second person, and thoughtless too.

    I think there is supreme simplicity in perfection, be it the most complicated painting or a mathematical equation, or making a right law that will benefit a difficult and poor country. You name it - it can be any field. Man is defined by his mind and thought. Instead of writing them off when discussing simplicity, let us accept that a beautiful mind, which has clarity of thought, incisive analytical ability, capable of drawing the right inferences is simple, simple simple. It lightens a whole place. It destroys ignorance. There is no simplicity in impotence, ignorance or indifference. These negatives lead to all sorts of complications. Power, Light, Love bring simplicity to man - man is not an animal or a baby; he has a fire in him for betterment; only when he gives full freedom for that flame of aspiration to burn high, wide and deep, will he be simple, because only then will he be simple, not otherwise. Replace thought with a silence of the mind, and let the silence be filled with a greater light of thant that of the mind. That is the rule. Not just no-being; but becoming and being an all-perfect-being.

    Perfection, Enrichment, Development, Progress are the ingredients of our simplicity. Otherwise any thing else will just increase the pressure of these components to manifest freely and simplicity will go for a six if we deny these their right to be.

    Man is complicated. His Simplicity happens when his complications are perfected, not denied their full blossoming.