By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Fast” appears to be the talisman of this modern era and “activity” is the password for development. We always see people in a frenzied hurry to reach their work place in time or to get busy with some activities. There does not seem to be peace or calmness anywhere. I hate this life of hustle and bustle, where people do not have time to stand and stare. Possibly because of my advanced age my mind often dwells on the quiet and peaceful life of the bygone era, about which we learn from the ancient literature. There were the hermitages, where peace and quietness reigned. There were also charming rich forests, where people could meditate without disturbance. In these places there were trees, flowers, mountains, rivers and animals as well as varieties of birds, all living together in perfect harmony. It must have been a wonderful life to stay in the midst of ture and there was ample scope for contemplation in that sylvan ambience.
The saints sat in deep meditation, oblivious of the mundane things of the world. They had no materialistic ambition and their only desire was to realize the Ultimate Spiritual Reality. But that peaceful life has been lost. Modern people would condemn these sages, absorbed in contemplation and meditation, as idlers, since they were not engaged in frenzied physical activities. The people of this modern era are always engaged in some activities and they are proud to say that they are busy people, and not some lazybones, who are nothing but some wastrels or loafers. For them idleness is a sin and only wastrels do nothing, remain indolent and useless. They cause much harm to society by remaining idle. There is no scope for indolence in this busy world, when science and information technology reign supreme. One has to remain ever active to survive and succeed in this busy world. That is the guiding principle for success in this modern age. One has to be a go-getter in this busy world. I have a friend, who is always busy. For her activity is life and ictivity is death. People look at the lazy people with contempt and for them lazy people are merely useless burdens on this good earth of ours. It may be an admirable notion.
But how often do we sit quietly without remaining busy in mundane activities? How frequently do we go for walks with no fixed agenda or planned destition, but remain absorbed in the present moment? Do we ever sit in the banks of the river and look at the beauty of the water made colourful by the sun’s bright rays? Do we watch the birds of various shapes and hues chirping merrily in the garden at early dawn? Or, do we watch the mountain and marvel at its majestic beauty? Do we ever enjoy the sights and sounds of ture? For some people it is sheer waste of time by the indolent people, who do not utilize time for any constructive activity. As Benjamin Franklin stated “Time is money”. Modernism apparently implies activity and development, and not indolence or ictivity.
Young people of the modern generation have their eyes and ears fixed on lap tops or they are glued to smart phones, computers or all these modern electronic gadgets. They want to remain active all the time. Their idea is to “do” and not to “think”. The obsession of doing is so compulsive that many of them seem to have a need to fill their daily lives with as many activities as possible, blotting out even the most remote chance of reverie. There is almost a religious-like pursuit of an activity-filled life, which is sacred for the busy people. This attitude of life has given a bad me to idling and idlers are regarded as wasters, who are hindering the development process. They are considered as useless persons and they are supposed to be incongruous and irrelevant in this modern era. Activity is given so much importance that idleness is regarded almost as sinful.
Some scholars have indicated that the advocates of capitalism have propagated the message that it is a sin to be slothful. According to them the path to salvation lies only in hard work and discipline. For them activity is life and ictivity is death. They extol activity and disparage ictivity. For them ictivity is very harmful to the individual as well as to the tion. Several eminent persolities such as Thomas Carlyle, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, to me only a few, caused enormous damage to the art of idleness by vigorously defending the dignity and romance of hard work. Carlyle believed that “man was created to work, not to speculate or feel or dream and every idle moment is a treason”. So it became our sacred duty to work hard and never to remain idle even for a moment. Bertrand Russell wrote in his essay, “In Praise of Idleness” that it was perfectly convenient for the wealthy people who “preached the dignity of labour, while taking care of themselves to remain undignified in this respect”. That was their policy to make the subordites work hard for their gain, while they themselves remained ictive. It is a fact that wealthy and successful people make their employees work very hard while they remain somnolent.
The virtue of activity and the vice of idleness was promulgated so vigorously by some persons that many people experienced a profound sense of guilt if they remained idle. For instance, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who had certainly everything to be proud of as far as his literary output was concerned, considered himself to be a lazy person. He berated himself for his indolent habits. He appealed to God: “O Lord, eble me …… in redeeming the time I have spent in sloth”. If we read about his life we will know how much Johnson was ashamed of his indolence. He was a deeply religious man. Like Johnson there are countless others who were and still are ashamed today if they find themselves spending time idly. They think that they have done something wrong by not being active. They did speculate on life and other aspects, but did not seem to be in a hurry to get things done. They loved serenity, but had an aversion to the hustle and bustle of life. They loved to enjoy the ture’s glory in silence. Possibly they loved to utilize time on meditation and disliked the idea of rushing around to get certain things.
The critics of idleness from time immemorial have praised toil and condemned sloth. They propagated indolence as a sin and a waste of time. The same views are held even in India, though the country was a land of spiritualism once upon a time and hence for spiritualism people practiced contemplation and meditation, which were regarded as indispensable for spiritualistic pursuit and for liberation. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, also supported a busy life, bent on various activities. His forceful comment on laziness was “Aram Haram Hain”. It is obvious that most of the intellectuals deprecated idleness or indolence as something sinful, almost as a crime. But very few people appreciated the fact that idling or indolence can be enormously productive and it is essential for a life of happiness and contentment. But some famous people did extol idleness.
Robert Lewis Stevension in his essay “An Apology for Idleness” explains the ture of idleness. He says, “Idleness does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal, not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class”. According to Stevenson, “extreme busyness, whether at school or college, Kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality, and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of persol identity”. In his famous essay on laziness, Christopher Morley writes, “Laziness is always dignified. It is always reposeful”. By philosophical laziness we mean the kind of laziness that is based upon a carefully reasoned alysis of experience. Indolence is not a deficiency or defect. Morley remarks that idleness functions as a home base for our soul. He says that in the contemplative mood our idle mind is awake and unconstrained. When a person is sitting quietly he may be in deep contemplation. Though he is idle, contemplation during such idling often leads one to see the “vision of truth” about our lives in this mundane world.