5. Simplicity and Freedom
by James Allen
YOU HAVE KNOWN what it is to be physically encumbered by some superfluous load. You have experienced the happy relief of dispensing with such a load. Your experience illustrates the difference between a life burdened with a complexity of desires, beliefs, and speculations, and one rendered simple and free by the satisfaction of its natural needs, and a calm contemplation of the facts of existence, eliminating all argument and speculation.
There are those who cumber their drawers, cupboards, and rooms with rubbish and clutter. To such an extent is this carried sometimes, that the house cannot be properly cleaned, and vermin swarms. There is no use for the rubbish, but they will not part with it, even though by so doing, they would also get rid of the vermin. But they like to think that it is there; like to feel that they have got it, especially if they are convinced that nobody else has its like. They reason that it may be of some use someday; or it may become valuable; or it brings up old associations which they occasionally resuscitate and take a paradoxical pleasure in sorrowing over.
In a sweet, methodical, well-managed house, such superfluities, bringing with them dirt, discomfort, and care, are not allowed to accumulate. Or should they have accumulated, they are gathered up and consigned to the fire and the trash bin, when it is decided to cleanse and restore the house, and give it light, comfort, and freedom.
In a like manner men hoard up in their minds mental rubbish and clutter, cling tenaciously to it, and fear its loss. Insatiate desires; thirsty cravings for unlawful and unnatural pleasures; conflicting beliefs about miracles, gods, angels, demons, and interminable theological complexities, hypothesis is piled upon hypothesis, speculation is added to speculation, until the simple, beautiful, all-sufficient facts of life are lost to sight and knowledge beneath the metaphysical pile.
Simplicity consists in being rid of this painful confusion of desires and superfluity of opinions, and adhering only to that which is permanent and essential. And what is permanent in life? What is essential? Virtue alone is permanent; character is essential. So simple is life when it is freed from all superfluities and rightly understood and lived that it can be reduced to a few unmistakable, easy-tounderstand, though hard-to-practice principles. And all great minds have so simplified life.
Buddha reduced it to eight virtues, in the practice of which he declared that men would acquire perfect enlightenment. And these eight virtues he reduced to one, which he called compassion.
Confucius taught that the perfection of knowledge was contained in five virtues, and these he expressed in one which he called Reciprocity, or Sympathy.
Jesus reduced the whole of life to the principle of Love. Compassion, Sympathy, Love, these three are identical. How simple they are, too! Yet I cannot find a man who fully understands the depths and heights of these virtues, for who so fully understood them would embody them in practice. He would be complete, perfect, divine. There would be nothing lacking in him of knowledge, virtue, and wisdom.
It is only when a man sets earnestly to work to order his life in accordance with the simple precepts of virtue, that he discovers what piles of mental rubbish he has hoarded up, and which he is now compelled to throw away. The exactions, too, which such a course of conduct make upon his faith, endurance, patience, kindness, humility, reason, and strength of will, are, until the mind approaches the necessary condition of purity and simplicity, painful in their severity. The clearing-out process, whether of one’s mind, home, or place of business, is not a light and easy one, but it ends in comfort and repose.
All complexities of detail, whether in things material or mental, are reducible to a few fundamental laws or principles by virtue of which they exist and are regulated. Wise men govern their lives by a few simple rules. A life governed by the central principle of love will be found to be divinely consistent in all its details. Every thought, word, act, will fall into proper place, and there will be no conflict and confusion.
“What,” asked the learned man of the Buddhist saint who had acquired a wide reputation for sanctity and wisdom—”what is the most fundamental thing in Buddhism?” The saint replied, “The most fundamental thing in Buddhism is to cease from evil and to learn to do good.” “I did not ask you,” said the learned man, “to tell me what every child of three knows. I want you to tell me what is the most profound, the most subtle, and the most important thing in Buddhism.” “The most profound, the most subtle, the most important thing in Buddhism,” said the saint, “is to cease from evil and to learn to do well. It is true that a child of three may know it, but grey-haired old men fail to put it into practice.”
The commentator then goes on to say that the learned man did not want facts; he did not want Truth. He wanted to be given some subtle metaphysical speculation which would give rise to another speculation, and then to another and another, and so afford him an opportunity of bringing into play the wonderful intellect of which he was so proud.
A member of a philosophical school once proudly said to me, “Our system of metaphysics is the most perfect and the most complicated in the world.” I discovered how complicated it was by becoming involved in it and then pursuing the process of disentanglement back to the facts of life, simplicity, and freedom.
I have since learned how better to utilize my energy and occupy my time in the pursuit and practice of those virtues that are firm and sure, rather than to waste it in the spinning of the pretty but unsubstantial threads of metaphysical cobwebs.
But while regarding with disfavor assumption and pride, and that vanity which mistakes its own hypothesis for reality, I set no premium on ignorance and stupidity. Learning is a good thing. As an end in itself, as a possession to be proud of, it is a dead thing; but as a means to the high ends of human progress and human good it becomes a living power. Accompanied with a lowly mind, it is a powerful instrument for good.
The Buddhist saint was no less learned than his proud questioner, but he was more simple and wise. Even hypotheses will not lead us astray if they are perceived as mere hypotheses and are not confounded with facts. Yet the wisest men dispense with all hypotheses, and fall back on the simple practice of virtue. They thus become divine, and arrive at the acme of simplicity, enlightenment, and emancipation.
To arrive at the freedom and joy of simplicity, one must not think less, he must think more; only the thinking must be set to a high and useful purpose, and must be concentrated upon the facts and duties of life, instead of dissipated in unprofitable theorizing.
A life of simplicity is simple in all its parts because the heart which governs it has become pure and strong; because it is centered and rested in Truth. Harmful luxuries in food and vain superfluities in dress; exaggerations of speech and insincerities of action; thoughts that tend to intellectual display and empty speculation—all these are set aside in order that virtue may be better understood and more earnestly embraced. The duties of life are undertaken in a spirit from which self is eliminated, and they become transfigured with a new and glorious light, even the light of Truth. The great fundamental facts of life, heretofore hidden from knowledge, are plainly revealed, and the Eternal Verities, about which the wordy theorizers can only guess and argue, become substantial possessions.
The simple-hearted, the true-hearted, the virtuous and wise, are no longer troubled with doubts and fears about the future and the unknown and unknowable. They take their stand upon the duty of the hour, and on the known and the knowable. They do not barter away the actual for the hypothetical. They find in virtue an abiding security. They find in Truth an illuminating light which, while it reveals to them the true order of the facts of life, throws a halo of divine promise about the abyss of the unknown; and so they are at rest.
Simplicity works untrammelled, and becomes greatness and power. Suspicions, deceptions, impurities, despondencies, bewailings, doubts, and fears—all these are cast away, left behind and ignored, and the freed man, strong, self-possessed, calm, and pure, works in unclouded assurance, and inhabits heavenly planes.