The Art of Living
(a book review)
I’ve got a wonderful book in my bookcase. It’s called The Art of Living: The Classic Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, a new interpretation by Sharon Lebell. The compact book encapsulates in a nutshell the salient teachings of Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher.
Whenever I buy a book I write my name, the date and place of purchase on the first page. I bought this book from one of my favorite bookstores Gangaram’s Bangalore on 18 August 1999. There was a time, in the nineties, when I used to visit Bangalore very often. I ensured I stayed somewhere near MG Road, and spend the evenings strolling in the delightful area around MG Road and Brigade Road. A delightful meal of the scrumptious Kerala delicacies like Stew, Appams, Parotta and the Ghee Rice at Imperial on Residency Road, baked delights at Nilgiri, Rosogullas at KC Das and Book Browsing at Gangarams Book Bureau were an absolute must. It’s been six years now, I cherish those memories and hope I get a chance to visit Bangalore soon.
Now let’s have a look at a few gems from this witty and wise book which delves on two basic questions pertaining to the art of living: How do I live a happy, meaningful, fulfilling life? How can I be a good person?
Approach life as a banquet, Epictetus advises. Think of your life as if were a banquet where you would behave graciously. When dishes are passed to you, extend your hand and help yourself to a moderate portion. If a dish should pass you by, enjoy what is already on your plate. Or if a dish hasn’t been passed to you yet, patiently wait your turn… there is no need to yearn, envy, and grab. You will get your rightful portion when it is your time.
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not... and once you learn to distinguish between the two inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
Events don’t hurt us, only our attitude towards them. Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.
Create your own merit. Never depend on the admiration of others. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. There is no such thing as vicarious merit.
Whereas society regards professional achievement, wealth, power, and fame as desirable and admirable, Epictetus views these as incidental and irrelevant to true happiness. What matters most is what sort of life you are living; a life of virtue, caretaking the present moment. Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions…your happiness can be found within.
This captivating book has had a profound effect on me; my way of thinking and living, and motivated me to delve into the life and works of Epictetus in more detail and it was heartening to see the congruence and harmony of the teachings of Epictetus with Eastern philosophical wisdom and precepts.
I’m glad I bought this splendid book. It cost me only ninety five rupees. Go down to your neighborhood bookstore and browse through it. I’m sure you will love to have a copy in your bookcase.