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During my latest visit to Manila of March 2011 a horrible earthquake and tsunami, also damaging a nuclear power plant, occurred in Japan.
The media provided an extensive coverage of this natural disaster, but I had some direct experience of it after I returned to Japan.
I was very impressed by how the Japanese people faced this disaster. It was really a great lesson for the rest of the world: no lamenting, no looking back, just accepting it and struggling to cope with it, make the situation better and reconstruct the devastated areas.
The indomitable spirit of the Japanese people had already been shown previously after the great Kanto earthquake in 1923, which caused a great devastation and thousands and thousands of people lost their life.
And also after the second world war, when the whole country was devastated and the Japanese people were humiliated when their Emperor had to surrender unconditionally and admit that he was just an ordinary man and not a divinity.
With the country completely shattered physically and emotionally, and the American armed forces occupying it until 1953, the Japanese people managed in only ten or eleven years to organize successfully a world event such as the Olympics in 1964!
Why did I mention all this? Because this is a very remarkable case when a spirit of positive living was not shown by some individual great men, but by a whole people! If you go to Hiroshima you find an ultra-modern city: only a dome was left to witness the atomic bomb which destroyed the city in 1945. This is positive living exemplified and demonstrated.
Here are a few details of what I mean by positive or negative living.
The mind is behind positive or negative living. If there is a positive thought, a positive mind, then a positive living follows.
On the contrary, negative living results from negative thoughts and mind.
What are the symptoms of a positive or negative mind?
This will also allow us to test the present condition of our mind.
A negative mind is full of fear and stress, it is sad and angry.
A positive mind is fearless, stress free, peaceful, joyful, and can keep anger under control.
A negative mind is egotistic; a positive mind is full of humility.
If an adverse situation occurs, a negative mind becomes nervous and tends to escape.
A positive mind assesses the problem and wants to face it and solve it, without running away.
In a negative mind liking and disliking are very strong; in a positive mind both are moderate.
A negative mind does not learn from past mistakes, a positive mind learns from the past and in that way it becomes wise.
A negative mind is very emotional and sensitive, impulsive, it does not exercise reason while talking or working. Emotions are controlled by a positive mind, which is balanced and exercises reason while talking and acting.
A positive mind thinks before acting, a negative mind act first and thinks later.
A negative mind is narrow, selfish and has little or no love for others: gives little but expects much in return. A positive mind is broad, unselfish, has love for all, gives much and wants little in return.
A negative mind only sees the defects of others; a positive mind sees more the qualities of others and ignores their defects.
A negative mind is superficial, it is not introspective, and never asks itself serious questions about life such as why am I living, why am I born, what will happen to me after death, how am I related to others, what is the core of my personality, what is my real being, is there God, how am I related to Him?
It floats with the current of life, without any direction or goal to reach.
A positive mind is deep and introspective.
A negative mind tends to focus either on the past of the future rather than the present.
The positive mind is more focused on the present, although some limited planning is there for the future.
A negative mind cares for immediate or short term results; a positive mind cares for long term, ultimate results.
In a negative mind joy depends on external persons or things; the positive mind sees the source of joy inside and finds joy irrespective of what happens outside.
Positive or negative living follows from the mind's attitudes, as you now can understand.
Wisdom, harmony, steady mental strength and peace, is what indicates positive living.
The symptoms of negative living are lack of peace, constant stress, weakness, disharmony, superficiality, dullness and ignorance (meaning thinking correctly, but not acting wisely).
Everybody wants a positive living with wisdom, harmony and peace, then why that does not happen? Why negative thoughts appear?
The fact that life is not smooth, every person has physical problems, relationship problems, work problems and so on.
And there are also social problems, international problems and problems coming from the nature such as disasters over which we have no control.
We are always surrounded by a negative atmosphere created by the media; that mostly focus on problems and negative events.
Here is a philosophical explanation about that.
According to Indian philosophy the universe is made of five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space; and each of these have three qualities: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
Sattva qualities are purity, simplicity, love, wisdom, harmony, divinity.
Rajas qualities are intense activity, ambition, jealousy, restlessness.
Tamas qualities are dullness, ignorance, senseless violence, delusion.
The universe was created by a combination of these five elements and their three qualities.
And our mind is also made of the five elements with their three qualities and in most cases Rajas and Tamas prevail over Sattva.
This is how Indian philosophy explains the presence of so many negative things in our mind.
How can we avoid these problems?
Some persons try to avoid the problems by committing suicide, but our Scriptures warn that by escaping in that way one is generating greater troubles.
Nobody likes problems but we cannot avoid them.
Once a person asked a wise friend how he could find a place with no problems: "In the cemetery" was his wise friend's answer.
Devotees sometime complain to God that they have so many troubles and problems despite their spiritual practice and devotion to God.
Why has God created problems for us?
There is a Japanese proverb meaning that the son of a company's owner is often foolish. Why should that be?
Because his life is very easy, with so much money and luxury at hand, with no need of any struggling. Everything comes easily to him and involves no self-development.
There is a great truth in this proverb. It is necessary for us to face problems, otherwise we would not grow.
If you look back at your own life you will see that when problems occurred you had to find the strength inside of you in order to face them. So problems were an occasion for you to bring out the power which was already within you. Problems made you grow, made you strong, confident and also wise, as you learned from mistakes you made in the past. Paradoxically we should pray to God to send problems to us so that we can grow further!
The purpose of our life is to grow, to develop ourselves. The purpose of our life is not money and luxury, but learning: life is a university and our teachers are experiences (maybe more bad than good).
So we should not complain about problems, rather we should face them.
A mother was teaching a card game to her children. One child grumbled about his bad cards. The mother gave him and the other children this piece of advice, which is not for children only: "Sometimes you get good cards and sometimes bad ones; never mind: play as best as you can." This is positive living.
The complaining child who received this piece of advice later became President of the United States of America: Eisenhower.
(When somebody asked him who the person who had inspired him most was, he answered:" A lady whom you don't know: my mother.")
Let us now discuss how we can achieve positive living.
There are five points.
The first one is introspection. Positive living starts with introspection, without it there cannot be positive living. Introspection is the steering wheel of the car of life.
If we want to give direction to our life we must have introspection, this is how we become aware of the purpose of life.
When we have attained the material things we wanted to have in our life, a family and a good job and salary, then we should ask ourselves the question: what is next?
What is the purpose of my life? Why am I born?
This is what is meant by introspection, without it at a certain stage our life becomes stagnant and there is no growth. The next step is motivation. Without motivation we shall soon stop all the constructive things for self-development, such as Yoga, meditation and so on.
How to maintain motivation?
I shall now list for you some inspiring and motivating citations; I invite you to memorize some of them and repeat them to yourself again and again; post them visibly where you can see them again and again every day.
This is a simple practice but very effective. Just choose one or two and focus on it as intensely as possible; that will be enough to transform your life.
Here are some inspiring quotations.
The first one is from Bhagavad Gita:
"Never make yourself depressed, uplift yourself by your self."
However grim a situation may be, do not feel depressed. If there is a problem there is a solution. It may not be of your liking, but there is a solution. God does not send us problems without a solution.
Only we need patience, understanding and faith. Find out the solution and work on it.
The second one is a wonderful, practical, effective statement by Swami Vivekananda: "Strength is life, weakness is death.
The remedy of weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength."
Most of the times we brood over weakness or failure and that makes us weak and disheartened. That is negative: what has happened happened. Remember Swamiji's motto, memorize it, look at it every day, focus on it and practice it.
The results will come. The third is again by Swami Vivekananda: "All power is within you, manifest it."
And also:"Faith in yourself, faith in God is the secret of greatness."
Then: "You can if you think you can." This is also the title of a very famous book that was incidental in the change of government in the United States: Mr. Obama modified it in "Yes, we can." We have initially a tendency to think that we cannot solve a problem. We should instead start with the confidence that we can solve the problem.
Even if we are struck by a serious disease, we should repeat to ourselves that it will be cured, and it will.
This is what doctors recommend. If we do not think like that, even the best medical treatment will not cure us. Let us not accept defeat, right from the beginning.
And:"Live this moment well". We should neither focus on the past nor on the future.
Next:"Hope is life, despair is death."
Next:"For success you have to strive until you have success."
This is a quotation from a Japanese businessman, the founder of a famous electrical company, who is a businessman, not a philosopher, and gave a very practical piece of advice.
And there is another very important observation about our being worried all the time, stating that our worries do not materialize in 90% of the times. This means that we often create ourselves our lack of peace by imagining troubles.
And now comes the last quotation from the list.
There are many definitions of God, here is Swami Vivekananda's wonderful definition of God, so different from the traditional concepts found in the Scriptures and mentioned by religious leaders, prophets and saints."Unselfishness is God."
This is a statement with a deep meaning.
What is the greatest obstacle between God and us? It is our ego. How we can eliminate it? By being unselfish.
So I recommend that you remember two or three of these statements and also go through them every now and then, which will help to have continued motivation to act for your self development.
The third element for a positive living is self effort. For that you need power. And where does the power come from? From within you. How to reach the power which is inside you? By meditation and prayer.
There are many cells in our brain which are sleeping as it were and have not been activated. If we can make them alive and active we can do miracles. Meditation is a great method to activate those cells. When you focus your mind on something spiritual, infinite, absolute, then you access the reserve of energy inside of you which is God or Atman.
The same God lives within you in the form of Atman, which is the source of absolute existence, absolute joy and absolute knowledge and strength. Through meditation you can reach the reserve of strength which you need to live in a positive way.
What then if failures come?
Swami Vivekananda said that cows do not make mistakes, but cows remain cows. Human beings make mistakes, but human beings can become God.
He also said that failures are the flowers of life.
We should not get depressed, but even if we do get depressed we should go on doing our duties as the famous orator Edmund Burke advised.
We should not give up.
And if worries appear we should first of all remember what we have pointed out before that in 90% of the cases they will not materialize. Then we should also try to find out the cause of our worries and remedy it. We should not keep worries and problems unattended.
We should prevent problems from growing bigger by addressing them at an early stage. Also, we should concentrate on "now" on the present. Most of the times we do something but part of our mind is thinking of something else. Let us avoid that and fully focus on what we are doing, that way our mind will have no space for worries.
There is a beautiful story of Tolstoy. It says: "Who is the most important person in your life? What is the most important work in your life?" The answers are:" The work you are doing right now is the most important work of your life, the person who is just in front of you is the most important person in your life."
Lord Buddha said that the secret of health is not to brood about what has happened before nor to anticipate troubles in the future, but just think of what if happening at present. And we should keep trying until we succeed, as we said before.
Swami Vivekananda once made a pilgrimage to a holy place in Himalaya. Other pilgrims were also heading there. Among them there was an old man who had walked a long distance but felt presently so tired that he felt like stopping and giving up even if his destination was now very near.
Swami Vivekananda tried to inspire him by asking him to look at the path behind and consider that it was the old man himself who had already come most of the way and only little was left: surely he could reach his destination.
People see the achievements, but not the struggle behind them.
Everyone is impressed by the music of Ravi Shankar, but no one considers the tremendous effort, the long and hard discipline that brought Ravi Shankar to his excellence level.
The lesson is this: we should not stop, we should not give up. And faith in God is also needed.
When troubles occur in our life we need someone to support us.
In the present day world many do not believe in God, or have a shallow, vulnerable faith.
If we have faith in God we can get help in facing problems, but without it, or with only a superficial and vulnerable faith, we are bound to feel helpless and powerless.
We should believe that God is our eternal support; that He is always there to help us.
As Holy Mother, Sarada Devi, said: "My son, when you have problems, remember that there is always at least one there with you: that is Me." And the same help you can get from Jesus, if you have a deep faith in Him.
The next point is desire management.
If you want to have a positive life you must control your desires.
Desires are innumerable and we cannot satisfy them all. In spite of knowing this, if we want to satisfy them we become restless and peaceless.
We should sort out which desires are important and should be fulfilled; leaving a positive life would be otherwise very difficult.
And the final point is lifestyle.
We should lead a simple, balanced and routine life.
As Bhagavad Gite says, we should not have excessive enjoyment, work, food or sleep; mental peace would be otherwise impossible.
Routine is also important: we should have a regular, steady routine, which should include meditation for the mental and spiritual health, Yoga for the physical health, study for the intellectual health and work for sustaining us and others.
If we are serious about positive living we should then practice introspection, motivation, self-effort, faith in God, and have a balanced life style right from now.
To come to a conclusion I shall now mention a beautiful Christian prayer, which will really help us to lead a positive life: "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, grant me the courage to change the things I can, and grant me the wisdom to know the difference."