- The most fundamental thing in life
- Blind clinging to life
- Blessing for a long life, most valued possession of man
- Our feeling about a man who dies early
- The true standard for judging a life not years but deeds
- The example of Christ, Buddha, Alexander and Napoleon
- A single heroic age worth many lives
- Quality of work not the length of years
- An oak tree
Who does not want to live long? The dying patient suffering from terrible agony hopes that he will come round and have many more days to live. The old man with one foot in the grave expects many more returns of his birthday. The man who has failed in one venture after another and faces starvation likes to live longer and make other ventures that will make up for his failures. Philosophers point out that the most fundamental thing in life is the blind clinging to existence. We all want to live. We do not know why.
When we bless a man, we pray for wealth, and learning, power and happiness, but above all we pray that he would be long- lived. There are various forms of this blessing; his days should be as countless as the hairs on his head, as the sands on the sea-shore; the simplest is that he should live for a hundred years, though we all of us know that not one in a hundred will come near this age. Long life seems to be the most valued possession of man. What, according to the popular conception, is the difference between a God and a man? A man is mortal and lives for a short time whereas ‘a God, being immortal, lives for ever.
When a man dies early, we are all very sorry. We think that he will not live to enjoy more happiness, as if mere living is happiness. If a man lives up to a ripe old age, we feel that he has got what life has had to offer him. He may have had sorrows and failures; still we feel that he has lived in the true sense of the term, that is to say, he has lived a long life. The mere joy of living is regarded as a sign of happiness and success.
But this standard, although commonly accepted, is not the only standard for judging the value of a life, and it is not the correct standard. Nobody remembers the long-lived man, the man who has only enjoyed or suffered for a large number of years. If we recall the great men of the past, Jesus Christ or Buddha, Alexander or Napoleon, Shakespeare or Goethe, we do not care to know how many years they lived, we judge them by the quality of their work, the influence they exercised on others. For example, Christ died early and Buddha lived up to a long age. But when we judge them, we judge them as founders of religions, by their deeds and not by their longevity. The same thing is true of Alexander and Napoleon, two of the greatest warriors and of Shakespeare and Goethe, two of the greatest writers.
Jesus Christ, Alexander, the Great English poet Keats — all these men died very prematurely. It should have been a good thing if they had lived longer. But the few years they lived were crowded with good things. Jesus preached a religion that is a part of Western Civilization, and Alexander won battle after battle and conquered country after country. Their short lives were crowded with glories and were thus much more valuable than millions of men who have lived long but who have not achieved any glory. Jesus and Alexander will be remembered as long as the world lasts but who cares for the nameless people who lived and lived and then died? Keats died very prematurely in his life – time he did not meet with much appreciation, but he wrote poetry that is now regarded as very great. Shall we judge him by his short life or by his lasting glory?
Sometimes even a single heroic deed is worth than an age without a name. A man not distinguished in any way — is passing along and he finds another man trapped in a fire or drowning in a river. The man who risks his life and even lays it down to save another has done something heroic, and this one act makes him great. He is to be judged by his deed, this one deed, and he had not taken this risk and passed away indifference, he would have lived longer but that life would have been inferior in quality.
The examples cited above, are of men who have become famous. They have not lived long in body, but their name and fame have survived. Men in ordinary walks of life cannot hope to do anything great, anything that will be remembered by ages to come. But even here in our day-to-day activities, it is the quality of work that counts. Whom do we praise or love? The teacher who toils for his pupils; the trader who is honest, the friend who stands by his friend. Here it is little deeds of kindness, courage and love that determine the value of a man’s life, not the length of his years.
An English poet says that the big oak tree grows in bulk, lives for three hundred years and is then used as fire wood. The lily lives for a day, but it scatters sweet fragrance all the time it is alive. The lily is far sweeter than the log of wood. So also a man who performs good deeds lives a better life than one who has lasted an age without doing anything that is valuable.
A man’s life is measured not by the years lived but by the volume of works he has done. It is not given to man to fix the span of his life but it is up to him to turn every moment to account. All will die, whether after a century or just tomorrow. What, therefore, matters is not the fact of longevity but of making memorable every moment over which a life extends. That is what made Napoleon, who died before fifty, famous and immortal. Christ passed away when he was hardly’ thirty. And yet they have left their impress on human history which few octogenarians can claim by the half. A death is inevitable, the goal of life should be not to make it long without purpose but to make it purposeful even though short.