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About Finding the “Ikagai”

Dalai Lama in one of his seminal speeches had said that “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions“. It’s not what you have or who you have but rather what you do, how you act and how you live, that many philosophers and thinkers say is the key to happiness.  The concept of “Ikagai” stems from these principles and in Japanese, means something akin to  “a reason for being” and translated in English it refers to the “reason you wake up in the  morning”.

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This idea of having a reason to wake up in the morning is beautifully explained and illustrated in a brilliant and precise work called Ikagai – Giving Everyday Meaning and Joy by Yukari Mitsuhashi . In this book, Ms. Mitsuhasi , takes the reader to the very root of the Ikagai word, explaining that the Japanese word of “Ikagai” consists of two Japanese characters, “iki” meaning life and “gai” meaning value or worth. The life that the “iki” refers to is not the big life and its meaning, but rather daily life – seikatsu; and about the joy a person finds living day to day , without which their life as a whole would not be a happy one. She further shares that while in West, the concept often leans towards finding happiness through work, in Japan, most people find their “ikagai” from their hobbies or their loved ones and not something they are necessarily paid to do. The concept of Ikagai per Ms. Mitsuhashi is so ingrained in the Japanese culture, that through their art and language, the Japanese people are constantly reminded of the joy that can be found in everyday life and will lead to a fulfilling life. Thus, Ikagai with its features of Everyday life, the act of giving, understanding and accepting emotions and active way of living leads to a stable state of mind, growth and progress and most importantly finding a purpose of life. She illustrates this concept by sharing stories of lives of people, both famous as well everyday man/woman, who have found their ikagai, through a variety of sources, including, hobbies, food, volunteering, or through their work, by getting better at their craft or seeing the impact that their work brings. Through several interviews, the author weaves stories of writers, business men and women and athletes, who have found their Ikagai through their work or by finding something worthwhile, post their retirement and how this finding of Ikgai has helped them succeed and find contentment. She brings the circle to its close, by showing how pursuit of Ikagai is the actions that lead to happiness.

This is a short, but a mighty book! It’s thought provoking and forces the reader to reflect on his or her life and  the directions it is heading towards. The author’s examples are well chosen, in the sense these are successful men and women, but they are like us and their life and pursuit of Ikagai, has helped them succeed, thus providing the reader with role models and inspirations. The author has written with simplicity, which works very well, as the ideas that the author puts through are contemplative and require thinking as the reader navigates through the book.  Furthermore, the concepts are clearly enunciated and the “plot” keeps moving forward. One of the most exemplary things about this work of non fiction, was that Ms. Mitsuhashi does not beat a concept to death, by constant repetition, but manages to find the fine balance of emphasizing on an idea and moving to the next concept.

To end, I would strongly recommend this book to everyone. It is good to sometimes sit and think about our lives and the good things in it and this book helps you value those good things and channelize them into your “Ikagai”

This book was part of my Non Fiction November Reads.

How To Think About Great Idea Project

I have always been fascinated by Philosophy. Its not like I always understood the subject completely and I often struggled with many of its theories, but I could not let go of this wondering fascination I had on this subject. I absolutely loved my Political Philosophy classes during my Graduate School days; a great credit also goes to the brilliant professor who taught us this jaw breaking subject and I remember the multiple re-reads I did of Plato’s Republic to get a hang of it, which fortunately I did before I graduated! Very recently,I have trying to find the time and make the effort to re-connect again with this subject and I have started and made extremely slow progress with Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophers and Albert Schopenhauer lies by my bed side book table urging me to pick it up and get going. Some critics even contend that Brother Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is in fact fundamentally a philosophical treatise and as I read more, I have to agree.

In this kind of background, Cleo, my reading buddy and my fellow adventurer in all reading madness, came up with the idea of reading How To Think About Great Ideas by Mortimer J. Adler’s. Adler in his book, discusses 52 ideas ranging from a broad variety of subjects from Truth to Morality to Politics. The plan is to spend one week reading about one idea and then posting it a blog on the same. The chapters are not particularly long but they are tough!Now knowing how easy my life is, I did wrangle a promise from Cleo, that we pace it out and while we attempt to complete one subject a week, we may take longer. Good thing, I did, because I am already falling behind. However I have started on the first chapter and needless to say, I am finding my mind doing extraordinary gymnastics until it hurts. So even if I inch at a snail’s pace, I will see this through and hopefully at the end of the whole exercise have a more pandered and more educated mind!

Hence I start! Do wish me luck!

Intellectualism in Alexandria

After all the brouhaha about the stress of book reviews and the constant need to keep thinking about what to write, I am back doing exactly that! Talk about eating your words! But the Goodreads Historical Fiction reading week was not something I could give up without an effort – I mean its History and its Fiction and we all know that I am OBSESSED with that genre. Unfortunately I discovered the event a bit too late, so could not finish the book on time and hence the delayed celebration, if one could call this that!

After much deliberation, I chose to read Flow Down Like Silver: Hypatia of Alexandria : a Novel  by Ki Longfellow. I had never read her works and I knew very little about Hypatia beyond that she was a mathematician and a philosopher in Egypt and Goodreads had given the novel a rating of 4.43. It seemed like a good book to start with and read something new, which addressed a genre that I loved!

The book opens with the destruction of the great library of Alexandria by the orders of Bishop Theophilus, the newly crowned religious leader of the city, who brings with him the new religion of Christianity and is determined to destroy all that is “pagan” and “ungodly”. Hypatia and her family and friends make a desperate effort to save some of the most valuable books in the library and there she meets and saves Minkah, an low born Egyptian who is also there trying to salvage the precious books from the leaping flames that engulf the library. The destruction of the library brings about a change in Hypatia’s life; her father, the brilliant mathematician Theon aggrieved by the destruction caused by Theophilus hides in his bedroom, forcing Hypatia to take on the job as a teacher and in turn become the breadwinner of the family.  As she struggles to keep sanity in her household, with a mentally ill father, a dying sister and yet another sister, who hates everyone and everything; she is also tasked with the charge of preserving the books salvaged from the fire in some remote corner of Egypt, where the Bishops powers cannot reach out to them. The books follows the life of Hypatia over the next 30 years, as she becomes an acclaimed philosopher of her time and travels all over the Roman world, all the while continuing to believe in “pagan” rituals and teaching the forbidden texts of Aristotle and Plato, all the while holding on the knowledge of the secret library, until a betrayal that changes everything, consigning those precious texts to ignominy.

What is there not to like about this book? It based in Egypt, with an intellectual woman as a central character and books that need to be saved….the perfect ingredients for a perfect novel. Not quite. The politics of the then Roman world is described with great detail and accuracy as is the religious conflict between the old religions and new emerging Christianity. There is a magnificent overview of some of the best texts in philosophy, mathematics and prose from the ancient world. But that’s all there is to the book. The characters are not real – everybody loves Hypatia. Great! But why? Because she is an intellectual? There were many intellectuals in the city that time….we just know everybody loves Hypatia and she is extraordinary. As a woman and as an intellectual she is indeed extraordinary considering the time, but her brilliance never comes out in the book. She is perpetually the babe lost in woods, needing Minkah or an Isadore to rescue her. She continues her obsequious behavior towards her cowardly father, and lets him treat her youngest sister with disdain without any complain or protest. She needs Minkah to make all decisions related to her own household, including whether to take her sick elder sister out of the house for an outing. There is no strength or intellect or brilliance that shines out of this character and she seems to be the central protagonist, only because the original Hypatia was a figure of intellectual authority. The other charterers are  equally incomplete – Isadore , the much loved heir of Theophilus, falls out of grace with the Bishop because of his beliefs and does good work among the poor and sick. Then when the Cyril. nephew to Theophilus,  becomes the bishop, Isadore returns to power as a blood thirsty curling who is out to kill Hypatia whom he loved desperately! Eh! Did I lose something in the plot? Nope! It’s just the way it’s written!  The author fills the book with debates on philosophy about intellect, after life etc – I don’t mind it one bit, I quite like philosophical and abstract discussion, except within a few minutes, you know that it is extremely superficial and shallow.  The only redeeming factor is when Hyptia points out that Christianity is a male dominated religion because the founding fathers of the religion suppressed woman’s voice and not because God said so…but I do not think that this angle of feminist studies really happened in 351 AD. I do not expect a historical fiction author to be necessarily an expert on philosophy, but then don’t rush in where angels fear to tread! The plot is so linear that you can see the end right into page 5 and the language ordinary.

Overall it is not the most inspiring book I have read, and should you choose to give it a miss, you will not lose out on anything significant.

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