Thursday, December 25, 2014


THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING – A Happy and Carefree Philosophy of Life
Book Review 

There is one book you will never find in my bookcase – you will always find it by my bedside near my pillow. 

At night, just before I go to sleep, I open this book to any random page, and read on till I drift off to blissful idyllic sleep.
The name of this book, which has had a profound defining effect on me, maybe even subconsciously shaped my philosophy of life, is:

The Importance of Living written in 1937 by the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang. 

But first, let me tell you a story, probably apocryphal, about a scholar who had thoroughly studied the Bhagavad Gita for many years.

This renowned scholar considered himself an expert and he traveled far and wide delivering discourses on the teachings of the Gita.

He was widely acknowledged as an authority on the subject.

The scholar
s ultimate desire was to deliver a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita at Benares, which was the sanctum sanctorum of learning.

(Benares is also called Kashi and Varanasi)
So he went to Benares, and impressed by the scholar’s erudition and fame, the King of Benares invited the scholar to deliver a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita in his court.

All the wise men of Benares assembled to hear the Scholar.

But just as the scholar began to speak the King interrupted the scholar and told him to read the Bhagavad Gita one more time in the evening and deliver his discourse the next day.

The Scholar was furious but he had no choice but to comply with the king’s wishes.
As he read the Bhagavad Gita with full concentration in the evening, he realized some new meanings and updated his speech accordingly.

Next day the same thing happened – the moment the scholar began to speak the King interrupted him and told him to read the Gita once more and then come the next day to give his lecture.

And again as the Scholar read the Gita he comprehended some new wisdom – something he hadn’t perceived before. 

So he incorporated his new findings and proceeded to deliver his talk.
Once again the same thing happened – the king interrupted him and told him to read the Gita once more before he gave his discourse. 

And again the scholar discovered some new wisdom in the Gita.

This cycle went on for days and days till the scholar realized how ignorant he was and how much more there was to learn from the Bhagavad Gita.

Realizing that he had still to learn so much more from the Bhagavad Gita, the scholar gave up the idea of delivering the discourse.

He decided to totally devote his entire efforts to the study of the Bhagavad Gita.

Day after day, the scholar kept studying the Bhagavad Gita.
Many days passed.

Suddenly one morning, when the scholar was deeply immersed in his study, the King went to the scholar’s house, sat before him with folded hands and requested the scholar to enlighten him about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.
It is the same with any great book.

Every time you read it, something new emerges, and you realize you have so much more to learn from it.

This is what I experience with this book THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING - every time I read it I learn something new.
Now let me tell you a few salient aspects about The Importance of Living, my favourite book, a philosophical treatise that enriched my life and taught me the Art of Living.

Published: 1937 (New York, USA); Indian Edition: 1960 JAICO Mumbai
ISBN: 81-7224-829

I have read The Importance of Living innumerable times, again and again, with renewed pleasure.

And every time I read this book, I imbibe a special different philosophical flavor, and grasp new wisdom, which delves on all aspects of the art of living.

I have realized that there is more significance and value in Lin Yutang’s magnum opus than I am capable of appreciating.

So let me not be as presumptuous as to attempt to evaluate or critique this classic treatise.

I will just try to gently pilot you along in random vignettes to give you a flavor of this delightful philosophical gem.
Let’s open this delightful book to a few random pages, read some lines to give you glimpse into the wisdom on the art of living contained in this masterpiece.


In the section on Leisure and Friendship are these words:

“Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely”.

Reflect on this, let these words perambulate in your mind for some time. There is nothing that man enjoys more than leisure.

The highest value of time is when you are doing what you love and want to do. 

During leisure you are free to choose what you want to do and enjoy doing.

Leisure enables you to realize the highest value of your time. 

Tell me, why do you work?

Is it for job satisfaction, "on the job"?

Or is it to earn money "on the job" so that you can enjoy satisfaction "off the job"

In short, you work to earn money which enables you to enhance the quality of your free time.

In fact, most of us work for our leisure, because there is nothing we enjoy more than leisure.

Elaborating on a theory of leisure the book says:

“Time is useful because it is not being used. Leisure is like unoccupied floor space in a room…it is that unoccupied space which makes a room habitable, as it is our leisure hours which make our life endurable” 
Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.

Enunciating the distinction between Buddhism and Taoism:

“The goal of the Buddhist is that he shall not want anything

While the goal of the Taoist is that he shall not be wanted at all”.

Lin Yutang, the author, describes the tremendous advantages of obscurity, and deduces that only he who is not wanted by the public can be a carefree individual.

It is true isn’t it – only he who is a carefree individual can be a happy human being?

Anonymity gives you a freedom which fame cannot.

Lin Yutang deliberates delightfully on his philosophical view:
“Nothing matters to a man who says nothing matters”.

The book delves on our basic questions of life.

“How are we to live? 

How shall we enjoy life, and who can best enjoy life?”


The feast of life is before us. 

The only question is what appetite we have to enjoy and relish this feast 
The appetite is vital, not the feast.

This delightful treatise gives us insights on how to develop, enhance and refine our appetites in order to enjoy various facets of living.

The capacity for true enjoyment comes from an inner richness in a man who loves the simple ways of life.

There is always plenty of life to enjoy for a man who is determined to enjoy it.   

You may find some of the author’s views a bit passé – here are a few of his sayings:

mere relationship between man and woman is not sufficient; the relationship must result in babies, or it is incomplete” 

woman reaches her noblest status only as a mother, and that wife who by choice refuses to become a mother… loses a great part of her dignity…and stands in danger of becoming a plaything” 

“A natural man loves his children, but a cultured man loves his parents” 

“The art of attaining happiness consists in keeping your pleasures mild” 

It is against the will of God to eat delicate food hastily, to pass gorgeous views hurriedly, to express deep sentiments superficially, to pass a beautiful day steeped in food and drink, and to enjoy your wealth steeped in luxuries” 

Take it or leave it. 

But do think about it, reflect a bit, and you may detect a iota of authenticity in these nuggets.
The book has fourteen chapters, embellished with epigrams, teaching stories, ancient wisdom and wit, on various aspects of the importance and enjoyment of living and once you start reading it this book is indeed so engrossing that it is truly unputdownable.

The Importance of Loafing, The Enjoyment of the Home, Nature, Travel, Culture, The Arts of Thinking, Eating, Reading, Writing, Loving, Happiness – the range and variety of topics covered indeed make fascinating reading.

Reading is the greatest of all joys. 

Extolling the virtues and charm of reading, Lin Yutang says:

“The man who has not the habit of reading is imprisoned in his immediate world – the reader is always carried away into a world of thought and reflection”.

And on writing: “a writing is always better when it is one’s own, and a woman is always lovelier when she is somebody else’s wife”. 

“He who is afraid to use an ‘I’ in his writing will never make a good writer”.

“Anyone who reads a book with a sense of obligation does not understand the art of reading.

In order to be thoroughly enjoyed, reading must be entirely spontaneous – you can leave the books that you don’t like alone, and let other people read them!”
The best way to read The Importance of Living is to open any page and browse whatever appeals to you, randomly, in an unstructured and haphazard manner.


Think of yourself as a traveler in the philosophical or spiritual domain.

The essence of travel is to have no destination. 

A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to; a perfect traveler does not know where he came from.
A true traveller is always a vagabond – he travels to see nothing, to see nobody, with plenty of time and leisure, with the true motive to become lost and unknown.

Are you the ambitious competitive go-getter obsessed with an overpowering desire for achieving quick success – craving for power, wealth, fame, and the status and money-oriented aspects of life?

Do you value material possessions more than peace of mind?
Is external achievement more important than inner tranquility?
If your answer to any of the questions is “Yes”, then please don’t bother to read this book right now, as you may be too “busy” in your own competitive rat race of your own making.

And hence, you probably don’t have any time to “waste” on anything that does not give you something tangible in return – a solid material ROI (Return on Investment) for investing your valuable time and effort reading this book.

But please don’t forget to read The Importance of Living after you have burned out.

Yes, you will get plenty of time to read this book after you have had a heart attack or suffered a nervous breakdown. 

Once you are out of the rat race you will have plenty of time, and, perhaps, you will have the inclination, to reflect, contemplate, and delve more deeply upon the more intangible philosophical aspects of life – and ruminate on how you could have obviated that stressful burn-out, agonizing heart attack or traumatic nervous breakdown.


Here’s what Lin Yutang says: 

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy cannot be wise.”
If you are happy here and now, wherever you are, in whatever state you are, and you are truly content with what you have   if you place living above thinking, and if you are interested in savoring the feast of life and its joys   then this witty philosophical treatise on the art of living in its entirety is the book for you.
The Importance of Living presents an uncomplicated approach to living life to its fullest in today's rapidly changing, fast paced, competitive, ambition dominated, money and status oriented, commercialized world, enabling each one of us to enjoy inner peace and happiness.

Sometimes, it is a great pity to read a good book too early in life. 
The first impression is the one that counts.

Young people should be careful in their reading, as old people in eating their food. 

They should not eat too much. 

They should chew it well.

Like you should eat gourmet food only when you are ready for it, you should read a good book only when you are ready for it.

Mature wisdom cannot be appreciated until one becomes mature.
But the beauty of The Importance of Living is that it is a book for all ages.

Of 1937 vintage, 
The Importance of Living is an ancestor and precursor of modern self-help books, it is a delightful philosophical treatise, which advocates a humorous and vagabond attitude towards life and deals with a variety of topics encompassing the art of living.

Is such a happy and carefree philosophy of life relevant today?
Why don’t you give it a try and see for yourself.

Read this book slowly, unhurriedly, in a relaxed manner.

Do peruse this classic masterpiece thoroughly and absorb the witty wisdom.

From time to time, pause, reflect, try out, practice and incorporate whatever appeals to you in your daily life.

Ruminate, experiment, enjoy yourself, have a laugh, change your lifestyle, enhance your quality of life, elevate your plane of living, and maybe your entire way of life may change forever.

Dear Reader:

I commend this delightfully illuminating book.

Though enunciated with a touch of humor, the thoughts are profound.

Do get a copy of The Importance of Living and read it leisurely.

I am sure you will find a copy at your nearest bookstore or in your library.

And don’t forget to tell us how you liked it, and whether it changed your way of life for the better. 

I am sure you will find something in the book which will help you lead a better life.

All the Best. 

Wish you a Happy Life ahead. 

May you experience the importance of living, live life to the fullest and enjoy the feast of life.

Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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1. This is based on my personal experience. It may or may not work for you. So please do due diligence before trying out this technique.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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I wrote this book review almost 15 years ago, in the year 2000, and have posted it online in my blogs a number of times including at url:

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