Lovers of Lifestyle, not Life!

by | May 1, 2022

For many months, I have been reading “Faust,” a poem of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), published in two parts in 1806 and in 1832. Originally written in German, it has been translated by several people. The translation by the American poet, Bayard Taylor, done in 1862, reached me. Later, I came to know that it is the best English translation done, including one by the famous poet, Shelley. I got into this book, as Carl Jung (1875-1961) called the character of Faust as his lifetime inspiration. Upon reading it, I found it very touching, and the storytelling was, indeed mesmerizing.  

One must read world-class literature, if interested, for expanding one’s mind beyond the 24×7 show of “make-beliefs” and pride and prejudices injected into our minds through “education” and “cultural conditioning.” This becomes even more important as the education system has disowned moral education and turned itself into an exam-passing machine; and culture has been hijacked by social media. We must read books starting with our mother tongue and national authors, and then move on to world classics and all-time greats. 

In the last one year, I have read Tolstoy (1828-1910), who wrote in Russian, the French author Victor Hugo (1802-1885), and now, Goethe. The beauty of “Faust” is that it makes you aware of yourself, raising questions about what it means to be a human in this imperfect world. As another German author, Karen Horney (1885-1952), puts it, there are three ways in which people manage their lives: by moving toward people, by moving against people, and by moving away from people. However, there are no pure types, and a lot of mix and match goes on, to make life complicated.

In the poem, Faust is a 50-year-old, highly educated and accomplished man living in Germany. He finds his life without purpose. He is unable to comprehend what holds the world together at its core (line 382). At this juncture, Faust is approached by Satan, who makes a deal that he will get Faust whatever he wants in this world, in exchange for controlling his afterlife. The moment Faust signs the contract, with his blood as ink, Satan becomes his slave to fulfill all his desires. 

Your palate also shall be sated
Your nostrils sweetly stimulated
Your sense of touch exhilarated
(lines 1442-44).

The desire of Faust to regain his youth is quickly met. Then, he wants to marry a pious girl. But, meanwhile, she ends up poisoning her mother, her brother is killed in a fight over her reputation, and she is hanged for drowning her illegitimate child. This is the story of Part One. It shakes you off from being a desire machine, as no desire is without consequences. The picture shows a painting of Faust and Satan playing chess to convey that every move of a piece on the board affects the entire game. 

Goethe very aptly describes life as simultaneously living in two worlds – one, small and another, bigger. The smaller world is our personal world – what we think and feel, our family, friends and adversaries, helpmates and tormentors, our pursuits, successes, and failures. Our free will is all we have here. The bigger world is that in which this small world exists – the society, economy, politics, nature, and so on. We hardly have any control on what happens in this world, and must make our way through it by taking good decisions.

In Part Two, which I find the most brilliant literature I have ever come across, Goethe creates Faust, facing characters and situations representing the Old World of Spirits and Providence and the New World of Science and Rationality. This time, Faust desires the resurrection of Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman ever born, as his wife, and a kingdom for himself. Both happen, but again end in tragedy. There is a last-minute twist when Faust desires for salvation and, unable to accomplish it for him, Satan defaults on the contract and Faust finds impunity in Cosmic Unity (line 11807, 8).

What is the message? My takes are three.

The first is the brevity of human life. Even if we live for, say, 100 years, it is a very short time if we include our ancestors, whose DNA and karma we are living out, and our future generations, living out after our death, our DNA and karma. It is, indeed, most stupid to take decisions without considering this big picture. None of us exists as an isolated entity everything is connected, not only here, in this world, but in other unseen realms and space-times. The spirit-world is, indeed, “running” our lives, through the impulses and drives emerging from within us.

The second learning is the mistake of trying to achieve stardom instead of living properly, or creating a perfect society without sorting out our own personal defects. People run businesses without sorting out the problems within their own families. Modern workplaces smack of unhealthy promiscuousness. Children and the elderly are neglected by the “global executives” and adultery is packaged into lifestyles. It is stupid to change and better the world without living a clean life oneself and attending to the responsibilities that the fundamental institution of a family entails. Many of these people end up in addictions. 

The third learning is, misunderstanding the purpose of human life itself. There is no “I” here. This is the biggest illusion that we carry. In whatever we do, or whatever happens to us, or even what we think, there is an involvement of others. Faust tries to step beyond the limitations of a human life, to seek that which is not given to mankind to know or experience. Because of this, his life is a constant series of disappointments and frustrations. So are the careers of people in the modern corporate world.  

Faust is a hero because he never loses heart and continues with the struggle. Ultimately, he comes to understand the meaning of life as to learn, as an eternal soul, different experiences in this mortal and ever-changing physicality. Interestingly, Goethe differed with Newton on light and colors. According to Goethe, the highest degree of light, such as that of the sun, is colorless. Only through a medium, is it seen as colored. Similarly, the pure cosmic soul acquires different qualities upon entering physicality.

Life is the striving of a soul during its evolution. It means action. Even if you have made mistakes, keep pursuing your path. Giving up midway, abandoning your responsibilities, failing your obligations, and letting down your own self by laziness and cowardice, is following Satan. There are no miracles, only traps with disastrous consequences. All you need is to say no to anything that is given, apparently free, or promised by breaking natural laws. 

The Scottish poetess, Carol Ann Duffy (b. 1955), in her poem, “Mrs Faust”, sums up best the predicament of the contemporary woman and man chasing wealth, power, and pleasures in the world, and living their lives as if playing chess with the Devil:

I grew to love lifestyle, not the life.
He grew to love the kudos, not the wife.

She concludes the hard-hitting poem by questioning if the clever, cunning, and callous modern people have even a soul to sell.

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26 Comments

  1. Thank you, Prof Tiwariji for enlightening with words of wisdom embedded in world-class literatue !

    Your way of creating awareness to expand mind beyond “make-beliefs” is mesmerizing !!

  2. Wonderful article Sir. This idea of Satan making a deal is very interesting. After reading this, I am a little scared as my job involves making different people, many of the unknown and presenting themselves with a lot of fineness and offering great promises.

    I can see that the most real thing in life is your sweat. If things are rolling out well without making much effort, and luck is favoring you every time, you are indeed spotted by Satan, and he is snaring you into his net. Thank you for this most useful insight.

    Will you write a book introducing “Faust” to people like me, keen to learn but not much comfortable with foreign literature? Actually I never heard about “Faust” before reading this blog.

  3. Very refreshing to read about “Faust”. The picture itself is captivating.

    While Goethe’s Faust is probably the best-known story of the Devil making a deal with a mortal, it is not the first or only telling of such a tale. The major theme of Faust, that of supernatural temptation and human strength or weakness, is seen in the earliest literature of ancient cultures. This idea is also popular in oral cultures. It is a story that perseveres and continues to be part of the cultural and intellectual context of the modern era.

    The moral of the story is clear. One should be morally upright in this life to assure eternal comfort and salvation. Deals with the Devil only lead to future suffering. The examples are galore, only if one cares to see.

  4. I read this blog about “Faust”. Can anyone refuse dealing with the Devil? May I share this anonymous poem:

    I didn’t do it until it was too late.
    Who knew that this would be my fate.
    Looking in those eyes I can’t turn away,
    Seeing that smile makes me want to stay.

    You are so beautiful in every single way,
    You make me smile and brighten up my day,
    You see me and make me feel special,
    Who knew you were my deal with the devil?

    Thank you for creating this very vital awareness about life. All that is comfortable, pleasant, and promising is often not good and leads one to complacency and even sorrow.

  5. Dear Sir, Once again the message is very clear about the purpose of our life and the idea of our existence. life is not a bed of roses, even Lord Rama had a series of disasters in his life, and I feel that challenges in his life made him a God. Ram van (forest) gaye to ban (become) gaye. I am also facing exile, and life has thought me a lesson, actually, every day I am learning and facing challenges and your teaching helping me at every step of my life.

  6. Dear Prof. Tiwari, Thank you for exposing me to some of the world’s classics. You are a voracious reader and enjoy world’s classics. Unfortunately, I could not develop this habit. The poem, where Faust is the main character, looks like one of the “Kissa Haatim Tai Ka’ stories, which were popular among children and adults in villages and small town in the past.

    I agree with your three takes from the Faust story. Life is always a complicated affair. How one navigates it depends on the wisdom acquired by the individual through his/her upbringing, education, culture and religion. All things, both animate and inanimate, in this world are inter connected. Thus, one’s decision does have a bearing on what happens in the bigger picture. This impact travels intergenerational space as well.

    I have not read any of the books that you have mentioned in the blog. The Faust poem appears to be similar to saint Kabeer’s poems/dohas. They also make one aware of oneself being a human being in this perfect world. Reading Meera’s, Surdas’s and Kabeer’s creations also widen one’s horizon leading to enlightenment and spirituality.

  7. Fascinating read, Prof Tiwari. The write-up resonated on several points, especially the one about living a clean life and attending to responsibilities of the family — only then can be a truly successful professional or leader.

    Some thoughts that occurred to me are:

    *That Satan approached Faust at exactly the juncture that life had started appearing tasteless is significant, and alerts us to this possibility.

    *Desiring a good lifestyle is not wrong per se.
    The state of desirelessness, though desirable, is difficult to attain for most human beings. Moreover, buried desires are an obstacle in attaining Moksha or even taking to the ‘higher path’ — I remembered the instance of Mahavtar Babaji fulfilling the dormant desire of Lahiri Mahasaya to live in a luxurious palace, which He materialised in the deep jungle in the Himalayas.

    *The problem was that Faust’s worldly desires came easy, through Satan; if he had asked God or a realized Master, his journey would have been different, noble.

    * In Hinduism, worship of Goddess Mahalakshmi is supposed to yield eight kinds of wealth — of which the last is, in fact, Moksha. Asking God, while also submitting that only desirable desires be fulfilled is one way of not falling prey to weaknesses.

    * Last but not least, about children’s school education. As you mention, it is now confined to passing exams, rather than building character.

    Life skills, tolerance, fortitude and other important values are fast losing out to gratification of the senses and glamour. This area needs urgent correction. Connecting it with your blog — If we catch them young and teach them well, people will know how not to give in to Satan’s temptations and to easy ways out, which ultimately throw them into a downward spiral! Importantly, they will know how to survive adversities.

    Thank you for the immense learning!

  8. Good food for thought in these changing times where its very easy to ignore the “you” in every conversation and overlook opportunities that would have added value to other people’s lives! We just can’t live for ourselves! Thank you Prof Tiwari.

  9. The article is narrative of the present situation in the world throughout.
    It is a mad competition of exhibitionism, waiting for appreciation etc., rather than lead a life to the fullest.
    One needs time and company of books, friends and solitude to savour life in its fullest form of appreciation of life, our ability to think rationally, educate others about goodness.
    May be it is too late. May it is not – if centuries back, the same views were contemplated. Nonetheless, let us all not join the mad mad world but let us be sane, teach others to be sane and enjoy the world around us

  10. May I add this quote from English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley. “The chess-board is the world; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, and patient. But also, we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance.”

  11. Dear sir, Thank you very much for a philosophic and thought proving blog.
    I am reminded of that great saying ” MAN HAS LEARNT HOW TO SWIM LIKE A FISH IN WATER AND FLY LIKE A BIRD IN SKY BUT HASNOT LEARNT TO LIVE LIKE A HUMAN BEING ON EARTH” The bottom line is we should first learn to live on earth as normal human beings. The ever present “I” should vanish. One should try and learn to live in the society and make the society place for harmonious living.

    The most important learning from the blog is, “It is stupid to change and better the world without living a clean life oneself and attending to the responsibilities that the fundamental institution of a family entails.” Let us change ourselves first than expecting the whole surroundings to change as per our wish. This is definitely possible provided we all work without selfish goals and start loving life than lifestyle. Thank you once again for an eye opening blog.

  12. Thank you sir for another blog with beautiful narration.
    How every action of ours has consequences!
    We can’t calculate every move and predict everything about what might go right and wrong. We will be presented certain situations where we might have to just wing it.
    All one should hope and practice is that they do no harm to others around by their actions.
    As you mentioned sir “Even if you have made mistakes, keep pursuing your path.” is my take away.

  13. Life is a journey in a world full of uncertainties and several unknowns. The future is unpredictable. I personally believe in two contradictory powers: (a) The power of rationality and Scientific processes, and (b) The power of mystique and destiny. I am happy to read about different conceptions of the good life in the writings of Goethe and other thinkers.

    Thank you very much, Prof. Tiwari, for your wonderful blog. Warm regards

  14. Bhai saab a very thoughtful piece.
    This world looks imperfect.
    But life teaches us that the imperfection is a part of the Makers perfection.
    Man is made in Gods image. Why?
    One must ponder.

  15. Thank you Arun ji for this insightful blog. Very profound take aways:
    1. There is no desire without consequences
    2. Everything is connected
    3. Living properly instead achieving stardom ( In my book – Manage, Live and Lead, I emphasised that you can not become a leader with out having led a proper life
    4. Keep your path despite making mistakes

  16. The idea of karma is inbuilt in the Indian mind, independent of religion. Simply put, what we do and put out into the world comes back to us. Normally the idea of karma guides people’s actions. At the time of his death, Raja Dashrath remembers that he is dying out of the punishment of killing Shravan Kumar, the son of his blind parents, mistaking for a wild beast during his hunting expedition in his youth. (Ramcharitmanas 1.2.155.3-4).

    बिलपत राउ बिकल बहु भाँती। भइ जुग सरिस सिराति न राती॥
    तापस अंध साप सुधि आई। कौसल्यहि सब कथा सुनाई॥

    Everything you do comes back to you, whether it’s good or bad. We are a reflection of what we put out into the world. If you constantly use and abuse people, life will use and abuse you. If you dedicate your life to doing good, you will be rewarded. Stay positive and do you! What goes around will always come back around, so make sure you always choose love, compassion, and kindness in your actions.

  17. A wonderful narration of Life……

    Reading Old Classics, benefiting and taking away goodies from it, is akin to climbing Mount Everest for a common reader like me. You being a voracious reader and that too of Classics followed by short listing and summarizing it for us to carry it home in carry bags is so enthralling. One needs to profusely thank you Dear Arun ji.

    Human desire is endless, un-satiating. The desire to be rich loaded with the best amongst the best. A beautiful wife loving children, position in society, power to yield the magic wand and all which a common man desires when he looks at the so called rich elite and powerful…… but do check with those who have all… are they happy and contended? Many might say yes! But the truth is always lying…. The desire never ends. A simple person with simple living, clean thinking and generally satisfied and contended is the one who beats the Satan and attains moksha – the transcendent state as a result of being released from the cycle of rebirth… Perhaps one in billions.

    Loved the thought behind the Blog.

  18. Lovely narrative, Professor Tiwari. You are our window for great literature. Thanks for making it accessible.

    To a highly variable extent, we all falter in understanding the brevity of human life, try to achieve stardom and misunderstand the purpose of human life itself. Reminding this fact would help keep us grounded.

    Rereading this blog would get us back to life and enable going beyond our lifestyle.

  19. I agree with you, Sir. It’s sad that our education system has turned itself into an exam-passing machine and that our culture has been ‘hijacked’ by social media. One of the ways we can help ourselves break free from this absurdity is by reading national and international classics.

    Books are windows into a wonderful world that our system has made us turn a blind eye to. They’re inspiring and eye-opening, qualities that are seriously lacking in our education and culture these days.

    Thank you for bringing my attention to Faust, Sir. I will surely be adding it to the list of books I need to read.

  20. Respected Arun Tiwari Sir, Thank you very much for again an enlightening blog. My one general thought about your blogs is, you are a system to which there are inputs consist of science, technology, philosophy, history, literature, mythology and I must not forget math as in previous blog you drawn an unique perspective of calculus, And process of system works as per the algorithm (named Arun Tiwari Sir) which brings an output on a period of 15 days in the form of blog which is perfect harmonious amalgamation of many wisdom. So the system may be called as “MISPO Many input single periodical output”. There are many consumer to that output & I am one among them.

    As Goethe said contrary to Newton, Highest degree of light is colourless, only through a medium it is seen as coloured, But I want to stay with Newton, as you said pure cosmic soul acquires different qualities upon entering physicality, to understand & realise that colourless light one needs to to understands its all component (each component have different qualities as soul have by carrying physicality…) which makes it colourless, and for that one needs medium, Here your blogs plays as a medium which enlighten us both united & distinguished component of light of wisdom.

    Few month ago, I read a story. A Professor asked a bunch of African children to run for a target. First among them will get all sweet. Children held hands of others and ran together. An distributed the sweets among them equally. Professor asked why they did so? Reply of children remined me of your blog in previous year, in which you also talked about Nelson Mandela & explained that concept beautifully ie “ UBUNTU, I AM BECAUSE WE ARE”. I mentioned this story and concept because third learning of your in “FAUST” poem is that is There is no “ I ” here.

    Dear Sir since last two years I read almost all of your Facebook post, Article & blogs, I observed one thing common in your writing (even in your books) , you always mention life span of person you talk abou. Why & How it started?

  21. Such an old poem, and still thriving in consumer societies. Right from the credit cards to ordering fast food, each one of us is opting for immediate pleasure even after knowing the long term pains. Even technology these days has highlighted our day to day Faustian choices – as in who reads the ‘terms and conditions’? Goethe rightly warns us to be cautious of the ego, the “I” as you beautifully stated in your blog. Also the seduction of power and fame as these are short lived and hollow victories. What hood are these if a man loses his soul? Your writings always inspire us to look within and self analyze.

  22. Very true Sir. Every event is caused by reasons behind it and in turn creates events in future. Even the birth of Lord Rama had five trails of events converging together. Through the curse of the Brahma’s son Sanakadi, two of Lord Vishnu’s gatekeepers are turned into Asuras but killed by Lord. They were born as Ravana and Kumbhakaran. Jalandhara’s wife Vrinda cursed Vishnu that would make his wife stolen from him. Narada’s curse after he was tricked by Vishnu to have monkey-like face in a Svayambar would make him need monkeys’ help. And finally boon to Manu and his wife Satarupa that Vishnu will be born as child in their lineage. These five loops were closed by Shri Rama’s birth, Sita’s abduction, Hanuman’s expedition, and Ravana’s death.

  23. Thank you Dr. Tiwari, for describing the origins of the Faustian bargain, where a pact is made in which a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as power or riches.

    It is illustrative to apply the principle of the Faustian bargain to the diplomacy of the new world order. Let us explore the Faustian bargain India has made in supporting Russia’s barbaric invasion of the Ukraine. India’s craven diplomacy is a Faustian bargain that it will regret. In its quest for cheap oil from Russia the government of India has sold its soul and failed the test of history. This is a time of testing. It is in a true crisis that a nation reveals its moral compass.

    No crisis since World War II has presented a clearer moral challenge than Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The senseless slaughter of a people must outrage our moral sensibilities. Volodmyr Zelensky has passed the test of history by bravely rallying the people of Ukraine to resist Russia’s war of aggression. And President Joe Biden has thus far passed the test of history by coalescing NATO to confront Putin with military support for Ukraine and by imposing economic sanctions against Russia.

    India, through its failure to support Western efforts to bring Putin to heel, has failed the test of history. In repeated United Nations votes to condemn the invasion of Ukraine India has abstained and refused to pass judgment on Russia, thus failing the moral test of a great nation, and undermining the Quad, an alliance with the United States, Japan, and Australia to resist aggression in Asia. The United States should reconsider its selection of India as a strategic defense partner in Asia, as it has proven itself unworthy of this designation.

    This is not a time for moral neutrality. Even Switzerland, famous for its neutrality, has condemned Putin’s war of aggression. Most importantly, India undermines sanctions against Russia by continuing to buy Russin oil at discount prices, thus financing Putin’s war crimes. The sanctions against Russia will have no bite as long as nations such as India continue to do business with Russia.

    To pass the test of history now, the United States must impose secondary sanctions on countries such as India that continue to deal with Putin. And India has to demonstrate the moral fiber of its founder, Mahatma Ghandi, who must be spinning in his grave and would be appalled at India’s failure to be a responsible stakeholder in the new world order.

  24. Dear Sir, its always pleasure to read your postings. The way you explained the character of Faust is excellent. The message was clear when you say 1. brevity of human life 2. the mistake of trying to achieve… 3. misunderstanding the purpose of human life itself.

    I feel in today’s scenario, we should not lose heart and continue with the struggle, like Faust. I am really impressed with your words I.e. “Life is the striving of a soul during its evolution. It means action. Even if you have made mistakes, keep pursuing your path.” Thank you for enlighting about life with your blog.

  25. Prof Tiwari, Always a pleasure reading your blogs and great sharing from your own life’s journey experiences.

    I play chess. There are three phases of the game – the opening, middle and Eng game. Because chess is a game of strategy, when one does his opening, he already has the end game in picture. Life is not simply the opening ..:

    Thank you for your sharing

  26. Once again moral lesson, it is wonderful to read and study things inside on contents. It is often quite disgusting about ones own doings and happenings of life. How can we discern things on mind which is right or wrong? The virtuous life is only giving best to individual and society. But how can we lead a virtuous life in one his own circumstances is another question. Todays politicians, especially leaders, are fraudulent in principles and leaderships and they are misleading and persuading our society with theirs self interests. On this world who can tell us “My life is a message” to the world? It can only a Mahatma. Who follows a life of Mahatma? Now it only pretentious.

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