When I was a college student in India, I keenly observed everything that went around me. It was a place called Pune, located in the central state of Maharashtra. Coming from Malaysia where I grew up having enough food, good neighborhood, ample space and opportunity for childhood entertainment and fun, I saw a stark difference. For the sake of brevity, let us just say that Malaysia (at least in my mind at that time) was a land of milk and honey… while India was the opposite.
But there was one thing that made India much much more superior than Malaysia – the profoundness that one finds in a simplistic life-style. Yes, though many people that I observed did not have much, they did not seem to be dissatisfied with their lack. They were still happy. Whereas in Malaysia, people could have a lot, and still be dissatisfied and unhappy. In other words, I realized that many people in Malaysia are materialistic and are given to their desires and wants of temporal needs (unreasonably so). They couldn’t see life beyond the externals. They needed to have a house, a car, and more material possessions… because these material possessions defined life and success.
In India – they have this famous saying – “high thinking, simple living” – this is not just a saying… this is what one would see in the people of this country. I was amazed at how an unassuming vegetable vendor in the market could talk to me about the profoundness of life – the essence of existence – the importance of spirituality, etc. – these are philosophers… and you would find philosophers everywhere in India – I even had a conversation with an engineer in a public bus and although engineering is his profession, he talked so beautifully about life and how to make it more meaningful. I would never find things like this in my country… because we don’t even teach subjects like philosophy and psychology in our schools. We only teach subjects that would make people ‘rich’… and do away with subjects that might make people ‘wise’ toward living a meaningful and happy life (sadly).
To cut the story short, I found myself falling in love with India – not because I am of Indian origin, but more so because I found a place where people lived for the right purpose – and the purpose is to ‘live life’ itself and not be bogged down by all that is not really important. These people understand what life is and how it should be lived. And everyday, I learned the beauty and profoundness of life from someone or the other. So in love that I lived there for about 9 years… and became a philosopher myself :p
So, what makes a person? In my opinion, all external factors that surround our lives do not make us who we are. They might affect us. But they do not determine who we are or become. What makes a person? The answer: What’s inside of him – his thoughts, emotion, and intentional behavior that stem out of the first two.
When I know ‘what truly makes me’ (by being completely in touch my internal experiences) – I would know that happiness is within my grasp. But when I focus on the externals to determine ‘what makes me’ – then I am making happiness an impossible experience to have and cherish.