Goethe was the greatest thinkers of the Nineteenth Century. He knew life steadily and knew it whole. We find in this opinion of his a profound understanding of life.
What did Goethe mean by saying ‘Life is action and not contemplation‘? Evidently, he meant that too much attention to thought would make us forget the very fundamental law of human life, which is action. Men must act in their lives fully well, and to realize all that is noble and lofty in the. Another German thinker Fichte said, “Life was not given for indolent contemplation and study of self, nor the brooding over emotions of piety: action and actions only determine the worth.” Carlyle who admired Goethe so much one wrote, “The end of man is action, and not thought it be of the noblest“.
It is simple law that governs man’s life ‘Do or die‘. No man can pass his days in peace and prosperity by dreaming golden dreams. There are many men who while away their time in thinking. They never strive to realize their vision. What is all their thought worth? Is it not kind of luxury? In India, especially, pure thinking or barren thinking has a tremendous attraction for us. This is one reason why we are so far back in the race of progress, Sophocles says, “Heaven never helps the man who will not act,” This is amply proved in our case.
The habit of aimless contemplation takes us no where. Worse than that it kills all healthy desire for action. It is a kind of vice that saps one’s will. In Keat’s ‘Hyperion’ (Revised Vision) the Goddess Moneta admonishes the poet thus :
“Only the dreamer venoms all his days.
Bearing more woe than all his sins deserve.”
Indeed contemplation can never make us happy in the real sense of the term. The poet, Coleridge knew it as he himself was a dreamer of idle dreams. Late in life is lamented:
“Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain,
And genius given, and knowledge won in the vain.”
Through contemplation one cannot be happy. Disraeli did not overstate it when he said, “Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” The man who broods over life seldom enjoys the wholesome pleasures of life. To him life is either a mockery or a tragedy. In his attempt at penetrating to the centre of human life, he misses the very drama and joy of human existence.
Action, on the other hand, is the law of human existence, “Remember you have not a sinew whose law of strength is not action.” says E.B. Hall, “not a faculty of body, mind, or soul, whose law of improvement is not energy.” The idleness of the body not only weakens our system, it also corrupts or soul. The man who does not act losses self-confidence, strength of will and hope. he becomes a parasite or a misfit.
Life is a system of duties. It is the man of action who does his duties. The thinker who is concerned with the deeper problems of a human should often neglects his assigned duties imposed by the laws of man and God. In the words of Carlyle, “Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies closely to hand.“
Our loftiest thoughts are of little avail if they are not translated into action. One may be a man of lofty and original thoughts, but one’s thoughts would be so many words or sounds unless they can be carried into practice. Again, there is no better test of truth or untruth, or the significance of a though than its translation into action. “The action of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts,” said Loke.
Man realizes his loftiest possibilities in action. Abraham Lincoln would not have come from the “Log Cabin” to “White House” if he had simply dreamed of a future glory in his youth. He was not a dreamer, but a man of action, that is how he became so great. Mahatma Gandhi was another man of action. His hold was so great on us as we know that he meant what he said, that he could stake everything to realize in actual practice the theory that he preached. As a thinker Mahatma Gandhi was negligible. We have greater thinkers and better scholars in India, but there is none like Mahatma in action. The man of deeds does not waste his time in profitless discussion and subtle logic-chopping.
This, however, is not to say that contemplation has no use whatsoever in human life. It is true that an excessive indulgence in contemplation and the neglect of action is nothing short of disaster. But a good thinker is a benefactor of mankind. He too has his sues. He may not act himself, but his thoughts may inspire others. hence, the German poet once said, “Mark this well, ye proud men of action! Ye are, after all, nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought.” There is good deal of truth in what Heine says. A powerful and original thinker may succeed in giving a new outlook, a new philosophy of life to the man of his generation. Is it not also true that the best of human art and the best of human philosophy are derived from contemplation rather than from action? The man who destroys, we should remember is also the man of action. A thinker, however, often builds, and often beautifies what is ugly and ennobles what is neglected.
Life then is not, can cannot be, only action. Contemplation too has its use. Life should be a harmony of the two. When the thinkers acts, when the man of action thinks, the millennium will come. Today those who act are too impatient, and those who think are too self-centered and dreamy. As Foote says “Let us unite contemplation with action. In the harmony of the tow lies the perfection of character…..contemplation will strengthen action and action sends us back to contemplation and thus the inner and outer life will be harmoniously developed.“