Or is it?
This is a controversial proverb if one asks my opinion. I will try to justify my stance on this supposedly "tried and tested" proverb. A proverb is a proverb because its tried and tested. But there are a few instances when people accept things without questioning them, of which this proverb could be an example.
It is not known to me, as to who coined the proverb. It could be Thomas Alva Edison or Albert Einstein or Mahatma Gandhi or the Devil himself. I would like to know who coined it but thats beyond my reach as of now. If Edison did come up with it, it is fair to the come to the conclusion that he had a great sense of humor. Why? What else can one think of a man, who advocated 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration as the way to attain great heights? I, for one, am sure that if he advocated it as historians proclaim, I am sure that he followed it too. And if that was indeed the case, I guess Edison would have had very little time to be idle.
I have a strong feeling that whoever came up with the proverb was idle him/herself (that is why he/she has come up with such a wicked sentence) or just came across a few instances when people who were idle, actually committed actions which could have been only conceived in the Devil's workshop(if the devil or the workshop or both do exist!). Or this could be just another case of a coin having 2 sides to it. For instance, my mind which was idle till now (though I am supposed to be working) is now thinking about the proverb and the various ways in which it could be interpreted. While I could and might be misinterpreting it, it does not necessarily mean that I am doing something sacrilegious. In fact, this piece of work(art!) could turn out to be something momentous. Hence, I can safely conclude that I am doing something useful, which definitely is not something that comes out of a devil's workshop. While I have considered the lone case of my mind tending to veer away from the "standard practice", I am pretty sure there are lots more people out there who would readily agree with me. An idle mind necessarily does not lead to a disaster.
I have even come across a story were a man who remains idle, both physically and mentally (now, that is what I call tough!) is considered to be enlightened and is literally worshipped by the people who know him. It is just part of Indian folklore, but remaining idle is one of the toughest tasks without a semblance of a doubt. In fact remaining idle, has indeed become part of world folklore. Sadhus remained idle(physically) for years on end to attain the feet of God. Even in terms of mental idleness, they could not afford to think of anything else but God. Therefore it can be considered that they were mentally idle as well, because they had nothing else in their mind except the thought of God.
When one is said to be idle, it is that state when that person is doing nothing which interests others, though he/she might be doing something significant in their own minds. Idleness generates, when one has nothing to do, or when one tends to be unresponsive to the work of another, or even worse, dismisses someone else's work. One tends to "unlearn" things which are deemed "bad", but actually stimulates his/her interest, because the society or the people around him/her brand it to be a waste of time. When this happens, the person obviously feels demoralized and tries to throw the thought out of his brain, though he likes it. This leads to a state of temporary idleness, because he's forced not to think about the thing, which he wants to think about. Slowly but surely, the person forgets the thing, if it does not get a favourable response. If it were to be assumed that, it was the only thought in his/her mind, and if the thought has been taken away, then the person has attained perfect idleness.
Idleness is beyond measure. There are no units which cane be used to measure how idle a person is. Rather it can be grossly quantified as idle, more idle and very idle. While these can be considered tending towards perfect idleness, it is not perfect idleness. Perfect idleness is that state of idleness, when one can think of nothing. One only possesses a blank mind; a dark,saturnine cave without any rays of light molesting its perfect darkness. This state is literally impossible to achieve, because it involves driving out thoughts which one loves and hates.
What I feel about idleness is that, it is a sure shot way of achieving enlightenment. I feel that it has been a closely guarded secret, which I have stumbled upon, and I will reveal it to the world if I can. In fact, people have actually been dissuaded from considering idleness as a profession by proverbs which criticize idleness. It is a fact that idleness drives out our desires, however crass or humane they might be. And as Buddha has professed, enlightenment can be achieved only with the surrender of our desires.
While it is true that idleness can lead to some positive aspects, it is also true that idleness can trigger some unwanted, violent or aggressive reactions. Remaining idle for a very long time induces frustration in the minds of some humans. And as we all know frustration leads to anger, and anger, to loads of other dangerous deeds. While humans are more susceptible to the negative side of idleness, it is not true that idleness always leads to malice. It is too vague a generalization, that has been made by one of our forefathers, which some others liked, and propagated it like a wild forest fire.
Try remaining idle for 5 full minutes, if you read this. You will know how tough it is. I am pretty sure, your fingers will fiddle with the mouse or with themselves. Your mind will start thinking about your long lost first love or about something else that is weird or creepy enough as the afore mentioned thought. You might probably be rocking your chair up and down, and you WILL actually notice it if you are trying to be idle. Being idle is really tough. And God (if he exists) loves people who perform and survive doing tough jobs!
I was idle, and look at what I came up with... A full-fledged essay on idleness!!!
PS: I do not have anything against Edison. It is just that I am assuming that it was Edison who coined it. In fact, I offer my profuse apologies if his soul is hurt by this article. I once again reiterate that Edison was a great man who probably had nothing to do with this.