Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buddhism and Minimalism?

Okay, so I have decided to embark on this 'minimalist' journey (or at least try to live more simply). Good for me. But for the sake of discussion, what the heck does minimalism have to do with Buddhism? Well, here are my thoughts on these concepts, as I understand them.

According to Buddhist beliefs, attachment is a major cause of suffering. In Pali (the language of the Buddha) the word dukkha loosely translates to 'suffering'. But the true definition of dukkha is much more complex, and generally represents the overall unsatisfactoriness of all things (for a much more thorough description on the subtleties of dukkha, please see this article from Access to Insight). Our attached mental grasping to all things pleasurable and comforting, and our belief that these things will or should last forever, conflicts with the fundamental truth that the universe is constantly changing. This contradiction of reality ultimately leads to suffering.

In terms of our personal belongings, the transitory nature of all things correctly predicts that the objects we own will eventually break down and wear out. Personal property can also be stolen or otherwise taken from us through natural or man-made disasters. If we are mentally tethered to our material possessions, these outcomes and events will make us suffer greatly. 

These basic Buddhist concepts are a logical complement to minimalism, which (in terms of belongings) can be described as owning only what is needed. There are many examples of how minimalism manifests in the Buddhist tradition, but perhaps the most notable example is that Buddhist monks have few or no possessions, and traditionally carry only a set of robes, mala beads, and a bowl for alms.

However, as far as laypeople are concerned, there is nothing intrinsically evil about owning personal items, property, and even accumulating wealth. Buddhism just maintains the cautionary stance that suffering will occur if the mind allows attachment to material things, and that attachment can also beckon its stronger and uglier cousins, vanity, jealousy, and greed.

Honestly, I really don't think that one has to be a minimalist to be a 'good' Buddhist. It is all about our attitude towards material possessions and awareness of our own mental grasping. But given the concepts of attachment, impermanence, and the moral and spiritual dangers posed by ignoring them, minimalism (or at least simplifying) may be a completely natural response for some. As always, though, everyone has to do what is right for themselves.

May all beings be happy!
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Please comment if you think I have missed something, or have other thoughts or experiences you would like to add. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Living Simply: From the Beginning

Well, maybe not the beginning. But it is time to downsize a little. Maybe a lot. This was something I had realized long ago, but have not put into full action- yet.

The real wake up call was during and after my move to the east coast. My husband and I moved so much STUFF, my stuff from my apartment, into the pod, into our apartment, moving of his stuff to accommodate my stuff. We are still dealing with STUFF!

And all I can say is, "ugh".

Another realization was that of everything I unpacked, there was very little I was truly happy to see again. I have used that knowledge to my advantage by being aware of my emotions as I unpacked. If there was a twinge of guilt, annoyance, or burden, I questioned whether I needed or even wanted the item.

So I did a lot of questioning. Some of my interrogations were stronger than my attachment to the item, others were not. But I know that it is a process, and will take time to undo attachments I have. But I have realized what I want and do not want from the things I own.

I would like my possessions to:
1) be useful to me and my lifestyle
2) not burden me emotionally
3) be cherished
4) not burden me or my lifestyle
5) not take away precious time with my husband and people I care about, through maintenance, cleaning, and moving.

So why this 'living simply' decision? Can't I just take some stuff to Goodwill and call it a day? Well, referring to the above list, I have concluded that A) my possessions must meet certain guidelines, both now and in the future, and B) I want knowledge and experiences to define the richness of my life, not something that sits on a shelf collecting dust. So it really is a lifestyle change.

And to be honest, I don't quite know where that will lead. I also don't know how much 'less' is enough, or how much I would like to simplify. But I do know there is truth in the age-old cliche of 'Less is More'.

This is the start of yet another journey towards simpler living- and less stuff, more life!

May all beings be happy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Update: From August-Now

A lot has happened since my last post at the beginning of August. I have tweeted about these past events, but of course not to any great detail.

Since then:
My fiance and I were married on August 20th
I finished my Ph.D. thesis and passed my defense
I have started making simplifying things a priority, to put a greater focus on life and less on stuff
I have started to have a different attitude regarding stress
I am starting to change my life in bite-size pieces, a day at a time. 

I look forward to writing about these things and reading your comments as well!