Recently, a growing wide-ranging movement has emerged, advocating the virtue of the simpler life. Minimalists are among those people inspired by a desire to reconnect with the more important things in life and be responsible for earth’s future; such people desire to put the brakes on the runaway train of modern consumerism and reassess: how much stuff do I really need? Is striving for the latest mod cons worth the stress and complications?
We all need a certain amount of physical and psychological comfort to be healthy, and those needs differ from person to person, so everyone will consume to some extent. But when our lives are based on excessive consumption, we risk harming the planet, society, and ourselves. Influenced by promises of happiness and success, it’s all too easy to get sucked into a life bound by working hard to purchase the latest IPhone, a better car, a big mortgage on a bigger house, or trendier clothes; the list goes on. Pushed by our desires, we often find little time to stop and reflect: is the promise of happiness and satisfaction actually being delivered?
The latest rebellion against excessive consumerism involves downsizing, minimalising, and getting back to basics. One may even go as far as living in a tiny eleven-square-metre house. If you reduce your possessions you’ll have less maintenance, less clutter, less cleaning, less need for space, and more time. Spending less money means you can reduce debt, be kinder to the environment, and free yourself from the envy that comes from a life of comparing yourself and your stuff to what others own. Thus you will reduce stress and dissatisfaction and live a more peaceful, happier life, right? Go small, think big, be happier, right?
But once you have simplified, decluttered, and minimalised your existence, then what? (This includes reducing alcohol, social drugs, television, and social media? Surely not!) Do you have more money, more time, more freedom, more happiness? These very same things that people struggle for with great endeavour are what people strive to achieve by adopting a simpler existence. So aren’t these two lifestyles just two sides of the same coin? (Although the simpler life is a more eco-friendly and wholesome version?) With the simpler life, you think you may have some peace, but you are still left with noise of your chattering mind, more now than ever, because you have more time to hear it. So is there a deeper purpose to a downsized, simpler life?
The yoga texts from India explain that one of the fundamental purposes for simple living is it gives time and space of mind for higher thinking. Simple living, higher thinking, but think about what?
Texts such as the Srimrad-Bhagavatam describe in detail the nature of the self, and understanding the nature of the self is the first step in higher knowledge. “Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with emolument [benefits] of the body and mind. The body and the mind are but superfluous outer coverings of the spirit soul. The spirit soul’s needs must be fulfilled. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit.” (Srila Prabhupada, 1.2.8)
So first we need to understand our identity as that which is beyond the body and mind. If we have built our lives around the misidentification that we are purely the body and mind, no amount of adjusting our temporary material situation will have any radical effect on our lives. Acquiring or rejecting the latest iPhone, car, house, or attractive partner will only satisfy us limitedly, but in general we will have to struggle in this unnatural existence.
One may recognise that the spirit soul’s needs must be fulfilled, but how do we practically do that? Bhakti-yoga is the process to uncover the real self or soul by connecting to the supreme soul Krishna. The process of bhakti, with its natural lasting happiness and knowledge, is simple, easy, and enjoyable, consisting of inspiring community, wholesome food, and a lifestyle in harmony with the world and mantra, the meditation process that really uncovers our natural identity.
Moreover, with understanding and realisation of one’s true identity as spirit soul, one automatically lives a simpler life. Because material desire and frustration decrease as one becomes more satisfied in the process of bhakti, one naturally consumes less, without much separate effort. The process of bhakti also reduces stress, because one has the power and mental strength not to let difficult situations of work or study overpower his or her life; instead, the bhakti practitioner keeps things calmly in perspective. Through knowledge of subtle laws of nature such as karma (how what we put out there really comes back at us), one lives a responsible life, more in harmony with nature by actively caring for humans, animals, and the planet.
Human life is a life of responsibility, and if we do take responsibility for our true selves and the world around us, we will have rich, satisfying lives. Simple living alone certainly provides time and clarity of mind, but its purpose is to encourage people to think deeper and uncover their true identity. A transforming and very exciting journey…