A modern market economy stimulates more and more consumption. Not all of it is wholesome. Some of it is essential. Much of it may be superfluous. Part of it is healthy. More of it is damaging to our body. So, we need to be careful in what we consume, buy and accumulate.
You must have heard, many times, the exhortation for “simple living, and high thinking.” This is almost universal. It is also a part of our Vedic wisdom. Avoidrajasic, feverish, consumption, and engage insattvic, refined living and thinking.
Simplicity and Spiritualism: Adi Sankara's Teachings on Minimalism
In recent times, Mahatma Gandhi was a model of such transformation. In hisAtmakatha, autobiography, you may have seen a photo of him in Western lawyer's dress, captioned as – “Aping the Englishman”! On return, during his train journey, he saw the abject poverty in
India. He renounced western clothes, and wore only adhoti. He met viceroys and the kings in this simple dress.
Our dedicated freedom fighters also wore whitekhadiclothes, although many of them worked as lawyers, doctors etc. Adi Sankara had taken, many centuries ago, such simplicity to its highest level. Among his many compositions, in one of his shorter poems, he extols the freedom andanandaof the loincloth. It is his workKaupeena Panchakam,five verses on the loin cloth!
The Joy of Minimalism
It applies primarily to asannyasi. But, the spirit of it is relevant to all of us. He highlights the following. The person with only the loin cloth is reveling invedanta vakya, the ringing declarations of our Vedanta.
He isvisoka manta, without sorrow.Charanta, walking all the time. He sleeps under a tree. Take light food. Not obsessed with wealth. Contented. Always in a state ofananda.EnjoyingBrahma sukham. In control of hisindriyasand desires.
Although his body will age, he sees himself as the cosmic Self. Uninterested in mundane matters. Chanting thepranava mantra(OM) the glory of God. Contemplating himself asBrahman. Living onbhiksha, alms. Such aKaupeenavantais, indeed, the lucky one.
Simplicity in Action
Let us imbibe the spirit of Sankara in the following kinds of actions.
First, focus on excellence in your professional work, and actualisation of your life vision. For this, simplify your life. Second, wear a dress appropriate to the situation. Be presentable, not flashy. Some companies have prescribed uniforms, not only for workers, but also their executives. This reduces status distinctions, and fosters better relationships and teamwork.
In the privacy of home, be simple. Third, re-examine your diet and eating patterns. Alter them for nutrition andsattva. Avoid frequent ordering of junk convenience food for home delivery. Protect yourself and family, from obesity, high salt and sugar, andconsequent lifestyle diseases. Fourth, increase yoursatsangrelationships.
Reduce, relationships that are just for socialising, passing time etc. Fifth, follow a daily routine, which is physically and mentally demanding. Not too soft and weakening. Sixth, do work hard and earn, but do not spend all of it on family and self, but dodanato the needy, including, especially, to itinerantsannyasis. Seventh, give to reliable local, small non-government organisations working on food, shelter, health, literacy etc.
Eighth, support also bigger non-government organisations serving the causes of environment, ecology, biodiversity, climate resilience, disaster relief, etc.
Thepurusharthas,dharma, artha, kama,andmoksha, are universal and ever relevant.
Especially the first two,dharmaandartha.Use your increasingartha, not for excessivekamabut fordharma.
Dr. M. B. Athreya