[This article appeared in the February 2019 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: http://www.ultindia.org/previous_issues.html ]
There are multiple aspects to the concept of Minimalism. Traditionally, we resort to periodical cleaning and decluttering of our houses of unwanted objects, and such a practice does help to clear up our minds also, to a certain extent. But then we clutter our minds by collecting ideas, by borrowing concepts from the books we read, and by seeking new experiences by travelling, and so on. We are “bound” when we seek objects or experiences, and of late our focus has shifted from seeking objects to seeking experiences. Also, such pursuits fail to produce a sense of fulfilment. We may come to a stage where we stop seeking objects and start seeking knowledge. Then we may buy a lot of books and clutter our minds with borrowed ideas and concepts. Our entire life would not be sufficient to even turn the pages of the books available these days. We have to learn to rely on our own experiential insight.
Paradoxically, minimalism can be practiced without giving up anything, as the journey to minimalism begins with one’s mind, by learning to keep one’s mind detached and clear. We can learn to balance between “maximalism” and “minimalism.” Such are the true renunciates who live minimalist life for themselves, and at the same time give maximum back to the humanity they are serving.
There is no need to give up objects or experiences as long as one learns to live with them, mindfully. A quiet, decluttered mind can lead to decluttering of space, but the converse is not true. “Tyag na take vairagya vina,” is the line from a poem in a vernacular language, and it seems to suggest that outer relinquishment is only temporary without inner detachment. Even if you periodically give away unnecessary belongings, if the hoarding mentality is not addressed then you will begin to hoard again the non-essentials.
To enjoy life fully, we must learn to live in the present moment, with whatever it brings, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral experiences. Even when we are ready to rid ourselves of physical possessions and mental concepts, we tend to clutter our minds and our path with diverse spiritual techniques and tools. “One does not require to give up any objects, experiences, reading, travelling, or seeking; one just has to do it with awareness,” writes Badal Suchak. (Life Positive, January 2019)
Minimalism, in true sense, implies living a simple life of self-discipline. We live in an age of sensual pleasures and their continuous enjoyment, where artificial stimulation and multiplication of wants is seen as the sign of progress. True discipline must be from within, without. In disciplining of mind and body, Gandhiji advocated avoiding of two extremes – indulging the senses and forcefully suppressing them. He pleaded for deliberate and voluntary restriction of wants. “A thing not originally stolen must nevertheless be classified as stolen property, if one possesses it without needing it,” said Gandhiji. This doctrine of non-possession he applied also to thoughts. He said, “Throwing away possessions without the eradication of desires is not the way.” A person who gives up any desire outwardly, but longs for that thing inwardly, is described in the Gita as, a “false pietist of bewildered soul.” All discipline stems from mind. The daily exercise of self-examination, makes us aware of our material and non-material possessions. We must seek to discard false ideas, feelings of regret, expectations and anticipations, and strive to apply the ideas held theoretically, till they become part of the fabric of our being. To signify the giving up of the non-essentials in life, the Hindus have Mundan ceremony – shaving the head. The sincere aspirant has much to unlearn before he can learn. We are all pilgrim souls, travelling together to reach the final goal of Nirvana. For this spiritual journey, we have to prepare our luggage, so that we carry with us only those things which are necessary and useful. The Bhikkhu is asked to empty the boat to travel fast.