Minimalism In Buddhism & Religion

At my journeys end, as I stood in front of the stupa in Anuradhapura while worshippers and monks streamed passed me, a neglected, abandoned puppy whimpered as it looked up at me with pleading eyes. Hungry and alone, it seemed to be invisible in the crowd, no one paying it any heed aside from an occasional sideward glance. It couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, but to the people around me it may as well have been dead.

During my visits to the countless temples in Sri Lanka, it has become abundantly clear that here Buddhism is no longer a philosophy but a religion, Buddha is no longer a teacher but a deity and praying seems to have replaced meditation. Masses of people line at every temple, fervently mumbling prayers and making endless offerings to every statue, shrine and holy tree.

Yet amongst this devotion, it is apparent that there has been a departure from the core principles of Buddhism. No longer is the focus on improvement of one self through meditation, atonement and acts of kindness but instead on bartering prayers and offerings for good luck and fortune.

No longer is the onus on each individual to overcome the obstacles in their lives and to take responsibility for their own failings, but instead it lies in the prayers each individual makes to their deity, desperately hoping that enough prayers will result in this benevolent being eliminating any hardships that might befall them. When did Buddhism become the scapegoat for life’s problems?

No longer does enlightenment come from the elimination of attachments and desires and working to pay off your karmic debt, instead it is about worshipping every artifice that belonged to Buddha, with each temple and stupa housing a relic as its prized possession and validation of its connection to him. From Buddha’s tooth, to his rice bowl, all the way to a holy tree which was grown from a branch of the original tree Buddha once sat under to meditate.

My question is, if Buddha still walked this earth today, what would he think if he saw you walk passed a helpless, starving pup without a second glance, on your way to pray to his rice bowl and to ask his statue to bestow good fortune?

I think Buddhism, along with many other religions whose truths have been distorted by man, could do with a good dose of minimalism. Strip back the layers of commercialism, misguided beliefs and the bartering of prayers for good fortune and beneath it all we may be able to find out what life is really about.

Minimalist Learnings & Realisations

Depending on how you found out about minimalism, if you happened to stumble across it via Youtube like I did, the initial impression you may have gotten was that minimalism is all about decluttering and relinquishing a significant proportion of your material possessions. Then as you fell further down the Youtube rabbit hole, you may have realised that for some, minimalism is more than the act of simply downsizing possessions.

The more I discover about minimalism the more I realise it is a philosophy and lifestyle choice rather than simply lightening your material baggage. As I delve deeper I find that ideas that have sat idle in my mind or that I have been exposed to, but had chosen to bypass previously, suddenly seem drawn to the overarching idea of minimalism like the pull from a magnet. Examples include sustainable/eco living, recycling, environmentally friendly products, vegetarianism/veganism, natural skincare/no chemicals, animal friendly products, no waste living, ethically made clothing, mindfulness, conscious living, meditation/yoga, financial responsibility, saving money, frugal living, life hacks, changing habits and finding joy and happiness.

While all these ideas have been flying around in my head for a long time, they have never had an anchor until now. With minimalism, all these concepts are beginning to connect to form a holistic, tangible framework on how I want to live my life.

Upon closer inspection and contemplation I’ve also realised that all these ideas are simply a variation on the core concept of minimalism which is to simplify and pare back everything to the most essential. For example:

Essential Living:

No waste living, recycling, environmentally friendly products, sustainability, animal friendly products, ethically made clothing, natural skincare, no chemicals – these are all versions of products that have been stripped of the unnecessary packaging, testing and ingredients down to the core function, which is to nourish your body or support your life.

Essential Body:

Vegetarianism/Veganism is eliminating the need to slaughter animals for food when we can sustain ourselves on vegetables and fruit. This is also a way of focusing on the essential nutrients your body requires rather than on junk food or fast food.

Essential Mental & Spiritual Health

Mindfulness, conscious living, meditation/yoga, changing habits and finding joy are all about decreasing the unnecessary stress and mental clutter that inhabits our minds and hearts and to focus on the important things in life that being us happiness and improve our wellbeing.

Essential Finance

Financial responsibility, saving money, frugal living, life hacks – all ways to improve our finances and reduce the amount of money we waste on the unnecessary.

As these ideas gain a stronger foothold in my mind, I find I am beginning to make small changes in my life, for the better, which goes beyond simply throwing out my possessions.