It is not the man who has too little,
but the man who craves more,
that is poor.
José Alberto ‘Pepe’ Mujica Cordano is the current president of Uruguay, who is described to be ‘the world’s “poorest” president’, as he donates some 97% of his monthly USD$12,000 salary to charities that benefit the poor and small entrepreneurs in his country. A vegetarian atheist who has led an interesting life with much turmoil, he now lives peacefully on his wife’s small farm in the outskirts, where they grow chrysanthemums for sale, having declined to stay in the opulent presidential palace or to use its staff. Beyond his housing, his humble lifestyle is reflected by his continual use of a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle (the ‘people’s car’).
Despite taking home only 3% of his pay, he says, ‘I’m not a poor president. Poor are the people who need a lot – Seneca [the Roman philosopher] said that. I am an austere president… I do not need much to live. I live in the same way I used to live when I wasn’t a president, and in the same neighborhood, in my same house, and in the same way… I live like the majority in my country lives. It was a majority who voted for me. And that’s why I identify with them. Morally, I do not have the right to live like a minority in my country.’ With such personal philosophy and more, it is no wonder he was dubbed ‘the last hero of politics’ by a film director.
The best leaders lead and inspire with equanimity and by example. An average commoner might fret about getting better clothing, food, shelter and transport, while Mujica shows how having the basics can already fulfil these needs! While an austere life might sound difficult, it is never to those who appreciate its sensibility and adequacy. Well, having enough is enough! The planet’s resources are overtaxed due to too many of the rich wanting too much, at the expense of too many of the poor not having enough. Like Mujica however, we do not have to be anti-wealth, as we can share our abundances to support worthy causes.
As taught by the Buddha, it is clear that ‘extreme asceticism’ is an unskilful way of life, as self-mortification, which is pointless self-torture through painful deprivation of food, clothing and even shelter does not lead to realisation of insights conducive to enlightenment. However, ‘ascetism’ itself, away from its extreme version, and away from lavish sensual indulgence, is a virtuous practice on the Middle Path for both monastics and laypeople. Why not live as simple a life as possible, so as to streamline resources and efforts for liberation, while generously giving excesses away to help others towards the same goal? Even before attaining enlightenment, this is already a more enlightened way of life!
We never save ourselves alone.
We always save ourselves with the others.
These are very elemental things of life.
Yet they’re things that we forget too often.
– José Mujica
The bigger and truer challenge
than to enrich oneself physically,
is to enrich one and all spiritually.
How Many Horses Do You Need?
Why Is It Better To Give Than To Receive?
Even The Poor Should Be Charitable
How Can I Give Better?
Are You Rich Or Poor?