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Minimise evil entirely.
Maximise goodness totally.
Realise purity completely.

— Shilashanti

In recent years, the minimalist lifestyle seems to be the in thing. Is there a Buddhist take on it? Yes, indeed… all along. Fundamentally, Buddhist minimalism aims to minimise growth and activity of the Three Poisons (of attachment, aversion and delusion), so as to free up the mind and life for nurturing abundance of their antidotes (of generosity, compassion and wisdom). After all, Buddhism is about spiritual cultivation.

The unwholesome is minimised, so as to maximise the wholesome. It just so happens that when the poisons are minimised, material goods that clutter and confuse life naturally reduce too, as a very visible side-effect. There are also elements of frugality in Buddhist living, to crave less, and to be more content and grateful. Without splurging blessings needlessly, there is sharing with those in need instead.

Perhaps a better term to use to describe the above concepts is ‘asceticism’. Being ascetic in nature is seen as virtuous, praised by the Buddha himself. It should not be mistaken as ‘extreme asceticism’, which is to deny the body even of healthy physical needs for clothing, food and shelter. This would be self-mortification, the wrong belief that subjecting oneself to pain and discomfort will suddenly lead to their end, to realise lasting bliss.

Ideal asceticism is never extreme, but on the Middle Path. Neither with excess nor lack, it is the art of living as simply as possible, mindfully consuming, treasuring what we have without hoarding. Even the 4Rs are practised — by Refusing what is not needed, Reducing what is gotten, Reusing what can still be used, before Recycling the totally used. Refusing and Reducing cuts greed, while Recycling and Reusing recycles blessings.

Buddhist asceticism is not just practised by ancient monastics or ascetics in the wild. Adapting accordingly with practical needs, it is applicable to laypeople with modern urbanised lives too. Summing up all the above, the Buddhist version of minimalism, or rather asceticism, is to minimise the poisons, and to maximise virtues, leading to greater generosity, compassion, wisdom, frugality, contentment, gratitude and simplicity.

Buddhist asceticism is thus more about a way of being spiritually; not so much about things materially. This way of being however, does not let things get in the way, while skilfully utilising things to support the most skilful way of being. It is about mind over matter, about minding the mind first, which naturally minds all other matters. Our being should not be limited by things, while things we have and use should reflect our being.

The Buddha renounced his right to the throne, which represented ‘everything’, and became an ascetic with just a robe and bowl. Nevertheless, he radiated complete well-being and love for all upon enlightenment, exemplifying the highest spiritual attainment of ideal minimalism. The quest he undertook was for renouncing, as totally as he could, of what he did not need, and to focus on realising reality, as completely as he did.  

Physical minimalism
is a way with less things.
Spiritual minimalism
is a path with more being.

— Shilashanti

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