Simplicity in Buddhism

Simplicity in Buddhism: The Path to True Happiness

This blog post will look at how Buddhism deals with the concept of simplicity.

The capacity to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. – Hans Hofmann

There are so many things that are different in our modern society compared to the societies in the past. We have so much overabundance in the form of food, materials to build houses, and appliances that help us in our lives.

And this is to say nothing of the digital world. Everything is at our fingertips.

However, living in the fast lane can be stressful, draining, and you are likely to get tired much faster. If you are looking for a way to slow things down, decrease stress, and live a happier life, then simplicity is the way to go.

‘Simplicity in Buddhism’ is a broad topic and it’s not easy to have a single post that covers the Buddhist treatment of simplicity.

For this reason, in this blog post I will only discuss a few important aspects of simplicity and how a Buddhist would deal with certain situations.

Buddhism and Simplicity

Simplicity is one of the main teachings of Buddhism. Being simple means being clear, straightforward, and easy to complete or comprehend.

Simplicity brings grace and beauty to the person who possesses it as well as a feeling of ease.

The Buddha would never lose sight of the fact that his teachings would not be understood by everyone, and so he would always try to provide the information in a way that would allow his audience to understand what it meant based on intuitive or direct knowledge.

In fact, one thing and one thing only did Buddha teach, suffering and how to end suffering. Buddha often summarized his immense knowledge into the most basic terms that were comprehensible to all audiences.

The core tenets of Buddhism are: to stop suffering, follow the path to peace and happiness, and to live a good life. There’s nothing too difficult to grasp there, right?

Buddha taught how all human beings are interconnected and equally deserving of religious care because the road to salvation is open for all.

It does not matter if one carries a caste name, since all people possess the potential ability to learn how to become a monk or even a layman.

All that matters is that one remains a wholesome personality by living a simple life and adhering to certain moral codes.

Video: Buddhism and Minimalism

The Buddha wasn’t too fond of the ritual performed by the Brahmins.

As such, it’s safe to assume that Siddhartha’s philosophy about religion and spirituality wasn’t founded on the principles of Brahmanism since he didn’t agree with a lot of what it had to offer later in life.

The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, belonged to the warrior caste of the Shakya (Sakya) clan in northern India and actually devoted a lot of his early years to taking care of his own materialistic needs.

He married a woman named Yashodhara and they had a son together. He enjoyed living a life that was more luxurious than that of the common person.

He had a beautiful home, nice clothes, good food, and lots of people who waited on him. But despite all of this, Siddhartha realized that something was missing from his life.

As a result, Buddha left his palace at Kapilavastu one day and became an ascetic.

After having tried living a life as an ascetic, the Buddha decided to focus on purely religious and philosophical matters so as to help people find true happiness within themselves.

While he profoundly affected history’s yogis, or contemplatives of philosophy, it can be said that most of his metaphysics was common knowledge before his time.

Like Confucius in China and Socrates in Greece, he is a spiritual genius whose ideas have been the subject of endless debate, study and veneration.

Though his philosophy was shared by many who came before him, it is the Buddha’s teachings that still resonate today.

A lot of the tenets of the Buddha are what most people would call common sense. The problem is that common sense is not that common.

However, we mustn’t undermine the ways in which he had so profoundly altered both what it meant to be human and set forth a paradigm of reality that would lead others to seek an enlightenment that would previously have been considered impossible!

The great thing about Buddhism, and why it’s likely to remain a dominant religion for the foreseeable future, is that it’s adaptable. You can be a Buddhist and still eat meat or get a tattoo.

In fact, the rules of the religion are more like guidelines. They’re meant to help you live a better life, to be a better person, and to realize that you have a choice in how to treat others and how to treat yourself.

It’s a path to enlightenment, to a better life. And that’s what has made it such an appealing religion to so many people for so long.

Buddhism, for instance, does not deny the existence of popular gods and people’s tendency to worship them.

Gautama Buddha was not, so to say, an atheist. Buddha didn’t reject or denounce the existence of popular gods. He acknowledged that they are powerful celestial beings, but he insisted that they are not deities to worship.

Since Buddhism does not exactly worship any god or higher being, the gods may instead best be defined as beings that are helpful if you’re a good Buddhist. 

These gods aren’t worthy of Buddhist worship. They can be considered akin to angels.

But Buddhism isn’t focused on prayer and worship. If anything, it builds confidence in the belief of karma and existing as a human.

You can follow Buddhism and not necessarily worship or pray to any deity you see fit. It’s taught that the gods may help those who have good hearts/karma – not that they have the solution to the afterlife or even religion for that matter. 

The spread of Buddhism across Asia was likely helped immensely by the fact that its teachings were so simple.

The first principle is, religion is open to everyone and it’s basically a system of morality.

That is perhaps the reason we see that the Buddha’s original teachings outside of India have remained relatively pure.

Nonetheless, by the time Buddhism arrived in China, it had already taken on many of the elements of local religious practices. This made it even easier for the religion to adapt to the different cultures of the time.

Zen Buddhism Simplicity

Among all forms of Buddhism, Zen has some of the most distinctive characteristics. The practice of Zen Buddhism originated in China and later spread to other countries like Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.

Simplicity is an important aspect of Zen Buddhism. In Zen practice we train in minimalism. Purity and a lack of distraction are a integral part of a Zen Buddhist’s life. 

Zen Buddhism is about finding the simplest way to live our lives. The simplicity lies in its core beliefs and how it goes about its day to day life. In Zen practice all of nature is treated with a sense of appreciation.

In Zen we completely remove the unnecessary. We focus on how we can simplify and eliminate things from our life so we can achieve a greater peace of mind for ourselves and ultimately everyone else. 

In Zen training, we try to develop a sense of generosity for all the objects/people/places that come into our lives. 

Anyone who practices Zen learns early on to appreciate the things they own and know how to take care of them better.

In practicing Zen, we train in cleanliness and simplicity. Everything we do is done mindfully and respectfully to nature and all of those around us.

No matter what another person has done they are still deserving of kindness, especially if they are at their lowest point.

Minimalism turns the idea of consumerism on its head. 

Minimalism is the idea that simplicity is joy. It suggests that more is not always better, and it infers that what’s considerably less could also be better.

When one makes an effort to live a minimalist life, they can experience a certain kind of joy from being just around the essentials. The unnecessary is often seen as a distraction from doing what really matters in life. 

Minimalism says that there are things you own that are just in the way. By eliminating these things, you’ll create space for things like peace and happiness! 

Take a look at your lifestyle and ask yourself which features could be cut out that wouldn’t impact your happiness.

Now, some may disagree with what you deem as “unnecessary” but that’s okay.

Minimalism isn’t about living by what the masses think you should be doing – it’s about living by your own regulations and standards so you can feel relief from all the burdens in your daily life!

“Less is more.” This is a beautiful concept by the Japanese, one that encourages simplicity and serenity above all else. It was derived from Zen Buddhist roots, which focus strongly on mental peace.

Video: Why LESS is MORE | A Monk Explains Minimalism

The Japanese minimal approach encourages the art of uncluttering your house, focusing instead on simplicity, harmony with nature and removing everything that causes you undue stress or annoyance.

Minimalism teaches that possessions are no guarantee of happiness, so its principles encourage living with less.

Minimalist-inspired design is spreading through the world, including in western cultures. This type of design can be found everywhere from interior design to architecture and even with people’s lifestyles. 

Minimalism is a popular style choice for those looking to streamline.

In today’s materialistic world, people are finding themselves more bogged down with the never-ending agendas of modern life than ever before.

Embracing minimalism is a way to get back to basics, take some time out for yourself, get involved in the process instead of remaining so tied up in consuming it all at lightning speeds.

By prioritizing your needs you can eventually remove yourself from the middle of the never-ending grips of consumerism.

However, the practice of Zen Buddhism simplicity does not mean you have to give up all your comforts.

Embracing minimalism offers an opportunity to re-evaluate and reflect on what truly matters and pares down our daily routine to its raw essentials.

Minimalism serves as a way for us each to discover the true meaning of living in this world.

Is Simple Life More Meaningful?

Simplicity also means being less attached to your possessions. If you are able to simplify your life you will be able to have more control of your life.

Simple living is a lifestyle characterized by not having an excess of material possessions. It’s about getting back to the basics in many ways.

Have you ever thought about how clothes were once used as a way to cover up and protect our bodies?

They were designed to help us survive the harsh conditions of wherever we lived. It’s good to remember those reasons.

If we do, it will make us appreciate those things for their true purposes and not for other factors like status or complexity.

Keeping in mind the original purpose of everyday items is critical to simplifying one’s lifestyle and determining what matters most in life – because let’s face it, there are only 24 hours in each day and you do not want to have too many material possessions that will ultimately lead to overwhelming yourself in the end.

We can still be happy with a very simple life, if we just try to remember what the original purpose of things is – and yes, I’m talking about our minds as well as our bodies.

The simple life doesn’t just help us save time or money, it also helps bring about a sense of calmness and tranquility that otherwise might be too impossible to maintain.

Being aware of how precious time is can allow us to make certain choices because it enables us to put things into perspective. 

Being simple in nature can help relieve stress and live a happier lifestyle.

If we let go of the things that may not be crucial, we will be able to see more clearly and breathe easier knowing we’re honoring our purpose on earth and getting to where we want to go without having too many distractions around us that keep us from reaching the end goal we’ve set for ourselves.

And we should try to keep things neat and orderly, whether it’s inside our own heads or on the outside of us. 

A thing that contributes to having a neat and stylish, clean appearance is an attitude of calmness toward our surroundings. The way we look on the outside is an indication of the way we feel on the inside.

When we’re relaxed and free of stress, we often look our best – it’s as simple as that. If there’s value in having things like fine fabrics or high-quality accessories, they will certainly make us more likely to attract others who share similar tastes.

A person with adaptability doesn’t act for their own benefit; they do not care about glory. A less complex life makes it easier to focus on what is really important which also happens to breed healthy living habits like self-control.

Simplicity enables us to present ourselves as the Buddhas do, such that we avoid complicating our lives or making people uncomfortable.

Making money or becoming rich is never a Buddhist goal. Treating our possessions as decomposable things – objects – is contrary to Nekkhamma (non-attachment).

Video: How to Simplify Your Life | A Monk’s Guide

If we let our fashion choices lead us to become trendy, vain or materialistic we will inadvertently be taking part in an unwholesome or morally unjust action.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in complexity but when we choose to view things from a more simplistic point of view, there’s less at stake and less pressure attached because there’s no worry about what other people could potentially think about. 

When one becomes a master of minimalism, there is no need for them to fret over trends and become stressed out every time they leave the house with too many unknowns.

If we keep busy all day styling our appearance to entice others into thinking we’re richer than we actually are – how can we ever focus on discovering what really makes us feel content and fulfilled? 

The Buddha said in ‘The Twin Verses’ of the Dhammapada: 

Whoever lives only for pleasures,
with senses uncontrolled,
immoderate in eating, lazy, and weak,
will be overthrown by Mara,
like the wind throws down a weak tree.
Whoever lives not for pleasures,
with senses well controlled,
moderate in eating, has faith and the power of virtue,
will not be overthrown by Mara,
any more than the wind throws down a rocky mountain.

Then he added:

The one who strikes others is not a hermit;
one is not an ascetic who insults others.
Not to blame, not to strike,
to live restrained under the law,
to be moderate in eating, to live alone,
and to practice the highest consciousness—
this is the teaching of the awakened ones.

Now, simplicity may seem daunting, but it is achievable with effort.

One way to achieve it is through practices such as meditation, which can help clear away obstacles and attain a clearer understanding of oneself and the world around us, free from bias or distortion.

By removing unnecessary layers and gaining insight into the true meaning of life and our role in it, we can also simplify our thoughts and focus on what truly matters.

It’s important to look beyond surface appearances and consider if something holds value or if it’s simply noise.

Emotions, desires, prejudices and other mental clutter often distort our perception of reality and prevent us from pursuing greater goals.

By simplifying our lives, we can focus on what truly matters and make our lives more meaningful. Both Eastern and Western philosophy encourage individuals to simplify their lives for this purpose.

Achieving Simplicity 

As we have seen the importance of simplicity in Buddhism, the next question is how one can master the art of simplicity. Since Buddha and his disciples lived a simple life, therefore, one can easily follow his teachings or life to live a life that is full of contentment.

Buddhism divides simplicity into two main categories – psychological simplicity and moral simplicity. Let us explore both these in further detail.

Psychological Simplicity

Since psychology is the mind’s interpretation of the outer world, thus having control over the mind can lead to simplicity. In simple words, if you can master control your mind, you can also master offering simple meanings to worldly desires. 

Buddha advises his followers to achieve psychological simplicity through meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation. Since, our minds do not comprehend things as they appear. Rather, our mind defines things based on its experiences, memories and mass prejudices. 

Whereas, meditation is the process that wipes away all these filters and develops a direct relation of your thought with the object. Therefore, this direct relation of mind with things reveals the truth of things. 

Once this true meaning is revealed upon a person, he is now better placed to achieve simplicity, as he knows the thing is not as important as his dusted psychology was previously projecting by igniting a desire. 

Moral Simplicity

Buddha used the term straightforwardness (uju or ujuka) to describe moral simplicity. He developed a self-imposed discipline line called the percepts to master the art of moral simplicity. 

Further, you can achieve moral simplicity by sincerely practicing your percepts, rather giving meaning to things that they actually are not. It is human nature to sugarcoat false meanings to things and desires for their self-satisfaction.  

Contrarily, Buddha teaches his disciples to stay true to their moral compass. As for a person who is morally simple, he will be kind, upright, generous and helpful, since his wish is not to gain popularity and impress someone.  

Expression of Simplicity 

Simplicity is not something that is limited to the immaterial aspects of human nature; it has a great role in the material side of human existence as well. In fact, simplicity is better perceived in a materialistic world rather than spiritual. 

So, here are key takeaways from Buddha’s teachings regarding application of simplicity in material life. We have derived these meanings from Buddha’s popular teaching Metta Sutta.

Simplicity of Body

The simplicity of the body means that you can achieve it by moving slowly, maintaining a balanced posture and using fewer material resources.

Although, it is not advisable to always walk slowly, rather the purpose is to let your body and mind stay in the moment. You will experience peace when both your mind and body are focused on the task. Moreover, you must exert your body when playing with kids or pets. 

Likewise, you can achieve simplicity of body by minimizing use of resources such as paper, water, clothing or food packaging.

Simplicity of Speech

As per Buddhist teaching, you must have control on your tongue and only speak when necessary. Likewise, always speak straightforwardly, and refrain from complaining or demanding. Further, speak soft, skillful and speak words of harmony.

We have seen that we get aggressive during arguments, and try to impose our thoughts on others. Since the speech creates our image, it is better to have control over our words and use speech as a tool to express our love and gratitude. So, we can easily achieve verbal simplicity by staying calm and speaking well for everyone.

Simplicity of Mind

Offering the mental virtues like contentment, humility and honesty in our thoughts can lead to simplicity of mind. However, simplifying the mind is not about losing our ability to decipher complex situations. Rather, it is our ability to all clear unwanted thoughts and keep our thoughts simple and straightforward.

The simplicity of mind will ease us from negative thoughts, thus freeing up space for constructive energy and bringing peace to us and others around us.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Buddha say about simplicity?

Metta Sutta contains the teachings of Buddha on simplicity and he uses two words to describe the philosophy of simplicity – subharo and appakicco. Subharo refers to the quality of being supportable, whereas appakicco is to not being constantly busy. Moreover, achieving mindfulness simplicity is possible through meditation.

Is Buddhism simplistic?

Buddhism is one of the ways of life that is based on the core principle of minimalism.

What is Buddhism simple?

Buddhism believes that human life is suffering, whereas meditation, spiritual and physical labor are the paths to achieve enlightenment and nirvana. Buddha has taught its disciples to walk and talk the simple and have simplicity embedded in their belief systems. 

What is the Zen word for simplicity?

“Wabi” and “Sabi” are two main words used to describe simplicity in Japan. Moreover, these words also describe the sense of beauty and serenity. Although these concepts originally were different, Zen Buddhism has merged these words into a singular meaning of simplicity.

Parting Thoughts

Simplicity is one of the core teachings of Buddha. Therefore, Buddhism has a special attention on keeping simple, whether it relates to simplicity of mind, body or speech.

In Buddhism, simplicity is a practice, quality of heart and a state of mind. Therefore, when you strive for simplicity, you can achieve happiness and liberation. 

On a practical level, Buddha taught his disciples to use meditation as a source to achieve simplicity. He advises to start with simplifying psychologically. Since, when you can learn to control your thoughts, you can control anything.

Moreover, Buddhism relates simplicity with being straightforward and contentment. Therefore, they discourage actions like manipulation, plotting strategies to create unwanted debates.

Furthermore, Buddhism says that simplicity is the way to make the world a better place. If people start living simple, they can bring harmony, love and peace to the world.

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