How Buddhism’s Middle Path dovetails with the minimalist goal of getting rid of things you don’t need to make room for what you do.
A revised version of this essay is collected in the book Eightfold Minimalism: Essays from A Minimalist Abroad, now available from Amazon.
My path into minimalism went hand-in-hand with my discovery of Buddhism; for me, one informs the other. Buddhist values are, in large part, minimalist values. It’s about self-improvement through moderation. It dovetails almost perfectly with the minimalist mantra of getting rid of things you don’t need to make more room for the things that you do. The focus on this series of essays, then, will be to explore that overlap, and show you how to use select aspects of Buddhist thought to enhance and enrich your minimalist lifestyle.
Some of the most basic teachings in Buddhism center on what is called the Noble Eightfold Path. Sometimes called the Middle Path, it consists of eight elements (obviously) broken into three categories: wisdom, ethics, and concentration. Each of the elements begins with the word “right,” which in this context means “best” or “ideal” rather than “correct”. If you’re not doing things the “right” way doesn’t mean that you’re doing them wrong; it means that you can probably do them better. While Buddhist teachings can be subtle and nuanced, for the purposes of this series I’m summing up these elements as follows:
Developing the insight to make good decisions.
- Right View: Having an objective perspective and facing reality
- Right Intention: Having an outward-facing viewpoint
Developing the ability to not harm yourself or others.
- Right Speech: Recognizing the harm in lies, gossip, and verbal abuse
- Right Action: Avoiding behaviors that hurt other people.
- Right Livelihood: Earning a living in a way that avoids doing harm
Developing the calmness and peace of mind to employ wisdom and ethics.
- Right Effort: Understanding the means to achieve good and useful results
- Right Mindfulness: Understanding the importance of awareness
- Right Concentration: Understanding how to tune out the negative to make room for the positive.
I’ll be covering all of these categories and elements in separate essays, showing what each of these has to do with minimalism. I’ll be exploring how embracing the concepts of the Eightfold Path can enrich your life regardless of your personal beliefs. These won’t conform completely to traditional Buddhist teachings; I’m not here to tell you about the dharma. I’m not here to push a belief system or recruit you into a sangha (I don’t belong to one myself). I’m here to talk about minimalism.
Regardless of your personal faith or relationship with religion, though, good ideas are good ideas. If you’ve set yourself on the path of minimalism, or are considering it, understanding more about a movement that’s been practicing simplicity for thousands of years can’t hurt.