Tag Archives: The Four Noble Truths

Voluntary Simplicity: A Path To Freedom From Consumerism

By: David Astor, Sensei 曦 肯

     Many of my Dharma Talks have been about ways to consider and understand the practical aspects of Buddhist thought, and how to bring our practice alive in order to promote human flourishing. For you see, living the lessons of the Eightfold Path are real, it is not a theory to discuss and debate. The Four Noble Truths points directly, in practical and useful ways, to achieving a life full of meaning and wonder when we take the time to contemplate the joys available to us in this vast world we have a chance to become aware of. It is a way of letting go in order to be reconnected with what is important that will bring harmony and happiness into our lives. We let go in order to reconnect to what is real. It is easy for Buddhist teachers to stick to presenting dogmatic Buddhist principals in our dharma talks. To use legacy language that colors our speech from the cushion to attract attention. But you will rarely hear me use such approaches unless I talk directly about a historical topic or present a specific philosophical principle, or when I choose to speak with a “Zen voice.” But don’t misunderstand me, these are important methods of Buddhist teaching as well, and we should all have a grounded perspective of the specific Buddhist platform we have chosen to stand on and practice, but in the end, we must step on the stage of life and engage others. And it is this social engagement that I respectfully ask to be your guide and present to you my thoughts and personal experiences gained from my own developed worldviews that can act as pointers in order for you to find useful elements and tools for your own life-journey. This is a primary role of a Buddhist teacher. So, today I wish to speak to you about the importance I have learned in my own journey of keeping life simple. It calls for us to act with voluntary intent to live with deliberate thought, and to consume less. By taking this step, you will not only enhance your own life, but also the sustainability of our planet.
At the heart of the simple life is an emphasis on harmonious and purposeful living. There is no special virtue to the idea of voluntary simplicity; it is merely a somewhat awkward label. Still, it does acknowledge explicitly that simpler living integrates both inner and outer aspects of life into an organic and purposeful whole. To live more voluntarily is to live more deliberately, intentionally, and purposefully. In short, it is to live more consciously. We cannot be deliberate when we are distracted from life. We cannot be intentional when we are not paying attention. We cannot be purposeful when we are not being present. Therefore, to act in a voluntary manner is to be aware of ourselves as we move through life. This is why a meditation practice is so important to the inner life: to develop awareness and mindfulness. Words you often hear in relationship to Buddhist practice. This requires that we not only pay attention to the actions we take in the outer world, but also that we pay attention to the intent of these actions. To the extent that we do not notice both inner and outer aspects of our passage through life; then our voluntary, deliberate, and purposeful actions are diminished.
To live more simply is to live more purposefully and with a minimum of needless distractions. The particular expression of simplicity is a personal matter of course. We each know where our lives are unnecessarily complicated. We are all painfully aware of the clutter and pretense that weigh upon our lives and makes our passage through the world more awkward. To live more simply is to unburden our lives and live more lightly. It is to establish a more direct relationship with all aspects of our lives with the things that we consume, the work that we do, our relationships with others, our connections with nature and the global community. We, they, and everything else are interconnected and interdependent. We must begin to see this in real ways and experience this reality in both our inner and outer lives. Simplicity of living means meeting life face-to-face. Continue reading

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