Minimalism

Minimalism by P.K.Odendaal - 15 May 2011.

There was one who was famous for the number of things
He forgot when he entered the ship
His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings
And the clothes he had brought for the trip.
He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed
With his name painted clearly on each
But, since he omitted the fact,
They were all left behind on the beach

The loss of his clothes hardly mattered because
He had seven coats on when he came
With three pair of boots - but the worst of it was,
He had wholly forgotten his name
From 'The Hunting of the Snark' by Lewis Carroll

This is not a sermon or spiritual lesson, but I need to quote from Scripture :
Rev 3:17  Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

This is a life lesson, which I am reluctant to take, but happy to talk about.
I recently wrote a blog on Buddhism, and something in it struck me as being important, but not for the same reason Siddharta Gautama meant.

Buddhism has this to teach : Life is suffering and it may be punctuated by brief moments of happiness. All things are transient and our ceaseless attempts to grasp at these transient things traps us in an endless cycle of suffering. We can release ourselves from this treadmill of suffering, if we cease to grasp at what is not there.... and ....
It is this, It is this that I dread ... these last words are from the poem quoted above.

The reference to The Hunting of the Snark is quite appropriate here as the poem tells the story of how a party set out to hunt a Snark (and Snarks, of course do not exist), And some Snarks have this peculiar property : The person who sees it first, will just vanish away without any sound and his body will nowhere be found. So it is an excellent poetical story to intertwine with the hogwash the Buddha teaches.
The quest of the Buddha was to reach Nirvana, which is a state where he does not exist anymore, and can therefore not feel the suffering anymore. This state of course is as easy to reach as it is to find a Snark.

Look around you. How many things do you have? Probably a lot.

Which of those do you really need? Probably only a few, and maybe not even one of them.
And this is the dilemma we sit with - they are our suffering that we have brought upon ourselves, and chances are that we will still have them even if we do not exist anymore.

So we will offload it onto our relatives as their inheritance. They will in turn keep it for a while and then phone a charity to collect it - if they are not too ashamed to do that.
It is clear that I am not talking about vital things, but those things we can do without.

And why are they our suffering?

Think of the energy you and I expend on the ownership of a single article. We have to plan for it, read reviews about it, look for the best deal on it, borrow the money to buy it (or work that overtime), deprive ourselves of essential things that we do not realise we need, go to the shop and buy it or order it and wait for months to receive it, transport it home or borrow someone's truck if its big, find a place for it to stand in our houses, remove the useless things which occupy that place now, learn how to use it and try to understand these manuals written in another language and translated directly, clean it or around it, maintain it, insure it, try not to break it, fix it when it is broken, getting parts for it now that it is outdated and has been discontinued, pay someone to fix it poorly, so that we can call them back again and again to fatten their purses, make regular payments on it and explain to the shop or bank why you can't make this month's installment, dispose of it after finding out that nobody wants it now.
Well this is for only one item - what about the hundreds of other items you and I have and want.

While writing this, I have specially gone to my big garage which is almost fully packed and made this list. I did not get too far as it was futile to write up these type of things - but here are the first few:

Broom - without any brushes
Banana leaves - used for a flower arrangement five years ago.
Curtain rails - old type - inherited 18 years ago - will never use.
Broken booster pump - got broken in first month, but was not covered by guarantee, because the fine prints says that type of breaks are not covered.
Cans of paint - from 20L, 5L, 1L - many of them - used to repaint the house 5 years ago - cannot open most, but opened two - paint dry.
Floor mats of a car I sold 7 years ago.
Disused TV projector stand - projector was stolen in a burglary.
Brick samples - for a new house I wanted to build some 4 years ago - they do not make these bricks anynmore.
Tyre and rim. I had to keep it to show it to the insurance assessor, but he never turned up to inspect it.
Brand new boxes for computers, printers etc. Had to keep them to return the products in the state they were packed in, should they break within 7 days. The products have broken in the meantime after years of service.
Handbook for generator. The generator was returned for a refund after two years' ownership, as it spent 20 of the 24 months in the worskhop - although I returned 43 times to the shop to hear whether it had been fixed. I can give you the shop's name if you need it, but nobody asked.
Scanners hit by lightning - 2 of these. I do not think they will revive themselves and it is cheaper to buy them than to fix them.
Big plan cabinet - not used for 13 years - all my plans are digital now.
First aid kit - empty.
School suitcase - no, not my kids' ones - my wife's one of 50 years ago.

WHOA !!!!
I am too embarrased to go into my house for an inventory of all the vital things we have bought over the years. Maybe I will try that someday.

I can already think of over a hundred items I would throw away - if only my wife would let me.
So what can we do ? There are four scenarios.

1.       I will stay here and never use 95% of those items again. It can become part of my inheritance, but it will irritate and frustrate me for the rest of my life, stumbling over them trying to find something I knew I had for 20 years, but chucked away last week.
2.       I will emigrate one day and leave 95% of them behind, because I do not really need them or it is too expensive to transport.

3.       I will loose most in a fire and only try and save the vital ones.
4.       We might move into a smaller house or apartment now that the kids are out of the house and with the lower pension we now have. What shall we take along?

Which are the ones I might save ? You know - on reflection - I do not think anything. I could do with a new outfit.
Shall I repeat the Buddha's teaching here (in my words) :

Things we have are toil, suffering and responsibility. It may give us some punctuated brief moments of happiness. All these things are transient and our ceaseless attempts to grasp at these transient things traps us in an endless cycle of suffering. We can release ourselves from this treadmill of suffering, if we cease to grasp at things we do not need.
In fact, we will enjoy ourselves so much more, if we can travel lightly to wherever we wish to, without arranging for or worrying about that cat, dog or parakeet. And we can do that cash because we do not have to buy these things we do not need.

I can also quote from a favourite aviation writer of mine - A Gift of Wings by Richard Bach :
An old guru surely must have said it to a disciple ten thousand years ago : "You know Sam, there will never live anyone who will ever own anything more than his own thoughts. Not people, not places, not things will we ever keep for possessions through vast times. Walk a little while with them we can, but soon or late we will each take our own possession - what we have learned, how we think - and go separately around this planet.

Afterthought 4 June 2011
I have subsequently decided to become a Maximalist - I enjoy it much better.