Buddhism, Minimalist Life, and Sparking Joy

The first blog post on minimalism. I hope to convey what I feel about minimalism in my life. It's a road I'm still working on, but over the past six months, I've cultivated a mindset that combines knowledge from books and articles, eastern religion philosophy, and my own observations. I hope you find it useful in your journey. Remember, these are my thoughts, and they are not meant to be a fix. Fix implies a simple quick solution. Rather, my journey is the reshaping of my life's landscape. It takes time and patience.

The Principles of Buddhism and the Minimalist Life

Buddhism has four principles of life that affect everyone, rich or poor. They are called the Four Noble Truths in English.

  1. All life is suffering - Suffering is inherent in life. We have times of joy and times of sorrow but as long as we live, we will suffer. Everything is temporary. A cheery thought, right?

  2. The Cause of Suffering - The cause of suffering is simple: we crave or have wants. To want is to be human in a lot of ways. We want a new car. We want to live a happy life. The problem is when we don't have our want, we suffer. Even if we fill it, we move on and are left hollow inside while we seek something new. Reaching the goal doesn't make us happy for long. “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

  3. The End of Suffering - So what can we do to end our suffering? We work hard to end our cravings. We practice suppressing our wants and focus on our needs. NEEDS ≠ WANTS.

  4. Walk the Path - There is doctrine in Buddhism, or a way to achieve enlightenment. It's called the Eightfold Path. I'd love to talk about that in depth, but we don't have the time. Short version, live well. Cryptic, I know. Buddhism is more philosophy than religion. You don't gain much by just believing, you have to live the path.

The executive summery of the Four Noble Truths is that we suffer because we want. To not suffer, we must let go. This is the idea of the minimalist lifestyle as I see it. We live with only the things we need and everything else, we can rid ourselves of it. To put it succinctly:

Stuff and the pursuit of stuff does not make one happy.

It's a weird simple idea that we all know or have at least heard someone tell us. Most of us loose sight of that as we grow older. I did. We have this idea that we need stuff. We are told this by marketers, friends, and family. Excess equals good. It shows we are important and happy.

Starting my Journey with a Spark of Joy

I was/am the same as everyone else. I had my job, wife, house, and everything that I thought I should have. I was miserable. Weird, huh? Well, I guess not really. I did say the pursuit of stuff makes you miserable a few paragraphs ago.

What was my kick towards minimalism and other life shattering philosophies? It was a self-help book from a Japanese author.

First a side note. I have a deep relationship with Japan and Japanese culture. I'm obsessed. I read anything I can and am pretty close to fluent in the language. So when I see a self-help book by a Japanese author, I'm going to buy it. So when I found a self-help book by a Japanese author, I bought it. The book was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. This book is pretty popular, but I had somehow missed it when the book debuted in 2014. Now, she has a what I'd consider a cult following. I am one of those cultists.

On the surface, the book is a guide to tidying your life. Not organizing your life but tidying. Kondo gives you rules for discarding your possessions that don't add to your life. This is the philosophy behind a minimalist lifestyle as well. Kondo goes a step further in helping us understand what that means. How does an item add value to our life? She makes us ask each object, "Do does this item spark joy?" Her step-by-step process helps discover what spark joy means to us.

For me, I'm still in that process. I'm figuring out which items spark joy and which don't. I've rid myself of 75% of my stuff, but I'm still on my journey. I think that's part of the whole minimalist life though. It's all about the journey. It doesn't end. We stop chasing stuff and fight that urge to go back to wanting stuff. Now our energy can focus on life. It's been liberating and I want to keep on my journey. I don't care if I ever get there, because the journey keeps me happy and mindful.