The Mahatma encouraged inmates to follow frugality as a life-choice, not out of a sense of deprivation, but because it was a better way to live.
It is that time of the year again, when many of us are in the mood to holiday and party, give and receive gifts, also look back and take stock. If a contemplative mood is upon you, perhaps you might join me in reflecting on something that is so integral to our lives that we often do not think about it — our patterns of consumption. Do we really need all that we have, and seem to buy almost compulsively? For, the larger question is, can the earth continue to sustain economies and lifestyles geared to maximise consumption and greed?
It is a question directly related to mindful consumption, and of the delight that comes with saving and sharing what has been saved. In an interlinked reality, where we are all part of a continuum, each individual action can impact countless other lives. Even if the action is as seemingly small as finishing the food one has served oneself, or the way one uses water, or the stuff one buys and discards, the thing to consider is that we are creating not only our reality but also others’.
This mindfulness of the collective was one of the “experiments with truth” conducted at Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati. The Mahatma encouraged inmates to follow frugality as a life-choice, not out of a sense of deprivation, but because it was a better way to live. If there was a stack of rotis on the table, one ate not just mindful of one’s own hunger, but also the hunger of others. So, if one roti was reasonably satisfying, one didn’t reach for another just because one could, or because one enjoyed its taste, but mindfully and willingly left it for another.
This was rooted in an age-old perspective — that of need-based consumption inspired by the key spiritual principle of balance. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, for instance, aim to cultivate balance of body, mind and emotionality, to become a fit instrument for union (yoga) with the divine. The eight limbs of yoga seek to create balance by encouraging control, non-possessiveness and non-attachment. Which indicate not so much a “giving up” as a “letting go”.
So, for example, you let go of impulses that drive you to get more and more stuff and look for your happiness in it, and instead enjoy what you have. Letting go of greed not only frees the mind of its restless hankering, it also directly impacts the burden we put on the earth and her resources. The Sanskrit directive Ati sarvatra varjayet — avoid excess everywhere — could become a golden rule of not just yoga, but of life.
What we need to cultivate is a “pilgrim consciousness” that treads lightly on the earth, that cares for rather than exploits, and finds meaning and happiness in being rather than having. And hence will follow patterns of consumption where the simple and frugal are the most satisfying options for the good life.