I’ve always been fascinated by the philosophical aspects of world religions. As I mentioned in a previous post, I see many more commonalities among different doctrines than I see differences—and one of those happens to be their emphasis on simple living.
Across the board, the great spiritual leaders were not known for their riches or worldly possessions; rather, they led simple and humble lives, rejecting material goods in favor of teaching and service.
Jesus, usually depicted as owning little more than his robe and sandals, is quoted as saying, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Moses gave up “the treasures of Egypt” to lead the Israelites’ Exodus across the Red Sea. He relied on faith, not wealth or power, to sustain his people as they wandered in the desert, and they were bestowed with “manna from heaven.”
The prophet Muhammad is said to have lived with few material goods, patching his shoes, mending his clothes, and eating and sleeping on the floor. He advised, “Wealth is not in having vast riches, it is in contentment.”
Gandhi, the great Hindu leader, died with less than ten earthly possessions—including his sandals, watch, eating bowl, prayer book, and spectacles. One of his most famous quotes: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
Siddhārtha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was an Indian prince who renounced his worldly possessions in search of spiritual enlightenment. He taught that desire is the primary cause of unhappiness, and that “joy comes not through possession or ownership but through a wise and loving heart.”
The Chinese sage Confucius abandoned a comfortable life as Minister of Justice to teach his doctrine of ethics. He said, “”With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my bent arm for a pillow—I have still joy in the midst of all these things.”
Lao Tzu, father of Taoism, championed simplicity and humility with such quotes as “Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires” and “He who knows he has enough is rich.”
So I can’t help but wonder: if so many people subscribe to these religions, and their leaders were such powerful proponents of simplicity, why are consumerist lifestyles so prevalent?
Now I know that starting an internet discussion on religion can be a dangerous thing. We all have our own beliefs, and we’re often quite passionate about them. However, I trust that we can share our knowledge here without resorting to “my religion is better than yours” or “my religion is right and yours is wrong.”
I’d like this discussion to explore the threads of simplicity that are woven throughout the world’s religions. I’m not an expert in any of them, and would love to hear quotes, stories, and other examples of minimalist living in different faiths. Above all, I’d like to celebrate this beautiful philosophy that so many religions share.
So if you’re game, tell us something about simplicity and your faith in the Comments. (And for those of you who don’t follow an organized religion, please feel free to chime in with how simplicity plays a role in your own brand of spirituality—be it centered on nature, the Universe, etc.)
Just please, please, please do me one favor: refrain from any negative comments on others’ beliefs, and focus on positive ones about your own! :)