Ideals and Values/Non Hoarding and Simple Living (Aparigraha)
What is Aparigraha
Aparigraha means that
- We should not hoard material goods like electronic games, clothing, cars, money etc.
- We should consume the minimum amount of resources to meet our needs and do not become a victim of greed.
- We should live a simple life by keeping our possessions to a minimum.
Some people like to accumulate much more than what they can use. Their behavior is like that of squirrels, who bury piles of acorns and other nuts in the ground in autumn, thinking that they will eat them in sprint. But in the intervening winter, the squirrels forget all about their hoarded nuts and never eat them in the next spring. Similarly some people just keep buying clothing, shoes and other goods even though they never even get a chance to use these things later on.
Harms of Hoarding
Parigraha or hoarding has many defects and harmful effects.
The earth has a limited amount of resources. Therefore, if we keep stockpiling goods (e.g. food-grains), then we are depriving others of the opportunity to use them, because we have removed these goods from the society.
Consumerism is an evil that is closely related to hoarding. In many modern societies like the American society, people consume a lot of goods whether it is clothes, gasoline, food etc. For example, Americans are only 6% of the world’s population, but they consume almost 30% of the energy resources in the world. Consumerism is a major cause of environmental deterioration. When we consume more electricity, we burn more coal and this pollutes the environment to a greater extent. The Hindu philosophy of Aparigraha therefore asks us to make a distinction between what we really need and our greed. Truly speaking, we need just 1 or 2 homes to live and therefore it is pure greed to buy a dozen homes in different cities, when you can only live in one of them at any given time.
Hoarding also makes our life more complicated. We have to keep working hard so that we can earn more money with which we can hoard more and more things. Then, we have to spend even more money and time to keep them in a good condition. And finally when these things become non-usable, we need effort, time and money to clear out the clutter from our home! On the other hand, if we keep only those things that we really need, we can be more relaxed and make our life and homes cleaner! As a contemporary spiritual leader says:
“We too are like prisoners in the jail of this physical world. We spend all our time going after things that will not give us happiness. Whatever material gains we have in the world can lead us to more bondage if we are attached to them. For example, if we want a big house, we have to work longer hours to make enough money to pay for its mortgage. Then we need to fill it up with more and more furniture. That will take more time to pay for it, shop to buy it, and then to clean and repair everything. Before we know it, the house that was supposed to bring us pleasure has made us a slave to it. We no longer have time for our family, our children or pursuits that will give us fulfillment. We spend all our time going after things that may not give us true and lasting happiness.
Similarly, we may want to buy a computer to keep up with the latest technology. We then find ourselves working harder to buy all the right software and equipment to make it work. Soon we realize that we are not happy with a simple computer. We want to upgrade to a faster and more elaborate computer. Next, we find the computer that was supposed to save us time is taking up all our time. We end up spending hours learning to use the computer. We spend hours exploring the Internet. The e-mail system that was supposed to make communications faster is taking more and more of our time. Suddenly, we find fifty people e-mailing us daily and they expect an instantaneous response. If we do not respond right away they accuse us of being non-responsive and indifferent. Soon, we are spending hours on the computer. We have become slaves to our possessions.”
The truth is that we can never get permanent happiness by pursuing things that are themselves temporary. Electronic gadgets come out in upgraded versions every six months. How long can we keep running after them and how many times can we upgrade them in our home?
Distortion of Reality
Hoarding also distorts our perspective of life. We start measuring our importance or that of others by the amount of goods that we possess. We also become attached to these material things as if they were living beings. But there is much, much more to life than clothing, shoes, games, cars etc. Instead of spending all of our time and attention on material things, we should use our energy in developing a relationship of friendship and love with our friends, family and with Bhagavān. An easy example to understand is that of someone who prides himself for having 10,000 Facebook friends, but who does not have a single friend in his real life. Therefore hoarding is a hindrance in the path of developing good social relationships and in the path of our spiritual progress.
Finally, hoarding is closely associated with greed. Many a time, we just do not have enough money to buy all the clothes that we want to hoard in our already over-flowing closets. So we can get tempted to do shop-lifting or steal money from others to satisfy our unreasonable cravings. Therefore, we should always keep a check on what we are buying and whether we can afford to buy it or not.
How to Overcome Hoarding and follow the Hindu Ideal of Aparigraha
- Pratipakṣa-Bhāvanā: Before buying or getting anything, think in your mind if you really need it.
- Pratipakṣa-Bhāvanā: Consider whether your acquiring of something is depriving others who need it more than you. Also, look into the environmental impact of your decision.
- Try to avoid situations where you get tempted to get more than you really need, e.g. “all you can eat buffet” or “super-sale of clothes.”
- Datta: Get into the habit of gifting your belongings. You will find that there is greater joy in feeding a hungry person than in feeding yourself the food of two people!
- Every month or more frequently, make a list of things that you really need. Then, try to buy only those items that are on the list, avoiding purchase of thing that are not on the list.
- Santośa: Cultivate the virtue of contentment. Seek happiness in little things and be satisfies with whatever you can get with the money that you have earned with your hard labor. A single pair of shoes purchased with your own salary gives much more joy than 10 pairs of shoes gifted to you by a rich relative.
- Develop the proper attitude towards money. Understand that not every happiness or object can be purchased with money. We cannot buy parents with money. We can buy a house, but not a home because a home is built with the love and respect of our family members. With money, we can construct a massive library, but we cannot develop good habits like reading.
Did you Know
In the year 1931, Mahatma Gandhi visited London to talk to the British Govt. about granting freedom to India. A day before he was about to see King George VI, the British Emperor, a reporter advised him about Gandhi’s simple clothing, “You will be seeing the King. Don’t you think you should be wearing something more substantial and decent?” Mahatma Gandhi smiled and replied, “I think the King is wearing enough clothes for both of us!”
- Rajinder Singh, pp. 46-47
Notes & References
- These energy resources are coal, gasoline etc.