One of the hallmarks of our sangha is understanding that a lifestyle of frugality, simplicity, and harmony with nature is an essential aspect of practice. Our community is an ongoing experiment in discovering the most compassionate and ethical lifestyle for spiritual practitioners in our current times. See the essay links on the home page and Satya’s Writings for lots more about this.
Here are some of our efforts to live in joyful simplicity:
Reducing Energy Use
- We avoid using cars for sangha events, and several of us don’t use cars at all. We bike and walk (we use bicycle carts to haul things). Human-powered transport helps keep us in shape and stay locally focused. And several of us don’t use airplanes, and encourage others to reduce their use of them as much as possible.
- We minimize or eliminate house heating. We wear layers inside when it’s cold. (Sweaters are your friend). Insulating the house as well as possible is a good idea, too. Zazen (sitting meditation in a good posture) is a great source of heat, as well.
-We use a hot box (hay box) to cook our grains and legumes so that we only have to use the stove to bring them to a boil, then the insulated box lets the food cook itself. (Simmering is just a waste of energy, as the heat going in is about the same as the heat being lost off the pot). This greatly reduces stovetop cooking time. You can make a nice, permanent insulated box, or just use a styrofoam cooler that someone is throwing out. Or you can just use a few blankets/sleeping bags – that works almost as well, and is great for camping.
- In the summer, we don’t cook much. Eating lots of fruit when it’s warm is healthy and tasty, and many veggies are good raw. When it’s hot out, it just seems strange to make more heat on a stove (let alone running the oven). Maybe we cook a little in the evening when it gets cool.
- We sometimes use a rocket stove (home-made efficient wood stove) to cook, collecting twigs and scrap wood from around our neighborhood for fuel. We almost always use such a stove on camping trips, unless we’re going with just raw food. (You can learn about these stoves from the place that developed them – aprovecho.org – or just look up “rocket stove” on the internet for instructions on how to make one – there are many designs).
- We handwash and sun-dry. (Electric dryers use lots of energy). Even in Portland, Oregon clothes dry – just pick a sunny day to wash.
-We often don’t use a fridge. We store our produce in a cold room or outside, being careful to eat our leftovers soon. If you don’t eat animal products, there’s little need for a fridge, and they use lots of energy.
The Food Cycle
- We avoid eating animals and their products, and instead enjoy whole plant foods. This conserves energy, protects forests and other wildlands, reduces pollution, saves water, and by some accounts is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce climate change. (see this video for a summary – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlTBC91L-x0). And, of course, it helps end the enormous animal suffering caused by using animals for our own ends (industrial factory-raised animal operations for flesh, milk and eggs is, of course, the most blatantly cruel, but “organically raised”, “free range” or “humane” operations are often not much better, and even the best treated animals are still confined and denied a natural life, and killed early. There’s a great book by Will Tuttle called the World Peace Diet with extensive discussions of the ethical and psychological issues around eating animals – see worldpeacediet.com for his main site, or worldpeacediet.org for free downloads). We also benefit from the nutritional advantage that a plant-based diet offers. Although there is much controversy in popular literature about the healthiest diet, we believe the weight of scientific evidence clearly supports eating free of animal products for the greatest health benefit (see nutritionfacts.org for as much info on this as you might want, and plantpositive.com for a systematic refutation of the “paleo” arguments for animal eating). We eat delicious fare, as well, with some unusual innovations. Contact us for recipes.
Sprouted Humus for an Open House Appetizer
- In the tradition of the original Chinese Chan communities, we help grow food locally. A few core sangha members currently maintain a large garden where they live, growing all kinds of vegetables, maintaining fruit trees, and raising some specialty herbs like shiso and tulsi. We are guideded by an approach to farming developed and articulated by the Japanese farmer and spiritual teacher Masunobu Fukuoka. Inspired by the Taoist spiritual ideal of “wu-wei” (non-doing), he rediscovered a way of growing food with the least imposition of human control and the most respect for nature’s own rhythm. The name for this process which we like best was coined by the Indian farmer Partap Aggarwal- ”rishi kheti” (farming of the sages) as he discovered these same principles in ancient Sanskrit texts. For more information on this method, check out Fukuoka’s wonderful books, The One Straw Revolution and Natural Farming.
There’s also a great movement of urban farming which we support- turning lawns and unused lots into community gardens and CSAs (community supported agriculture). We had a friend who ran an urban CSA in Portland some years ago using voluteered yards, but he moved. There’s still many local small farms in town, though.
-We’re avid urban wildcrafters. We collect walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, figs, plums, pears, apples, grapes, berries, persimmons, kiwis, greens, herbs and firewood. It just takes a little observation to start noticing the trees and other plants around us, and what they offer us.
- We gather food that would otherwise go to waste. By some estimates 40% of all food marketed in the United States ends up uneaten in the garbage. We arrange to pick up donations at food stores of unsold produce or close-to-expired packaged food, or from what farmers don’t sell at the end of a farmer’s market. Most of this food is actually unblemished, but since there is no room for it on the shelves when the next load comes, it becomes waste. We also check dumpsters for any useable food and other items.
- We share our excess food with Food Not Bombs (www.foodnotbombs.net) who serve free vegetarian meals in public parks. See their website for a local chapter.
Food-Not-Bombs at Occupy Portland
- Whatever we still need to buy, we buy in bulk from the local co-op with re-used bags or containers. (see the page On Giving)
- We complete the nutrient cycle by composting our own waste. In traditional agricultural societies the body’s waste products are used as the incredibly rich fertilizers that they are. In our own contemporary society, we have the bizarre practice of pooping and peeing into pure drinking water, flushing it away through a complicated sewer system, mixing it with polluting chemicals, and dumping it, mostly unused, into places where it often harms the ecosystem (like the ocean). Then we use synthetic, petroleum-based fertilizers for commercial agriculture which damage and deplete the soil and pollute the waterways.
The obvious solution is a simple transition to make, and doesn’t necessarily require expensive composting toilets. At Bukkokuji Temple in Japan, where Satya practiced, they simply scoop out the toilet tanks once or twice a month, dump them into freshly dug garden beds, and cover (as people have been doing for hundred of years). Here, we are a bit more methodical, and we add our “humanure” to specially designated compost bins, mix with woodchips, and allow the compost to heat and transform over several months. Odors are not a problem. See the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins (it’s free online) for complete information.
Do-it-Yourself Culture and Sharing
We aim to reduce consumption by first minimizing our needs and then making or learning to make what we do need, or sharing with our neighbors. In our area of Portland we are lucky to have a tool-lending library and a community bike maintenance collective. With a little organizing, these can be set up in many places. Most of the household items we need, and just about all of our clothes, we get from freeboxes that people put out on the sidewalk. This is a great urban tradition that hopefully will spread far and wide. It is fundamentally in line with the Buddha’s original instruction to make your clothes from the discarded scraps of cloth you find in your daily rounds.
Although computers are perhaps unnecessary in a meditation practice center, we have two rebuilt used laptops from the local computer recycling collective (www.freegeek.org) for use in teaching and practicing Indian music. (New computers exact a heavy toll on nature and society around the world. See FreeGeek’s website). Since internet is not used on the temple grounds, we utilize the library when necessary. (This applies to when we had a temple, of course – it was brief and a few years back).
One of our most exciting D.I.Y. endeavors is our robe making project (Patch-Robe Project). Having hand-sewn our meal cloths for our “oryoki” bowls, we now intend to start sewing our own clothes from found scrap material. Check out www.boundlessmindzen.org to see another sangha’s efforts at making their own robes.
From the earliest days of the Buddhist Sangha, and even before, Yogic practitioners have always served the wider community by being examples of the possibilities and freedom of a radically simplified lifestyle. In our era of intensified materialism and serious environmental deterioration, this role of the sangha is needed more than ever. We hope you can share some of our strategies with your communities and friends.
Please send us your questions and comments!