Contented With Little

Luang Por Pasanno • November 2013

I recently read that in 1985—which is not so long ago—the average American purchased about thirty-two new articles of clothing per year. By 2010 it was up to almost sixty—and that was when the economy was in a tailspin. It seems many people are becoming more and more focused on consuming, without much consideration for what they already have.

By contrast, part of the ethos of living in a monastery as a samaṇa, a religious seeker, is developing the qualities of simplicity and frugality, and learning to be careful with how we use and reuse things. For instance, I have a cold now and have been blowing my nose quite often—I don’t know how many times a day. So I try to emulate Master Hua, who would use the same tissue over and over again until it became apparent that it could no longer be used. I must admit that despite trying, I cannot match his austerity in this regard. However, it’s a good illustration of frugality and taking care of what we use—we don’t need to throw a tissue away after only using it once, but instead, we can keep reusing it until it’s completely worn out. Simplicity and frugality are about doing little things like that: paying attention to all the things we use, taking care of them, and avoiding waste. Living like this helps protect the culture of modesty and contentment we’ve established here.

There’s an idiom in Thai that refers to “one who is contented with little.” Reflecting on this can inspire a life without complication. We can live very simply by being conscious of how we use things. Contrary to what one might think, this doesn’t make us miserable. Contentment is quite the opposite of misery. Living in a conscious way like this can make us happier by fostering internal qualities that lead to ease and well-being. We realize that we don’t require so many things to keep us happy and comfortable. It’s an internal experience based on internal qualities.