What is Simplicity? Part 2
A Quaker friend told me that he coped with his very busy life by keeping his thoughts simple, but I just do not have the perceptual agility to handle any barrage of complications. I need time to process stuff. Once a yokel always a yokel. If quietude is found to be tolerable without strain, it can, as Neill Ansell described in his book Deep Country, result in a reserve of cool, which is probably down to a lack of opportunity to build an over-inflated ego.
An extreme example of this supposed state of grace is given in this amusing Zen tale:
A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied: “Is that so?”
When the child was born, the parents brought it to Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.
For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child.
I would have been protesting innocence a lot more vigorously than the 18th-century sage, and anyway, could anyone really keep their responses that simple? Not having spent decades in meditation, I would not know, but masters of that tricky art are said to be able to step aside from the normal emotions that afflict everyone, and accept changes very quickly.
Now that is simple living….
Having the choice to live minimally makes a lot of difference, and choice was the sole luxury of the three stalwart women I would like to mention, as a footnote, to this essay on austerity. The titles of the books which describe their edge-of-survival lives are listed below. Their isolation is not achievable without years of preparation, it’s way too head-straining for our accustomed expectations, and if you are wondering why they bothered, then you are, right from the start, missing an essential requirement for such rigours. I think that I would have lasted, well, about a week; in fine weather, of course.
Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel – Kindle edition.
A Cave in the Snow by Vicky Mackenzie – Kindle edition.
A Simplified Life by Verena Schiller – Kindle edition.
Deep Country by Neill Ansell – Kindle edition.
Alan Martin is a Pembrokeshire native who has worked in several UK locations as an engineering inspector. He now lives on a smallholding in mid-county with his wife and son.