September 5, 2010

Simple Living Folks As Modern Day Ascetics

It used to be that if you wanted to be an ascetic you had to wear a hair shirt, or live in a barrel, or stand on top of a column holding your right arm up for years on end. As North America's yearning for decadence and luxury has ramped up over the years it has become easier to at least appear to be some sort of renunciant. To the average American, simple living folk may appear to be modern day ascetics.

I came up with the following list that may identify the modern ascetics among us. Check it out - you may be one.

You could be a modern day ascetic if:

  • you don't own a cell phone
  • you don't have cable TV (if you don't own a TV or any form of phone you may be hardcore, the equivalent of wearing a cilice - see photo at right)
  • you only have one car
  • you don't own a stainless steel BBQ (recently a family member looked at me with a puzzled expression, and total disbelief, when she asked, "You don't have a BBQ?")
  • you use your feet to get around
  • you don't wear the latest fashions
  • you haven't been to a movie for years
  • you eschew annual trips to Mexico
  • you aren't constantly starved for sex
  • you deny yourself restaurant and fast food
  • you live in less than 3000 square feet
  • you are not buying anything that you don't need to live your simple, joyful life
As you can see, there is no need to get naked and smear yourself with mud, dung, and human corpse ash as some Indian ascetics do. Mostly, you just have to drop out of the conspicuous consumer class.

So what do you think? Are you a modern day ascetic, or do you know of any? Hair shirt, anyone?


  1. Replies
    1. We're here to help - keep trying!

    2. Anonymous9/01/2012

      I have decided after having a life of things and never really having a life of happiness, that I am purging my life of these things. So that I may work less and build relationships more. So that I may raise my child instead of daycare.

      So goodbye cable, you are getting cancelled today. Goodbye second car, you gave me pain and stole my precious free time. Luckily no BBQ or fancy clothes, I've always been a minimalist, but I could do more. And so I will stop talking about it and start purging these things.

      --James--Recent follower of Mahayana Buddhism

    3. Hey James,

      Your path is sure to yield positive results. Purge, purge, purge. It is working for us.

      Buddhism has been a great source of inspiration along the way during our own quest to find that middle path.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      "There is pleasure when a sore is scratched, But to be without sores is more pleasurable still. Just so, there are pleasures in worldly desires, But to be without desires is more pleasurable still." - Nagarjuna

  2. Anonymous4/26/2014

    I sleep on the ground with some warm blankets and sleep better than I ever have in my whole life, however, I think a pillow is something I would not give up. Specifically two pillows. One seems like it's not enough support and anything over two is too much for me. That is an individual choice and disease processes in an individual may warrant more pillows. I certainly agree with the premise of your posting, the individual must decide what is the appropriate balance in life.

  3. I live an ascetic lifestyle, but it is not like you spoke of...

    Have you ever read Herman Hesse's Sidhartha?

    Anyway, I seek to learn about love. As Siddhartha's teacher explained, it will take money. Sidhartha took to business like a game and became quite successful.

    I follow in his footsteps.

    Here is where my ascetic practice comes in...

    For the last 4 years, I have been teaching myself digital marketing because that's what I want to do.

    As a result of relentless pursuit, traveling door-to-door vacuum sales experience, and being a skilled massage professional I have landed my dream job at the most successful acupuncture clinic in Long Beach, CA (Bixby Knolls).

    My high conversion rate selling packages landed me the promotion to case manager with a great commission rate on top of my massage income there.

    I dress for success, save big, and drink/eat well, however....

    I take the train back from Long Beach every night to downtown LA, and hang a hammock on the side of the World Trade Center.

    I have a bicycle for transportation. Between it and the Metro train, I get around LA.

    I sold my car Oct. 2012, and rode a bicycle from Denver, to San Diego visiting Buddhist monasteries along the way to learn about meditation.

    The Buddhist have 13 acetic practices. I am an "open air dweller".

    I will get a place after I save big for a couple of months, but for now I live under the open sky.

    I still wear $200 shoes, and the clothes to match. I wake up and wander into the Westin Bonaventure each morning to use the restroom and get a mocha.

    Yet at the same time, I can fit everything I own (aside from the bike) into a high school locker.

    I want to know if there are any others like myself; worldly ascetics still seeking spiritual gain.

  4. Anonymous7/07/2014

    Drink the wine of god not of the world -one of the five perfect masters

  5. Anonymous10/30/2014

    I'm sorry to be cynical but this list still sounds very... spoiled, and extremely un-ascetic like...
    The point of being an acetic is to, ya know? NOT have too much unnecessary crap?
    To even own a phone or TV or even simple internet access means you are still in the top 10 percent of people with the most valuable possessions. I aim to live in a freakin motel 6 at most and to only use the internet when I go to the library once a week, and to ride a bike to where I want. I plan on eating a small meal every four days for weeks at a time. That's Asceticism.
    Also, not sure if you were joking but if you honestly think wearing a cilice (I think you called it?) is the same as not having a few electronics that well less than 10% of of the world has, I think the path of the ascetic might not be what you want...

    1. Anon,

      This post was written in the spirit of tongue in cheek with an underlying hint of seriousness. Living more simply in any form takes on a sense of "living without" when one is surrounded by conspicuous consumption.

    2. I agree wholeheartedly. What I don't get is why often the few possessions that ascetics have are the most inefficient, low quality stuff. I'm talking about quality over quantity. I'm talking about having the right tool for the right job, not "look at me, my stuff is better than yours."

      I'm not interested in advertising my ascetescim, making myself a target for the profane masses who attach and attempt to destroy what does not fit in. By wearing high quality clothes (think "old money," high-quality, yet NOT for the purpose of standing out like "new money") I am not harassed by the police for living a lifestyle that they are trained to harass. I am not harrassed by business owners for what they think drives away their customers. For that matter, I don't drive away their customers loitering about enjoying my day near their store instead of slaving away for more conspicuous consumption credits.

      Standing out in one environment is blending in in others. I agree that many consume because, well, actually because they have been programmed by society since birth to be consumers. But by blindly consuming, they often throw away their money not even getting the results they hoped it would buy.

      And most ascetics, let's face it, they are engaged in "conspicuous" ascetescim. They seem to be making those choices so society sees them as "ascetic," or "spiritual." Not because they are making conscious decisions about how they live their lives.

      Minimalism is just one form of ascetescim, and as a result of my minimalist choices, I am able to make sure that the few tools I have truly enrich my life.

      I am not trying to define ascetescim, but rather encourage an alternative view. More importantly, I'm interested in making connections with those that read what I said, and say "yes! This guy gets what I'm talking about." I know the typical, limited views of what it means to be an ascetic, and I'm aware (painfully so) how many people assume there is a box that ascetics all fit into.

      How the post was written is irrelevant, because people looking for information about asceticism will likely end up here as I did from a search engine result, and hopefully, by speaking up in the comments, a connection can be made.

    3. Omar Von Gimbel,

      Thank you so much for adding your excellent comments here. They do vastly improve this post and will hopefully encourage others to think about this and post their thoughts to add to the discussion that needs to happen.

  6. Yowsers!

    -I don't have cable TV. In fact, no TV
    -I only have one car
    -I don't own a stainless steel BBQ
    -I use my feet to get around (when feasible)
    -I don't wear the latest fashions
    -I haven't been to a movie for 2 years
    -I eschew annual trips to Mexico
    -I live in less than 3000 square feet

    Looks like I'm on my way to becoming a modern ascetic :)

    1. David,

      I would say you are well on your way. Congratulations. A complementary NBA hair shirt for you!

  7. Anonymous7/13/2015

    Rather than compare to the hyper materialistic American lifestyle, how about considering the folks in Southern Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Chad, Eritrea, Somalia, Bangladesh, Hmong, etc, etc, etc. Consider what is basic to life, besides no TV, and you might get a real picture of an Acetic life. It is actually amazing how well a human being can live with basic necessities and a good attitude.

    1. I don't think he was trying to define ascetisism. It seems to me he was just saying that compared to the highly materialistic western lifestyle, not ownining a telly may seem like ascetisism to some, not that it actually is. When you get down to the really basics then yes, man does not need much to live, but that was not the point of this post I think.

  8. Anonymous3/31/2016

    I have phone t the moment, but no for much longer. I may get a non-contract phone.

    There is cable where I'm staying, but I don't use i. I do use the inernet, and own a computer. I consider it a part of myself, as it is the means by which i can channel restless energy, and reduce my impact on the outside world.

    I only have one old car, from before I started renouncing. And I barely use it.

    I do not have a barbecue.

    I don't really go out much. I'm almost a hermit.

    I currently have 3 outfits.

    I pay to see a movie once a year, usually.

    Trips? I don't even want to go to the store during the day.

    I'm a partial celibate.

    I will eat restaurant food occasionally, usually when someone else offers, or I come across enough money to feed someone else.

    My living space is the size of a large closet.

    I only buy food, clothing when needed, and computer parts.

    1. Anonymous4/24/2017

      fellow hermit here, no eclectic, wood stove, haul my water up a mountain. I live on an island in a large lake. I am celibate working out the turmoil of modern marriage, and my own salvation. I live in a small Davis building,30 by 40.. single room. I have a dog named River.. I keep a garden.. tomatoes, potatoes, okra, squash , ect.. fish are abundant spring , summer and fall. I sea kayak to the fishing grounds... I am an Orthodox Christian and serve as reader and cantor...planed voluntary poverty, simplicity, have taken time to bring to fact. That it is possible to serve. others. I am not perfect in this life. but strive towards it.

  9. The celibacy thing is not my bag. But the rest I can dig.

  10. Anonymous4/24/2017

    Have lived five miles out of town on an island in a large lake for 10 years. I killed by radio and TV then. I keep simple clothing, on what is needful.. I chose voluntary poverty, obedience to my faith, and chastity( attempting of amend the turmoil of modern marriage in my own life) I am off the grid, nad live on perhaps 300 dollars a month.. I feel the spiritual end of this life is what is important. I chose this life, to be able to be free to help others and work out my salvation. I own an 21 year old pick up to haul my water up the mountain. and garden and fish for my food I serve as cantor and and reader for my parish.

  11. Anonymous8/04/2018

    i think ascetism can be a strong word, but minimalism, or simple living i think is more of what we speak here.
    i am on a journey with it - no tv, do have phone, no bbq, etc, but its each their own.
    for me, i have done the societal thing, it has given me little, now i am exploring the other side. the navigation in me is working, but it can be challenging with friends and family

    time will show how, but i do wish i had come to this earlier - so much wasted efforts and time

    thanks for the post

    1. Congratulations on beginning your journey. It takes a strong person to perceive, then admit, the waste of effort and time found in pursuing unsatisfactory things. To act on that realization is even a more impressive undertaking.

      Surely the difficulty of making such a change, even if ultimately a positive improvement, keeps many trudging along in unfulfilling and harmful lifestyles. But relief is always one decision away, if you have the strength and support to make it.

      That is what keeps me working away at this blog - in order to offer my support to anyone deciding to get off consumerism and multi-planet lifestyles. We would love to hear more in the future as you explore "the other side".

  12. Anonymous5/05/2023

    I think what some commenters here are missing out on is that asceticism is ironically a luxury in America. Few of us can afford to live self-sustainably out in the middle of nowhere, because of the startup costs for land and food. On top of that, police and business owners are antagonistic towards us if we don't have basic grooming and upkeep. Minimalism IS asceticism in America.


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