Food for Thought|Jan 1, 2012 7:41 AM| by:

More with Less

We buy use and throw. Often we buy much more than we actually need. The whole consumerist culture is based on the principle: Buy more! Throw more! Today we splurge – we plunder the earth’s scarce resources and produce so much junk that not only our garbage dumps but even our parks overflow with rubbish.

But has it always been like this? Have we Indians always been so profiligate and wasteful? No. History tells us that Indians have been fairly austere. They have had a different way of looking at the material world. According to this viewpoint a thing can have several uses. Not just one life but several lives. The concept of reuse/recycle has very deep roots in the Indian culture. This 5000 year old story shows a deep respect and sensitivity for the material world. It has many lessons for modern day environmentalists.

One day the great Buddha was taking a round of the monastery. He was approached by a monk who wanted a new woolen shawl (angarkha).

Buddha asked him. “What happened to your old shawl?”

“It had become very old and worn out. So I am presently using it like a bed sheet,” replied the monk.

Buddha asked again, “But what happened to your old bed sheet?”

“Master, that bed sheet got old with use. It was worn and torn. So I cut it up and made a pillow cover out of it,” replied the monk.

“But there certainly was a pillow cover before you made a new one. What did you do to your old pillow cover?” asked the Buddha.

“My head had rubbed a million times against the old pillow cover and made a big hole in it.  So I made a foot mat out of it,” replied the monk in earnest.

Buddha was not satisfied by this answer. He always delved deep into any issue. In the end he asked the monk, “Tell me what did you do with your old door mat?”

The monk replied with folded hands, “Master, the old door mat had gotten totally worn with use. Because of repeated use, the warp and the weft had come out. So I took the cotton fibres and braided a wick out of them. Later I burned the cotton wick in the oil lamp.”

Buddha smiled after listening to the monk. The monk got a new shawl.

Arvind Gupta
(Arvind Gupta, graduated from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He has written several books on science activities.  His books on science experiments have sold over a million copies in a dozen Indian languages. He has received several honors, including the first National Award for Science Popularization amongst Children and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from IIT, Kanpur for making science interesting for children.)