— By Special Guest Author Dutzi King
Aparigraha is the concept of non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. Whereas parigrah (without the a at the beginning) refers to the desire of keeping possessions, the concept of aparigraha is a self-restraint from greed, especially that kind of greed by which others are hurt, killed, or destroyed, for the sake of what we think is our happiness or our convenience.
I was convinced to lead a very reduced lifestyle, possessing only the most important things, by reading Mari Kondos’ book, The Life Changing Magic of Decluttering. This book suggests only keeping items that sparkle with joy for you. I found that I wasn’t in love with many of my belongings and donated most of them. Now for example I own about 20 clothing items, most of them bought second hand. I realized how much easier it is to deal with an uncomplicated set of clothing, and how important is is to make a good use of all my winter coats; namely, not to hang them in my closet, but to get them to others who really need them.
But decluttering doesn’t seem to get the whole aspect of aparigraha. We live in a consumer culture, and somehow we do not seem to realize where our belongings, and therefore our responsibilities start and end. In the US, every person in average creates 4 pounds of trash – no, not recyclables – trash every day. In this country alone we make more than 200 million tons of garbage each year. Seventy percent of that could be recycled, but it is not. The biggest problem seems to be plastic. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. Fifty percent of the plastic we use is used just once and then thrown away. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. (http://www.ecowatch.com/22-facts-about-plastic-pollution-and-10-things-we-can-do-about-it-1881885971.html)
It seems that living a vegan lifestyle is not enough and is still causing a lot of harm. My greed, my parigraha, shows up in eating pre-packed convenience food. Yummy vegan cheese cake for example, double wrapped in a plastic container. Or a delicious tea or coffee in a wax lined paper cup that can’t be recycled.
Living in Europe, the only place for groceries I went to was a small organic neighborhood grocery store. No need to drive. I took my bike or walked. All liquids were filled up in recyclable glass bottles. Greens and fruit were sold without any wrappers. Everything else I bought on bulk and put them in my own containers (http://www.biolino.net). In Berlin, we had seven different bins in front of our house: One for paper, one for hard plastics, one for soft plastic, one for glass bottles, one for compost, one for aluminium, the tiniest one for waste. I was not aware of what was going on outside my little recycling world.
Now, I have been living in the USA for two years. I am realizing I have to do something about the trash problem and my consumer habits. Through research I found the zero waste movement. French born, California based, activist and writer Bea Johnson is one of the founders of this campaign and my new super hero (http://www.zerowastehome.com). Bea is teaching ways to say no to plastic and packing in the first place. Carry your own napkin, reusable cup and spoon with you at all times. She showed me that I can bring my own containers to Whole Foods, without being embarrassed. I started to make my own vegan cheese cake again (much better anyways) with items I bought in bulk. The next time I fly, I will definitely bring my own re-usable cup. The trash created on airplane flights is enormous. The only thing I can do about the waste problem we have is change my own habits.