The Third and Seventh Realizations

This evening we’ll begin the dialogue on the Third and Seventh Realizations, which focus on living with few desires. The Third Realization is consistent with the Theravada tradition, and the Seventh Realization is consistent with the Mahayana tradition. This dialogue has three parts. The first part covers the nature of simplicity, which we’ll take up this evening. The second part covers the contemporary Voluntary Simplicity movement in America. The third part covers living in mindfulness.

We won’t discuss the two remaining Realizations, theFourth and Fifth, which address laziness and ignorance, respectively. Both are well covered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “Two Treasures”. My talks complement this book, which I highly recommend. It’s a treasure of wisdom.

Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully:

THE THIRD REALIZATION is that the human mind is always searching for possessions and never feels fulfilled. This causes impure actions to increase constantly. Bodhisattvas, however, always remember the principle of having few desires. They live a simple life in peace in order to practice the Way, and consider the realization of perfect understanding as their only career.”

“THE SEVENTH REALIZATION is that the five categories of desire lead to difficulties. Although we are in the world, we should try not to be caught up in worldly matters. A monk, for example, has in his possessions only three robes and a bowl. He lives simply in order to practice the Way. His precepts keep him free of attachment to worldly things, and he treats everyone equally with compassion.”


A picture is worth a thousand words. Let’s explore the nature of simplicity through Ikenobo, one of the schools of Japanese Ikebana flower arrangements. It has its roots in Zen Buddhism. This is a picture of such an arrangement. It reflects nature in its timeless beauty, elegance, peace, simplicity, and serenity. In the next few minutes, please observe your feelings while taking a good look at the lines, their sizes, and relative positions, and the colors and texture of the vase and the materials. Do you sense peace, contentment, harmony, interconnectedness, sustaining, de-cluttering or spaciousness, and wellness? Now, hold these feelings and keep the picture in your mind, sit up straight, take three deep breaths and release tensions with each. I’ll lead you through a meditation on simplicity.

Simplicity is peace: The style of the arrangement, and the texture and the colors of the materials and vase, express peaceful feelings. Mother Teresa: “See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence in order to reach souls”.

Reflect on this question: How peaceful is my life?

Simplicity is Contentment. The design conveys contentment. H.H. the Dalai Lama: “If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements. And finally, there is an intense delight to abandon faulty states of mind, and cultivating helpful ones in meditation”.

Reflect on these questions: How content is my life? How is my wholesomeness?                                                

Simplicity is Harmony. All of the elements of the arrangement complement one another and co-exist in harmony. Change or omit any of the elements and the arrangement will be unbalanced.

Reflect on these questions: Is my personal life in harmony with my family life and work life? How harmonious is my relationships with my parents, spouse, and children, or relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers? Remember that even if any of them might have passed away, or moved on, the relationship may still need transformation.

Simplicity is interconnectedness. Under Hideyoshi Toyotomi (the warlord who ruled Japan during the Azuchi period), Ikebana reached the height of extravagance due to his taste for magnificence. Sen no Rikyu (the famous tea master and his taste adviser) eventually got tired of forty-foot high designs that filled up rooms. He decided to teach Hideyoshi a lesson. One day, Hideyoshi asked to see the master’s beautiful garden of morning-glories. Sen no Rikyu followed the order. When Hideyoshi arrived, he was angry to find out that all of the flowers were gone. Upon entering the tea house, he noticed a single but perfect morning-glory beautifully arranged in a bronze vase. This single flower reminded Hideyoshi of the invisible existence of hundreds of others in the garden. He realized interconnectedness in life.

Reflect on these questions: How connected is my life? Does any of the interconnectedness bring unhappiness or unwholesomeness? Is my happiness also the happiness of others? What resources can I share more?

Simplicity is sustaining. The arrangement uses a combination of branches, leaves, and flower, instead of the abundance of flowers that we usually see, making it more sustainable. Simple and beautiful arrangements can be made solely from tree branches and leaves. While in college, I used to make vases out of egg shells and ring binder dividers. We don’t have to be rich to enjoy flower arrangements if we’re tuned to nature.

Reflect on these questions: The flower arrangement expresses harmony between heaven, earth, and man. Is my life sustaining the earth? Is my life helping in the eradication of modern slavery?

Simplicity is de-cluttering. Simplicity renders the arrangement spacious and holds the attention of the viewers, which in turn de-clutters their minds. In this instance, simplicity is the nutrient for mindfulness. William Harris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or you believe to be beautiful”. When a person arranges flowers, she uses mindfulness to achieve simplicity. Leonardo Da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. A Harvard study concluded that 50% of the time while we’re not engaged in tasks, the mind wanders, and that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

Reflect on these questions: How cluttered is my life with the five desires of wealth, sex, power, overeating and oversleeping? How cluttered are my belongings?

Additionally, simplicity improves physical health. It’s also associated with humility, purity, and sincerity.

Reflect on these questions: How healthy is my body? Are my mind and body in harmony?

Open your eyes and notice people around you.

PAUSE FOR DISCUSSION: How did you feel? What other insights or feelings did you experience besides those in the guided meditation? You can substitute any of the specific areas of the guided meditation with those you’d rather work with, such as humility, purity, and sincerity.

Take another look at the picture before we continue the meditation. Again take a mindful posture and three deep breaths, releasing any tensions with each. Now refresh in your mind your previous reflections on the elements of simplicity: peace, contentment, harmony, interconnectedness, sustaining, de-cluttering, and wellness. You’re about to create a flower arrangement of your life as it is and could become.

Just as the flower arrangement in the picture has the main branches— the high -heaven, the low – earth, the middle – man and supplemental branches—the arrangement of the reflections also has its high and low and middle points, which depend on your current mental, emotional, and physical conditions and priorities. Associate each reflection with a branch, leaf, or flower of the flower arrangement.

Here’s an example: let’s say that you reflected that your highest element was contentment; you found yourself somewhat in the middle in regard to peace and somewhat lower in interconnectedness. These would form the three main branches of your own life’s floral design. The other elements of simplicity take supporting branch positions.

Empty the vase and fill it with the nectar of compassion, to nurture and bring out the beauty of the reflections.

Position the reflection that you choose to be the heaven line in the vase first, followed by the man line, then the earth line.

After you’re done with the main lines, position the supplements. Do it mindfully—the same way you would mindfully move and watch the movement of your hand as if you were positioning a real branch, leaf, or flower. Observe your feeling and sensations during the task and after you’ve finished the task.

After you’ve finished the arrangement, contemplate it. How do you feel? What modifications improved the arrangement? What modifications could improve it further? Does a life of greater simplicity seem more possible or desirable to you now?

I hope this meditation on simplicity helped you get in touch better with yourself.

PAUSE FOR DISCUSSION: What insight did you gain? How far were you able to complete the arrangement?