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Thread: Consumerism

  1. #1

    Consumerism

    HI,

    I am printing another question (with permission) that someone sent, and my response. Please add any thoughts...

    Someone asked:

    Do you have any advice for dealing with consumerism? I ... do my best to keep the precepts, etc., BUT I often find myself caught up in the consumer-mode that American culture seems to promote. I give money regularly to charity, but I also like to spend money on things for me. I'm not talking about spending on an irresponsible level ..., just enough to feel guilty that I didn't spend that money on something for someone else. ... [For instance], I treated myself to an iPhone. I like having the new toy but I also feel guilty that I spent $400 on something I don't need. I don't want to live like an ascetic, but I realize that by most of the world's standard I already live a life of opulence so why is there the drive to acquire more things? ...
    I wrote:

    Hi,

    This is something that we must all face to the extent that we have taken our Buddhist Practice out of the monastery, and have given up the begging bowl as our primary means of support.

    My advice comes down to two phrases: "all things in moderation" and "do not be attached".

    First, there is nothing wrong with spending on the necessities and basic comforts to keep your family healthy, housed, educated and fed. Children need clothes, shoes, toys. But what about anything beyond that, like that Ipod?

    Well, our Zen way does teach us to cultivate simplicity in lifestyle, and satisfaction from non-material things. The man who is content with what he has, no matter what he has, is ... thereby ... the wealthiest man in the world, even if he lives in a straw hut with no possessions. While we do not live that way in the Middle Class West, we should try to head in that direction as much as possible. The sun through the trees, just living, a child's smile, the sound of a bird call ... all are free! You should try to keep life relatively simple, and make do with what you truly need as much as possible, cultivating an appreciation for the intangibles instead of the materials whenever you can. For example, while a car is a necessity these days ... and even if you can afford a Porsche ... perhaps make due with an older or simpler car that is "enough"

    Next, even if you have some expensive possessions ... a house, a car, jewelry and the like ... try not to need them, be willing to see them taken from you. That is non-attachment. If you are proud of your house, and fear its loss, you are not free. If you think your house is comfortable, but would just smile if it burned in a fire, you are free. In our Buddhist Practice, we know that "all things are change" and "nothing lasts" ... so we cultivate a flexible mind that is will to allow that should it happen.

    And yes, do charity work, contribute, volunteer as much as possible. Do something to make the world better (through your job or outside activities) to make up for the blessings you have received.

    I think that we cannot get away from materialism so much in our modern lives, but we can keep it in some balance and avoid excesses.

    That is what I recommend.

    Gassho, Jundo

  2. #2

    Re: Consumerism

    What are you talking about, Jundo? Consumerism??? :roll:



    Interesting topic! 8)
    I agree with everyone here: it is not WHAT we have but how we relate to it. One can have one thing only and be very attached to it.

    An impulsive shopper I am learning to observe the desire in me grow and handle it in the way I do when on the cushion: notice it and see it for what it is, see how my body reacts to it and not react to it. I am learning to distinguish the "I" from the "I want". Earlier I believed that consumerism was about consuming material things only but then clearly saw that one could get hooked on consuming ANYTHING and that although now I consume books instead of gadgets (been there, done that ) the issue behind is the same: I want to feel better about MYself or want that someone will think better of me - all this nonsense.

    When I get myself into this "I want" mode I try to live through this or divert my attention towards something else because from experience i know that when I get one thing more the relief comes not from owning this new thing but from stopping to desire it. Desire is a painful burden!
    I find desire to be a "good" emotion to work with for starters: it is strong and noticeable but not as overwhelming as anger.

    In gassho,

    Irina

  3. #3

    Re: Consumerism

    "If I am what I have and if I lose what I have who then am I?"
    --Erich Fromm

  4. #4

    Re: Consumerism

    Yes, consumerist impulses are a big problem for me. I think it's resisting the constant cultural pressure that hammers away at us day and night that makes it so easy to fall into the high spending habits of those around us. Friends say things like 'You can't take your money with you' (when you die) and we are bombarded by clever, subtle advertising that makes it feel natural to spend money wastefully. We are deadened and oblivious to the fact that we are spending money on things we don't really need . I'm currently fighting the tendency Irina mentioned, to be a glutton for books. It's as if I think everything will suddenly become clear to me as soon as I pick up the next Zen book. In reality they are all saying the same thing - it's the receptacle (me) that needs to change, and that is best accomplished by practice,

    Gassho,
    John

  5. #5

    Re: Consumerism

    Thank you Jundo, I really enjoyed that response.

  6. #6

    Re: Consumerism

    Quote Originally Posted by John
    Friends say things like 'You can't take your money with you' (when you die) and we are bombarded by clever, subtle advertising that makes it feel natural to spend money wastefully.
    It amazes me how true this is. When I walk down the street there are billboards; turn on the radio or TV… commercials (so so many commercials); go online… banners and popups; check my email… spam; pick up a magazine or newspaper… adds; walk into a store… wall to wall colours slogans and labels. Even when I stay home they call me on the phone. And it is all an attempt to manipulate me, to bestow feelings of greed or even fear.

    Given our environment, I think it is understandable to be temped from time to time, but how wonderful it is see through all the advertising. To see it for what it is.

  7. #7

    Re: Consumerism

    Kelly
    Given our environment, I think it is understandable to be temped from time to time, but how wonderful it is see through all the advertising. To see it for what it is.

  8. #8

    Re: Consumerism

    Consumerism is inherently about a perception of lack. How many of us often feel like we lack time?

    In a book edited by Stephanie Kaza entitled Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume, there’s a chapter by David Loy and Linda Goodhew on “Consuming Time.” Since this aspect of consumerism hasn’t been mentioned within this thread, I thought it might be worthwhile to add it. We consume objects. So consuming time relates to viewing time as a commodity (an objective container).

    I admit that I’ve taught students in the past to think of time as a constrained resource and introduced them to calculations they can use to determine how to prioritize production if a particular machine (some bottleneck) poses a constraint. But that falls within the paradigm of profit maximization, not about experiencing the fullness of life!

    Among the points raised by Loy and Goodhew:

    “To treat time as a commodity, then, is to be caught up in a delusion that makes us hurry up in order to gain the time to slow down. . . Having become habituated to hurrying, it becomes difficult for us to slow down, even in situations when hurrying is inappropriate. How many people take their laptops and cell phones with them when they go on vacation?”

    The authors include Dogen’s image of firewood and ashes. And they convey that one is time – whatever happens to a person is just the form that time takes right here and now.

    “With clock time, time is objectified and consumed as outside the activity and regulating it. With Dogen’s being-time, in contrast, the temporality of an activity is integral to the activity itself. We can sometimes notice this difference in the way music is played. Either the notes march along precisely following the time signature, or we are so absorbed in those notes that we do not notice the time signature at all because the music nondually embodies its own time. The music example is a good one because it reminds us that the solution is not always to slow down. Some music sounds better played fast. . . . let events generate their own temporality. Most of us know better than to make love watching the clock. Can we learn to ‘make love’ to the whole world, in all our activities?”

    “We cannot just ignore collective clock time as a social construction, but we do not need to be trapped within it. . . . When we do not devalue the here-and-now in order to efficiently extract something from it, then there will be the time–the being time—to smell the roses as we do our work with pride and loving care …”

    So the efficiency mindset seems to be an example of consumerism in that it tries to generate the highest output in a fixed period of time.

    Regards,
    Janice

  9. #9
    Senior Member Martin's Avatar
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    Re: Consumerism

    Yes, well, I plead guilty to giving way to consumerism. And chocolate. I too bought an iphone, though it was for my wife as a Christmas present. And she loves it.

    It seems to me that consumerism feeds, as Janice said, on our feeling that we lack something. If we truly felt that there was nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nothing to buy, either, presumably we'd be less easy prey for consumer advertising. Sometimes I feel that I am getting better at resisting the temptation; and then again perhaps I'm just buying a new image of myself as someone who resists the consumerism.

    "I can resist anything except temptation" (Oscar Wilde).

    Gassho

    Martin

  10. #10

    Re: Consumerism

    On the other hand, buying some stuff does provide jobs and careers for a large number of people. I'm not suggesting that we should buy for just that reason, but it does have some positive benefits.

    Sometimes I feel that I am getting better at resisting the temptation; and then again perhaps I'm just buying a new image of myself as someone who resists the consumerism.
    Well put, Martin.

    Skye

  11. #11

    Re: Consumerism

    Quote Originally Posted by John
    I'm currently fighting the tendency Irina mentioned, to be a glutton for books. It's as if I think everything will suddenly become clear to me as soon as I pick up the next Zen book. In reality they are all saying the same thing - it's the receptacle (me) that needs to change, and that is best accomplished by practice
    I'm guilty of this too, with the books, and this was well stated. The receptacle is the only thing that can change.

    I've been thinking about consumerism more and more as I watch TV. TV is one of my vices, I often choose it to the exclusion of other more "consumerist" activities like shopping or going out, but as I sit there watching commercial after commercial (unless I'm lucky enough to have something recorded on the trusty DVR) I've started to realize that the TV is pretty much telling me what to think about. Even if I think, "Wow, these Head-On commercials are horrible! I would never buy that product because I'm so annoyed right now!" I'm still thinking about Head-On, and I'm still annoyed.

  12. #12

    Re: Consumerism

    Quote Originally Posted by aebaxter
    I've been thinking about consumerism more and more as I watch TV. TV is one of my vices, I often choose it to the exclusion of other more "consumerist" activities like shopping or going out, but as I sit there watching commercial after commercial (unless I'm lucky enough to have something recorded on the trusty DVR) I've started to realize that the TV is pretty much telling me what to think about. Even if I think, "Wow, these Head-On commercials are horrible! I would never buy that product because I'm so annoyed right now!" I'm still thinking about Head-On, and I'm still annoyed.
    TV is insidious. Next week is TV Turnoff week here in the US. I find the less TV I watch, the fewer things I think I need.

    Gassho,

    Linda

  13. #13

    Re: Consumerism

    Thank you Janice. I enjoyed the music analogy.

    What we lack is the working premise for madison avenue.
    Still I don't think you ipod treeleafers are any marketer's desired demographic.
    :wink: All things in moderation.

  14. #14

    Re: Consumerism

    Janice,

    Indeed, time is definitely something one hears a lot about these days. Or the lack of it, actually. :?

    As to multi-tasking and trying to "not lose time" (referring to those folks on the train with their laptops), probably it has something to do with how efficient we want to be, to do more in less time. (Efficiency in my society is measured in terms of qualitative performance, what one DOES and how fast and not in terms of how fully one is experiencing something or how connected with the reality one is) .

    Can it be that we have an idea what we are to be like? Then it might be helpful to ask WHY I want to appear or to be this or that way (it does not matter if I want otehrs to think this way about me or it is about my self-image) . For example: I want to do more while on the train, be more efficient. Why? because I want to have more work done. Why? Because I would get better results and my boss would notice it. Why? etc. In the same way I might ask myself why I want that jacket or ipod or the book. What is it that I am lacking for real? In the end it is all about my ego and it wanting to be noticed, not about me wanting something. When I see it through, it gets much easier to resist those impulses. :wink:

    Gassho,

    Irina

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