Friday, November 29, 2013

Desire and Suffering

Buddha Under an Olive Tree
-my meditation garden at dawn- 

As I sat in my garden this morning, I couldn't help thinking about a very disturbing image I saw on a local news report yesterday. An older couple were camped out in front of an electronics store -  in line for today's big "Black Friday Blowout Sale." Their sought-after prize was a flat screen TV which they hoped to purchase at what was advertised as a "ridiculously low price." 

The thing that made this image of that couple waiting in line even more disturbing was that they had literally been "camped out" in front of that store for an entire week. Yes, a week ago last Thursday, they showed up with lawn chairs and sleeping bags. They wanted to be the first people in line when the "Black Friday" doors opened - to get the first  crack at that "ridiculously low-priced" flat screen TV. 

So all week long they waited outside the store - in the heat of day and in the cold of a desert night. They ate there, they slept there (they even ate some Thanksgiving turkey there) -  on a sidewalk outside a store waiting for the big bargain. 

The sight of that couple was for me, a "perfect icon" of the kind of unbridled, uncontrolled, rampant consumerism that has so infected the American spirit in our own times. 

Over the past few years, we have seen this infection become worse and worse. Every year on "Black Friday" there are images of "consumers" trampling one another down as doors open for the so-called "Big Blowout Sales;" but this year, it's not only "Black Friday." Now we have "Brown Thursday," as stores open for business on Thanksgiving Day enticing shoppers to get an edge on all the bargains a day early; and don't forget, "Cyber Monday" is just a few days away.

This morning when I turned on the TV news,  I was greeted by a particularly annoying "holiday" shopping commercial. Set to the tune of "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly," pink-faced elves were urging consumers to get out to the stores singing:  "Go, go, go, go, go, shop, shop, shop, shop!" 

As I sat in my garden today and quietly watched the breaking dawn, it struck me that more than anything else, I was feeling sad about those images of a couple camped out in front of that store and the elves singing their annoying  jingle.  I was sad because I truly believe that the focus on consumers and consuming, so rampantly prevalent at this time of year, is a cause of suffering, the cause of bitter suffering - a suffering that can be avoided.

As I sit in my garden at dawn I thought about that word "consumer." To me, it's an ugly word. When you "consume" something you eat it up and devour it. When I hear the word "consumer," I conjure up an image of a bloated "ego" gorging itself - eating up and devouring everything and everyone for personal satisfaction and gratification.

As I sit in my garden at dawn, I gaze over at the Buddha sitting under a little olive free, and I call to mind one of the Buddha's core fundamental teachings about our human condition:

Desire is the cause of suffering.
When you stop desiring, you stop suffering

I find such great wisdom in this saying. 

In Buddhist teaching (as well as in Christian teaching), the individual, isolated "self"(ego) is nothing but  a "delusion."  There is no such entity as a separated self. We are all relationships intertwined in a complex web of dynamic interdependence. When we "desire," we feed the delusion of the ego.  When we desire, we pull everything "inward;" when, by nature, we are designed to be "outward." As such, desire is indeed the cause of suffering.

Rampant consumerism is an icon of "desire." The so-called holiday season with all the frenzied  holiday shopping is a living example of what "desire" is all about. 

Desire is the cause of all suffering
When you stop desiring,  you stop suffering.

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  1. Unfortunately, it isn't just America, here in Britain we have lost all sense of reality and what has real value. It is so sad, because the young have such examples, how can they ever hope to break this spell?

  2. I agree.I think it's a global problem.