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What Would the Buddha Buy?

Avoid the "shopocalypse" by taking a Zen approach to the holiday season.
What Would the Buddha Buy?

When you and your family gather together this year, don’t get caught up in the fatal frenzy of consumerism. Pledge to celebrate Christmas differently. Revaluate what really matters and replace the plethora of impersonal gifts with something more meaningful: spending time with each other.

This is the first in a series of pieces meant to inspire you to work towards a Buy Nothing Christmas. Send us your epiphanies!


part one

What would the Buddha buy? Not too much, not too little. Picture him with his own reusable grocery bag slung over his shoulder, talking to a shopper about making mindful choices: "Do you really need it?" "Where does it come from?" "How will it affect the environment when you're done?" He might have enjoyed celebrating International Buy Nothing Day on November 29 as a spiritual retreat from frantic holiday shopping (the "shopocalypse," as Reverend Billy calls it).

Recall how the Buddha’s monasteries served as a kind of buffer zone between the ancient traditions of agrarian culture and the fierce competition of the newly emerging market economy. These days engaged Buddhist sanghas play a similar role. They believe that we are again at a turning point – a new Axial Age, an opportunity to turn the Wheel of Dharma. Without pie charts, sustainability statistics or solemn computation of your ecological footprint, Gandhi said it all: "There is enough for human need, not for human greed." And as for greed – sad and sorry, mindless, addicted, grasping greed – the Buddha knows it beckons us with all its tempting lures.

The Buddha’s critique of mindless craving and needless suffering pinpoints the precise moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire – the want to want. In our addictive culture of capitalism, it’s the exact same vital acupressure point that our basic market economy capitalizes on. "Don’t get hooked," the Buddha says. Remember the hungry ghost, craving more and more of what can never satisfy.

With Dharma, a marketplace can be seen as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, rather than mindless consumption. Nothing exotic – we do it every day. In each advertisement and at each potential point of purchase is a karmic choice, the opportunity to practice wise compassion for the universal human condition. The bodhisattva shopper vows to consider all beings.

Neither capitalism nor socialism has prevented children from starving in Somalia. We should be trying to base contentment on being, rather than having. Then the question of buying that fourth shirt or that new gizmo on display might be dwarfed by the prospect of creating more space in one’s life by donating your extra stuff. When tempted to bite the hook of despair over seeming scarcity in one’s life or in the world, try practicing generosity instead. It’s harder to be grasping greedily when your arms are extended in giving. Reverend Billy energizes us with this (free) motto: love is a gift economy. Pass it along.

_Gary Gach

60 comments on the article “What Would the Buddha Buy?”

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Anonymous

Buy nothing day is a way for middle class families to feel relief for their over spending in regards to the poor. The poor live this way everyway, the middle class taking one day into their lifestyle is only a heart pleaser. We need to live this life style more often, and use the money to a better use, such as following the advent conspiracy

Anonymous

Buy nothing day is a way for middle class families to feel relief for their over spending in regards to the poor. The poor live this way everyway, the middle class taking one day into their lifestyle is only a heart pleaser. We need to live this life style more often, and use the money to a better use, such as following the advent conspiracy

JP

Is it possible that the most compassionate thing that people who happen to have money should spend it on really nice gifts for themselves, family, friends, serving people, deadbeats, etc. this year, of all recent years. The gifts themselves wouldn't be as important is simply circulating some bucks around instead of putting them into treasuries. What really matters is what really matters. Alms for the economy, that sort of thing. You don't have to be a good Buddhist to be a good Buddhist. Just see if you can be a good whatever you happen to be. Even if you have money or are a Republican.

JP

Is it possible that the most compassionate thing that people who happen to have money should spend it on really nice gifts for themselves, family, friends, serving people, deadbeats, etc. this year, of all recent years. The gifts themselves wouldn't be as important is simply circulating some bucks around instead of putting them into treasuries. What really matters is what really matters. Alms for the economy, that sort of thing. You don't have to be a good Buddhist to be a good Buddhist. Just see if you can be a good whatever you happen to be. Even if you have money or are a Republican.

DennMann

I guess, that how I've put it to people in my circle of influence is this: At what point, do your possessions, possess you. Are you in a place where you work, to pay for your car, so you can get to work? It seems that by living with less possessions, I have more free time, less stress, and a general sense of peace without need.

DennMann

I guess, that how I've put it to people in my circle of influence is this: At what point, do your possessions, possess you. Are you in a place where you work, to pay for your car, so you can get to work? It seems that by living with less possessions, I have more free time, less stress, and a general sense of peace without need.

Anonymous

When I go out shopping with my kid, when he points out something interesting to him and says we should buy it, I always tell him, "it's enough to have seen it. We don't need to possess it." We are giving food presents this year. Tea, coffee, spices. Enjoying the flavor of food seems to be a very Buddhist thing to do and share.

Anonymous

When I go out shopping with my kid, when he points out something interesting to him and says we should buy it, I always tell him, "it's enough to have seen it. We don't need to possess it." We are giving food presents this year. Tea, coffee, spices. Enjoying the flavor of food seems to be a very Buddhist thing to do and share.

J K

Doesn't Buddhism attack greed and attachment, not wealth? Since the early and later sanghas for centuries relied on material donations for survival (rich persons and royals playing big roles), support for the mission and the building of viharas, etc., it's not suprising that wealth and property got little negative press. Asian Buddhist nations have continued to operate in this fashion up to present times, even as Deng Shao Ping said, making money is good. In those ancient days of the 7th c BCE, as in the early days of the takeover of the Americas from the Indians, resources must have seemed to be in unlimited supply (except to the America's Indians, who were close to Gandhi's views on the earth), so aphorisms such as Gandhi's would not have occurred to any thinking subject. Gandhi of course was a man of the twentieth c., when resources were finally beginning to be perceived as in limited supply, thanks to the ravages of corporate capitalism.

J K

Doesn't Buddhism attack greed and attachment, not wealth? Since the early and later sanghas for centuries relied on material donations for survival (rich persons and royals playing big roles), support for the mission and the building of viharas, etc., it's not suprising that wealth and property got little negative press. Asian Buddhist nations have continued to operate in this fashion up to present times, even as Deng Shao Ping said, making money is good. In those ancient days of the 7th c BCE, as in the early days of the takeover of the Americas from the Indians, resources must have seemed to be in unlimited supply (except to the America's Indians, who were close to Gandhi's views on the earth), so aphorisms such as Gandhi's would not have occurred to any thinking subject. Gandhi of course was a man of the twentieth c., when resources were finally beginning to be perceived as in limited supply, thanks to the ravages of corporate capitalism.

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