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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?”

Displaying 51 - 60 of 60

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New Yeah

On the contrary, I don't think that Buddha was, or Buddhism is, 'anti-relationships'. The two key components of Buddhism are wisdom and compassion, and there is no better way to get these in the right balance by dealing with people. Whether that is your wife, your co-worker or your noisy neighbour, you can only truly exercise these values by dealing with people instead of shutting yourself of from them, as you seem to suggest is the one Buddhist way. Yes, the Buddha did leave his family. But that was only at the start of his journey when he was confused after spending nearly 30 years sheltered by his royal upbringing. And once he did reach enlightenment, Buddha's mother and son joined him in his sangha.

New Yeah

On the contrary, I don't think that Buddha was, or Buddhism is, 'anti-relationships'. The two key components of Buddhism are wisdom and compassion, and there is no better way to get these in the right balance by dealing with people. Whether that is your wife, your co-worker or your noisy neighbour, you can only truly exercise these values by dealing with people instead of shutting yourself of from them, as you seem to suggest is the one Buddhist way. Yes, the Buddha did leave his family. But that was only at the start of his journey when he was confused after spending nearly 30 years sheltered by his royal upbringing. And once he did reach enlightenment, Buddha's mother and son joined him in his sangha.

Gary Gach

While i do not believe that history begins with myself, i didn't expect so much of this engaging responsa to my text to focus upon same (somalia or 2600 years ago) and this too is good. (tulane drama review?) writes in an interestingly hour-glass-shaped comment where I get pinched in the middle but am fine at the top and the bottom ... : "The bottom line intent of the article, if it was mindful buying, is great." Thank you, , and i do appreciate the irony (unintended or otherwise) of your use of "bottom line" [economic metaphor] to my ethical intention. Contractual language, as they say. "But, “what would Buddha buy” totally misses the point." Perhaps. Or perhaps I need to go into greater depth (at Adbusters, of course) as to the economic model of the time of the Buddha, and what relevance we learn of his response to it, for today, and tomorrow. [¿good idea?] " Buddha left his wife in labor and didn’t see his child for several years while he pursued “enlightenment.” " Am not sure what the scare quotes signify ... altho' i too find the word over-used; there being enlightened ways of being, whereas looking for enlightenment is like trying to bite your teeth ... ... but point well taken. ¿Siddhartha sounds like a poster child for a Deadbeat Dad, don't he? Of course we're talkinga about Siddhartha, there, not the Buddha ... who did return ... and ordained his mother and his wife ... thus opposing the caste system which prevails to this day in India ... Yet I am wondering (aloud): what was the status of women in his time? Were women considered equals (not to mention superior)? Seems as if in India today still women are considered as property, or less. (Cf. suttee). Were I a public defender, I'd argue in his favor that he did leave his wife and child-to-be without worry as to where their next meal would come from, and within the amenities and benefits of a strong extended family. Still, I wonder how common his walking out might be ... then, or now, in that culture. (It was not uncommon for an older person to do this AFTER attaining position, family status, etc.) I know Japanese businessmen today will leave their wives for very long extended periods of time.) "Since Buddha’s teachings are fundamentally anti-relationship" Whoa! Here's where you lost me, . Buddha's teachings are SO about relationship! (Have you heard the word: "interbeing.") Indeed, without relationship, every thing might be seen as fictive: there's no me without you, and this comment wall is the proof! "The traditional WWJD would have been much better, since Jesus did value relationships above the self. “You must lose yourself, to find yourself”, etc. Then again, if you’re not interested in relationships, following Buddha will certainly be a quick path to aloneness." Aloneness? (All oneness?) I don't know. I really don't know. But perhaps you might like to check out Stephen Batchelor's book ALONE WITH OTHERS, for an existentialist perspective on the teachings of the Deadbeat Dad Dude, in terms of "aloneness." "The real point seems to be that gift giving is one thing, consumerism is another." You hit the nail on the head, there, my friend. " Buddha is just not the guy to look to. " True: like they say, "if you see a Buddha along the road ... kill him!"

Gary Gach

While i do not believe that history begins with myself, i didn't expect so much of this engaging responsa to my text to focus upon same (somalia or 2600 years ago) and this too is good. (tulane drama review?) writes in an interestingly hour-glass-shaped comment where I get pinched in the middle but am fine at the top and the bottom ... : "The bottom line intent of the article, if it was mindful buying, is great." Thank you, , and i do appreciate the irony (unintended or otherwise) of your use of "bottom line" [economic metaphor] to my ethical intention. Contractual language, as they say. "But, “what would Buddha buy” totally misses the point." Perhaps. Or perhaps I need to go into greater depth (at Adbusters, of course) as to the economic model of the time of the Buddha, and what relevance we learn of his response to it, for today, and tomorrow. [¿good idea?] " Buddha left his wife in labor and didn’t see his child for several years while he pursued “enlightenment.” " Am not sure what the scare quotes signify ... altho' i too find the word over-used; there being enlightened ways of being, whereas looking for enlightenment is like trying to bite your teeth ... ... but point well taken. ¿Siddhartha sounds like a poster child for a Deadbeat Dad, don't he? Of course we're talkinga about Siddhartha, there, not the Buddha ... who did return ... and ordained his mother and his wife ... thus opposing the caste system which prevails to this day in India ... Yet I am wondering (aloud): what was the status of women in his time? Were women considered equals (not to mention superior)? Seems as if in India today still women are considered as property, or less. (Cf. suttee). Were I a public defender, I'd argue in his favor that he did leave his wife and child-to-be without worry as to where their next meal would come from, and within the amenities and benefits of a strong extended family. Still, I wonder how common his walking out might be ... then, or now, in that culture. (It was not uncommon for an older person to do this AFTER attaining position, family status, etc.) I know Japanese businessmen today will leave their wives for very long extended periods of time.) "Since Buddha’s teachings are fundamentally anti-relationship" Whoa! Here's where you lost me, . Buddha's teachings are SO about relationship! (Have you heard the word: "interbeing.") Indeed, without relationship, every thing might be seen as fictive: there's no me without you, and this comment wall is the proof! "The traditional WWJD would have been much better, since Jesus did value relationships above the self. “You must lose yourself, to find yourself”, etc. Then again, if you’re not interested in relationships, following Buddha will certainly be a quick path to aloneness." Aloneness? (All oneness?) I don't know. I really don't know. But perhaps you might like to check out Stephen Batchelor's book ALONE WITH OTHERS, for an existentialist perspective on the teachings of the Deadbeat Dad Dude, in terms of "aloneness." "The real point seems to be that gift giving is one thing, consumerism is another." You hit the nail on the head, there, my friend. " Buddha is just not the guy to look to. " True: like they say, "if you see a Buddha along the road ... kill him!"

I like cheese

People watching is fun. Drop one controversial article into a pool of intellects and watch the ruffled feathers fly. I salute you Joker! Get involved, go break some knees for the mob and when you're done bring their heads to me. Why? Because, in 24 hours it won't matter anymore but I'll still be laughing about it; and here's the kicker, even if you're a religious fanatic or a left wing extremist it comes down to one point: everyone gets angry. Thank you for your patronage, excuse me please while I spam another page, -A.L.Anderson

I like cheese

People watching is fun. Drop one controversial article into a pool of intellects and watch the ruffled feathers fly. I salute you Joker! Get involved, go break some knees for the mob and when you're done bring their heads to me. Why? Because, in 24 hours it won't matter anymore but I'll still be laughing about it; and here's the kicker, even if you're a religious fanatic or a left wing extremist it comes down to one point: everyone gets angry. Thank you for your patronage, excuse me please while I spam another page, -A.L.Anderson

Mita

Gary, I came here from your post in Activism in about.com buddhism site. Love your post and all the responses it generated The question is Would Buddha buy the way of life, view of life, Ad driven false speech and wrong livelihood promoted under capitalist war-military-intelligence-weapon-prison-pharma-banking-oil-corporate cartel? Can we as practicing buddhist apply our mindful awareness, collective wisdom and intelligence to diagnose the systemic causes and blindspots in this man-made system of capitalism compounding social and planetary suffering? First we have to have greater awareness of what is happening beyond our backyards and how everything is interdependent and co-evolved historically? Can we go beyond Buddha and schumacher or any individual to address collective ignorance of how the system came to be what it is? We can and we must. Search for my discussion at gaia.com 'Transforming capital in capitalism' http://www.yahoo.com I am busy planting the seeds of peace currency. Nurture them. Peace & joy

Mita

Gary, I came here from your post in Activism in about.com buddhism site. Love your post and all the responses it generated The question is Would Buddha buy the way of life, view of life, Ad driven false speech and wrong livelihood promoted under capitalist war-military-intelligence-weapon-prison-pharma-banking-oil-corporate cartel? Can we as practicing buddhist apply our mindful awareness, collective wisdom and intelligence to diagnose the systemic causes and blindspots in this man-made system of capitalism compounding social and planetary suffering? First we have to have greater awareness of what is happening beyond our backyards and how everything is interdependent and co-evolved historically? Can we go beyond Buddha and schumacher or any individual to address collective ignorance of how the system came to be what it is? We can and we must. Search for my discussion at gaia.com 'Transforming capital in capitalism' http://www.yahoo.com I am busy planting the seeds of peace currency. Nurture them. Peace & joy

April Benson

This important article addresses the serious issue of compulsive buying disorder. My name is Dr. April L. Benson, Founder of Stopping Overshopping, LLC, and author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. I invite anyone looking for more information about compulsive buying to visit my website www.stoppingovershopping.com. On the site you can find a great deal of information about the disorder and it's treatment, and there's a comprehensive resource center with relevant articles, books, videos, and websites as well as a self-quiz to help you decide if you have a compulsive buying problem.

April Benson

This important article addresses the serious issue of compulsive buying disorder. My name is Dr. April L. Benson, Founder of Stopping Overshopping, LLC, and author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. I invite anyone looking for more information about compulsive buying to visit my website www.stoppingovershopping.com. On the site you can find a great deal of information about the disorder and it's treatment, and there's a comprehensive resource center with relevant articles, books, videos, and websites as well as a self-quiz to help you decide if you have a compulsive buying problem.

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