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What does it mean to live ‘a simple life’ in the 21st century?
Do we even discuss this frequently, or at all, with our Buddhist friends? As we come to the end of Buddhist Action Month, but hopefully only to the beginning of further engagement with the issues raised over the month, this might be an interesting and fruitful question to discuss. How much do we make conscious the fact that we have all grown up and been conditioned by the ethos of materialism and by living in a consumer society? We are surrounded on a daily basis by messages that tell us “If you buy this, is will make you happy.” In fact, the message we receive goes further “I should have this - I deserve this! If I want it, I should be able to have it.” The Buddha, by contrast, was quite clear, that material things cannot possibly be the source of happiness - in fact, he emphasized that attachment to material things is the source of fear, anxiety and need, and the origin of our discomfort and suffering in the world.
Here are a few quotes from one of the books I have enjoyed reading over the last month, Vaddhaka’s ‘The Buddha on Wall Street’; available from Windhorse Publications. He argues in this book that “at the heart of neoliberal capitalism are values that are incompatible with Buddhist values, epitomized by the promotion of greed and selfishness in neoliberal capitalism contrasted with generosity and altruism in Buddhism”. (p6) This makes understanding the implications of neo-liberal capitalism an ethical issue for us all.
“Economic Growth depends, ultimately, on more and more people, wanting more and more, of more and more things.” Charles Handy, an influential business guru
“It’s a story about us, people, being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create inpressions that don’t last, on people that we don’t care about.” Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at Surrey University
Neo-liberal capitalism is incompatible with the strengthening of community: “It is the importance of the ties of necessity that puts community at odds with the foundational assumptions of economics. Markets, based on voluntary, instrumental, opportunistic relationships, are diametrically opposed to the long-term commitments and obligations that characterize community. By promoting market relationships, economics undermines reciprocity, altruism and mutual obligation, and therewith the necessity of community. The very foundations of economics, by justifying the expansion of markets, lead inexorably to the weakening of community.” Stephen Marglin
“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet is either mad or is an economist.” Kenneth Boulding, environmental advisor to John F, Kennedy in 1962
”We are in the grip of a growth fetish that is causing serious damage to the environment and to nature, with little hope of help on the required funadamental changes from mainstream economics or business. Buddhsim offers the basis of an alternative approach with a dual emphasis on eradicating pollution within and without by tackling the root poisons of greed, hatred and delusion.” Vaddhaka, in The Buddha on Wall Street, p 94