I’m having an attack of the zeitgeist. It’s essay season so I am reading many things. The stuff that I need to do my essays, and the stuff that I read to avoid doing my essays. There is a theme emerging which gently smacked me in the head at lunch today.
Some of the items that feed into this theme:
What is the insight that all of these items are giving me? What is the theme? There are a couple of aspects.
There’s the importance of social sustainability as an important part of creating a better lifestyle/livelihood for everyone (post on this later). The realisation that my fundamental beliefs had not been subsumed in recent years and that they are starting to re-emerge. The fact that all of my reactions in the 6 months prior to easter and for the bit just after can actually be explained as part of my theravadan buddhist approach to life (see explanation below). Unabated consumption is the root cause of many of our problems, and simple lack of awareness and thought is perpetuating this problem. Economic growth is a paradigm that needs to be tempered, if not discarded, in the face of a finite planet and with the realisation that society is not getting exponentially happier as we get exponential growth. Finally that these themes are all linked
The actual paragraph that gently smacked me over the head is from E.F. Schumacher’s “Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered”. I have not yet read this book, the quote was from “Pathways to a Green World”.
“[a traditional economist] is used to measuring the “standard of living” by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is “better off” than a man who consumes less. A buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption… the less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of economic activity” (my emphasis)
The buddhist thing? It’s not been a driving force in recent years, and I thought I’d forgotten it, but it’s now becoming important again. A few years ago if you’d asked me what my religion was the answer would have been theravadan buddhism (the monks in the orange robes, not the red and yellow tibetan ones, or the grey chinese ones). This was the direct result of my experiences in Thailand, where I got to be part of a culture that had used buddhism as the basis of its value system for over a thousand years. I really felt at home there, and the ethos really fit with my sense of justice and the world.
Further reading back at home continued this thought, as well as discussions with Thai expats and attending the wat (temple) in Annandale. I liked that the Buddha is not a god, and that while there is acknowledgement that the gods may or may not exist, in reality they are unlikely to affect your life so get on with living it and being happy/fulfilled. I like that he told his followers to take his teachings and apply them, and any other teaching that they came across, and if that teaching does not give them insight into the reduction of suffering then discard it. I like the concept of non-attachment, i.e not being attached to ideas, objects and emotions that are bad for your well-being. I like the idea of simple happiness. These things I find to be truth and good.
Anyway, there was a point to this post, not just to eulogise about buddhism. The book by Ajarn Brahm was one I wasn’t planning to purchase or read, but was exactly the right book. The first third of the book was full of stories and parables about guilt, anger, relationships and grief. Each time I read one it resonated with my thoughts and actions, something to the effect of “ah, so that’s why I have reacted that way, I was practicing non-attachment” It was fantastic to realise that I’d not stopped being buddhist, just that I’d not given it a label for many years.
“Your money or your life” is the first book I’ve come across that tells you that money is just an idea, a concept. Saving madly and trimming budgets so you can get more stuff is not the solution, rather the solution is to establish what is “enough”. What is it that you need that will create “enough” for you in your life. This is wealth, happiness and abundance, peacefulness and prosperity. Not some bizarre fetishisation of owning as many new shiny big gadgets and items as you possibly can. Happiness is not the next pay rise or the new car, it’s time spent with friends, time spent making things, time spent reading or relaxing.
The other items all talk about aspects of sustainability, some more urgently than others. How we need to be more conscious in our lives and the impacts that we have on the planet. How we need to change things, and some practical ways of doing so.
The ultimate realisation/zeitgeist thingie? It’s all connected, and that paragraph from Schumacher made me realise that. My buddhism, and personal goals to have less impact are tied in with the broader structures of changing the way we live and creating a more sustainable society. Sometimes it’s nice to be gently smacked over the head and know you are on the right track.
Might be time to visit my wat again. le tum boon duay la
 I don’t believe in an interventionist god… yay, Nick Cave
 It will take forever to explain all the facets of suffering but it’s not just physical, also emotional and mental and existential
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