Shopping the Dharma

How do we reconcile our roles as consumers and Buddhist practitioners?

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron

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Consumer culture has spawned a class of spiritual shoppers who bring their acquisitive instincts to the practice of the dharma.

© Francesca Richer

When we turn to spirituality, we may think that we’re leaving the corruption of the world behind. But our old ways of thinking do not disappear; they follow us, coloring the way we approach spiritual practice. Since we have all been raised to be good consumers—getting the most while paying the least—as dharma students and teachers we carry our consumer mentality right into our spiritual practice.

How does consumerism manifest on the part of the student? First, we shop for the best product—the best group, the most realized teacher, the highest practice. We go from this place to that, seeking the best spiritual product to “buy.” We want the highest teachings, so we neglect foundational practices. Viewing ourselves as fully qualified disciples, we don’t see much need for basic practices such as ethical discipline and restraint of our senses; instead, we jump into the most advanced tract.

As consumers, we want to be entertained. We’ll attend a center as long as the teacher is entertaining, but when we hear the same teachings over and over again, we get bored and look for the exotic. Coming from the Tibetan tradition, I can say that Tibetan Buddhism obliges us. While in Tibet many of these practices and accoutrements are part of the culture and not seen as exotic, in the West they have become so. There are high thrones for the teachers, brocade seat covers and tablecloths, robes, long horns, short horns, bells, drums, processions, deep chanting, and, oh yes, hats! Yellow ones, red ones, black ones. With all the paraphernalia, how could one ever get bored practicing Tibetan Buddhism? Yet after a while, these become old, and we’re left with our own mind, our own suffering. Having little endurance or commitment to our practice or our teachers, we seek fresh stimulation. We fail to notice that our teachers still do foundational practices and attend basic teachings given by their spiritual mentors. We neglect to see that repetition may be just what we need or that exploring the reason for our boredom could yield fresh insights.

Consumer culture is modeled on instant gratification. We say we want a close relationship with a spiritual mentor, but when that mentor’s guidance challenges our desires or pushes our ego’s buttons too much, we stop seeking it. At the beginning of our practice, we profess to be earnest spiritual seekers, aiming for enlightenment. But after the practice has remedied our immediate problem—the emotional fallout of a divorce, grief at the loss of a loved one, or life’s myriad setbacks—our spiritual interest fades, and we once again seek happiness in possessions, romantic relationships, technology, and career.

In past ages, spiritual aspirants underwent difficulty to meet teachers. Tibetans traversed the high Himalayas to meet wise mentors in India; Chinese crossed the Takla Makan Desert and Karakoram Mountains to attend monasteries and bring back scriptures from India. But our consumer attitude has led us to expect results with little effort. We think, “Why should we have to travel to attend teachings? Our teacher should come to us! We have jobs, families, such busy lives. We don’t have time to cross town, let alone go to another continent.” Forgetting that the seeker’s very effort and struggle open him or her to the teachings, we resent that our spiritual practice should impinge on our preferences.

In addition, receiving teachings or doing spiritual practices takes time, which we don’t have. We ask our teachers to “modernize” the teachings and practices—to shorten and simplify them—so they will conveniently fit into our lives. As consumers functioning in a world of supply and demand, we take our business elsewhere if our wishes aren’t satisfied. Asian Buddhists make offerings to the monastic community to accumulate merit that brings a good rebirth. Looking at them, we Westerners say, “They’re doing spiritual business. They’re practicing dana—generosity—to get something for themselves.” Thinking that we’re superior to Asians following old traditions, we don’t give to the monastic community. Holding to our work ethic, we want would-be recipients to go out and get a job.

And when we do give dana, what is our attitude? At the end of a retreat, someone gives a “dana talk,” saying dana is generosity freely given but that we should think of all we’ve received from the teacher, who has a family, car, mortgage, credit card bills, and needs our financial support. Hasn’t dana, then, become another way of paying for services rendered? Engaging in rigorous mental calculations to determine what amount is reasonable for such services, we miss the point of dana, which is to take delight in giving and to give from the heart. We should give because we want to be free from the hindrance of miserliness, appreciate the dharma, want others to be able to hear teachings, and wish to support practitioners who live simply and devote their time to spiritual study and practice.

Consumerism breeds self-centeredness, and our spiritual practice centers on me, my needs, my preferences, what works for me. We think, “What can I get from this? How will it benefit me?” Thus a dharma center, temple, or monastery becomes a place where we go to receive, not to give. If we don’t think an activity meets our needs, we don’t have the time or money to support it. I regularly visit an Asian temple where parents and nonparents work in the kitchen during the dharma summer camps for kids. Why? Because they enjoy being part of a community. They care about children and the future of society. They want to support activities that benefit others. Giving is part of their spiritual practice, and they enjoy it.

In a consumer society, we derive status from using certain products. Being close to a famous teacher uplifts a student’s spiritual status. Having that teacher stay in our home, ride in our car, bless our religious objects, or sign a photo elevates our status. One of the best ways to become close to a teacher is by being a big donor, obliging teachers to see us in order to show their appreciation. We don’t want to give anonymously and miss a possible reward.

We also get status by possessing valuable spiritual items. We buy beautiful statues, exquisite paintings of religious figures, and lovely photographs of our teachers, which we display on an elaborate altar in our home. When our spiritual friends visit, we make sure they admire our collection of artifacts, but when our relatives visit, we discreetly cover them to avoid their inquiries. We have the latest spiritual books (preferably autographed by the author), a comfy meditation cushion, and the requisite prayer beads (made of crystal or stone, not plastic, and blessed by a holy being).

In addition, we collect spiritual events. We can rattle off a list of retreats we have attended or initiations we have taken. We have become connoisseurs of retreat centers, which we critique for newcomers. We boast of attending large teachings by famous teachers. And we pat ourselves on the back for being such sincere practitioners.

The consumer mentality infects teachers as well. Notices of dharma events don’t just announce an event, but actively sell a product, in this case the teacher or the teaching. Most ads display an enticing photo of a spiritual master who is smiling radiantly or looking wisely into the distance. He or she is, the ads declare, a highly realized, well-respected, fully accomplished master. The topic being taught is a secret teaching that in the past was given to only a select number of qualified disciples. It is the supreme teaching by which previous masters have attained enlightenment. You can receive this for a mere $99.95 plus dana for the teacher. Register early to reserve a seat. What happened to the age-old custom of humble masters who keep their qualities hidden?

With a sincere motivation, letting people who could benefit from a spiritual teaching or retreat know about it is valid and necessary. We need to consider how to do this without hype in a culture that thrives on hype.

In a consumer economy, success is measured by numbers. Thus many spiritual teachers hope attendance at teachings is large, dana continually increases, their books sell well, and invitations to speak on television and radio programs are plentiful. To what extent do we decide where we teach based on the amount of dana we will receive? Is it just coincidence that many teachers go to wealthy communities? How many teachers go to developing countries or to lower-income areas in our own country, where dana is meager?

Finances are necessary to spread the teachings. How can teachers procure support consistent with right livelihood? Do we drop hints, flatter, or subtly coerce people so that they will offer money to us or to our organization? Do we give donors extra perks that are denied to other devotees who may be more sincere but not as well-off? To market a product, it must be appealing to potential buyers. Buddhism says that skillful means—teaching according to the disposition and interests of the students—are necessary to guide people on the path. But when do our skillful means degenerate into marketing?

Do we omit certain ideas or teachings, or explain them away because potential students don’t like them and will stop coming? How much do we water down the scriptural teachings in the name of skillful means, when our motivation is actually attracting and maintaining a large following?

Our consumer mentality as spiritual students and teachers draws us away from actualizing our deepest spiritual aspirations. In Buddhism the distinction between spiritual and nonspiritual actions is made primarily in terms of motivation. Motivations seeking only the happiness of this life are considered worldly because they focus on our own immediate happiness; motivations aspiring to good future rebirth, liberation, and enlightenment are spiritual because they seek long-term goals that benefit self and others.

When describing a mind that seeks the happiness of only this life, the Buddha outlined eight worldly concerns. These eight fall into four pairs: (1) attachment to having money and material possessions; displeasure when we don’t have them, (2) attachment to praise, approval, and ego-pleasing words; displeasure when we are criticized, (3) attachment to having a good reputation and image; displeasure when they are tainted, and (4) attachment to pleasurable sense objects—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile objects; displeasure when encountering unpleasant sense objects. Personally speaking, when I examine my mental states, most of them consist of these eight, so that having a pure dharma motivation is quite difficult.

Spiritual consumerism clearly falls into the eight worldly concerns. While it is often masked by clever rationalizations, it still enslaves us to the happiness of only this life and sabotages our noble aspiration so that no true dharma practice can actually occur.

Perhaps most distressing is the harm spiritual consumerism has on others. It threatens the purity of our spiritual traditions by enticing us to “adjust” the meaning of the teachings, thus depriving future generations of pure spiritual instructions. It causes others to lose faith in the efficacy of practice because they see us teaching one thing but acting oppositely. It leads spiritual institutions to create structures that harm the very people they promise to help.

We must become aware of how the consumer mentality functions in us and in our spiritual communities and institutions. We need to revive appreciation for the traditional model of a practitioner who lives a life of simplicity and humility, sincerity and endeavor, kindness and compassion. We must choose teachers with these qualities, cultivate these qualities in ourselves, and guide our students in developing them. We must remember that the purpose of a spiritual institution is not to preserve itself, but to facilitate the teaching and practice of a spiritual tradition. We should have only as much institutional structure as needed to do that, no more. This is essential to maintain the vitality of our spiritual traditions and to prevent them from becoming empty shells.

Buddhists are attempting to introduce dharma values and establish a substantial role for the dharma in Western culture, but consumer mentality impedes this. Our collective challenge is to practice and teach the dharma in ways that benefit contemporary culture and at the same time preserve the purity of the teachings.

A student of H. H. the Dalai Lama, Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron has been a nun since 1977. She is spiritual advisor of Dharma Friendship Foundation and cofounder of Sravasti Abbey.

Image © Francesca Richer

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jackelope65's picture

I agree in general with Chubten Chodron's points. I have found that achieving most goals that are worthwhile requires hard work and sacrifice, but there are many people through illness, aging, and financial loss who are willing to put in the effort but who cannot afford the cost of some teachings, especially when they are held in expensive resorts. Furthermore studies are showings that the trappings of many religious practice may gave great benefit and we should not discard them without practicing them.

boiester's picture

It is good to be reminded of these things but it is also hard. Thank you for this opportunity to consider what our culture does to us and also for these discussions.

sadhvi@charter.net's picture

"It's not possible to talk about spiritual materialism outside of the issues of economic justice, and the way that our current consumer/capitalist system is arranged, which will corrupt any spiritual tradition, and does, on a regular basis. That's one of the challenges of Western Buddhism, I think. We tend to focus on individuals, and individual practice, while not paying attention to the depth of depravity of the system in which we live"
This seems accurate to me. In the past, practice and social action seemed to be kept in separate boxes. Most people I knew back in the day (including myself) were deeply committed to social justice and actively trying to shift things but, somehow, that commitment and our practice remained separated.
Do you have any thoughts about how this is changing now? or if it is changing? or how it could change?
To me, this is the great promise of the West...somehow integrating the immanent and the transcendent through our history of social involvement. I wonder what you think about this??

heartjewel's picture

It seems to me as long we separate any action from spiritual practice we've missed the boat. Every action is spiritual and contains social justice if done with that in mind. I don't see any other option. Is there?

djshr1982's picture

Thank you for your article!

mmurrain's picture

Although I agree with this article, and it's really great teaching, it does bring up a basic issue that occurs because we live in the society we live in. Living a "simple" life in the US at least (that one can actually enjoy) is difficult unless you ironically have economic privilege. In fact, many, many, many people live a "simple" life, but they work basically all the time for almost no pay, and have no time or energy to enjoy their "simplicity," let alone practice the dharma.

It's not possible to talk about spiritual materialism outside of the issues of economic justice, and the way that our current consumer/capitalist system is arranged, which will corrupt any spiritual tradition, and does, on a regular basis. That's one of the challenges of Western Buddhism, I think. We tend to focus on individuals, and individual practice, while not paying attention to the depth of depravity of the system in which we live.

sadhvi@charter.net's picture

thank-you, "semi-aware", for your description of Sravasti Abbey, a perfect example of how generosity can be nurtured and encouraged as a natural byproduct of spiritual practice. If each practitioner did his/her research and chose to tithe to a place with no strings attached (by that, I mean not asking anything in return), it could go a long way to breaking through the consumerist mindset.

SemiAware's picture

I am seeing a lot of comments that sound pretty skeptical. That's not surprising. An article like this could be just another subtle attempt at getting people to cough it up in the name of the Buddha. I would like to share a bit of context from my experiences a couple of years ago.

I once visited Sravasti Abbey for one of their monthly "Sharing the Dharma Days". I also attended a weekly evening class that started out as "mindfulness meditation" , but became full-blown Buddhist teachings after the participants expressed an interest in going deeper. The class was taught by the nuns from the Abbey who came down from the mountains to teach a little group.

I can tell you that, as Abbess, Venerable Chodron absolutely practices what she preaches. At the Dharma Day, there was a potluck lunch, and we were asked to bring a vegetarian dish, and teachings and copies of her books were freely shared. I have no doubt that if someone had taken a copy of each and every book and gone away leaving nothing, the reaction would have been, not resentment, but hope that the Dharma would reach a receptive heart. The concept of "dana" was explained, but in the context of explaining WHY generosity is a good quality to cultivate, and also that gratefully receiving what is given is a complementary practice. There was never any "it's been an hour, so let's say $15 this time" attitude. And no "if you don't give, you're just another materialistic and disappointing person". For longer retreats, suggested monetary donations were mentioned...but above all, many types of contributions were welcomed. The Sravasti Abbey website has a list of items that are needed. I donated some things I thought would be useful, and they were kindly and joyously received. Donations of time and talent were also accepted, because it was clearly recognized that each person would give what they could, in the ways that were possible for them at the time. They put a lot of time into offering and organizing various ways that people could contribute, for example doing work that the monks and nuns can't do, such as tilling the soil for the garden.

The Abbey also does a LOT of work in prison ministry, and I guarantee those participants aren't writing big checks! I had no formal association with the Abbey, never even attended the class regularly, but I always felt satisfied that my donations were being used in the best way possible, for support of the sangha and sharing the Dharma with all who were interested. The Abbey's website is very interesting to look at, and gives a good overview of the work that they do and the attitude expressed.

For what it's worth, based on what I've seen, Venerable Chodron knows exactly what she's talking about, and if there's any frustration there, it is no doubt based on long experience. The community has full-time residents and an ambitious plan for construction of suitable buildings. These things don't materialize out of the air, but in my personal experience, the community at the Abbey do "walk the walk" when it comes to embracing the true meaning of generosity.

sadhvi@charter.net's picture

What Thubten Chodron says is true and obvious. What is not so obvious is just how much the teachers and institutions are responsible for this state of affairs in the United States.. Spiritual materialism is a world-wide phenomenon and always has been; It's a deeply rooted human tendency: to find "magical ways" of "controlling reality". The same temple Thubten Chodron visits, with volunteers in the kitchen, will probably be the site of a butter puja later in the day, paid for at great expense in order to ensure a son's success in his final exams. Monastics, priests, highly-regarded teachers have usually functioned as "intermediaries" between householders and "god" or "truth". The sense of "transaction" is implied in the relationship, as much as we in the West might like to romanticize it. In the case of Buddhism, monastics have been supported by dana in return for specific services to the community. This intermediary thing does not sit well with us. We are not likely to support or be interested in "intermediaries" or to support a monastic culture; we are a "do it yourself" kind of country, for better or for worse and we would want to know what function the monastics are serving. I, personally, don't see this as a totally bad thing, having seen what happens when the boundaries get blurred as they are here. There is no reason a spiritual teacher can't hold down a job.
The Medieval Bhakti movement in India (the poet saints: Kabir, Mirabai, Tukaram) is a good example of uncompromised spirituality: self-supporting, creative and serving the community. .. I remember Trungpa saying that, as householders, we Westerners needed to find a way to maintain the intense discipline of our practice while fulfilling our duty as members of society. He felt this was something "new" that would take root here: really committed householder practitioners who would live in and influence their culture. This was in the 60s, when most of us (hippies) were not interested in hearing that message. We were focused on "enlightenment" and sure it was just around the corner; our "hair was on fire" for practice. Trungpa was right, of course and it turned out to be a good lesson: that practice and "life" were not two separate things. Just as the great zen masters have said, again and again, just as the great masters of Advaita have said, again and again, there is no separation. The first wave of lamas thought that America was a great place to practice, "right in the belly of the beast". I agreed then and still feel that way. However, I have also seen the explosion of interest in spirituality since the 1980s (first the "stripmalling" of yoga, then "mindfulness" and now "esoteric teachings"). Some of it is really wonderful;some of it is downright shocking. The selling of the dharma...really, really shocking. Who is responsible? I put the blame at the feet of those who are supposed to be "leading" and protecting the teachings.. For a venue to charge more than a thousand dollars for room and board, $500 for the teaching fee and THEN to ask for dana for the world-renowned and very successful teacher in a "dana ceremony" that ensures the discomfort and shaming of participants and then to follow this up, a month later, with a request for a donation is simply unconscionable. When spiritual institutions have gotten so big that they must have marketing departments, CEOs, managing boards and fund-raising departments, something is wrong. When teachers feel that their teaching is a means of making a living, something is wrong. What happened to the prohibitions against charging for the dharma? You can justify it by calling it "dana" but the plain truth is that there is nothing "voluntary" about it. It's coercion, plain and simple. When students have an insight and then feel they are ready to set up a website and "teach", something is wrong. When the very places that should be presevering the dharma set up market-places outside the meditation hall, something is wrong.This is dishonest and manipulative, no matter how you justify it . When lamas giving empowerments demand donations, charge huge fees to "sit up front", tell you without the expensive empowerment you will remain in bondage and create a hierarchy of acceptance based on money, something is wrong. When the Karmapa visits and a seating hierarchy is created based on how much you can pay, something is wrong. When the Dharma teaching becomes a field of 'Bread and Circuses" (Buddha fests and Buddha music fests and Buddha Burning Man), something is veering off-course. To prey on people who are searching for the Truth is simply wrong. To those of you feeling guilty about your own spiritual materialism and struggling with this issue of consumerism, please be aware that the very people you are turning to for help and advice are, in many cases, a big part of the problem. The other thing I would say is this: educate yourselves about the history of Buddhism in other countries so that the tendency we all have to romanticize The East is not so strong. Look at the history of zen in Japan, the history of how Buddhism came to Tibet; the less we feel there was some "golden age" where greed, violence and spiritual ambition did not exist, the clearer our own task will be. Just my personal experience, for what it's worth.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of all of this, to me, is that there is a NATURAL tendency of compassion, openness and generosity that arises as one goes deeper and deeper into practice and this natural capacity is being cut off at the knees by the very people who are supposed to encourage it.
A deep commitment to "What Is" costs both everything and nothing. Don't be fooled. What future exists for these teachings is in your hands. It's a great responsibility and a great blessing. thank you!

trailpaloma's picture

I can't help but reflect on Tricycle's upcoming, well marketed online retreat "Living with Integrity" which is $199 for members, $240 for non members. Is offering this retreat motivated by aspiring to good future rebirth, liberation, and enlightenment? Are there not many who could benefit from Mr. Olendski's words, which I have found quite skillful, who cannot afford this or who simply don't want to participate in an online retreat which seems tainted by the very spiritual materialism this article describes.

kpeterzen's picture

Thank you for this teaching. It is a reminder for me to read again "Spiritual Materialism". However, Chogyam Trungpa has a softer, more endearing way of pointing out consumerist tendencies that are difficult not to pick up in our culture. This article felt a bit shaming in comparison.

Kesho's picture

Thank you for this teaching and I am beginning to see the wisdom of what practitioners teach about having a spiritual practice and the culture you practice in. I am an American and I am guilty of "grasping" everything....including what I think Buddhism is....does...feels like....really having nothing.....really! I can only say today, I am open to this teaching defensively.

buddhawannabe's picture

Every single word spoke to me and exposed me to places of self-inquiry, both within myself and in my judgments of others. My strongest reaction was to how spiritual consumerism "sabotages our noble aspiration so that no true dharma practice can actually occur." I find this disheartening since, as a perfectionist, I do battle with the idea of "true practice." Surely this is not meant to say that until we are purified of these mindsets our practice is not true? I find myself constantly having to re-orient to the idea that my practice is exactly what is going on at any second and how present I am to it. I'm not articulating this well but I will look at my dismay and allow what is arising to inform me. I don't resist any of the rest of it - I am prey to all of this and more.

dharmon's picture

Please do not dismay. Ven. Thubten Chodron's method is to present the ideal and to support each of us practicing right where we're at. If we had already achieved an ideal state, we would not need these reminders to look at ourselves closely and wonder what needs releasing next. Be gentle with yourself along the way.

Jakela's picture

Trungpa introduced the notion of "spiritual materialism" over 50 years ago.
It might have been original then, but it is outmoded now.
Sorry but archaic thinking like this sounds more like an indictment of western practitioners than enlightenment.

patwatsonart's picture

I agree with this response to a significant extent. The piece presumes that each of, as a consumer, is such and such. This logic presumes that we come to practice as a shopper, looking for the best bargain. That's quite a presumption. I came to the practice looking to ease my suffering and it's a bit of a reach to automatically equate that to shopping for bargains. To draw an instant parallel between seeking spiritual sanctuary and shopping at KMart is a bit harsh. To me, the writer of this piece has such a singular point of view that it's difficult to reconcile this with my understanding of the Buddha's teachings. This seems more like a Calvinist preaching, as in highlighting our fundamental flaws and why, try as we might, we will never quite "get it."

mralexander99's picture

This is a precise expression of "spiritual materialism" --- archaic and outmoded is what Chogyam Trungpas' teaching will NEVER be....and dismissing these pointers to the dangers of our collective consumerist approach is in itself a symptom of the disease!

jacquic37's picture

This article addresses one of my biggest concerns about the practice. I even have a problem with the concept of doing good deeds in order to obtain a better life in the next incarnation. Doing something to get something back is consumerism…period. Buddhism makes sense in terms of human behavior and the value of good intention for everyone's benefit. I understand the need for temples and toys and bright colored objects…but the presence thereof is a turn off for me and seems to mock the very essence of Buddha's teachings. I bow to the robe, not the personality inhabiting it.

jackelope65's picture

Many retreats are booked in the highest priced real estate such that no matter what the costs of the teachings are, the cost of the retreat becomes far too expensive for most working people, relegating the retreats to people who have the highest income levels and often the greatest degree of consumerism. My wife and I attended wonderful teachings with Thrangu Rinpoche in a little known area in Maine where we could tent together and practice silence as householders for very little money. Retreats do offer hard working people the opportunity to experience concentrated teaching where, particularly when silent, offer the greatest potential for learning, inspiration, and, at times, the greatest insights. Our common experience in Maine with Kagyu lineage Tibetan teachers was that they often came directly to our sangha with the cost of the teachings being relatively inexpensive. I do realize that occasional retreats cannot replace daily practice and reading with the opportunity to continue post meditation mindfulness in the setting of usual daily life , particularly for common householders. However, exorbitantly priced retreats in fancy hotels and high priced centres seem to encourage consumerism, elitism, and obviate the opportunity for lower income people to benefit from teachings while maximizing profits for the teachers and the centres.

dharmon's picture

I definitely struggle with this, too. I could never afford most of the retreats and teachings that one sees "advertised" in a year. Buddhism met Taoism in China a few thousand years ago and we were blessed with Chan Buddhism. It met Bon to become Tibetan (Vajrasattva) Buddhism, and, through its encounter with Japanese feudal culture, we were given the beautiful and poetic practices of Zen. Now that Buddhism is here, it will undoubtedly become a new and special variant: we have a responsibility to ensure that it mixes with the best we have to offer (civil rights and flat hierarchies come to mind) while guarding against the worldly bits that so disenchant and exhaust us on a daily basis.

Dominic Gomez's picture

In such cases there's a flaw in what's being taught, unbeknownst to teachers and students. The sizzle of 'spiritualism' over the steak of 'humanism'.

candor's picture

Dominic wrote: "The sizzle of 'spiritualism' over the steak of 'humanism'."

When we limit humanism by combining it with anthropocentrism and speciesism (as most "humanists" presently do), it looks strikingly similar to the ideologies of racism, sexism, and heterosexism -- ugly and backward. When we expand humanism to be inclusive of all who can benefit from our empathy and nonviolence, humanism becomes magnificent.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhism does not limit humanism. It facilitates it.

candor's picture

Possibly true, depending on one's definition of "Buddhism," but anthropocentrism and speciesism certainly do limit humanism in the way I described above (i.e. reduce humanism to a narrow and exclusive ideology such as racism, sexism, or heterosexism).

As with the last time we discussed this topic, unless you write something more interesting than you just wrote (such as an attempt to explain how speciesism is good or neutral while racism is bad [when they are merely a different form of the same underlying moral wrong]), I'm likely finished here. (I do reserve the option, however, of making this point incessantly in the future in reply to other, similar comments that may arise.)

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhism is a life philosophy that empowers the individual to bring forth his or her greatest potential as a human being. Whether or not this is of "interest" to you is your own business, Candor. Our valued readers also have their own opinions.

mahakala's picture
wilnerj's picture

All of this is on the outside. What then is inside?
One can prattle on about the importance of service such as feeding others. But then one can simply feed others.
What is there to expect from institutions, teachers, and communities of followers be they laity or clerics?
And after turning away from these externals without rejecting all that they offer what is there to expect from one's self?

The criticism presented in the blog above is valid. But then again it remains as words and therefore traps. One can be stuck in words while the only way is a commitment to a disciplined action what many here term as practice. And this is not meditation but a connection with others. And I too must get to work on this.

Anicca1956's picture

In my early days of Buddhist practice I attended a Tricycle seminar in New York City. Actually held at the World Trade Centre, July 2001. When I arrived and registered, there were numerous tables set up with all kinds of wares for sale: beads, crystals, drums, bowls, t-shirts...I actually felt like running away from there crying and screaming! I couldn't stand it. I did calm down and stuck with the seminar and am very glad I did. Perhaps part of this practice, life, is the effort to sift and sort through all the distractions, recognizing we do live in a material world where physical needs must be met, giving them their due, and then carrying on with the rest.

johnmcclaf's picture

We must all begin from where we are. I was highly reactive to drivers who were rude or thoughtless. Store clerks, Associates etc. After several months of "practice" harsh responses by me have almost disappeared.I feel much better and routine commercial and personal transactions are far less demanding. I am doing these better things as a form of "enlightened self interest" that benefits me as well as those I am in contact with. I think it is important not to label enlightened self interest as Noble but rather as a better more centered more compassionate way to treat ourselves and others. I have a long way to go and some day will be more concerned with consumerism in our practice.
I must begin from where I am.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Shakyamuni Buddha began where he was at: a privileged scion of royalty without a clue of what goes on in real life.

jblueq's picture

UGH! a hit straight between the eyes! Thank you, my sister, for a major AH HA moment. Didn't exactly like it, but sure did NEED it.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Fortunately not leaving you with a black eye on this Black Friday. (BTW, the devil in the West's holiday details is Santa.)

Bagdad's picture

No, not St. Nicholas (Santa) as an ideal practice of dana - generously giving from the heart without regard to personal benefit (my definition). It's the West's commercial bastardization of Santa as a consumer seeking sense pleasure gratification that is the devil - or Mara.
"I see you Mara!" could be a mindful mantra to repeat while out at the mall.
May the true spirit of these seasons serve to relieve suffering for all.

Gene Schlueter's picture

Is this article about "right intention"?

aldrisang's picture

This is all so true in America.

nizar's picture

Very hesitantly do I express my liking for the article, for it may betray a form of consumerism. Spiritual discourse today largely evolve in and through media and public relations network that promotes such discourse events. Both these public spheres have oriented to cater the needs of consumers and marketing. The question is whether spiritual teaching and discourses can spread independent of these structures. It is for those who find themselves caught in the spiritual consumerism of the sort mentioned that this appears as a problem. Is it possible to de-consumerise media so that they will not contaminate the attitude and discourse that are deeply antithetical to market culture?

jennifer.wilson60's picture

well said - thank you for the reminder to stay in touch with our motivations. It is pleasant to have pretty things around and those who make them bring beauty into the world that we can enjoy, but not cling to or crave. The dana reference was spot on, as i have had such conversations/rationalizations about how long the talk was, what i would spend on a movie, etc to come up with an amount - it was very transactional. Then there have been times of just releasing a large bill (and not making change!) and it was a joyous experience. Thanks to all for sharing in this talk. This is sanga for me.

mkssngr's picture

Well reasoned and thoughtful article. If only we could purchase enlightenment in a catalog :). Thank you Venerable Chodron.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Life is a catch-22. Innate are the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance which fuel the "spiritual consumerism" to (ostensibly) eradicate them.

charlac's picture

Taking to heart this teaching. I will use it to assist in the practice of renunciation. We are so blessed with the ability to find every little Buddhist "thing" to make practice easier, beautiful, and more comfortable here in the west. Websites for every buddha rupa, bead, gong and cushion imaginable. Don't be fooled. Humility, sincerity, and simplicity are the teachers to follow. Thank you for this thoughtful examination of the trappings of modernity.

lashamrock's picture

We are funny creatures, we humans! Thanks for exposing our foibles! Dina

celticpassage's picture

Glad to see another call to awareness with regard to the rampant consumerism that is North American "culture".
A book about related issues which I read many years ago is Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves To Death", which might be a good read for some.
I think one of the biggest and simplest things one can do to combat consumerism in one's personal life is to not watch TV...at all, since 'the box' is one of it's primary voices.
You also won't lose much, and perhaps gain a lot by unsubscribing from as many email lists as possible, not be part of any social networking sites, not watching the news on the Internet,unsubscribing to magazines and throwing out all flyers and advertising without reading them.
A truly spiritual and contemplative person is consumerism's worst nightmare.

pajhodgson's picture

I had to laugh when I read this clinically clear and beautiful article. I bought my beads from a Thrift shop for 99 cents, there aren't 108 but I thought maybe that didn't really matter as I could go round them twice and I am not the brightest being! Since seeing all the beautiful adverts on the webzine, I had a hankering for 'pretty beads' not chipped old ones but didn't want to pay large amounts so went on ebay. As I read this article I got a huge belly laugh, it feels like it was a letter written to me personally, Bless You and Thank You

sallyotter's picture

Thank you so much for truth-telling. I had a friend in a 12 Step program who warned, "Beware of Spiritual greed". Indeed! Ego manifestation.

jpjohnsonret's picture

I hope you will send me a signed copy of this article so I can hang it on my wall.

charlac's picture

Hee hee. :)

chrismannolini's picture

A great challenge indeed. This has recharged me to accept the challenge.

Freedomsage's picture

I deeply treasure and honor this teaching. Thank you! I witnessed this kind of attitude around and very often within myself.

robertomainetti's picture

thank you for this great article...

aewhitehouse's picture

Reading this great article brings me back to a Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche book I read awhile back: "Cutting through Spiritual Materialism". Thank you for this!