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Stephanie Kaza on buying, being, and becomingJohn Elder

Wisdom Collection

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A student of Zen for over thirty years, Stephanie Kaza has been strongly influenced by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and environmental activist Joanna Macy. Since 1991 she has been a professor in the Environmental Program at the University of Vermont. Buddhist environmental thought and the role of activism in social change have been central both to her teaching there and to her writing.

Kaza’s previous books include Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism (2000, co-edited with Kenneth Kraft), a comprehensive collection of Buddhist writings on environmental themes, and The Attentive Heart (1993), meditative reflections on human relations with trees. Her most recent book, Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume (2005), is an anthology of provocative essays from dharma teachers and writers that explore Buddhist tools for engaging the challenges of modern consumerism.

In addition to her master’s degrees in divinity and education, Stephanie Kaza holds a Ph.D. in biology. This scientific training is reflected in her “truth-seeking urge,” and in the emphasis in Hooked! upon nonjudgmental clarity. At the same time, Kaza’s lifelong devotion to music and her practice of lyrical nature writing complement her scholarly rigor. They express a belief in the power of imagination, and a conviction that “you can invent something new if you need it.”

I spoke with Kaza last January over tea in my living room in Bristol, Vermont.

—JOHN ELDER


           

How would you define consumerism? In a practical sense, consumerism is a belief system and culture that promotes consuming as the path to self- and social improvement. It’s a complete political and economic ideology, sponsored by sophisticated marketing techniques that generate significant profits while stripping the earth of resources. As a dominant cultural force, consumerism offers products to address every dissatisfaction while actually creating social conditions that undermine equity and environmental stability.

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