February 24, 2009

The State of Angulimala: the American hunger

When I think of our current economic turmoil and the knee jerk responses taken to it I am reminded of the Sutra of Angulimala, the demonic murderer bandit of the Buddhist tradition with his garland of insatiable lusts. When Angulimala comes across the Buddha alone in the forest he chases him as fast as he can and yet can never catch him although the Buddha simply walks away. This goes on for some time till finally Angulimala yells, “Stop!” The Buddha calmly turns around and says, “I have stopped Angulimala. When will you stop?”

Transition: I would like to have full confidence in the stimulus package and I would like to believe it will bring widespread security and prosperity. There does seem to be much useful expenditure planned in the green sector and needed infrastructure rehabilitation and innovation (long overdue mass transit investment; light-rail & high-speed rail). Regaining strength as a society is essential, creating lasting jobs is imperative, but I am deeply afraid of the desire to increase spending for the sake of consumption because we somehow think returning to out of control materialism is the answer to all that ails us. I believe what we need is to reinvent our spirit as a country. It seems America somewhere became convinced, life is based upon convenience, liberty upon oppression (of others and the natural world), and the pursuit of happiness dependent upon material possession.

I wrote a review not long ago for the Elephant Journal on sustainable products. But what is sustainable these days, what is healthy, and what is the deeper sense of happiness that is missing from the void occupied by our perfect wardrobes, bodies, and estates? Even though we have access to many ‘green’ products the root problem still remains; we function and define ourselves by consumption. Nothing prevents us from stopping this habitualized state of being but ourselves and certainly it must be common knowledge these days that money and possessions cannot of themselves produce happiness. So why do we still act as though they do.

The Buddha’s prescription of ceasing does not carry the burden of having to awaken fully, right now. It cannot be an all or nothing game where we must either be enlightened or complicit in ignorance. Therefore the Buddha’s words can be heeded by simply pausing and taking stock of everyday life and action. Do I need what I am desperately pursuing? Buying for the sake of comfort is no longer sustainable and it is time we called it out as categorically immoral. Consider: what goes into the clothing I purchase? How much waste? How many tons of CO2 are released in the transport? Is the person who made that garment treated humanely? Am I supporting my local business people, demonstrating to local small business owners they have a stake in the future? Don’t stop there, take it farther and consider personal need (need as something that provides for our physical health and mental well-being, not comfort or luxury). I have no answer for the economic crisis. I know that protectionism is not the answer and if we stop buying all together more jobs will be lost. I trust our President to make good decisions. Perhaps though, it would do us (the American people) well to stop for a moment and take stock of what we place value in through what we consume. Stop and consider whether we have become Angulimala, running blindly through a self-perpetuated jungle of greed.

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