the devious consumer snake

Chiang Mai: In a shopping mall here yesterday and got slightly lost in the household section, forks and knives and spoons and things; pots, pans and plastic-ware; I couldn’t remember which country I was in; England, Switzerland? Or is it Delhi? Is it Dhaka? Bangkok? No it’s Chiang Mai and I’m jet-lagged but also these surroundings, these products are the same everywhere. Thailand is engaged with strategies of greed created in the West. They don’t manufacture goods in the West, they manufacture demand. If Western consumerist greed can get a footing in Thai society, the evangelical aspect of it follows; worshipping a consumerist God. It can undermine existing systems, powered by extremist fundamentalism, the wealth of the right-wing elites; you have to buy your way into the halls and palaces of the Kingdom of God.

Hopefully, Thailand will stay reasonably free of it but who knows what the outcome will be? There’s a Thai response to things that’s unpredictable, and it’s not a done-deal. Okay, if it’s understood to be ethically correct, the right thing to do, let’s just get on with it. If it’s thought to be ethically wrong, or mai dii, just not good at all, it’ll create bad kamma, drop it immediately; straightforward, uncomplicated and what’s all the fuss about? It’s Wise Reflection yoniso manasikara. The simplicity of it is wonderful but will it be enough to fight off the devious consumer snake. On a certain level, the Thai expression: ‘mai mi panha’, there’s no problem, suggests there’s nothing impossibly difficult about this. It has to be that there’s a profound understanding of ordinariness – the word is: dhammada: the dhamma of everything. In everyday usage it’s just that, ordinary.

It might seem too obvious in fact, the word ‘ordinary’ doesn’t have meaning for most people in the West, holding on, as we are, to a mild anxiety most of the time; an uneasy gnawing at the innards, and ‘ordinary’ seems like something complex. We have to struggle for an understanding of it. And I read in a webpage somewhere about one of the Thai Ajahns’ first visit to the US, many years ago, and he needed to have it explained thoroughly that most Western people feel negative about themselves much of the time. The Ajahn was shocked and had difficulty in understanding this problem because it was completely new; he hadn’t ever thought before that such a thing was humanly possible.

‘…we need encouragement because we’re so critical of ourselves. We bind ourselves to such negative perceptions and we never really trust ourselves at all…. we tend to mistrust or doubt endlessly, or just criticize or disparage ourselves. That’s a habit of the mind… the transcendence (of it) is through awareness.’ [Ajahn Sumedho, ‘The Sound of Silence’]

In Thailand, things are much more straightforward. You don’t feel ‘obliged’ to accept the consumerist way of life, disguised as it is, as a sort of social responsibility. That’s crazy! All your hard-earned income is going into the pockets of the corporations and the government taxation systems, isn’t that obvious? The economy works for the people, not the other way round. Social responsibility is about how we relate to other people in our society through kindness, generosity and compassion. There is Greed, of course but that’s just plain weird.

Who knows, maybe the Thai attitude can contribute to mobilising public opinion, as the world has seen in the Green campaign, the tobacco hazard: ‘Buying Consumer Goods is Injurious to Health’. ‘… restrict the role of advertising on the grounds that today much of it has become as bad for our psychological and spiritual health as tobacco is for our physical health.’ [David Loy, ‘Pave the Planet of Wear Shoes’] If there’s an honest knee-jerk reaction to the influence of consumerism and if it grows into a genuine social movement, TV and media and publications dependent on advertising revenue will see the wisdom of ‘downshifting’, voluntary simplicity, in order to (at least) be seen as aligning with world opinion. It may be enough to swing the emphasis and change the direction that things are going.


‘(The Middle Way) focuses on calming and understanding the mind, for only insight can liberate us from our usual preoccupation with trying to be happy by satisying our cravings. The goal is not to eradicate all desires but to experience them in a nonattached way, so that we are not controlled by them.’ [David Loy]

In this Post, excerpts from: ‘The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory’ by David Loy

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