In his foreword to this illuminating and wide-ranging collection of Buddhist essays on greed, desire, and the urge to consume, Paul Hawken observes: "I have a friend who has, count them, six hundred objects in his home. That includes everything, even teaspoons. At one time he was officer of one of the world's largest banks. When he wants to buy something, or receives a gift, he selects something to give away. This is not a zero sum game. As the years have gone by, his home has become more nuanced and lovely. Every object has meaning; nothing is retained unnecessarily. His home is like a small temple. He needs very little money to live on, which means he spends most of his time helping others. He is utterly alive, selfish, bright-eyed and present. We are all human. We will always consume. The big question is how."
Consumerism is a way of life all over the world, and getting more has become a deep and abiding yearning in men, women, and children of all backgrounds. Stephanie Kaza, coeditor along with Kenneth Kraft of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, is the editor of this anthology of 17 essays. She is convinced that Buddhism offers "some handholds, some time-tested teachings to temper the raging appetites around the globe." The book is divided into three thematic sections: Getting Hooked: Desire and Attachment; Practicing with Desire: Using Buddhist Tools; and Buddhist Ethics of Consumption. Kaza is to be commended for commissioning pieces of such uniform high quality.
Joseph Goldstein and Santikaro both see generosity as a corrective to addictive consumerism. The first posits this spiritual practice as a strong antidote to the wanting mind. The second makes the point that "while consumerism preys on the alienated ego of modernity, generosity offers a way of loosening the grip of egotism on the heart." Ruben L. F. Habito challenges readers to replace the acquisitive mode with the contemplative mode so that reducing the suffering of others takes precedence over fulfilling one's own desires. Thubten Chodron demonstrates the ways in which consumerism easily moves from the shopping mall to the meditation center. Diana Winston salutes the Buddhist practice of contentment where individuals learn to moderate their desires. Judith Simmer-Brown envisions a spiritually based activism centered around compassion. Sunyana Graef sees Buddha's teachings on the no-self as a counterpoint to the ego-feeding habits that are at the core of compulsive consumerism. Stephanie Kaza explores a variety of consumer resisting activities. And Rita Gross locates in the spiritual practice of beauty a form of protest against greed and too-muchness:
"With a real understanding of how to work with the phenomenal world, one knows when enough is enough and knows how to enjoy what is enough. One potent example is that of a flower arrangement. If one tries to put in one extra flower, the whole arrangement can be ruined. Likewise, an arrangement may need one more branch or flower. To enjoy it, to have the flower arrangement work to promote peace and contentment, it must be just right, just enough. But more important, unless one understands the form or guidelines for making a flower arrangement, one will probably not arrive in the middle of the Middle Path. Too little appreciation of beauty and elegance is counterproductive, and, in a situation in which material goods are abundant, underappreciation actually encourages consumerism and overconsumption. Thus, counterintuitively, one of the ways of discouraging consumerism may well be to encourage love of beauty, elegance, and dignity, so that we may know how to enjoy the right amount."