The things we accumulate in our lifetime! I know any number of people – myself included – who when they look around their houses would be amazed at the multitude of paraphernalia that they will see all around.
Many of the objects that surround us mutely have been added to our stock of existing ones by the by, and rare would be the one who does not have duplicates or triplicates of stuff of which the earlier, older versions would be tucked away out of sight, to be joined by the latest version after being utilized but once. A lady friend was telling me about the flaming new deep fryer that her son had bought, and that had joined the other(s?) deep down somewhere in the kitchen cabinet… There you are, isn’t it. Practically all of us can list things that we have lying around that, on doing the exercise, we will realise we haven’t even thought about let alone touched for God knows how long!
In these days of consumerism, advertisements bombard us in our living rooms on the idiot box all the time, and more often than not many if not most among us fall to the temptation of ‘affluenza’. We learn from an entry in Wikipedia that the book ‘Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic’ defines it as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.’ And that British psychologist Oliver James asserts that there is ‘a correlation between the increasing nature of affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality: the more unequal a society, the greater the unhappiness of its citizens’.
The ‘manipulative methods used by the advertising industry’ results in ‘the stimulation of artificial needs’ hence the rise in affluenza ‘placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame’. All of these, as we see and know for a fact, are ephemeral, and most certainly do not bring happiness. How many of us have heard friends and acquaintances saying that invariably when they go shopping they end up buying stuff which they had no intention of getting in the first place! James asserts that people ‘can remove the negative consumerist effects by pursuing real needs over perceived wants, and by defining themselves as having value independent of their material possessions.’ We find here an echo of Mahatma Gandhi’s well-known admonition that ‘the Earth has enough for our needs but not enough for our greed’ – that is often cited in relation to environmental sustainability.
Each era has its own defining paradigm but there are some underlying ‘universals’ that govern human behaviour which remain constant over time. For example, consumerism in a different form may well have been present in times gone by and sages of yore, seeing through this and much more, have left us their wisdom to ponder and to act upon, to sift the essentials from the non-essentials in our lives, failing which we succumb to habits and practices which harm us in both overt and covert ways, affecting us physically and mentally.
The following saying by the Buddha is powerful guidance about living: ‘In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.’
The ‘let go of things’ part, as we would surely recognize, is also about consumerism as we have dealt with above. But that’s not the only aspect. Often, when we have got rid of something, we still think of it from time to time, have a sort of longing that can take quite… long to dissipate. It’s as if we have become ‘attached’ to it, and the attachment is so strong that the memory of it keeps coming back to haunt us. And that is why we must let go ‘gracefully’. As did Steve Jobs when he knew that the end was near and he handed over the company that he founded and steered for so many years oh! so gracefully. And according to a write-up I saw on social media recently, at the memorial that he had already planned before his death, he organized for a parcel to be left for each guest: it contained a copy of the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Swami Yogananda, which he had apparently ‘lived’ by. Who is benefiting from ‘Apple’ today? The billions that he had not even known!
I will make an exception for books, but certainly except for basics, there is many, many a thing that we can ‘detach’ ourselves from and that we would not be any the worse for. Why not start looking around? We can give away some possessions, we can make place for others, why not? Someone said that the more you give, the more you will get; also, the more you give – gracefully – the happier you are. Getting happiness through giving of ourselves, in ways small and big, for which society offers so many opportunities – isn’t that a great idea?
And surely that would also make us live more ‘gently’? Gentle living would mean having a more caring disposition towards everything, inert objects, plants animals, people. We would re-examine how we relate to all of them, and think of ways of doing so that cause no damage or harm to either ourselves or to them. If we take a look around the world, we can multiply the number of examples where this philosophy is a crying necessity, in zones of conflict where a kind of madness seems to have gripped the people there.
This is where ‘how much you loved’ comes to the fore, but it is an ingredient that is so far removed from the minds of the perpetrators of harm that one wonders whether they are humans at all. The love that is being spoken of here is not the romantic love that we have all gone through at a stage of our lives – and which in itself is not to be denied. After all, without such love that attracts human beings to one another, and that leads to us reproducing ourselves, there would simply not be any ‘us’ around isn’t it! But even that romantic love has to give place in due course to the more mature love that means caring and sharing, without which life would have no meaning.
This reminds me of the story of the gentleman who used to go visiting his wife everyday in a home. She was a victim of Alzheimer’s, and had been there for several years, mostly bedridden or in a wheelchair for part of the day. One day the attendant asked him how is it he came to see her every single day, when she did not even remember who he was. ‘Sure’, he replied, ‘but I know who she is!’
From this kind of love we can expand to the love of humanity, the altruistic love that Buddha must have meant, for remember that he left his own palace – he was a prince – and ‘detached’ himself from his wife and child, and his luxurious living, to find out about the cause of suffering and the essence of life. And to leave us with his eternal wisdom.
If only we all practised a little bit of that kind of love, we would do our bit for our fellow humans. Who would deny that the world is desperately in need of Buddha love?
* Published in print edition on 26 June 2015