The other reality you’re looking at is that you are, in economic terms, a consumer. In fact, that is how you are defined within the economic template that is placed on this society.
You are a consumer – you’re either a producer or a consumer, and as you get older you are more likely to become a consumer and less a producer. So now that’s interesting, because for you to be an effective consumer in a system you have to want to consume – it’s fascinating to look inside yourself to see the feelings you have while you’re consuming. I mean, all you have to do is walk through a shopping mall and look in the eyes and look at the faces of the people as they walk through the mall. This is a religious experience – this is their temple, like it or not. It may not be a spiritual experience, but it’s certainly a religion.
It’s a strong belief system that following this path will give them happiness. And consuming will give you happiness, as some have learned along the way. And so there is this funny kind of buying addiction, and a lot of people when they get anxious buy something or they always feel, “I need a new this,” or, “I need a new that” or “I need something.” I need something – it’s the hunger for something that isn’t being fulfilled inside yourself, and the culture advertises everywhere you look, an external thing will give you “that” if you find the right external thing. So, will it be a little car that will save gas, or a big car that will drive well on the road? Will it be an old car that will be humble, or will it be a new car that will be a little flashy? I mean, which one is going to give me the feeling? And these are all different values – the complex values that are involved.
And the advertising world…because this is all based on the assumption that a healthy culture is an increasing GNP, and you are a consumer, so you are part of whether there is an increasing GNP. It’s quite simple, I think. So more is better – more newness, more power, more glitz, more fame, more something is better. More property, more influence. So when you stand back it’s very interesting to look at your life and see how much you are sucked in by that set of values. How much you have been acculturated into doing that.
Let’s look at the other end of this which is voluntary simplicity, which is making do with less. In a New York Times article they describe families that had decided that enough was enough, and they were going to start to do with less, and they were getting happy over doing with less. Because there is as much joy in doing with less as doing with more – that’s what’s so bizarre about it – and it’s much cheaper! And it means you have to spend less time worrying about your economic situation, because you’re spending less. And the fact is, when you get older you have less disposable income in general, and you also have already got all the chatchkes you need (chatchkes, that’s a sanskrit word, it means “little thises and thats” you have around – little figurines and little spoons). You know, I don’t have a “……” It’s a deprived childhood.
And you just have to be very honest about your predicament. You can’t be phony. Phony holy isn’t going to get us there, in other words, you don’t go dramatically changing everything once you get a new value in your head, because you’re doing it with a certain kind of attachment of mind that’s going to cause you to have a reaction to it anyway. So don’t get voluntary-simple too soon. Let it be something that naturally falls away, rather than you ripping it away.
– Ram Dass, October 15th, 1995
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