We are all economic entities. Now, when I was a child, my father had come from a very poor family. I’m sure many people’s father’s had come from poor families, but I never knew that type of poverty at all. I had always known plenty, however, his attitudes towards the fear of hunger is in me. It was the way in which the food was talked about, the whole attitude at the table of people who were immigrants and who were living very close to the edge. It colored their way of looking at the world, so that there was a feeling in my family that we were always about to starve and yet, that wasn’t realistic at all, not at all, and I’ve carried that with me.

There is a way in which you not only have to see your own history in terms of the attitudes you’ve built towards economic security or financial security or whatever you want to call that, and how realistic those things are. You’ve got to be able to stand back and say, “Let’s look at the reality of it. At this rate the probabilities are that I am going to have enough for food and shelter for the rest of the years I’m on this earth.” Or, “I’m not, and I’ve got to do something about it.” But whichever way, you look at it and say, “These are the realities.”

The other reality to look at is that you are in economic terms, a consumer. Now, for you to be an effective consumer in a system you have to want to consume. And it’s fascinating when you look inside yourself to see the feelings you have when you are consuming. All you have to do is walk through a shopping mall and look at the faces of the people as they walk through the mall. This is a religious experience and the shopping mall is a temple. Like it or not, it is a temple, and it is a religious experience. It may not be a spiritual experience, but it is certainly a religion. It’s a strong belief system that following this path will bring happiness, consuming will bring happiness. And so develops this buying addiction, always feeling, “I need a new this, I need a new that, I need something.” It is the hunger for something that isn’t being fulfilled inside you, and the culture advertises, everywhere you look, that an external thing will give you that, if you just find the right external thing.

When you stand back, it’s very interesting to look at your life and see how much you are sucked in by this set of values. How much you have been acculturated into doing that. Let’s look at the other end of it, which is voluntary simplicity, which is making do with less. There is as much joy in doing with less as there is in doing with more; it’s bizarre, and much cheaper! It also means you have to spend less time being worried about your economic situation, because you are spending less.

You have to be very honest with yourself 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 that is doing it with an attachment of mind that’s going to cause you to have a reaction. So don’t get voluntary simple too soon. Let it be something that naturally falls away, rather than something you rip away in an untimely manner. A good place to start is the place of anxiety when you don’t buy something. When you are uncomfortable and you sit with your discomfort rather than reacting to it by doing something about it. Becoming aware of what it is you are responding to and starting to look at the inner root of your actions.


-Ram Dass


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