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Sunday, November 28, 2010

America's Consumerism and How It's Backwards From Faith

Guy Fawkes Effigy
After enduring Black Friday, I couldn't help but observe how we Americans love to indulge in purchasing material goods. The fine line between essentials and desires is undoubtedly crossed on Black Friday when the "herd instinct" is to put your life on the line (no pun intended) to get a few percents off on worldly products. And as Americans, we value these secular, ephemeral, and hedonistic "goods" more than spiritual treasures. Proof of that is seen in the overflow of Black Friday into "Cyber Monday" in which all the left over stuff (that apparently was left over stuff from 2010,) is sold online through sites like Amazon. This isn't to say all Americans participate in Black Friday, or the U.S. is the only country that consumes (though we rank fairly high on the consumer chart...) but you don't hear about the sales on the day after Guy Fawkes Night. Maybe that's because I'm here in the States, but still, where in the world did Cyber Monday come from?
I think looking to Hinduism's doctrine on consuming would be one of the more encompassing and straight forward teachings on the harm of consumerism. While the Christian philosophy is summed up in the line: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19.) the Hindu philosophy (coincidentally in the 6th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita titled The Science of Self Realization,) pertains to a more self oriented belief. And I find this somewhat more appropriate for American Christians because people really have "stored up their treasures on earth" during days like Black Friday and continue to do so through the Advent season leading up to Christmas Day. Lord Krishna, the Eighth Avatar of Vishnu, (the Ninth is Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama) tells Arjuna, an Abrahamic figure in the Gita, of the Vaisnava Sampradayas. In short, there are four of these sampradayas, or as Wiki says "traditions or religious systems." Kesava Kasmiri's commentary on the fourth sampradaya, known as Kumara Sampradaya, or "duality in unity," describes the harmful aftereffects of consumerism:
"It should be clearly comprehend that attachment to worldly pleasures locks one to samsara or the endless cycle of birth and death while contrarily detachment from the infatuation of worldly pleasures frees one from samsara."
Excessively buying into secular goods does not advance our path to moksha, or liberation from the cyclical dance, samsara. It does not lead us further down the narrow path to Heaven. One of the more profound and intricate Christian beliefs is that Jesus came into the world through Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord. And as  King of the Heavenly Hosts, He  wasn't clutching a scepter, wearing a signet ring, and indulging in excessive wealth. Similarly, raja yoga encompasses an assortment of practices; the one defining Jesus' rejection for worldly goods can be seen as tantrism. While tantrism contains metaphysical exercises, they focus the mind inwardly on speech and outer actions and reject physical surroundings. (That's a stretch to make that parallel,) but Jesus also placed emphasis more on action, dharma, rather than physical objects.
Another stretch would be to say to solve America's intense consuming rate would be to return HOLYdays and their true meaning, especially Christmas as Catholics begin the liturgical season of Advent, the waiting of the arrival of the Lord. The Spirit of Christmas hasn't been Jesus oriented for quite some time now, and with unbelievable days like Black Friday that seep into Cyber Monday, there seems to be no mass movement of trying to curb our intake of products; in fact it's apparently going the other way. It can be deduced, or maybe even induced, that the growth of American consumerism is a fear originating from the ultimate reality of samsara/salvation. Or vice versa, because the paths for either of these two are too demanding, people result in ignoring reality and submerse themselves in hedonism and secularism.