David Loy, a Buddhism scholar, presented a lecture at Vanderbilt University recently describing a spiritual perspective on the challenge of consumerism.
There is a video available that is worth watching if you have a free hour and, like me, are into this kind of stuff! Otherwise, I will give an overly simplistic summary below.
The basic spiritual crisis we face as individuals is our failure to recognize that the sense of self is a construct. The construct creates a feeling of alienation. This causes us to try to find meaning in accumulating wealth and things to verify our existence, creating further anxiety and sense of lack. The solution to the problem is to realize that the sense of self is indeed a delusion. This results in a caring attitude toward everyone else because of the recognition that we are not separate but part of a whole.
Then Loy parallels the individual’s basic problem with the delusion of humans as a species. Since the ancient Greeks, human beings have thought of themselves as separate from the rest of the natural world. This has resulted in uneasiness about our role in the world. The discomfort causes us to try to verify our existence by endless technological growth for the sake of growth. But this has not eased the anxiety.
The ecological crisis is inevitable because of this need for endless growth. The solution, like the solution for the individual problem, is found in the realization that the human species is not separate from the rest of nature. When the human species recognizes its relationship with the Earth, we can address the need to exploit resources and begin to heal the injuries we’ve caused.
What I think David Loy does well in this lecture is remind us that technology alone is not the answer to ecological destruction. The solution will come from identifying the root of our consumerist and exploitative impulses.
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