Friday, 17 September 2010

Happy to be Poor

Whenever I delve into the media, I cannot help noticing an ongoing debate as to whether or not consumerism can ever bring about a state of lasting well-being! Their fixation with the question takes up endless column inches and provokes heated discussion in the comments sections

The ‘happiness question,’ is becoming a neurotic fixation with many journalists

Personally, I know what the answer to this conundrum is – Real happiness and therefore contentment, can only ever be found within oneself, and not through anything external – Owning property, wealth, cars, or a wardrobe full of clothes, is of little importance - what causes continued unhappiness is attachment to craving and desire. The continuous quest for more and more, and the fear of losing what we already have, whether you are a millionaire or a pauper is beside the point, what is important is how attached you are to ‘stuff!’

The Buddhist points directly at the cause of our constant frustrations, and informs us that suffering is caused by desire, only by understanding desire and how it holds us in its tight grip, can we ever hope to free ourselves from its tentacles and achieve real peace of mind.

There is an old Buddhist saying worth taking note of: ‘we need warm clothes, a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, the rest is just desire!’ Unfortunately though, many of us are seduced into the whole consumerist merry go round! We are constantly drip-fed a media diet of desire, whenever we turn on the TV, internet or open a paper, we are beguiled and seduced by slick marketing, constantly trying to seduce us into buying products, we could quite easily live without. The power of advertising lies in its ability to make us believe that we need such and such a product, that we can only be successful and complete if we own Brand X. It’s just sheer stupidity really!

We even have a term for this kind of disorder; we call those who can’t stop consuming, shopaholics! What’s depressing here though is that anyone with this condition is seen as ‘one of us,’ as if those who are unable to stop spending, are normal! Perhaps they are! Never mind that most of the goods bought, only end up in landfill within a year!

So much of society is geared to the creation and accumulation of wealth; wealth is said to be what keeps the whole economy turning! No politician would dare to discuss any economic scenario, which precluded constant growth! We live a mass deception, unable to see any other way forward, never understanding that it is just this continued drive for growth that is the root cause of many of personal and environmental problems we see all around us. It isn’t a coincidence either, that religious enlightenment is usually accomplished by those who live a simple life. A reading of the biographies of the Buddha’s, Saints, Sadhu's and Holly men and women, of all paths will reveal that they achieved liberation when letting go of desire and attachment to wealth and materialism.

But enough is enough;
A clearer understanding of the term ‘poverty,’ would be helpful here. What I class as poverty may well be very different from someone else’s definition. My understanding of the term implies a state of destitution, an inability to be able to afford even the basic necessities for a healthy life. A state of being very difficult to emulate in this country, where state benefits are a universal right for everyone unable to work

Poverty is a relative term! Yes, there is a basic level, where poverty means real, grinding hardship, where, due to whatever circumstance, a person found themselves in, it would be very difficult to escape from. Yet, even here, informed choices to be made, where some of the misery can be alleviated at least!

There is no need to become sanctimonious, to develop an ‘holier than thou,’ attitude to poverty either. To many spiritual seekers, being poor is seen as a necessary aid on the road to god. Indeed many religious orders actively encourage a life of poverty, in the pursuit of holiness. What I think is missing here, though, to realise that money per say is not the problem. Whether you are a millionaire or a pauper is beside the point, it is how attached you are to 'stuff.'

I want to be clear though; I’m not suggesting that everyone who finds themselves in destitution should meekly accept their situation. A mark of any civilised society is surely when all of its members alike, receive an adequate income, to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families! Far too many people face a daily existence of misery, through sometimes, insurmountable, financial problems. I do not want to belittle anyone who lives in this sort of gruelling hardship. There are still far too many who find it almost impossible to lead any kind of normal life, due to the debt trap.

It is entirely possible, if one is careful and expedient, to live a life of contentment, and well being, whilst being relatively poor. If you are able to extricate yourself, from the trap of materialism! It means first of all you have to re-evaluate your priorities, and to wake up to the fact, that a wardrobe stuffed full of clothes, the latest technological gadgets, or eating junk foods, does nothing to further ones situation, and can be happily left behind! Do we really need to live on a diet of factory made packaged foods, when we can find cheaper and healthier wholesome alternatives?


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