7 BUDDHIST APPROACH TO RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Thứ năm - 09/05/2019 13:22
by Rajesh Ranjan







 
BUDDHIST APPROACH TO RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

by Rajesh Ranjan*






ABSTRACT

All-round developments in the field of Science and Technology have provided  with  an  uncountable  number  of  consumer  goods at the disposal of human being which has left them bewildered. In such a state of mind people around the world are in a rat race for not only for power and money. Once they acquire sufficient wealth at their disposal they involve themselves in consuming the goods and services recklessly. As we all know that the nature has provided all kinds of commodities to satisfy our need and not our greed. As the modern economics defines consumption as simply the use of goods and services to satisfy demand but at the same time it does not provide the safeguard or guidelines according to which one should consume. So far as the Buddhist approach of consumption is concerned Buddhism distinguishes between right and wrong form of consumptions. Right consumption is the use of goods and services to satisfy the needs of the human being for their well-being whereas wrong consumption is the result of the human greed, i.e., tanha. As such wrong consumption is the reckless use of goods and services to satisfy the desire for pleasing sensations or ego-gratification.
The Buddhist concept of mindfulness is other tool which could


*. Prof. Dr. & Head, Dept. of Pali, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda – 803111, Bihar, India.
 


be used to safeguard our irrational and unjustified demands. As we all know that the Mindfulness in Buddhism refers to deliberate, unbiased and openhearted awareness of perceptible experience in the present moment with its focus on cultivation of benevolent and clear-headed values and actions to self, others and the world, as well as its possible value in fostering greater coherence between values, attitudes and behavior. If the Buddhist concept of mindfulness is applied in the consumption of goods and services in our daily life it could help people in protecting and preserving the nature and its surroundings for sustainable development.

The Sammaditthisutta of the Majjhima Nikaya put stress on the implications of the concept of Sammaditthi, i.e., the Right View in respect of Ahara, i.e., Food/Nutriment. In the introduction of the translation of the Sammaditthisutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu summarizes the same in the following words Ven. Sariputta combines the issues of skillfulness and nutriment by approaching the topic of nutriment with a fourfold framework: nutriment, its origination (nutriment, in turn, has its own food), its cessation (the possibility of starving it of that food), and the path of practice leading to its cessation (the way to starve it). This line of thinking leads naturally to the next topic, in which this same framework is applied to the focal issue of the Buddhas teaching — suffering and stress — yielding the four noble truths. In this way, Ven. Sariputta shows how the four noble truths derive from the two topics of skillful/unskillful and nutriment.

What is apparent from the above that several Buddhist teachings, if brought into the light and the same are being practiced in right perspectives, could not only provide safeguards against the culture of consumerism but could also help in bringing sea change in peoples habit.

In the proposed paper is a humble attempt to jot down such ideas from the Pali texts which directly or indirectly relate to mindful or responsible approach to consumption and sustainable development.



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At the outset let me pose a question that why do we need to look towards religious scriptures or religious practices to find solutions to questions like - what is mindful consumption? How much a man needs to consume for his sustenance in this human world? To me this is the result of rapidly rising human population throughout the globe and their ever rising demands of consumable goods that is near impossible to meet and also beyond the capacity of the planet earth. As a result the human activities like - urban expansion, industrial manufacturing, factory farming, chemical agriculture and many more such other activities are contributing day and night in the destroying the fabric of the natural environment. Advances in science and technologies in every sphere of human activities has further worsen the situation. It has provided with an uncountable number of consumer goods at the disposal of human being which has left them bewildered. In such a state of mind people around the world are in a rat race for power and money. Once they acquire sufficient wealth at their disposal they involve themselves in consuming the goods and services recklessly. As we all know that the nature has provided all kinds of commodities to satisfy our need and not to satisfy our greed. As the modern economics defines consumption as simply the use of goods and services to satisfy demand but at the same time it does not provide the safeguard or guidelines according to which one should consume and here we look towards religious scriptures or religious practices to convince people to consume mindfully.

As we all know that in order to preserve and protect the environment and natural resources for posterity, people around the world are showing concerns and are seriously engaged in exploring all possible ways and means to retard the pace of ever growing consumption of natural resources by the humans. Scholars and laypersons around the world are ready to take all sorts of recourses to save the planet earth from extinction and exploring the teachings of religious traditions are one such recourse as we know that the religion is most powerful tool to govern the human psyche. Consequently, plethora of literature has come up which deals with possible remedial measures that different religious traditions of the world put forth. Buddhism is not an exception. Scholars like, E. F.
 


Schumacher (Small is Beautiful, 1975), Gary Synder (The Practice of the Wild 1990), Sulak Sivaraksa (1992), Snyder (1995), Rita Gross (1997a, 1997b), David Loy (1997), Eckel (l997) Ingram 1997 and many more have written very cogently that how the applications of Buddhist teachings and practices could work effectively in protecting the habitat of all the living being. Besides, the famous Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has written extensively on the applications of traditional Buddhist teachings and practices in modern world that are cosmopolitan in scope.

Against this back drop first of all let us attempt to explain what is responsible or mindful consumption? It could be defined that responsible or mindful consumption encompasses consumer behaviors where an individual with a compassionate concern towards self, community and environment, carefully attends to and be aware of his/her consumption needs, while adopting flexible options and novel approaches in the purchase, usage and disposal of goods in order to reduce his/her overall consumption. In the words of Master Thich Nhat Hanh (2005) “Mindful consumption is the object of this precept (First Buddhist Precept). We are what we consume. If we look deeply into the items that we consume every day, we will come to know our own nature very well. We have to eat, drink, consume, but if we do it unmindfully, we may destroy our bodies and our consciousness, showing ingratitude toward our ancestors, our parents, and future generations.

He further asserts that that much of our suffering comes from not eating mindfullywe need to look deeply at how we grow, gain, and consume our food, so we can eat in ways that preserve our collective well-being, minimize our suffering and the suffering of other species, and allow the earth to continue to be a source of life for all of uswhile we eat, we destroy living beings and the environment.

In Pali canon we do not find equivalent words for Consumer and Consumerism. In simple terms one who consumes the consumablesare Consumerand reckless consumptions of consumables is Consumerism. However, the Pali word Āhara (food/nutriments) could be used as an equivalent to the English term Consumables. The fourth chapter the Kumāraphaṁ (The  Questions  to  the  Boy)  of  the  Khuddakapatha  of  the
 


Khuddakanikaya of the Suttapiṭaka, the very first question put forth to the boy is Eka nāma kiṁ?’ (What is said to be one?). In answer to this question, the boy answers that Sabbe sattā āhāraṭṭhiti, i.e., (All beings subsist on food). Accordingly Nyanaponika Thera avers that according to the Buddha, (Āhara) is the one single fact about life that, above all, deserves to be remembered, contemplated and understood. If understood widely and deeply enough, this saying of the Buddha reveals indeed a truth that leads to the root of all existence and also to its uprooting. In the Dasauttara-sutta of the Dighanikaya the Buddha asserts that there is one thing that must be thoroughly understood, that is, that all that live subsist on food (Katamo eko dhammo abhiññeyyo? Sabbe sattā ahāra-ṭṭhitikā. Ayam eko dhammo abhiññeyyo). Likewise in the Mahapañha Sutta of the Anguttaranikaya (AN 10.27, PTS: A v 48) the Buddha has laid emphasis that a monk should become dispassionate towards one thing and that is Āhara What one thing?” All beings subsist by nutriment.When a monk becomes entirely dispassionate towards this one thing (nutriment), when his lust for it entirely fades away, when he is entirely liberated from it, and when he sees the complete ending of it, then, O monks, he is one who, after fully comprehending the Goal, makes an end of suffering here and now.

The term Āhāra is made from Sanskrit root āhr, which literally means taking up or on to oneself. According to Pali text there are four kinds of Āhāra, namely, Kabalikāra Āhāra (bodily nutriment), Phassāhāra (the nutriment of contact), Mano Sañcetana Āhāra (the nutriment of volition) and Viññānāra (the nutriment of consciousness). According to the Buddha these four sustenances are responsible of the maintenance of beings and also assist to those seeking birth. Thus we can say that according to the Buddha the consumables or food are both material and mental.

What is apparent from the above that there are several discourses of the Buddha which deal, directly or indirectly, with the mindful consumptions of consumables by the human beings. Mention may be made of the following – Āhārasutta (SN 12.11, PTS: S ii 11), Bhutamidaṁ Sutta (SN 12.31, PTS: S ii 47), Phagguna Sutta (SN 12.12, PTS: S ii 13), Puttamasa Sutta (SN 12.63, PTS: S ii 97), Atthirāga Sutta (SN 12.64 PTS: S ii 101), so on and so forth.
 


As we all know that Lord Buddha advocates the middle path in his very first preaching. He admonishes that one should avoid two extremes of self-indulgence (Kāmesukama-sukhallikānuyoga) and self-mortification (Attakilamathānuyoga).  In the  contemporary world we find that some people in the society are affluent and live luxurious life and have plenty of consumables at their disposal whereastherearepeoplewhoareonthevergeofstarvation,theymere get food for sustenance. In such a situation we are reminded of the Buddhas admonition to his monks that ‘Now O, Monks, the monk wisely considering partakes of his food, neither for pastime nor for indulgence not to become beautiful and handsome, but merely to maintain and support this body to avoid harm and to assist the holy life.’ (Idha bhikkhave bhikkhu paṭisakhā yoniso āhāraṁ āhāreti neva davāya, na madāya, na maanāya na vibhūsanāya. Yāvadeva imassa kāyassa ṭhitiya yāpanāya vihisūparatiyā brahmacariyānuggahayā. A, iii, Paňcaka Nipāta and Chakka Nipata, PTS, 1958, p.42)

To illustrate further summary given by Nyanaponika Thera of the Āhārasutta of the Samyutta Nikaya in which the simile of the sons flesh has been given to understand the way in which one should take the gross food.

Once, it seems, a couple, husband and wife, together with their little son, set out for a journey through a desert of 100 yojanas extent, taking with them only few provisions. Having traversed 50 yojanas, their provisions came to an end. Feeble from hunger and thirst, they sat down in a sparse patch of shade, and the man spoke to his wife: My dear, for 50 yojanas from here, in any direction, there is not a single village or hamlet. Therefore I cannot do now what is a mans work, like tilling a field or raising cattle, ( for seeing to your needs). Hence, you had better kill me, eat half of the flesh, and taking the other half with you as provision, you can safely cross the desert, together with our child.” But she said: My lord, I too cannot do now a wifes duty towards you, like weaving and other work. So please kill me, eat half of the flesh, and with the other half as provision you can safely get through the desert, together with our boy.” He replied: My dear, if the mother dies, it means death of two. This delicate little boy cannot live without his mother. But if we two remain alive, we may get another child. Hence let us kill the child, take the flesh and thus escape from the desert.” Thereupon the wife told
 


the child: Go, my dear, to your father!” And the child went. But the father said: “To bring up this child, I took up on me the great suffering and fatigue of a farmers work. I cannot kill the child. You may kill it!” And he sent it back to the mother. But she said: Longing for a son I went through much hardship by offering prayers and undertaking severe vows; to say nothing about the pains I suffered when bearing it in my womb. I cannot kill my son.” And she told the child: Go to your father, dear!” While thus being sent to and fro, the feeble child died. Seeing it dead, the parents took the flesh, ate of it and continued their trek through the desert.”

Commenting upon this Sutta, Nyanaponika Thera avers that as the food of their sons flesh was not eaten by them for pleasure and enjoyment, nor for comelinesssake and for the bodys embellishment, but solely to enable them to cross the desert. When partaking of their sons flesh, the parents neither enjoyed eating it nor did they take it with greed. They ate it in a detached way, without lust and desire.

They did not take their fill, gorging themselves, but they took only very little of it, just sufficient to sustain them for a day. They did not grudge or envy each other the food, but free from the stain of selfishness they ate it with a pure heart. They did not eat it with the illusion that it was deers meat or peacocks meat, but they were well aware that it was the flesh of their beloved son. They did not eat it with longing, Oh, may we again eat such flesh of our son!’ but they ate it without any such longing. They did not hoard a portion of it, thinking: That much we shall eat in the desert, and the remainder we shall eat when we are out of the desert, adding to it salt and spices.But having reached the end of the desert and fearing that the town people would see it, they would have buried any remainder in the ground or burned it. They did not harbor any such pride and conceit as: There is none like us who has the chance of eating such meat!’ but they rather ate it with quite the opposite of such pride (that is, with shame and humility). They did not eat it with disdain, Oh that saltless, tasteless and evil-smelling thing!’ but they ate it without such disdain. They did not quarrel with each other, This is your share that is my share! It is your son! It is my son!’ but they ate in concord and harmony.
 


It is apparent from the above simile that one should always consume food in the same vein without any attachment to it.

If we take in to account of the reason of giving discourse on sons flesh’ as depicted  in  the  Saarattha-ppakaasini,  the  Commentary to the Samyutta-Nikaya by Venerable Buddhaghosa, we find that the prevailing situation of contemporary society on consumption of consumables is almost similar to that of the Buddhas time. The story goes in the following manner:

In explaining the need arisen” (atthuppatti), i.e., the particular reason for the Buddha giving this discourse, the commentator says that, at that time, the community of monks received abundant support by way of alms food and other requisites. Considering this, the Master asked himself:

Will the bhikkhus be able, or will they not be able, to eat the alms food and still keep to that mindfulness and clear comprehension which lays hold (of the true nature) of nutriment? Will they be detached, and free of desire and greediness? And he saw that there were some sons of good families, recently ordained, who ate the alms food without due reflection. Seeing this, he thought: When I practiced the perfections (parami) for four incalculable periods and a hundred thousand kalpas, I did not do so for the sake of the requisites, such as robes, alms food, etc., but for the sake of the highest fruition, of sainthood, did I practice them. Also these bhikkhus who went forth under me, did not go forth for the sake of these requisites, but for the sake of attaining sainthood did they go forth. And now they take the unessential for the essential, the worthless for what is worthy! Such concern arose in him, and he thought further: “If it were possible to declare a fifth grave offense (parajika), the monks, partaking of food without due reflection should be made a fifth grave offense. It is, however, not possible to do so, because food is constantly used by beings. But I shall speak to them in such a way that they will consider (such thoughtlessness) as if it were a fifth grave offense. I shall place before them a mirror of the Dhamma for their self-control and restraint, so that, contemplating on it again and again, the bhikkhus of times to come will make use of the four requisites only after due reflection”.

Further the Buddhist approach of consumption distinguishes between right and wrong form of consumptions. Right consumption is the use of goods and services to satisfy the needs of the human
 


being for their well-being whereas wrong consumption is the result of the human greed, i.e., tanha. As such wrong consumption is the reckless use of goods and services to satisfy the desire for pleasing sensations or ego-gratification.

The Buddhist concept of mindfulness is other tool which could be used to safeguard our irrational and unjustified demands. As we all know that the Mindfulness in Buddhism refers to deliberate, unbiased and openhearted awareness of perceptible experience in the present moment with its focus on cultivation of benevolent and clear-headed values and actions to self, others and the world, as well as its possible value in fostering greater coherence between values, attitudes and behavior. If the Buddhist concept of mindfulness is applied in the consumption of goods and services in our daily life it could help people in protecting and preserving the nature and its surroundings for sustainable development.

The Sammādiṭṭhisutta of the Majjhima Nikāya put stress on the implications of the concept of Sammādiṭṭhi, i.e., the Right View in respect of Āhara, i.e., Food/Nutriment. In the introduction of the translation of the Samdiṭṭhisutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu summarizes the same in the following words Ven. Sariputta combines the issues of skillfulness and nutriment by approaching the topic of nutriment with a fourfold framework: nutriment, its origination (nutriment, in turn, has its own food), its cessation (the possibility of starving it of that food), and the path of practice leading to its cessation (the way to starve it). This line of thinking leads naturally to the next topic, in which this same framework is applied to the focal issue of the Buddhas teaching — suffering and stress — yielding the four noble truths. In this way, Ven. Sariputta shows how the four noble truths derive from the two topics of skillful/unskillful and nutriment.

In todays world all the consumable goods affecting the sustainability of earth and its environment. Ozone depletion, rise of sea level, deforestation, environmental pollution, tremendous growth in population, etc. is going to become bane for human existence. Increase in population increases the number of consumers and if reckless consumption by ever rising populace continues, it would become very dangerous for mother earth. In
 


order to address such issues, there is urgent need to make a balance in between consumption and reproduction habits with the planets ability to restore its natural resources and to absorb its inhabitants wastes. All the world citizens should come forward to respond the global issues for sustainable development. People take Science and Technology as a recourse to the current crises. But they are not efficient enough to address all the issues comprehensively. The time has come to initiate a multidisciplinary approach to at least slow down the modern trends. Along with science and technology, religious preaching, particularly the Buddhist teaching, should go hand in hand in addressing the current crises and mindful consumption can play a pivotal role in addressing the crises.

What is apparent from the above that several Buddhist teachings, if brought into the light and the same are being practiced in right perspectives, could not only provide safeguards against the culture of consumerism but could also help in bringing sea change in peoples habit.









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