Buddhist View on Consumerism

Written in 1997 as Meeting Report and picked up by a link on one of the multiple sub-pages out of Better World Links:

Consumption and Consumerism:

The central issue for the Think Sangha during this year was the topic of Consumption and Consumerism. Consumption has emerged as a central issue in both the developed and developing worlds. It touches concerns such as environment, community development, education, and sex and gender issues. We feel that Buddhism and other religions have a unique and very important contribution to make to this issue. We see the critical role of moral and spiritual values as an antidote to consumer values. Buddhist values can offer not only a critique of Consumerism on a structural level, but can also offer a practical method which empowers individuals to leave destructive consumption patterns behind.

Some of the fruit of this work has been our contribution to the Society for International Development’s (SID) March 1998 journal on ‘Consumption, Civil Action‘, and Sustainable Development, our participation in The Other Economic Summit TOES (see links below of this page) in the United Kingdom in May, 1998, and our participation in the ‘dialogue with the leaders of the nine major faiths and the President and Board of the World Bank‘.

Meeting Report: THE THINK SANGHA: BUDDHIST THEORY, ACTION & PRACTICE IN SOCIETY, May 27 to 31, 1997, Hongen-ji Temple , Hakone, Japan – organized in association with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), funded by the Rissho Kosei-kai Fund for Peace.

Think Sangha evolved out of an association of friends and colleagues within INEB who wanted to explore Buddhist approaches to social analysis in greater depth. The Dhammic Society conference held in February 1995 in Thailand (for a report of this meeting contact Think Sangha coordinator Jonathan Watts) and the subsequent publication of ‘Entering the Realm of Reality: Towards Dhammic Societies‘ in June 1997 have been the most concrete accomplishments of our loose association. The initial inspiration behind Think Sangha was to reinvigorate the core members by developing a vital, intellectual network to tackle pressing social issues, make timely analysis and offer practical methods for confronting these issues.

Of the fifteen actual participants at the meeting and the five or so others who could not attend, roughly fourteen of them had been part of the original association. Such a group make-up followed our idea to form a “sangha” as much as a group of intellectuals. The closeness and friendship that we have shared in working together over the past years (for some as many as 8 years) made us confident that we can count on each other to build this network. The new participants were carefully selected through personal references from within the group further ensuring solidarity among us. The aim of Think Sangha is certainly not to be closed to new voices, but rather, in the beginning to make sure that we build a strong base. Such an approach, unfortunately, led to some under-representation in developing world and female participants in this original group. Establishing a greater balance through bringing in participants from such areas is a top priority this year.

1. “Working” Definition of Consumerism:

Detailed: The dominant culture of a modernizing invasive industrialism which stimulates – yet can never satisfy – the urge for a strong sense of self to overlay the angst and sense of lack in the human condition. As a result, goods, services, and experiences are consumed beyond any reasonable need. This undermines the eco-system, the quality of life and particularly traditional cultures and communities and the possibility of spiritual liberation. Abbreviated: Consumerism is a way of living in which the meaning of one’s life is the acquisition and consumption of forms and experiences. Haiku: The meaning of one’s life, the acquisition and consumption of things

2. Chart of a Buddhist Approach to Consumerism:

The following chart is an attempt to encapsulate the various ideas the group had for analyzing and confronting Consumerism from a Buddhist standpoint. As with the above definition, it is by no means complete, but rather a initial envisioning of a Buddhist analysis. The essential tool which the group agreed on was the Buddha’s framework of the Four Noble Truths to conceptualize any problem. These four form the four major quadrants of the chart. In each of the four, there are some basic tools, values and methods which individuals in the group felt were particularly suitable to confronting Consumerism. In the center of the chart is the core of Buddhism, voidness (sunnata and interdependence (idappaccayata. Voidness is the non-independent, non-free standing or free creating property of all phenomena, akin to not-self (anatta). This implies the interconnectedness or inter-dependency of all forms, and thus this core is but two sides of the same coin. Properly realized, this awareness enables us to see the connections among phenomena, a skill particularly needed in the disconnected world of consumer images. Finally, revolving around the chart is the flow of mindfulness, a method which nurtures this whole process and enables us to disengage from the delusion of Consumerism and to lead a life in harmony with natural truth.

3. Key Characteristics Of Consumerism & Buddhist Foils:

There are three parts to this section. The key characteristics of Consumerism do not fall into neatly defined, separate categories. Rather there is a whole web of interconnected factors. In keeping with the interconnected spirit of Buddhism, we have located three basic “areas”. Within each of these areas, a number of interrelated characteristics are discussed.


Scientism & Dharma;

Commodification-Alienation & The 3 Dynamics Of Nature;

The Three Roots Of Evil & The Three-Fold Training.

Links about TOES, The Other Economic Summit:

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