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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
summer 2006| 84 |buddhadharma The difficulties of householder life are also noted: Renunciation of the worldly life is difficult; difficult it is to be happy in the monastic life; equally difficult and painful it is to lead the householder’s life. (XXI:303) Renunciation is difficult, yes, but as contemporary Buddhists, we have fled from this challenge and we have turned renunciation into a painless mental exer- cise. It’s much easier to say, “Yeah, but I’m not attached to my BMW.” That way we never have to question what could have been done with the money we spent on an upscale car, house, or vacation. Thus, we avoid the implications of sim- plicity, nonconsumption, and generosity enshrined in the original teachings. And few Euro-American Buddhist teachers call on their followers to set aside wealth and comfort for the practice of real, tangible renunciation and simplicity. There are some exceptions. Ajahn Brahmavamso, an Australian Therava- din abbot, was recently teaching in the U.S. and, referring to practice, said, “You don’t have to go for the big idea, but just keep moving forward, toward greater simplicity – a smaller home, for example. Less clutter in the physical world leads to less clutter in the mind and more free- dom.” As Buddhist discourse in the U.S. goes, this is a very rare sentiment. Of course, I cannot know in any statistical sense what my Buddhist col- leagues are doing with their incomes, but I have plenty of anecdotal experi- ence. For instance, I’m on the board of a small Buddhist nonprofit called Para- mita House, which helps released prison inmates reintegrate into the community. In our routine solicitations to sanghas in the region, only a few Buddhist groups have responded positively. When we ask groups why they can’t contribute, they often say, “We’re raising money for the new temple.” If they’ve built their temple, they say they need money for landscap- ing. If the landscaping is done, they talk about keeping a prudent reserve and, of course, once there are sufficient reserves, it’s time to fund the endowment. Some sanghas do engage in social justice com- mitments, but all too many spend their time fluffing up the meditation cushions, waiting for the next retreat. Many in my own generation, the boomers, are immensely wealthy – yet we don’t feel that way. Investment firms and retirement advisors constantly challenge us with the huge amounts of money they say will be needed to fund our retirement lifestyles. So we feel we haven’t saved enough to support that eighty-six-year- old person who does not yet – and may never – exist. As Buddhism entered various cultures over the last two and a half millennia, it changed as it incorporated various spiritual traditions – the Bhramanistic and animistic traditions of South and Southeast Asia, Taoism and Confucian- ism in China, and the Bonpo practices of Tibet. But Santikaro points out that “As Buddhism is adapting to the West, rather than incorporating a healthy or effective spiritual tradition, it is adapting to secu- larism. This is unique in Buddhist history. It is being molded and changed – not by the Western monotheisms – but by pop- psychology and consumerist capitalism. Perhaps the only thing Western Buddhism is inheriting from monotheism is a ten- dency toward dogmatism.” I am not asking that North American Buddhists turn into tottering Mother Teresas or throw the BMW keys to the ground and walk off into the mountain mists, but if we really took up the ideal of householder renunciation, we would become more generous – much more gen- erous – with our time and our money and our talents. We could vow to make do with less and stop consuming needlessly. Boomers might consider the old Indo- Aryan ideal that the final decades of life ought best be devoted to simplicity and spiritual development. Many of us will play golf in gated communities till that final trumpet sounds, but those of us who call ourselves Buddhists owe the world, and ourselves, much more. What if we turned our backs on the false security of our L. L. Bean life- styles? What if we gave generously to the causes that stir our hearts? 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