Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
comment by etcetera23:
I have long wondered how so many American Buddhists of my acquaintance, rather like the fundamentalist Christians I grew up with, managed to justify living relatively wealthy, peaceful lives, knowing that if they sold off their fairly expensive homes in exclusive, well-off Californian communities, they could then afford to feed several poor families, in this country or elsewhere; donate it to social justice causes; or otherwise invest their hard-earned money in humanity at large.
While I’m not wealthy, I too seek comfort and struggle with attachments to having a nice house when others crowd into slums, high-end organic food when others are starving, paying my way to be surrounded by exclusive communities full of educated, interesting, well-off ex-hippies when others have no home at all. I’m attached to my stuff, no doubt about it. However, I’m not running around proclaiming that I’m a deeply spiritual person who follows the teachings of a Buddha or a Jesus.
The Buddhists I know mostly seem to be really wonderful people. Some of them have helped me enormously just through their example as decent human beings, or taught me about nonviolent communication skills, which I’m not really using here, I suppose. I’m just being honest: I don’t understand the discrepancy between talk of compassion, of reducing suffering in this world, but then using detachment as an excuse to be a comfort-seeking consumer American like any other.
Detached from what? Attached to whom? American Buddhists, who are you and what do you truly value? And if you value anything, does that mean you’re too attached? And if you’re striving to be less attached, isn’t that striving itself a sort of attachment? Is your philosophy that the cure for suffering is to Not Care So Much about poverty and injustice—if life is but a dream, then it probably doesn’t matter that a child stricken by war, malnutrition, and disease believes herself to be experiencing pain and grief. She just needs to let go of her attachment to that troublesome body of hers, and the world it appears to live in. How are the rest of us to make sense of your actions compared to your words and the words of your teachers? How do you, personally, see the apparent contradiction between detachment and compassion in your own life? Whether you’re a householder with a fine little house, or a monk living in a beautiful monastery with gorgeous grounds and access to nature: when you, personally, look at the role of material comfort and financial stability in how you spend your time and energy, how do you imagine it playing into loftier Buddhist ideals?