Consumption’s Effects on the Spirit

Photo by Toonto threat to the environment of over-consumption, from wasting water resources to pouring dirty-burning fuel into over-sized automobiles, is well documented if not very well heeded. A self-centered world view is a common pitfall of human nature that even appealing to concern for one’s children and grandchildren can fail to refocus.

Egocentric behavior is likely rooted in the instinct for self-preservation, but for the majority living in developed nations, the need for physical sustenance and safety are more or less easily satisfied. Rather, this impulse to protect one’s individual life easily morphs into an unhealthy appetite for material satisfactions — well beyond acceptable levels of health and comfort — that threatens the planet and the long-term survival of all of its life forms, including us.

Spirit and Nature Dancing Together

Far from an all-devouring dominion, spiritual teachings of all stripes emphasize a cooperative harmony between man and his environment. Sri Chaitanya, a Hindu saint from the sixteenth century, likens the idyllic relationship of the divine incarnation Govinda (Krishna) with his consort Radha to the joyful unity of the spirit that animates man with nature’s power:

“Radha, Radha, Radha, Govinda, jai!

Spirit and Nature, dancing together

Spirit and Nature, dancing together

Vict’ry to Spirit and vict’ry to Nature!

Vict’ry to Spirit and vict’ry to Nature!”

Consider the Lilies of the Field

Christ’s words in the New Testament describe how reliance on God, rather than pursuing the things of the world with anxious greed, is indeed the natural order of things:

“. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?”

It Takes Two to Tango

Zen Buddhist philosophy, while it embraces neither a god nor savior, identifies attachment to objects (i.e. the love and pursuit of “stuff” that leads to over-consumption) as the root of human suffering. According to John Daido Loori, a Zen teacher:

“You need two things in order to have attachment: the thing you’re attaching to, and the person who’s attaching. In nonattachment, on the other hand, there’s unity. There’s unity because there’s nothing to attach to. If you have unified with the whole universe, there’s nothing outside of you, so the notion of attachment becomes absurd. Who will attach to what?

“Because we think we have intrinsic existence within our skin, and what’s outside our skin is ‘everything else,’ that we go through life grabbing for one thing after another to make us feel safe, or to make us happy.”

As pointed out in the recent Edenkeeper article, “Moderation, a Green Virtue,” reducing consumption alone is unlikely to reverse the damage already done to the environment by our modern lifestyles. Nor will it allow us to leap immediately from a delusive egotism to an enlightened practice of our highest spiritual values.

Nevertheless, as the well-worn yet still accurate Toaist saying goes, “The longest journey begins with a single step.”

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About the Author

I have a BA in Psychology from Wellesley College and have been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda for over 25 years, including 15 years of teaching Sunday School children the fundamentals of yoga meditation. I'm also a deeply committed student of Catholicism especially interested in the basic harmony between eastern and western spiritual principles, practices and experience. I live with my husband in rural Northern Arizona. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and