Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Find the series here.

Most of us are unaware that this greed, envy, apathy, and underlying selfishness have actually been intentionally cultivated in the wider society. How do we address selfishness, greed, and apathy? What are the guiding principles for my life?

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” – Gus Speth, American environmental lawyer and advocate former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

Most of us are unaware that this greed, envy, apathy, and underlying selfishness have actually been intentionally cultivated in the wider society.

In the early 1920’s a quiet revolution was started to bring about a drastic social change. Banker Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers famously wrote: “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

A new kind of advertising was key to make this possible, and the pioneer in this field was Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who showed corporations how to make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires.

But by the 1970s the adverse effects were obvious. British Economist E.F. Schumacher wrote: “Economic progress, [the economist] Keynes counseled, is obtainable only if we employ those powerful human drives of selfishness, which religion and traditional wisdom universally call upon us to resist. The modem economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”

This shift in consciousness towards consumerism required a convergence of 1) the messaging that consumption is all-desirable and the new “God”, and 2) the gradual abandonment of traditional values and morality through the undermining of the value of religion.

So the big question is – what will replace traditional ethics and morality as the compass for our journey of life? How do we address selfishness, greed, and apathy? What are the guiding principles for my life?

The ending kirtan is sung to the Kodaline cover “All I Want”

Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya


Namaste everyone. Everybody doing okay? Reasonably?

So I’m going to start a little series, which we’re calling My Life’s Compass. This is really a really big topic, and it’s really important.

When we think of a compass it’s an instrument for navigation. It’s an instrument to get us from where we are to the place where we want to be, yeah? And in life, if you don’t have the goal, the target that you’re trying to reach, clearly in your mind, then it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got an instrument or not, you fundamentally don’t know which way you’re going. And so in speaking about this there is an understanding that there has to be some clarity around what our what our actual life’s purpose is.

For many people who have not actually thought about it, they have been encouraged and led into this pursuit of consumption: the next hit, the next flash, the next experience, the next rush. And so people embark upon a lifetime of just searching for the next thing that’s going to somehow stimulate my body and mind, with the idea that it will produce a good outcome: “If I can feel pleasurable experiences in my body and mind then my life’s going to be okay.” And that is a monumental untruth. You can be experiencing enormous amounts of sensual stimulation and mental rushes and be feeling even suicidal.

So we’re faced with this big problem.

What got me on this topic was a quote I read when we did the retreat at Whangamata, and last week I think I read it again. And I will read it one more time because it’s really important. It’s really significant.

It’s a quote from an American environmental lawyer and scientist, somebody that had a major role in the United Nations Development program. He in fact headed it up. He was in charge of the, at Yale University, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. So this is somebody that spent a lifetime immersed, and as a research, a scientific and academic undertaking to address the problems that we face environmentally. And his statement was,

“I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that 30 years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy; and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.

Thus spake Gus Speth. That’s pretty amazing.

And it’s pretty easy to go, “Oh wow! Yeah I never thought of it like that. That’s far out,” and then on with my life, without actually undertaking some sort of process to begin to really examine these things. How much is my life being affected, how much am I driven by these things, selfishness, greed and apathy?

If we are to begin to examine these things there is really a need for us to consider what exactly are the guiding principles in my life? What’s driving me? What’s my goal? You know what, you can tell what your goal is by what’s important to you, what you get upset about, what you lay awake sometimes thinking about, what evokes strong responses in your life. These are the things that are important. The other thing is, what are you spending most of your time doing? I mean we have a lot of time on our hands. We have a lot of time on our hands. What are we doing with this time that we are gifted with?

So the reality is that most of us are actually really unaware that this greed, envy and apathy, along with the underlying selfishness, have actually been intentionally cultivated, that society unbeknown to the individuals, have actually been on a path where these qualities were intentionally cultivated.

If we look at one of the things that’s really unfortunate about people in the modern world, they’re pretty disconnected from human history, what actually drove things, what were the critical events leading to the development of the society that we have. How did things come about? What were they in response to, all of the big turning points in the development of humankind?

in the 1920s a revolution was set in place that has completely transformed the world, and which people are almost entirely unaware of. The way people lived in the 1920s and the 1930s, their value systems, what they thought was important, is completely different than what it is today. The way people lived back then was the result of a gradual development over thousands of years, and then suddenly we took this huge turn.

It was spurred by the First World War. During the First World War the industrialists, in America in particular, they were elated. They had been manufacturing at a pace that was unprecedented in history, and they were making profits like you couldn’t imagine. They were utterly overjoyed. War is fantastic! Everything you make gets blown up or destroyed, and then you just got to make more of the same. That’s just like Whoa! That’s powerful driver for an economy.

And so they thought, Hmm, now that the war’s over, in 1918, what are we going to do? How do we keep this frenzy pace of manufacturing going? How do we do that? And there was a big problem. A big problem was that people were not actually consumers.

People lived with certain ideas. There was a utility to things. I wore my shoes until they wore out, and then I took them to a cobbler who repaired the soles and did whatever repair was necessary, and I put them on and wore them again. And I did that a number of times, over a number of years. And when it started wearing out, getting beyond repair, I went and bought another one. And what I was looking for was something that will last. The durability of a product was almost the singular most important thing when I bought something.

And it was decided that this state of consciousness is the great enemy of growth, of economic growth. And there was a big discussion amongst all the industrialists and the bankers about a need to change the world. So a famous banker, Paul Mazur, he was like the first non-family member who became a member of, a director on Lehman Brothers (which at that time was like the top, or second top financial institution in America) and he boldly stated in a paper in the very early, I think in 1922 or 1923, he said,

“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture.” Whoa! “We must shift America from a needs…” [just people buying what they needed, to people buying things based on, simply on desire.] “…People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

Leading the charge was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Freud actually wasn’t very famous or well known up to that point. In certain circles in Austria, and parts of Europe, yeah, and kind of like in a tiny little sliver… this—there was a guy, his name was Eddie Bernays. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and he studied Sigmund Freud’s theories on the use of psychology to manipulate the masses. Sigmund Freud thought the masses of people are inherently dangerous, and they need to be curbed, and managed, and controlled, and he developed techniques for doing this. Eddie Bernays used those techniques to introduce, and to build the consumer society.

His first major victim, after he was a consultant for Franklin D Roosevelt, after the—towards the end of the First World War he managed all of the public appearances of FDR, and what people thought. FDR had—was on this mission to transform Europe from a bunch of autocratic states run by royalty, and with the support of parliaments, to full democracies. And he went out and really created this image for FDR in Europe, the saviour of Europe. And coming back to America he was engaged by all these industrialists that thought about this need to transform the public into consumers. And his first victim were women.

He was approached by the tobacco industry and they said, “Look, we’ve got a problem. Women don’t smoke. It’s considered the wrong thing to do. You just don’t smoke. And that’s a bummer, because that’s like half the population not available to us. Can you help us?”

And he said, “Yeah, sure as long as I have a budget to engage psychologists because we have to figure out what’s going to change women.”

During this time women were marching for their suffrage, to be able to vote, very noble cause. So Eddie Bernays, he had this idea. He approached all these socialites that were the head of the suffrage movement in America, and he asked them that during this Saint Patrick’s day parade, which was a huge thing, I think it was Saint Patrick’s day parade, that he wanted all the women to hide, in their clothing, cigarettes and to have a cigarette lighter or matches, and on his command they would all pull out their cigarettes, light them up and march down the street smoking as a protest. And that was shocking to men, of course. And he got all the media together, and he told them, “Something amazing is going to be happening here. Just watch for my queue. Watch for my queue, and have your cameras ready. We are going to see women marching and lighting up torches of freedom.” Is this guy smart or what? This guy is just like brilliant. And so all these people, not realizing they’ve been manipulated, but thought they had a backer for their cause, at his command they whipped out the cigarettes, lit them up and walked down the road together smoking.

And in every major capital city of the world photos of this were carried, and all of them had the byline, the little caption, “Women lighting up torches of freedom, in their march for suffrage.” So then women were all given the message, you need to smoke to stick it to the men, and so they took up smoking, and became addicts, and got cancer like everybody else. Wonderful!

This was the opening salvo. What Eddie Bernays taught, or what he practiced was—used to be called propaganda, but because of the way Germans used a particularly far out form of this during the First World War propaganda got a really bad name. And so Eddie Bernays was thinking, “I need another name for what I do,” and so what name was he going to choose to have instead of propaganda? Public relations! Today everybody thinks, oh public relations… This is where it came from. It was another form of propaganda.

He now began, over years, he became an immensely wealthy person who transformed America and the world, and almost nobody knows anything about him. He was the one that tied the idea of products to subconscious desires.

He was the one that introduced the idea of fashion. And you look at these 1920s and 30s—1920s women now using clothing—clothing was very utilitarian and drab. It was kind of okay. It’s not like what they put in the movies now when they do period movies and… No. A few people at the very higher end of society were into fashion. The majority of people it was pretty drab and ordinary and utilitarian.

And so then he put these women out in front of all these reporters, and they’re saying things like, “Fashion should represent your personality. We’re all different personalities, and the way I dress should reflect my personality.” That idea was invented by Eddie Bernays. If you are thinking that today, if you have that idea today, and almost all of us have it, that came from Eddie Bernays. And we’ve adopted it, and we have no idea where that came from, but we’re on board with it. Yeah, I think I need to do this, I need to dress this way. That kind of look, that would give me a good look.

I mean it’s become so bizarre that the skateboarders and the surfers who were on the fringes of society, and the punks on the fringes of society, you have now fashion companies dictating what they will wear. Stasi! It’s all just a ploy, and people buy the product and think, “Yeah, I’m a rebel. I’m sticking it to everybody. I’m showing how cool I am.” It’s—we’re just completely manipulated by stuff, and it’s kind of mind-boggling

The reason I’m just bringing up some of that stuff, because it’s very much tied to this course of history where people were taught how to desire, and how to want things that they didn’t need ,and to place a value on things that previously were not of value to them.

The adverse effect of this consumerism, which was supported from amongst economists, the leading economist of the time was Lord Keynes, and he directly proposed that the two qualities that need to be cultivated in people in order to grow an economy are envy and greed. You have to envy what others have, and desire it, which is what advertising is all about, and greed.

I was talking to somebody a little earlier. Many years ago I was doing a—asked to do a some presentation before a big group from the Catholic Church in the Philippines on consumerism and society and family, and all of this kind of stuff. So I asked them a question, “How many people here believe in the relevance of the ten commandments?” And of course everybody was, Yeah, Yeah. That’s kind of really foundational to Judeo Christianity, that whole thing. And I said, “An what is taught within Catholicism about the ten commandments?” There is this idea that if you transgress one of these commandments and you die you’re going to go to a really bad place. That’s fundamentally what’s taught.

So I said, “Well how come we have now a whole economic system built upon envy, and one of the ten commandments is thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s goods.” Means you shouldn’t look at what other people have and develop the desire, “Oh I should have that too.” That was considered so bad that it can ruin you spiritually and condemn you. And I ask them, “How come we don’t have priests or bishops talking about this whole system that’s been built, based upon breaking that principle that was considered so sacred and important, that we should not be cultivating these qualities?” And so you had a whole economic system that was built on the cultivation of, conscious cultivation of, greed and envy. And we’re oblivious to this. We’re absolutely oblivious, because everybody’s doing it so it must be okay.

So by the 1970s it was already really apparent how bad the adverse effects of consumerism was, in terms of what it’s doing to the world, what it’s doing to people, and what it’s doing to the environment, what it’s doing to the three things that people actually need to protect. If you want to live a relatively good life health is of great importance, peacefulness and beauty. And these three things do not have an economic value.

So EF Schumacher, the British economist who famously wrote the book Small is Beautiful, in observing where things were, he said that,

“Economic progress proposed by the economist Keenes is obtainable only if we employ those powerful human drives of selfishness which religion and traditional wisdom universally call upon us to resist. The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but are the very cause of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”

I was talking with Jenny a little earlier. We use social media and if you ask what was the sole purpose for the development of social media, the sole purpose was to get your money. There’s no other purpose for its development. The purpose was to get your money, and in order to get your money there was an understanding we’ve got to develop platforms that “engage” people, meaning to get you stuck there as long as possible, and that’s why you get all this crap.

For instance you go on Youtube, and you search for a video, or you look at a video you are served other things that may be of interest to you. And they have discovered that the algorithms written will send people on this downward spiral. They will serve you videos that are increasingly more extreme, because they want to evoke emotions. When your emotions get raised, positive or negative, you will continue to be engaged. And why do they want you engaged? They want you engaged so, number one, they can try to sell you things, and secondly, so they can get as much of your personal information, your preferences, your choices, what you like, to get your information; and without even asking if it’s okay, to sell that to people, who will utilize it to exploit you, or try to.

It is totally a system of incredible exploitation, and one of the most really disastrous features of it is how they have utilized psychology. They study addictive behaviour, and they look to apply the triggers of addictive behaviour, to people, to keep you engaged. I mean this is true. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is a business model.

And we just like, we’re on there [mimes web surfing] “Yeah, yeah, Okay, Okay, Haha, Yeah, Yeah,” We’re just like oblivious to really what’s going on. And a big part of this is because we are not super clear about what our goals actually should be. We’re not even very clear about what our current goals are. We’re just acting and reacting, and going along with the crowd and everything. That, number one. And number two, what are our guiding principles in life?

Personally I am deeply troubled by the wholesale abandonment of religion. And I say that not because I think that the way religion has been practiced around the world is necessarily fantastic, but universally, within almost all religions, there were clear guiding principles that people were meant to use to direct their life, and so people had an idea, “Oh I shouldn’t do that. Nah that’s not good.” They had these ideas and feelings largely based upon values that they had adopted from childhood that their society embraced.

But we enter a period of time where religion has pretty much been kicked to the curb, and a lot of these values are sort of like—then who—okay, who’s the guardian of these values? Who are the—who’s the guardian of the value systems now, of society? Am I intelligent enough, am I strong enough to seek out a set of guiding principles that are going to guide my life towards a really good outcome?

And this is  what we’re going to be talking about over the next two, three weeks. Is this of interest? I think this stuff is just like it— I’m amazed at how spaced out I’ve been through a lot of my life. Being involved in in this ancient yoga system and an amazing tradition, I mean the lineage to which I am part, it goes back thousands of years, and there are really clear principles, and there are really clear ideas about what it’s all about, and that has had an enormous benefit for me, and it’s had an enormous effect on my life. And it brings with it clarity. It brings with it a certain amount of peacefulness, and the tools to deal with adversity and difficulty, and the different experiences of loneliness and unhappiness that arise when one just kind of wanders through life, being told what is desirable and what is undesirable, and what you should be doing.

And so we will be focusing on some of these things going forward.

Anybody got a question? Did I go over time? I’ve been talking a bit too long in recent times. This is just meant to be like introductory stuff, and I get a bit excited. I’m sorry.

Audience: Acharya das, why are the leaders of the various religions not sort of pushing back on this and guiding… have they…

Acd: Yeah. I mean, within advertising the people that are pulling the strings are themselves victimized by their own propaganda. When they sell an idea and become subjected to it they also become victims. It’s not like they’re immune to it. We’re talking about a wholesale push to transform society’s value systems and what’s important, and when a person starts getting this messaging and being affected by it, we’re talking about a change of consciousness. It’s not like you can step back and look at your consciousness and go, “Oh, yeah, maybe I’m being influenced.” It becomes the filter through which you see everything.

And so when you have clergy who are also engaging in that same way in society and being victims of propaganda and psychological manipulation, and it begins to transform their consciousness—because in reality it is a fact that in a lot of cases, not all, but in a lot of cases religion was like a belief system—it’s hard to find people whose lives have been so transformed, who have come to realizations and spiritual experience that’s really changed them, like Mother Teresa, for instance, why can’t everybody live like her? Well, it’s because of a state of consciousness, and so when you’re engaging with the world being unaware of your own spiritual identity, even though you’re meant to be a religious leader or a guide, but when you are in engaged in this way and your consciousness has also been corrupted by it, then, yeah, of course you’re not going to say anything, because you’re not seeing anything. You don’t have that clarity, unfortunately.

So simply wearing a certain outward garment and having a title doesn’t award you a state of consciousness or awareness. That’s determined by how you live, and your personal values, and what you are seeking, and what’s important to you, and what you’re pursuing, who you’re hanging out with, what you’re reading, what you’re consuming, this all affects your consciousness and determines where you’re going to be going. Okay?

Audience:…. Hard to hear… nations as a whole… opportunity to change, but how do you change nations?

Acd: How do you change?

Audience: nations

Acd: Nations. They have a verse in the Bhagavad-gita that says, “Whatever a great man does the common man is sure to follow.” So our problem is our sense of what is a great person has now become all of these Youtube influencers.

Audience: Woops!

Acd:  Yuck! who are followed by so many people. And society is increasingly developing these ideas that this person is great because of some absolute superficial weird crap, and when I watch that, yes I become influenced. Patrick, Paramahamsa, just shared with me something. It’s hilarious, a guy doing commentary on people catching these so these social influencers out doing their stuff.

Paramahamsa: I was a little worried about who I should send that to.

Acd: Oh no, you should spread that far and wide. It’s hilarious. You’ve got somebody like watching this woman, and she’s there, it’s kind of like one of the cities that—where they got all the riots, and she’s borrowed this workman’s drill, and it’s like she’s drilling to protect the city from stuff, and as soon as the boyfriend catches the image then she’s thinking, “Oh thank you so much,” and giving back the drill, and jumping in the car and driving off. And it’s just like a whole series of these ridiculous… people coming out with their black lives matter thing, and they’ve got the proper gear on and everything, and then they look for the right person to stand next to, and then they get there just like, [mimes posing] and somebody’s taking a video. As soon as the video is over they’re rolling everything up, and, “Yeah, thank you!” and they’re off. It’s just so fake and ridiculous. But this is the reality.

And now we see this, we don’t see big thinkers. Everybody’s so embroiled in horrible politics and all kinds of political philosophies that are actually pretty nuts if you look at them objectively, and are not going to produce desirable outcomes. You’ve got all these people on the, what’s this new movement, the extinction, the extinction movement. Everybody’s protesting and laying down on the bridge. Okay, how many of you have given up your cell phones? All the stuff that goes into producing this, and all of these exotic minerals, rare earth things that are needed, which are going to lead to wars in the future because they’re so hard to come by, and which are causing so much devastation. How many of you are changing your personal lifestyle? You’re just jumping up and down, and complaining about oh you’re gonna, you know, global warming, and all this. And look what this guy is saying. He’s saying, No the problem is selfishness and greed and apathy. I’m going to protest about it, but am I going to change my lifestyle and what I do? No. We need leadership. People that are in the public eye. Okay. Enough.