Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed consumerism, how it is driven by state-actors through economic policy (economic growth); how it is largely driven by greed and envy; that it is the underlying catalyst for a general sense of emptiness (leveraged through manipulative advertising which plays on it); it becomes a vicious cycle of the perpetual hunger for more – “what’s next”.
Consumerism gives rise to significant problems on a personal, societal, and environmental level.
Temperance (self-restraint) is critical to living healthier, happier, and more peaceful lives. This was promoted by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese philosophers, by most of the world’s great religions, and even Charles Darwin.
I mention the Rotary Creed as I feel it is a wonderful tool to help build temperance in our dealings with others. It goes – “Of the things we think, say or do:
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Some of the quotes I used:
The Century of the Self documentary is “the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority” – Adam Curtis
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
There is a single trait that psychologists have studied over the years that can actually predict the answers to all of the 5 questions. And, it isn’t grades in school or friendliness or confidence or emotional stability or even personality in general. It isn’t intelligence or persistence. Rather, it is restraint — the ability to resist temptation confidently and repeatedly. Psychologists call this conscientiousness.
A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires — that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still — can alone achieve peace, and not the person who strives to satisfy such desires. Bhagavad-gita 2.70
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So, for the last few weeks one of the things I’ve been sort of maybe hammering away a bit at is consumerism; and what I wanted to address today is this idea that we are responsible for our own life. Just like, is it Michael Jackson with Man in the Mirror? I mean there’s a line to “be the change that you want to see” and many other people have stated this same idea, and it’s actually—it’s so true, and it’s so important. Becoming more empowered means to become more self-directed, where we are making more conscious and purposeful choices in our life, so that we can be responsible for the outcomes in our life and the happiness or unhappiness that we experience in life.
So, in discussing this subject I’m going to deal with the topic of self-restraint or temperance, as it is called, which is really focused on just learning to say, “Enough,” you know, “Enough of this, enough of this direction, enough of these habits. I need to get a grip on my life,” because it’s only when we as individuals become empowered to do this that we will see the changes, not in our own life but especially in our own life, but also in the society in which we live.
So the things, some of the things that we’ve discussed over the last so many talks, when we touched on consumerism, how consumerism is often very much state driven, meaning it’s part of government policy, part of the desire for economic growth, that policies are adopted and business models, and conduct is supported that produces that outcome; but as we’ve questioned in the past it’s kind of like, well, what kind of a goal is the growth of the economy? It’s not very sound when we are not defining what it is that we want to grow it into. Is there a point where economists have declared, once your GDP, or the average income of people, annual income, reaches this level, this is where we want to plateau, this is enough, and we will have the desired goals reached? And of course, the desired goal is to have continuous and an ever-expanding economy and economic growth, and this is largely driven not just by the desire or the hope for the welfare of citizens but so politicians will get re-elected. You will see in almost every country that the popularity of a leader or a political party in charge is very much tied to the rise and the fall of the economy and statistics related to the economy.
Another thing that we’ve discussed in the past is how a conscious decision was made by economists, (and it was discussed openly) the need to cultivate both greed and envy in the population, that when this was done people would become little dynamos, and they would just work and strive, and it would lead to economic growth. And of course, the question was raised by some whether this is the right thing to do or not, because you’re fundamentally corrupting people. And the response from the leading economist in the world at that time was, “No, it’s not a discussion that you need to have. We can have that later, once we’ve achieved the desired level of prosperity,” but of course, that desired level of prosperity was never clearly stated.
The underlying catalyst for economic development is a general sense of emptiness that pervades the entire population. And advertising, as we’ve stated before, has very much utilized these two base sort of instincts—people have to be greedy and to envy what others have—as being the key things to appeal to. But at the same time there was this clear recognition by people engaged in advertising that everyone has a certain emptiness within, and what we have to do is tie the promise that the consumption of certain products or services will fill up that emptiness within. So advertising has always very much played upon this underlying reality, by promising to fill up that emptiness. So it’s kind of like a little bit of a pro—it’s this vicious cycle, actually.
You’ve got the people in general feeling a certain amount of emptiness, and so people search to fill up this hole, to fill up this emptiness. And of course, this search has been stimulated by greed and envy, looking at what others have and wishing to have it too, but what this has then led to is an even greater emptiness when we get what it is that we’re looking for, and we find that it is not fulfilling us. And so with now increased appetites we look for more to consume.
So what we’re seeing in the world is this perpetual hunger for more, this idea of kind of like, “What’s next?” And this was one of the amazing developments in these devices that everybody uses, this scrolling feature where with a swipe of a hand or a finger you can scroll through things rather quickly. When that first came out it blew everybody’s mind that you could do that, because up until that time it was kind of like next page, next page. It was rather tedious, whereas now with just the swipe of a finger you can hypercharge this “What’s next?” attitude, looking for what else to consume.
So as we’ve discussed in the past, consumerism really gives rise to very significant problems on a personal level. You’ve got a growing—I mean—and this is just amazing, because it’s completely correlated with consumption figures, meaning as consumption goes up, as wealth, personal wealth, goes up, these things are also rising: emptiness, a growing sense of purposelessness, the feeling of disconnection from things, and alienation, which has now become hyper-magnified with social media that’s not really connecting people. It’s driving people into their own little world where they’re looking out at others. And these things have really contributed to nothing less than a mental health crisis.
So we see it—the growing issues of fragility, where people have become so fragile. They don’t have, as some people like to call it, a bottom end. There’s no—not sufficient resilience or what the British used to call the stiff upper lip, where you just soldier on as it were. I mean, I’m not saying that that’s the answer, but neither is it to become increasingly fragile and unable to cope and deal with things. So then you also have a growth in depression, a massive growth in depression, and then this huge consumption of psychoactive substances. And then of course, on the other end of that you have the growth in suicide, particularly amongst the young.
So these are all symptoms that our current course is not sustainable, and it is unendurable for most people, as borne out by the evidence. And yet when people are caught in these cycles they cannot analyze, they cannot see what’s wrong. We’ve become almost addicted to knee-jerk sort of reactions, the idea of just consuming more and turning up the volume.
So what it really does point out to, with some careful analysis, is something I’ve spoken about before: the bird in the cage where somebody has—and this analogy is used where somebody has got a beautiful bird in a cage, but the owner, or so-called owner, is completely focused on polishing the gilded cage while neglecting the bird within. And this speaks to the reality that material experience cannot completely fulfill us. I’m not saying it should be rejected, it should be ignored, but I’m saying it’s important to recognize that it cannot completely fulfill us. There is a need for spiritual sustenance or spiritual food.
So that’s dealing with consumerism and the effect that it’s having on people on a personal level and a societal level.
Then you’ve got now the whole reality of the tremendous environmental problems. And if people would just step away from the political lens that’s often used to view these things and just objectively look at things, it’s kind of like the amount of change that’s going on is quite phenomenal, and it’s definitely consequential. There’s a lot of speculation as to what will happen to society as a result of this, and what people are going to experience, and I think it will be time that shows us how accurate those things are or not. But it’s incredibly consequential, and it is going to affect generations not yet born. So we are sort of condemning future generations, millions of people, to hardship just to try and satisfy these cravings and these attempts to fill up our own emptiness. It’s like we’ve become addicts, addicted to consuming, addicted to technology, unable to pull away, this idea, “I just can’t stop.”
Having worked with people with drug addictions, people with sex addictions, pornography addictions, and seeing how so many lives become—so much pain and so much suffering, and so many people’s lives are practically becoming destroyed through different forms of addiction. But it’s like we are—it’s not like, we have become addicted to these easy choices, and we are not exercising sufficient self-control and autonomy. It’s like we can’t put the devices down. We can’t stop consuming, just this constant thing.
And I’m sorry if some people think, “Oh here he goes again, talking about the same thing,” and it’s well, yeah! Because we need to take this seriously, for our own well-being.
So how can we come to say, “Enough! Enough already!” How do we get there? Because what it actually requires is a change of consciousness. We don’t—we’re not thoughtful enough, generally speaking, about the different ways in which we are being influenced, about what the options are available to us in terms of making choices. We just have these conditioned reflexes, these go-to’s. And it’s really not good. It’s not healthy for us as individuals.
So there really is this need for us to recognize how controlled we are by other people’s messaging. That’s a really heavy statement, but until—I mean it’s kind of like I can remember somebody from within the family, a relative, who went to one of these retreats where they observe complete silence for like five or six days. It wasn’t even the Vipassana one that they do for ten days. And you can’t have your phone, and you have to be in a contemplative environment, in a meditative environment, and observe silence. And they didn’t realize until they did this how controlled they are by the urge to talk and to communicate, supposedly, which is often just gossiping and talking about things that are not very significant. And it’s usually when people go through these types of retreats and experiences that it becomes glaringly apparent how out of control my mind is and how demanding, and when I can’t immediately respond and fulfill the desires of my mind, how incredibly upset the mind becomes, and how that affects me.
So it’s usually not until we’re put into a situation where some of these things are removed from us that we begin to understand, “Oh my gods, I’m so deeply influenced and affected by these things.”
Then of course, this all points to an almost complete loss of personal autonomy, where you’re not really at the driver’s wheel in your life, that others are making decisions for you and are dictating.
So the message here is that we need to become more thoughtful rather than just reactive, rather than just reacting to things. We need to think about it, “Well should I actually do this, or not? And what are the consequences? And what’s going to be the result on my life, on my happiness, on my peacefulness?” And of course, this all points to the exercise or practice of mindfulness, where I begin to really ask myself this question, “Is it really in my best interest if I just follow this idea, or thought, or desire, or wish?” And of course, the bigger question also is, “Is it really in the interest of others for me to make this choice, to go this way?” And if people would be more thoughtful about these things and apply this, instead of being just reactive, to be more thoughtful and conscious in their decision making, everybody’s lives would become incredibly healthier and happier; and the effect that would have on others, particularly those that we are in relationships with or connected to, would be very profound. We would begin to make life and the world a lot better by doing this.
And I can just see mentally a lot of people are listening, and they’re going, “Oh yeah, yeah. That’s true. That’s true.” But then the question is, “Yeah, but what are we going to do about it?” The recognition of the truth of these things is one thing, we need to actually make the steps to do something about it. And this points, of course, to the need of people to develop a code to live by. I am not going to do that for you. That is something that you need to do, and we’ve spoken—there is a series I put out, probably about a year and a half ago, called A Code to Live By, where we discuss these things. And in that series of talks we looked at organisations like the Boy Scouts for instance, and like the Rotary, and these different civic organizations, and the nature of their code that they promote for their membership, all of them being wonderful and really a positive influence on people’s life.
One of them that I pointed out, and I’m going to repeat now, it is something that the creed of the Rotary, a civic organization. And their creed, if it was actually embraced by people, would radically alter your life, and the–and your effect on the lives of those around you. And it is fundamentally—and I’ll read it:
“Of the things that we think, say or do: [so these three categories, the things that you think, things that you say and the things that you do] you should ask “Is it the truth?…”
–is it the truth what I am saying or what I am going to do, or the things that I’m thinking? Is it the truth?
“Is it fair to all concerned?”
We are seeing this increasing polarization and tribalism in society, propelled by political and social ideologies, where if people don’t agree with you your response is to hate them, your response is to seek to cancel them, to hurt them somehow. And this concept of, “What I am thinking, saying or doing, is it fair to all?” Not some, not those who agree, is it fair to all concerned? Then the next one is:
“Will it build goodwill and better friendships?”
I mean the first one, “goodwill” is like, wow! That means even with your so-called political enemies, is what I’m going to—what I’m thinking, what I’m going to say, and what I’m going to do, will it build goodwill? And of course, if the answer is “No,” then it actually shouldn’t be done, not in that way.
“Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
—not some, not most, but all concerned. So I’ll just read through that again altogether. Please do contemplate and reflect on it, because it serves really as a foundation for spiritual growth. It’s not spiritual in and of itself, but it serves as a wonderful platform for spiritual growth, and one needs to grow spiritually, to actually live this out.
“Of the things that we think, say or do: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
So the public discourse has already strayed very far from these principles, especially on social media. And you may ask, “So what’s this exactly got to do with the topic that I’m speaking about, which is temperance or self-restraint?” Well, because for you to actually apply these principles you will need to exercise self-restraint. This idea of temperance and self-restraint is not just about your appetites and your passions, it has to do with your interactions with others as well, and this principle of temperance or self-restraint is so critically important.
Many people think that temperance, when they hear this word—it’s hardly ever used anymore, it’s kind of like, almost become like an evil word in that it runs counter to all of the messaging that you’re getting from anybody that’s trying to sell anything, a service or a product. Everybody’s encouraging you not to show self-restraint, to just let yourself go and act on urges and desires.
In terms of social philosophies with the—particularly in the arena of dealing with sexual appetites in all of the different ways they can be expressed, the idea of self-restraint, it’s kind of like massively discouraged. It’s like people say that you’re going to hurt others if they show any—you try to get them to show restraint, that people should be able to do and act on whatever they wish, the idea being that this is true freedom—another idea that we’ve heavily criticized; that being able to do whatever you want, to chase any desire that you have, is not freedom. This could be the epitome of enslavement, where you are acting against your own best interest by following urges and desires down pathways that cannot produce peacefulness and happiness for you and for others that you’re connected with.
This idea of temperance is not a religious idea. As I said most people equate it with Christianity, and on that basis, in a secular world today, people want to reject such ideas just because of their association. But the idea of temperance was found and broadly discussed and known and practiced in ancient Greece. And quoting here,
“Temperance is a major Athenian virtue. As advocated by Plato, self-restraint is one of the four core virtues of the ideal city, and echoed by Aristotle.”
You also had, in the era of the Roman emperors pre-Christianity, you have the very famous emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and he argued that,
“Temperance separates humans from animals.”
That’s a stunning idea. Here we have a person that is not allied or connected with any of the commonly known great religions of the world, and he is proposing an idea, and it’s purely from a humanistic point of view, that temperance separates humans from animals, that animals have no capacity for self-restraint, and the thing that dignifies humanity is the capacity to exercise self-restraint in such an appropriate way. It brings about a better life for the individual and for the broader society.
And this is a foundational principle of most Eastern spirituality. You’ll see amongst the Chinese philosophers, you’ll see within Buddhism, within broader Hinduism or the Vedic culture. You will even see—and I’m kind of flashing now I actually saw, read something by Darwin where Darwin proposed that temperance was an uplifting quality, it brought about an improvement in the species, the human species, and if it was practiced over generations, it would become hereditary. He actually proposed that, and he was anti-religion in many ways, not totally, but in many ways.
So my proposal that temperance is really, really important and necessary, I am proposing it from the point of view that it will really help you in your spiritual growth, and it will help you really progress quickly on the path of enlightenment, of self-realization and God realization. It’s an extremely important component. But even if you don’t want to embrace it for that reason, you should see that even atheistic individuals or humanist type individuals all promoted it as something of significant importance. And when we hear that—and this is the way people have thought for thousands of years, and what’s been promoted all over the world independently of each other, these different cultures—when we hear that, and then reflect upon what has become of us now, it’s kind of quite shocking.
And just as a—I mean we belong in this society that—where there’s actually a massive conflict between the “just do it” mentality, the “just do it” consumerism, and this idea of restraint. And repeating something that I’ve mentioned a number of times before, Adam Curtis, the documentarian that did the wonderful documentary The Century of the Self, in speaking about the nature of that documentary he points out a hugely important point, where he said, in speaking of The Century of the Self documentary that it is, and these are his words,
“…the story of the rise of the idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
That is—I don’t know if that shocks you or not. For me it’s absolutely shocking, when we think that this has become the norm, the norm meaning it’s what everybody does. This is the go-to. And it’s not self-generated. It is something that we have learned, and that has been imposed upon us by manipulation. And of course, the consequences to this style of living is so profound.
The American environmental scientist, Gus Speth, famously wrote that,
“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.”
I mean this is like, whoa! Okay, these are the alarm bells. These are the wake-ups. This is the wake-up siren.
When we—something I referenced in another series of talks was that the very famous and world-known Dunedin experiment where they tracked a thousand, just over a thousand people, for—and it’s still ongoing—since they were little children, and collected enormous amounts of data. And one of the things that they said that they have come to learn,
“While self-control has often been related to positive outcomes in life such as higher academic achievements and better health, recent insights reveal that people with high self-control may even experience greater life satisfaction and happiness.”
So we’re not even talking about things from a spiritual perspective here, just purely from a material perspective, how learning and cultivating self-restraint can lead to greatly improved outcomes in your life.
So one of the things that they did was to sort of ask these questions, these five questions, and seek to measure them. One is,
“How happy are you? How wealthy are you? Do you have an addictive personality? Are you in debt? How satisfied are you with your life?
So these five questions they seek to answer. And another commentator, psychologist and scientist has stated:
“There is a single trait that psychologists have studied over the years which can actually predict the answers to all of the five questions, and it isn’t grades in school, or friendliness, or confidence, or emotional stability, or even personality in general. It isn’t intelligence or persistence. Rather, it is restraint—the ability to resist temptation confidently and repeatedly. [So] psychologists call this conscientiousness.”
This is the term that they use to describe these traits.
So temperance, or the idea of delayed gratification, is really a foundation for happier and more peaceful lives, but beyond that it is actually required if we are to successfully walk the path of spiritual enlightenment.
So in closing out I would just like to leave you with a Bhagavad-gita verse that I have used before and is really important. I mean this thing you can note down and put it on your refrigerator or over your work desk and occasionally look at it, contemplate upon it, remind yourself of this reality, because you have an enormous amount of technology and manipulation arrayed against you, trying to convince you otherwise, trying to convince you that this is not true, that your happiness, your fulfillment, your success in life is going to be tied to being able to fulfill every desire that you have. So in the Bhagavad-gita it states,
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—”
So I’ll just pause there for a second. This is key: the incessant flow of desires is probably going to be there as long as you are embodied, but what has been spoken of here is the person who is not disturbed by this, that these desires—well I’ll read it from the beginning again:
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still, that person can alone achieve peace, and not the person who strives to satisfy such desires.”
So these are very profound ideas and thoughts. They’re not just philosophical ideas. They deal with your and my life, our actual life, and the need to hear about these things and to contemplate them, to make it part of your regular, what’s called sadhana, your practice, your spiritual practice, to reflect on yogic wisdom. It is important, it is in fact almost critical, so that we can begin to consciously cultivate the desire to actually seek and achieve genuine peacefulness and spiritual happiness.
Of course, the practice of meditation is essential and key to this, and the regular practice of meditation, the chanting of these spiritual sounds will in fact strengthen one’s ability to exercise self-restraint, to be more mindful, to question, “Should I do this?” rather than “Can I do this?” Lots of things we can do, but we don’t often enough ask the question, “Should I do it?” That is an entirely different thing.
So I invite you to join with me. I will chant the Gopala Govinda Rama mantra, and maybe the Mahamantra. Thank you very much.