Consuming With Awareness

Consuming With Awareness

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 17, 2008 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will continue our study and reflections on Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism.

Early in the third chapter Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) offers the intriguing thought: “Consuming with awareness is essential to ending terrorism.”

The sort of consumption Thay is focused on here is not simply material objects and resources, such as t-shirts or oil, but the nutriments that are essential to our functioning and developing as human beings:

  • the food we eat
  • sensory impressions
  • volition (our deepest desire)
  • the contents of our consciousness

Each of us, each day, make thousands of choices regarding what we consume, and each of those choices has consequences for ourselves and others.

The food we eat influences our health and capacity to be present. The food choices we make affect others and the environment in intricate ways, influencing, for example, the working conditions of farm laborers, the use of fossil fuels, and the health of soils, water, and the atmosphere.

Like edible foods, sense impressions—that which we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and consciously or unconsciously become aware ofcan heal and strengthen us, or can subtly weaken and confuse us. Most of us are aware of how different environments affect us — an afternoon in the woods is different from an afternoon at the mall. Often we are less aware of how small daily choices affect us. Thay writes:

There are certain kinds of books and articles that make us feel very happy and light after we have read them. Certain music or talks may be the same; as we listen, we feel inspired and happy. . . . A simple conversation with another person can lead you to utter despair or it can give you hope and confidence.

Often, we don’t think of our deep desires—the wants and needs that energize us—as being malleable or changeable, but according to the tradition of mindfulness, they are. We need to be aware of them, to nourish the ones we most want to attain.

Do you want to live as a free person without worries or craving? The desire to be a free person is very worthwhile. To be free means you are no longer the victim of fear, anger, craving, or suspicion. Do you want this? Maybe you want it but you do not want it enough. You have other desires that get in the way, such as wanting a bigger house or a better car or tastier food. . . . . If you want to realize your deep desire, you have to really want it.

The content of our consciousness refers to the orientations, attitudes, and cognitive processes present in our minds. According to Buddhist psychology, when we dwell in mind states such as hatred, prejudice, or craving, or alternatively, love, generosity, or happiness, we absorb the energy of those mind states into our unconscious mind.

If we allow anger to come up into our mind consciousness and stay for a whole hour, for that whole hour we are eating anger. The more we eat anger, the more the seed of anger grows. If the seed of loving-kindness arises in your mind consciousness, and you can keep it there for a whole hour, then during that time you are consuming a whole hour of loving kindness.

Thay concludes the chapter with these challenges:

The Buddha said, “Nothing can survive without food.” This is a very simple and very deep truth. Love and hate are both living things. if you do not nourish your love, it will die. If you cut the source of nutriment for your violence, your violence will die. If you want your love to last, you have to give it food every day. Love cannot live without food. if you neglect your love, after a while it will die and hatred may take its place. Do you know how to nourish your love? . . .

The way out of our suffering is mindfulness of consumption, not only for ourselves but for the whole world. If we know how to water the seeds of wisdom and compassion in us, these seeds become powerful sources of energy helping us to forgive those have hurt us. This will bring relief to our nation and to our world. The American people are capable of realizing this kind of wisdom and compassion.

When you read the teaching on the relationship between consumption and terrorism, what arises in you? Are you inspired? Confused? Ambivalent? Do you agree with Thay that “Consuming with awareness is essential to ending terrorism"?

You are invited to share your reflections with us this Thursday evening at Crossings, and on Sunday evening, April 27th, at our Columbia gathering. (Copies of Calming the Fearful Mind are available for purchase at both Crossings and Columbia.)

The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:25), and just after our walking meditation (around 7:35).

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 17, 2008


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Columbia Sunday Evening Practice

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Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Friends in Different Places

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Silver Spring Morning Meditation

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Takoma Park Morning Meditation

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