Consumption Is Not True Happiness. Do You Buy That?Burmese Nun with Kitten

Consumption Is Not True Happiness. Do You Buy That?

Discussion date: Thu, May 12, 2016 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

In his commentary on the Fifth Mindfulness Training, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Consumption is not true happiness.”  There is a lot packed in those five words. Consumption, in general, means to ingest or use up something. It could be food, drink, drugs, clothing, material products, media, services, experiences, as well as certain feelings and mind states. More or less everything that the advertising industry and popular culture want us to want.

The Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other spiritual teachers tell us, however, that it is all a sham. While the objects of our desires provide some pleasant moments, they cannot provide a sustaining happiness. The pleasant moments wear off, and we feel empty and want something else. Or what we have received stays around for a while, and we worry what will happen when it goes away.

So what does offer us “true happiness?” In the same commentary (The Mindfulness Survival Kit), Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

Happiness is not something that we have to look for and find somewhere else. Returning to the present moment, we are in touch with the wonders of life inside and around us. With the help of our mindful breathing and mindful steps, we can produce happiness straightaway. When we have mindfulness, concentration, and insight we become very rich people who are able to produce much happiness for ourselves and others; we don’t need to run after anything anymore.

The crunch is that while most of us who practice mindfulness are in accord with the notion that “Consumption is not true happiness,” when moments of impulsive attraction arise it is easy to give in, whether it’s a fourth cookie, a distraction on the computer, or giving oneself over to a fantasy of how one’s life could be better. (As Lord Darlington says in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, “I can resist everything except temptation.”)

While reflecting on the gap that often exists between what we know and what we do, a teaching from Tai-Chi came to mind. A push or strike done just with the hands has little power. The great and subtle power of Tai-Chi arises when the body is organically connected so that a push or strike begins with a rooted connection to the earth, moves through the legs, hips, pelvis, and shoulders, and then ends with transmission of the accumulated force through the hands.

So it also seems to be in life: our greatest power arises when our stability, deepest aspirations,  beliefs, and actions are unified.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our Dharma Sharing on the Fifth training. We’ll begin our discussion with three questions:

Do you buy what Thich Nhat Hanh has to say about happiness? (Pun intended.)
In what ways has that understanding helped you in life?
When is it a challenge to live up to?

You are invited to join us.

Sharing From Our Hearts, an opportunity to participate in a Companions for the Journey Spiritual Support Group (in person or online) begins with initial training sessions (by telephone) on Sunday, May 22, 3:00 – 4:30 pm, and/or Tuesday, May 24, at 8:00 – 9:30 pm. More information about the groups and the facilitation is available on our web site.

Below are the text of the Fifth Mindfulness training, an interview segment with Thich Nhat Hanh about consumption, and a poem by Holly Hughes.

Peace and joy to you,

Mitchell Ratner


The Fifth Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.


Thich Nhat Hanh on Mindful Consumption,
From an Interview with Bob Abernethy of the Religion and Ethics Newsletter

Q: Is it possible for you to sum up the essence of the true values of Buddhism?
A: Buddhism teaches us not to try to run away from suffering. You have to confront suffering. You have to look deeply into the nature of suffering in order to recognize its cause, the making of the suffering. Suffering is the First Noble Truth, and the making of the suffering — namely, the roots of suffering — is the Second Noble Truth. Once you understand the roots of suffering, the Fourth Noble Truth — the path leading to the transformation of suffering — is revealed. And if you go on that path — namely, the path of right thinking, right speech, and right action — then you can transform your suffering.

If you practice in a community, you help the community to transform suffering. And if you practice as a nation, you help the whole nation to transform suffering.

The Buddha spoke about suffering in terms of food. Nothing can survive without food, even your love. If you don’t feed your love properly, your love will die. Your suffering is there because you have been feeding it. If violence, hate, despair, and fear are there, it is because you have been feeding them by your unmindful consumption. Therefore, if you know how to recognize the source of the nutrients of your suffering, and if you know how to cut off that source of nutrition, then the suffering will have to vanish.

This is a very important teaching for our time, because the amount of violence and craving in us and in our children comes from our practice of unmindful consumption — watching television, reading magazines, having poisonous conversation. We bring a lot of poisons and toxins into our body and into our consciousness. If you don’t stop producing these toxic items, and if we don’t know how to protect ourselves by mindful consumption of these items, there’s no way out.

Q: For everybody and particularly for Americans you would recommend what? Less consumption? Less television?
A: Not less, but right consumption. There are very wonderful television programs that can water the seed of understanding, compassion, joy, and happiness in us. We don’t have to consume them less, but we have to refrain from consuming the kind of television programs that can mean to our body and mind a lot of craving, a lot of violence, and despair. It’s not a problem of less or more, but right or wrong — right consumption, mindful consumption.


Mind Wanting More
by Holly Hughes

Only a beige slat of sun
above the horizon, like a shade pulled
not quite down.  Otherwise,
clouds.  Sea rippled here and
there.  Birds reluctant to fly.
The mind wants a shaft of sun to
stir the grey porridge of clouds,
an osprey to stitch sea to sky
with its barred wings, some dramatic
music: a symphony, perhaps
a Chinese gong.

But the mind always
wants more than it has —
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour
to get the words right; one
more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses — as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, May 12, 2016


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