Bringing vipassana, mindfulness meditation and dharma to Bangkok, in a monthly discussion format:
Saturday 19th January 2-4 pm
Eschewing the usual Dhamma Talk format, sometimes we like to meet for a more open discussion of the principles of Buddhism and meditation as they relate to ‘real’ life – how we deal as humans with the various issues of daily life. Topics can be anything, so feel free to suggest a topic yourself. We meet for coffee, chat and gentle philosophising on what it means to bring the lofty ideas of Buddhism into practical living.
You don’t have to be an expert in anything except staying alive – so feel free to come along and join in. Try to do the ‘homework’ (below) first though, so we have a launch point for discussion.
Topic this month: The Tyranny of Choice
Open discussion on the topic of ‘choice’, and by extension materialism in general.
Do we need so many products? When the supermarket stocks 50 kinds of honey, when you need a month to work out what mortgage or retirement package to choose, when you just pick something because you have no idea which one of many is the best choice ….
To get you started on the idea, here’s a short TED piece by Barry Schwartz:
His idea, taken from his interesting book ‘The Paradox of Choice’, is that the more you have to choose from, the less happy you are with your choice – you are always wondering if there was a better choice to be made. He identifies three kinds of people –
- Perfectionists, for whom nothing will ever be perfect or really satisfying
- Maximisers, who continually look for the best possible option, with the expectation of getting it
- Satisficers [sic] who make an easy choice, that objectively might not be the best, but who are usually happier on a subjective level.
Maximisers, he found, score low on happiness tests. Finding the best option does not always leave you ‘happier off’.
The Buddha’s own take on materialism is what you would expect from a forest renunciate: an invitation to renunciation and continual encouragement to be ‘content with little’. Following is an example
“A householder or householder’s son, hearing the Dhamma, gains conviction in the Tathagata and reflects: ‘Household life is confining, a dusty path. Life gone forth is the open air. It isn’t easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into homelessness?’
“So after some time he abandons his mass of wealth, large or small; leaves his circle of relatives, large or small; shaves off his hair and beard, puts on the ochre robes, and goes forth from the household life into homelessness.
“When he has thus gone forth, endowed with the monks’ training & livelihood, then — abandoning the taking of life — he abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.
“Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given. He takes only what is given, accepts only what is given, lives not by stealth but by means of a self that has become pure. This, too, is part of his virtue.
“Abandoning uncelibacy, he lives a celibate life, aloof, refraining from the sexual act that is the villager’s way.
“Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.
“Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord.
“Abandoning abusive speech, he abstains from abusive speech. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large.
“Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter. He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, and the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal.
“He abstains from damaging seed and plant life.
“He eats only once a day, refraining from the evening meal and from food at the wrong time of day.
“He abstains from dancing, singing, instrumental music, and from watching shows.
“He abstains from wearing garlands and from beautifying himself with scents and cosmetics.
“He abstains from high and luxurious beds and seats.
“He abstains from accepting gold and silver.
“He abstains from accepting uncooked grain… raw meat… women and girls… male and female slaves… goats and sheep… fowl and pigs… elephants, cattle, steeds, and mares… fields and property.
“He abstains from running messages… from buying and selling… from dealing with false scales, false metals, and false measures… from bribery, deception, and fraud.
“He abstains from mutilating, executing, imprisoning, highway robbery, plunder, and violence.
“He is content with a set of robes to provide for his body and alms food to provide for his hunger. Just as a bird, wherever it goes, flies with its wings as its only burden; so too is he content with a set of robes to provide for his body and alms food to provide for his hunger. Wherever he goes, he takes only his barest necessities along.
“Endowed with this noble aggregate of virtue, he is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless.
“On seeing a form with the eye, he does not grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. On hearing a sound with the ear… On smelling an odor with the nose… On tasting a flavor with the tongue… On touching a tactile sensation with the body… On cognizing an idea with the intellect, he does not grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the intellect — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. Endowed with this noble restraint over the sense faculties, he is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless.
Are these values compatible with living in the modern world? Should the monks and nuns be living in the forest in this way? What about for lay people? Can you own a smart phone and be a Buddhist? At what point does the convenience of modern living become a ‘Tyranny of Choice’?
Meet at India Chaat restaurant
Please come early (12 ish) if you are going to eat – India Chaat has a pretty good menu, at reasonable prices. During the meeting 2-4 pm we won’t be eating as the arrival of food and drinks, and the ordering of more inevitably interrupts the flow of discussion. So please arrive before time to get your food and drink.
Go to Asoke BTS or MRT, and walk to Sukhumvit soi 23 where you can take a motorcycle, or a 10 minute walk.