Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Buddhism, art, and 'stuff'

I've read bits of Stephani Kaza's wonderful book (I bought a copy for my mother) Hooked!: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume and recall one good story about a Buddhist practitioner who 'religiously' only has something like 600 objects in his (or her) home; when he buys something new, he must give away one of those items. Apparently it brought enormous mindfulness to his life in our consumer culture. "Brilliant," I thought, and then bought an extra copy of the book for myself.

Then yesterday I came across this in the Boston Globe: "Toothpaste, light switches, remotes: Artist finds room in her life for her stuff." This story of painter Gail Martin perfectly captures the struggles of contemporary consumerist/Buddhist life (at least for those sheltered far, far away from places like Burma and Iraq).

"I study Buddhism and I practice meditation, and one of the teachings is always that desire leads to suffering," Martin said recently. "My house is full, I can't fit anything more in my house, I have everything I need, but that urge to acquire new things never abates. The next shiny bauble I see, I want."
Her solution? Paint it - all of it, or at least a bit every day for 365 days. And the result?
Is that a Buddha with a laptop!?

"It was interesting, when I finished the project there was definitely a bit of disenchantment with possessions and a bit of an abatement of the urge to acquire more things," she said, adding with a laugh, "Of course, another teaching of Buddhism is that desire is never-ending. . . . It's pretty much back now."

"Somebody saw this work in preview at my open studio last spring and said, 'Oh, it's about stuff, huh? Well now you have 365 more things!' And it's like, oh, darn, I hadn't thought of that. I think part of the detachment thing is, it's like a virtual yard sale. I get to let go of the things without actually having to let go of the actual object. There's a lot of ironies in it."
Oh, the woes of samsara. At least we can make it pretty.


Saint27 said...

Hey Justin,

Love your websites. I am glad I finely got a chance to check them out. Good luck in London. Looks like you are alrady having a pretty good time. We will have to get together sometime when you get in Montana.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Heya Chris - yep for sure. It would be great to get together next time I'm around (speaking of which, our 10th aniversary is next summer so maybe then but I'm not sure where I'll be then) - best wishes, j