Recently, I saw an advertisement for the most beautiful scarf. While I was admiring the scarf, I felt craving. I wanted the scarf. But then the words beneath the scarf attracted my attention and I read that the scarf company donates ten percent of its sales to Open Hand Designs in India, which employs individuals who might not otherwise find employment due to caste, disability, religion or disease. I could buy one of the scarves online at prana.com. Of course, I was still craving after I read the advertisement but now, I was, at the very least, consciously craving. I wanted to buy the scarf but I also wanted to help people who would otherwise be denied opportunities due to discrimination.
Though I have a spiritual practice, I doubt that enlightenment will find me in this lifetime (unless a very charitable bodhisattva decides to provide the rowboat and pushes me directly to the shores of nibbāna). As a householder, the daily chores and responsibilities of life take up a tremendous amount of my time and while my spiritual practice accompanies me throughout my day, it hardly is given the attention that even a low-level lama devotes to practice. So, craving is very much a part of my life. I mostly crave for things to go without too many hitches: like the car starting without a disconcerting rumble or the repairman arriving within the allotted window for the scheduled repair. My craving is mostly of a very mundane kind. Even when I am craving for material things, they are rarely of a luxurious nature. A scarf, after all, is not a convertible Ferrari. It is not so much the dolce vita that I crave but the hassle-free vita.
And so, perhaps since it is unlikely that I will extinguish craving, I can at the very least strive for conscious craving. Conscious craving even has a soundtrack, if K.D. Lang allows a slight modification of her lovely song. By conscious craving, I think of Mohandas K. Gandhi and his admonition to purchase from those who do not profit from your suffering or from the suffering of others. And though we may shed tears as Indira Gandhi did when she burned her British-made doll to protest British imperialism in India, we also gain a certainty that our purchases are based in an awareness of the world we want to live in and the world our purchases can help to create.
For children, awareness of conscious craving can be a vehicle for instilling an awareness of conscious consumption. As any parent in any supermarket knows, children want what they want when they want it. But if we can begin to educate children about the consequences of their choices, we can begin to encourage them to think beyond the immediate moment of wanting to the implications of wanting. The questions I think we want to ask our children is: how will your life improve by buying this product, how was this product made, how will the profits from the sale of this product be used, and what is the impact of this purchase on the environment. And while these questions are rather heady for any consumer to ponder, they are important questions to ask.
As for me, I would have thought that I would have learned the value of conscious craving years ago. As a small child, I had saved my very slowly earned pennies to purchase something glorious from a comic magazine. On the last page, where the advertisements were, I saw the most amazing thing: a seven-foot-tall, three dimensional Frankenstein. I saved and saved for weeks for the monster. Finally, I placed my long saved money in an envelope and mailed it to the manufacturer. When a package arrived a month later, a package the size of a large envelope, I had the sense that I had been hoodwinked. When I opened it and saw five sheets of plastic with various parts of the Frankenstein painted on it, I knew I had been hoodwinked. But knowing the value of a penny, I, nonetheless, taped my seven-foot poster of a Frankenstein to the wall. It looked pathetic, even to a small child. Dejected I left the room. But that evening, when I lay down to sleep, the Frankenstein did indeed glow in the dark and looked very three-dimensional as if the monster was walking to me with outstretched arms. I screamed. And within minutes of the scream, my parents quickly tore down the poster and put it in the trash. So, somewhere in some landfill in America, is my Frankenstein.
But the scarf – that I will wear and I will wear it for many years and it will benefit workers in India who would otherwise face discrimination. And therein is the difference. We will continue to crave but at least, our cravings can be used to make the world a better place.
And as for Parabola, whether magazine, archives, or store, cravings for Parabola definitely make the world a better place.
So, if we cannot extinguish craving, we can most certainly experience it as consciously as possible.
And you? What can you share about craving?