Scarcity And Consumption
As a Buddhist monk of the Thai Forest lineage I am sometimes amused by the
strange ideas people have about the monk's lifestyle. One common
misconception is that it represents an escape from "real life." It may put
things into perspective if I tell you how I spent my afternoons this week.
First, I had to fix our well. This involved breaking a hole in the cement
lid with power tools to get at the pump housing. When that job was done, I
spent some time working on the cabin wiring and building a frame for another
Part of the practise for a forest monk is living in remote places, away from
towns and villages. This means getting by without urban amenities like
water, power and sewage. For anyone living out here, having any of those
things means taking responsibility for them oneself. If I want water, I have
to walk to the well, pump it and carry the buckets back to the cabin. And of
course, I have to keep the equipment in repair. Likewise for power. There
are no hydro lines here, so if we want electricity we have to make our own.
For us, that means solar panels supplemented by a gasoline generator.
The larger society is now beginning to come up against problems of scarcity
in both water and power. In Canada, nature has blessed us with an abundance
of fresh water, and that tends to make us complacent. (Anyone remember the
cod fishery?) The Walkerton disaster demonstrates just how vulnerable we
are. Electricity, and energy in general, is becoming a scarce commodity. In
California, they are already facing an absolute shortfall. This has become a
hot political issue in the United States, with President Bush in favour of
increasing capacity, regardless of the environmental cost.
Approaching the problem from the other side, making do with less, is one
that is in accord with Buddhist teachings. Buddhists value peace of mind
very highly and one of the keys to that state is contentment. Being
satisfied with what you have, rather than striving to get more is an
attitude that is easier on the nerves, as well as the planet.
It is unfortunate that conservation has become a politicized value, instead
of being seen as just common sense. If we use less, there will be more to go
around, and it will last longer. I am convinced that a lot of waste happens
because people are physicallly and cognitively disconnected from the supply.
One of the things visitors to the monastery learn quite quickly is how to
conserve water. When you have to carry each bucket a hundred yards, you tend
to make it last! Electricity is a little more complicated, but when you have
a limited system, you need to know how much power each machine is using. How
many city dwellers have any idea how much power their various appliances are
Instead of being an escape from reality, this kind of situation forces a
person to come to terms with reality in a very immediate way. This is part
of the Buddhist teachings which are all about being fully present and
engaged. Becoming conscious of a situation is the first step in dealing with
it. It is probably not desirable, and it is certainly not possible, that
everyone should "get off the grid." But everyone can and should inform
themselves about their own useage of scarce planetary resources, as a first
step toward coming to a sustainable balance. Do you know how much power you
have used today? How much water?
original url - http://www.arrowriver.ca/dhamma/scarce.html