Christopher Titmuss

Christopher Titmuss: The Buddha and his Meetings with Spiritual Seekers, Parents and Young People

Christopher Titmuss:
The Buddha and his Meetings with Spiritual Seekers,
Parents and Young People
2: Consumerism and Excessive Information
today obscures direct action

While today, society still generates people committed to the spiritual quest, the magnetic pull of consumerism and intensification for sensual gratification obscures a deep, widespread interest in the issue of what it means to be a human being. We have substituted spiritual explorations with obsessions around money, gadgets, gambling, cars, holidays, sex, drugs, clothes, food, sport and entertainment. If those pre-occupations receded much more into the background of our priorities, it would generate a tremendous space within that would have the potential to open up our world and our life into a fresh and creative vision, rich in insights. The world of pursuit of material goods, access and ownership has a marginal place in the scheme of things.

Adults and children, including members of the same family, were sometimes perceived as joining the Buddha’s Sangha of wandering mendicants as an escape from their responsibilities and an expression of irresponsible behaviour. Some who wanted to join the Sangha were terrorists, murderers, thieves, criminals, army deserters, unemployed, dying from diseases or living with crippling debts. Was it an escape or the deep yearning for the spiritual life and community living?

In the early years of the Sangha, the Buddha and his friends had to make clear decisions about who was ready for the trial period of four months for novice ordination or full ordination. They had to be clear that seekers showed true commitment to an austere and spiritual way of life of trust, including mindful living to know a free way of life. The Buddha turned away those who he perceived were running away from society rather than committed to deep exploration amidst a homeless way of life.

The Buddha adopted a very pragmatic approach in terms of practical steps to resolve issues. He sometimes initiated the conversation with a visitor or wait to be asked. He was fond of asking yogis, Brahmin students, people of faith, disciples of gurus what their teacher taught them. If he dismissed the questionable views of another teacher, the student or disciple sitting of the Buddha often felt dismayed. The Buddha offered straightforward and clear advice to questioners about what to see clearly and what to develop. The eye of wisdom sometimes opened for questioners upon hearing the Buddha’s response. He changed people’s lives by getting straight to the point with little or no waffle. News of the Buddha’s wisdom, the noble realisations of his Sangha and the arising of equally profound insights for the questioners spread far and wide. People walked or rode long distances to listen to him.

In contemporary society, serious communication through the media relies upon the presentation of a so-called balanced view with accurate information for the reader though any social/political bias usually becomes clear to the reader or viewer. The presentation of an issue requires showing two sides or more of the perceptions of the situation. Commentators will write articles expressing their views about the event that generally reflect the vested interests of the owners and values of their publication or radio/TV channel. A truly free press would also include at the end of major news stories and articles the steps that readers could take to reduce or resolve suffering within and without. Wise and compassionate action would then serve as the primary purpose of the media, instead of reports and commentaries. The media serves as a child of yesterday’s news rather than a voice of action for today and tomorrow. Citizens have much to offer in the way of service but they do not know who to contact.

The Buddha adopted a radical different approach. He listened to the truth of a situation and then stated the necessary steps to resolve the suffering in the situation. He was not interested to present various interpretations but addressed the way to the solution. Endless analysis in the media in the name of free speech inhibits direct action. In the same way, we can endlessly analyse a personal issue but not take immediate steps to change. For example, the Buddha stated his teachings focussed on the resolution of suffering so he would not support inflicting more hardship on the poor by making them pay for financial mismanagement of the rich and powerful.

In reading through the accounts of many conversations, the reader will probably be struck with the depth of public concern and levels of enquiry into spiritual and secular matters in this era of India. It is clear from the questions around family life, whether asked by children, teenagers or their parents that parents today share many similar concerns.

Parents today will often find themselves struggling to answer deep questions from their children about life and death. Many parents report such questions from their kids not only on important occasions, such as a birth or death in the family, but other times as well. Children have a natural curiosity of about life, the world and our place in the vast scheme of things. In the passage of time, their deep questions about life easily fade away when parents, family members, neighbours and school teachers fail to respond to the deep questions and observations from children. When adults ignore these questions, it leads to children dampening down their impulses to understand life. A child will probably quickly realise if an adult or an older sibling has the capacity to respond to their concerns about life or ignores them or dismisses the comments as unanswerable.

 [ to be continued ]

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