Here are some excerpts from an essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi called “Walking Even Amidst the Uneven”
If the task of practicing the Dhamma while living in the world has always been difficult, our modern commercial culture has increased that difficulty acutely. No longer is it the case that the desires to be tamed by Dhamma practice are the simple, relatively innocent urges implanted in us by nature or stimulated by a basic subsistence economy. Like unsuspecting fish caught in a net, we move within the coils of a global social and economic order predicated on the premise that the essential human activity is the production and consumption of commodities…
When we reflect on this situation in the light of the Buddha’s Teaching, the reason for the perpetual failure of consumerism stands forth in clear relief. The reason, as the Buddha tells us so succinctly, is that craving is the cause of suffering…
In his advice to the village headman Rasiya (SN 42:12) the Buddha describes three praiseworthy qualities in a householder who enjoys sense pleasures: he acquires wealth righteously; he makes himself happy and comfortable with the wealth thus earned; and he shares his wealth and does meritorious deeds. The practice of meritorious deeds introduces a spiritual dimension to the proper employment of wealth, a dimension based on the recognition that greater happiness comes from giving than from gaining. To give is not only a way to reduce our greed and attachment, not only a way to acquire merit productive of future benefits, but a directly visible source of joy which provides immediate confirmation of the central pillar on which the entire Dhamma rests: that the path to happiness is one of relinquishment rather than one of accumulation.
Here we are, stuck in the net Bhikkhu Bodhi describes, trapped by a culture that wants and needs for us to believe that getting stuff (or status) is all that matters. But if you’re reading this, you have at least some understanding that this is an empty goal.
We can take comfort in living a balanced life: making a living, enjoying the fruits of our earnings, and (the most important element) sharing what we have.
Within all the activity, wisdom is rooted in this understanding:
craving is the cause of suffering.
This is not an abstract concept; it is a truth we can examine within our own experience and the experience of others, pretty much anytime. When we want to get somewhere, every red traffic light is an affront, every green one a victory. If we want someone’s attention and don’t get it, we’re unhappy; if we get it we’re happy (temporarily). When we notice our grasping, can we see the suffering it creates and release our grip? This is a profound type of relinquishment (or letting go, or generosity).
All our wanting and not-wanting creates all our suffering. As we diminish our craving by letting go, our suffering decreases and the peace and contentment in our hearts increases. So simple to understand, so tricky and challenging to practice.