Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Not Buying It

"Not Buying It" is an article from NY Times House & Home section of June 21 reported by Steven Kurutz. It’s about a new movement which has cropped up during the last decade in New York, and perhaps a few other cities, which rejects the consumeristic life style of buying the things we normally need and want. These folks merely live off the fat of the land; that is, off what other people or supermarkets or companies throw out.

The Hubbards (Harland & Anna) lived in that mood, residing on their small piece of land, known as Payne Hollow, away from the maddening crowd, on the banks of the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky by the Indiana border. In 1951, in their early 50’s, they built a home made from local stones and wood, and whatever they could scavenge. Harland said the river often supplied them with what they needed. They lived by a bend in the river and all sorts of boxes and things would naturally wash ashore at that point. The Hubbards passed away in their late 80's. One commentator wrote, “They lived the life that Thoreau wrote about but only lived for a short time.”

In the Vedic literatures we have the more sever example of renunciation in the “python” sadhus - monks laying on the ground in the forest, simply living off of whatever fruits and leaves fell around them. And it was said, some of them were rather chubby. We even hear about sadhus, up to the present day, residing in caves by the Himalayan mountains, wearing little or nothing, and nourishing themselves mainly on water and sun light, and living to be hundreds of years old.

The “sadhus” of NYC eat food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets or bakeries, wear thrown away clothes, read literature and listen to CD’s retrieved from the trash, furnish their “caves” with items found on the street. The article says that “ some hold themselves to rigorous standards.” They are committed to not buying anything, or at least very little. These good souls are certainly focused and determined in their life style. They call themselves freegans and their philosophy is freeganism (a few web sites are devoted to the cause); surely a play on Reagan and Reaganism, which was the guiding beacon for the rising greed of the 80’s. That greed has since grown into a relentless force (a force more insidious than terrorism itself) with disastrous effects that are becoming more visible all over our social, political, and environmental landscapes. The freegans try to be the total opposite. Their commitment to their cause is a source of inspiration and at the same time puts me to shame. I need to have that type of commitment in my Krishna Consciousness, and that type of vision that our actions can and will change the world.

Of course, the advantage of practicing freeganism in NYC is the quantity and quality of the trash (in NYC the average is 6.1 pounds per person per day compared to 4.5 pounds nationwide – totaling 245 million tons a year for the country). And there are tricks of the trade (i.e. freegans check out college areas like NYU and Columbia at the end of the school year as students depart). They feel that their lifestyle will reduce the impact on the environment. They also believe in making a statement of noncompliance, since “the production and transport of every product contributes to economic and social injustice.” Most freegans are young, with a few middle aged folks who actually left comfortable jobs in the corporate world. Some freegans admit they still work, but they all must have some source of income because the caves in New York are not cheap.

I wonder how many freegans a place like New York can comfortably support. Right now there’s a mood of cooperation and camaraderie; people helping lift things out of the dumpster for each other, having feasts of free food together, even freely giving away things to one another. But what happens if they are successful and their numbers grow to a 1000 or 10,000? Will they form tribes and mark out zones for themselves in an effort to protect areas which include choice dumpsters and streets where the wealthy live? Such are the pitfalls of idealism.

“Attraction and repulsion for sense objects are felt by the embodied beings, but one should not fall under the control of the senses and sense objects because they are stumbling blocks on the path of self realization.” Gita 3:34

“There are three gates leading to hell – lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give them up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.” Gita 16:21