Tuesday, January 4, 2011


  According to Hindu cosmology, we are now living in the last age of the current creation cycle, known as Kali Yug, or the Age of Kali.  This current age is, in Hindu thinking, characterized by the progressive loss of the foundations of morality, wisdom and dharma.  I have noticed lately that one thing that has been lost in our contemporary American culture in this age of Kali is the concept of “enough.”
            In a society governed by a capitalist and consumerist mindset, the idea of “enough” is not only out of place, it is anathema.  For the capitalist enterprise, constant growth is an imperative.  A corporation whose balance sheet is not showing a steady increase is viewed skeptically, no matter how profitable it may be.  A company that is not continually growing will eventually be consumed by one that is, whether through competitive means or by outright acquisition.  In a capitalist economy, to speak the word “enough” is tantamount to pronouncing one’s own death sentence. 
            Likewise, there can never be “enough” for the modern consumer.  One may own a house, a car, a television, a hot tub, and a million other things, but they are never “enough.”  The consumer desires (and is ceaselessly told to desire) a bigger house, a newer car, a better television.  There is always the re-model, the up-grade, the next best thing, always just slightly out of reach.  As the goal of capitalist enterprise is to produce ever-greater quantities of wealth, the goal of the consumer is to acquire ever-more and ever-better products.  For the capitalist, to say “enough” means economic death, for the consumer it means social death: stigmatization.  One must have nice things, and many of them, but they are never “enough.”
            It is unsurprising, perhaps, that this should be the case in the economic sphere, and it has, perhaps, always been thus: people and organizations seeking ever more and more, never saying, “enough.”  But in this age of Kali, “enough” has been lost from religion as well, all but forsaken by spirituality of all kinds.  In this age of Kali one may become a great spiritual teacher and need never say, “enough”…but it has not always been thus.
            In Practice in Christianity, Soren Kierkegaard says that everyone desires to come to Christ in his loftiness, but none desire him in his lowliness, and surely the same may be said for the Buddha, for Rumi, for the saintly tzaddiks of Jewish Hasidism.  We desire to identify ourselves with them in their loftiness, seated on a lotus, resplendent, but we forget that each one said, “enough.”  We prefer our monks to come in fine robes with leather sandals and gold watches, perhaps carrying a briefcase; we forget that Siddhartha Guatama’s garment was sewn from rags, that he carried a begging bowl and rejected worldly wealth, we forget that he said, “enough.”  We love the pretty language, the profound insights and dizzying metaphysics, but when we come to the word “enough” we pale, the mind goes defensively blank and…we move on.  “Enough” is a difficult teaching, even in the best of times and for the best of minds, for “enough” is never what you think it is, never what you’re hoping for, but always infinitely less and yet, somehow, infinitely more.
            When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to spread the new teaching, the good news (i.e. God loves everyone and so should you), he instructed them to “…take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts…” (Mark 6:8).  He sent his disciples out into the world with nothing…and it was enough.  In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that, “pious men eat what the gods leave over, after the offering…the unrighteous cook good food for the greed of their stomachs.” (BG ch. 3, sl. 12)  You just take what is freely given…and it is enough.  Like Rabbi Pinhas, who would not keep the financial offerings of his disciples, but promptly distributed them to the poor; “I only desire what I already possess,” he remarked.  And another time, “Ever since I began giving true service to my Maker, I have not tried to get anything, but only taken what God gave me.”  He looked upon all that he had, all that he had been given…and it was enough.
            But for us, it is never enough.  We have become like the rakshasas of Hindu myth, the demons who, having obtained boons from the gods, proceed to conquer the three worlds and attempt to overthrow the very gods who gave them their power in the first place.  “More…more,” is ever our mantra, never “enough.”  But endless growth and ever-increasing consumption is the modus operandi of cancer, and we are humans.  Thus, our highest wisdom ever recalls us to our human-ness; reminds us through demonstration that we already have enough, if we could but see rightly.  But in the Age of Kali, “enough” is left out of the discourse.  The begging bowl has become a prop, if it is present at all, and not a way of life, not a call to radical action.
            David Hume and others have pointed out that wealth creates poverty, that those resources that go to satisfy the whims of the rich could easily provide bread for the many.  The masses are deprived of life so that the few may placate their boredom.  This is the way of things in a culture, in a world, that has forgotten how to say, “enough.”  Who in this, the richest of all countries, or anywhere else, will look at themselves, at their own life and ask about “enough?”  That way lies social and economic suicide, says the wisdom of the crowd, best to leave it be.  Yes, “enough” is a hard teaching, even in the best of times, even for the best of minds.

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