There is so much pressure during the holidays to buy gifts for loved ones. While we may be motivated by a spirit of generosity, it is easy to lose ourselves in the energy of consumption, which can water seeds of craving, anger, and anxiety.
To offer encouragement, inspiration, and tools for navigating this season, and help build a “culture of resistance,” Deer Park Monastery held an alternative to “Black Friday” on Friday, November 25, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. The online event, “Make Black Friday Brown,” drew more than 500 participants from around the world.
The “brown” of “Make Friday Brown” references the color of the robes worn by monastics in the international Plum Village community. In Vietnam, brown is the color of the clothing worn by the peasants and country side folks, to represent a life of moderation and simplicity.
The two-hour program featured music, sharings by monastics on their experience leaving behind most of their worldly possessions, and testimonials by participants about their challenges and practices this season.
Brother Phap Dung said many of us grow up with this culture of consumption. Especially around the holiday season, there is a wrong perception that gifts are an expression of our love for our family and friends: the more gifts we give, and the more expensive they are, the greater our love for them must be.
“We have to lower our expectations around gift-giving and have the courage to resist the expectations of our loved ones and our friends,” he said.
“The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption,” Thay writes in his book The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology. “We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.”
Some of the monastics shared what was most challenging, and liberating, to let go of when they took vows to become monks and nuns. For some, it was difficult to part with certain material belongings, including electronics. For others, it was leaving behind relationships and letting go of wrong perceptions.
Brother Nyanayasha, whose family is Chinese but who grew up in Indonesia, said he was afraid his parents would be disappointed when he told them he wished to enter monastic life, assuming they wanted him to become a successful professional and to raise a family. He didn’t want to disappoint them, which is part of the reason he said it took him 15 years to finally decide to take the robes.
To his surprise, when he asked his parents for permission to ordain as a novice monk, his mother told him, “If that’s what makes you happy. I immediately burst into tears. Her love was so profound that she was willing to let me go, even if it wasn’t her idea of my happiness.”
“I always thought it was my parents preventing me from ordaining–that they couldn’t let me go, that they were too attached to me,” he added. “But I realized it was me who was attached to this idea that my parents wouldn’t let me go.”
Sister Chùa Xưa, a nun at Deer Park, said that when she was ordained, she gave her cell phone to her father, her laptop to her brother, and her dresses to her friends. Today, she saves up her allowance so she can give it away to support people struggling with hunger.
Sister Luc Nghiem, joining the event from Plum Village Monastery in France, said that some monastics save up a small allowance they get each month to buy something “big,” which in her case included a guitar. But she said she’s always happy to share the instrument with others, and if it breaks, it breaks.
“That’s the beauty of community living,” she said. “It’s to learn to share things. It’s mine, but it’s also yours. It’s a nice feeling of lightness and freedom.”