Most people believe that material things are important, that happiness lies in material things. In fact, the more material things you get, the more dissatisfied you are; and the more dissatisfied you are, the more material things you want to get! Buddha has given a very powerful simile to describe this condition. He compared it to a dog with a bone. So the dog won’t let go of the bone and is just holding on to it, and is still hungry and still dissatisfied, and still suffers from fear of losing that bone.
Related to this serious problem of materialism is another aspect, another manifestation of this, called consumerism. It’s a real challenge for people to live in consumer societies and yet not be affected by the consumerism around them. Consumerism has many aspects, but I see two dangerous aspects in consumerism. One is that people are not clear about what they actually need and what is just their greed. According to the Dhamma we need certain things: food, clothing, shelter, and medicine – they are called the four requisites. The four necessary things are things that human beings really need. So there’s a place for material things, but then when they become our goals and when we are confused between greed and need, this is where they can lead to dissatisfaction and suffering.
Another dangerous aspect of consumerism is that the society that you live in starts manipulating you, and the danger is that you don’t know that you are being manipulated. So you become like puppets, puppets in the hands of a society that creates desire, creates greed, and this all leads to more and more frustration. So isn’t this a sad situation when human beings have the potentiality of becoming free, of becoming enlightened? We have the Buddha-nature in us, but this aspect is not recognised and instead we become victims of the society that we live in.