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Exploring the Meaning of Santutthi

The Pali word Santutthi is the teaching of contentment with what one has. It is the polar opposite of the English word Consumerism that is the teaching of never being content with what one has. Around 45 years ago in Thailand, the government drafted their first National Development plan, based on western development models, and in doing so, forbade monks to teach Santutthi. They believed this teaching was opposed to economic growth and therefore opposed to development. The results of this mindset have left northern Thailand with less than 20 percent of their original forests still standing. Now, polluted rivers, disappearing topsoil and endangered species are undeniable evidence of Thailand’s decision to enter into the modern world. But not everyone there is going along with the plan. Buddhadasa Bhikku, the revered Thai monk, argued against the banning of the Santutthi teachings. He noted that this teaching contributes to real human progress, which must focus on the development of wisdom rather than material assets. Another monk, Phrakhru Manas, began to ordinate trees, tying the sacred orange robe around the trees in order to save them from the lumberjack’s ax and bring greater awareness to the destruction brought about by our unchecked appetites.

As the natural world disappears around us at an astounding rate (around 100 species going extinct per day), it is time for humankind to write a new story and throw out the old. Genesis 9:7 states, “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” We listened well and took that order to heart. Now, here on the precipice fueled by overpopulation and overconsumption, we need a new story and quick. Where does this new story come from?

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