Book Review: The Dharma of Fashion

This book discusses our attitudes to the clothes we wear and buy from a Buddhist perspective, including many interviews with Josh Korda of Dharma Punx, of whom I’m a fan. As a postgraduate student of Buddhism, I was expecting a lot more from this book, it seemed to be aimed at those who identify as shopping addicts rather than general consumers.

It discusses the dopamine hit we get from the search for new item (which decreases when we actually buy the item, which perpetuates the cycle of shopping), and about Buddhist views on attachment and craving. The author puts forward a theory that what drives our attitudes to shopping and fashion is an aversion to facing up to the fact that we will grow old, experience illness and eventually die.

The section on how clothing makes us feel, and how we use it to feel part of a tribe, but also how we compare ourselves with others was interesting, how we dress to become our desires. We need to bring more awareness to our desires and motivations, being curious about our “vedana”, our feeling-tone (are things experienced as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral). The way to overcome this, it is suggested, is to reflect on the fragility of human life, which will help to suppress our cravings for consumerism in the realm of fashion. Whilst the practice of contemplating the “foulness of the body” is known in Buddhism, this is usually a practice aimed at monks, rather than lay people, and certainly not one with which to start one’s Buddhist journey. The suggested practice of starting a “desire diary” seemed a better place to start for those in the grips of shopping addiction.

There were interesting points made in this book, but could have been better developed (the book is only 96 pages). The pages were littered with quirky drawings, many of which did not resonate with me and did not appear to connect with the text.
I was expecting much more on our attitudes to consumerism in general, and more on fast fashion and the ethics of this industry, from a Buddhist perspective.

I received a free advance copy of this book via NetGalley.

How Buddhism is compatible with slow, minimalist living

A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a Twitter chat about minimalism, and the topic of Buddhism came up, and how it fits with a slower, more simple way of life. [if you’re interested in all things minimalism, this Twitter chat takes place every 2 weeks, follow #minschat, I’m @slow_blog]

Firstly – a bit of background on Buddhism. There are many strands of Buddhism, but they all have in common a desire to simplify life and let go of attachments (to people, ‘unskilful’ behaviours, and also views). Whilst it is not essential to Buddhism to subscribe to any sort of minimalist ethos (or vice versa!), they are definitely compatible. Minimalism can be defined as simply living with less – fewer financial expenses, less pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, and in valuing experiences over things. Mindfulness (which is a key part of Buddhist practice) just means bringing our full attention to whatever we are doing or feeling right now, in this very moment – tuning into our inner world of experience. Studies show that when we bring our full attention or mindfulness to our experiences, we remember them better in the long term. This does not mean that minimalists are hedonists or adrenaline junkies, but that they are capable of being satisfied and enjoying the simple things in life, just by noticing them – a drop of rain upon a leaf, the ducks in the local park, the clouds floating by in the sky.

Only having what we really need also fits with the Buddhist ethos of simplicity and contentment – we are not grasping or craving for more all the time (as our increasingly consumer-society would like us to). As we become more proficient at mindfulness, at noticing what is happening as it arises and passes away, we can recognise our desire to buy another book on Amazon, or to buy the latest fashion item (or whatever it happens to be). We can simply notice it arising and moving on. We don’t have to scratch that itch.

Anthony Ongaro talks about this on his blog “Break the Twitch“. In his TED Talk, he talks about the ‘twitch’ of online behaviour, how many apps are built along similar lines to gambling, giving us a dopamine-hit each time we click, and how through re-training our habits we can mould our behaviour so that it is more in line with our core values. In Buddhism, this would mean recognising that we are at the mercy of greed (or attachment, craving), hatred (or aversion or avoidance of pain or discomfort) and delusion (about the true nature of reality), that this is our ‘animal’ nature. But Buddhist practice gives us the tools to override this ‘twitch’ through firstly noticing what is happening, by bringing awareness to it.

Buddhist ethical principles also fit with many of the simpler lifestyle choices people are increasingly making, such as living zero waste or low waste, not buying fast fashion which exploits low-paid workers abroad. All Buddhists try to adhere to the principle of ‘doing no harm’, which can in its broad interpretation can mean treading lightly on the earth, and being an ethical consumer.