Catalogue Consciousness in The World

In September I received a catalogue in the mail from the Maplelea doll company, forwarded from my old address. I had asked to be removed from their mailing list three years ago after being treated rudely by two of their staff when suggesting they offer sewing patterns for their dolls. It brought up some anger in me, and this marketing ploy of resurrecting old customers bothered me. I put it in the recycle bin and forgot about it.

Another catalogue rolled in several weeks later, and this time I browsed through it several times and then started making a list of things to buy. Shoes are $12 to $18 a pair, outfits are $26 to $50 each and with $9 shipping I couldn’t seem to buy anything for a reasonable amount of money. I let it sit for four days, thinking all the time how happy I had been not buying anything from them, and how I didn’t really want anything. Then I woke up, put the catalogue in the recycle bin and sent them an e-mail asking to be taken off their mailing list yet again.

This morning I scrounged for a book and picked up Hooked!: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume, and there was a relevant passage staring at me. It is from the first chapter and Joseph Goldstein says:

“Covetousness, the wanting mind, the feeling that we never have enough, is seen in Buddhism as unskillful action of the mind. In the framework of the Buddhist cosmology and the different realms of existence, this covetous mind state is most extreme in the hungry-ghost realm. Hungry ghosts are often depicted as having huge stomachs and pinhole mouths, showing how they are incapable of ever feeling satisfied. In our culture, we might call it ‘catalog consciousness,’ obsessively rifling through the pages to see what else we might want. This is ‘wanting to want,’ a disease our culture keeps nourishing. [Emphasis mine.]

Gaki zōshi (section of the Scroll of Hungry Ghosts) 12th century: You can see the ghosts preying on humans, hanging around, with their mouths constantly wanting, and distended bellies. The one on the left seems to be the particular one that plagues me.


I thought I’d draw cards from a deck to augment this awareness. I randomly plucked the Golden Tarot of the Tsar from a shelf and drew these two cards:



The four evangelists read and write, doing their work and study, feeding the world of cosmic ultramarine, safely bordered in gold. And Jesus in the Ace of Swords, surrounded by four corners, puts out his boundless arms and says “Reach for a better life, you have all you need.” Resolve the old problems, think differently.

The World gives you understanding of what’s important, so free yourself from restrictions, complete things, start others but apply yourself and become closer to who you really are, create your reality. You can consume the World endlessly or feed it.

I mention again one of my favourite songs, Hungry Ghost by Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana which you can see here.

Feel the gnawing, then contemplate The World.

8 thoughts on “Catalogue Consciousness in The World

  1. Wow, what a great quote from Goldstein. I don’t get many catalogs anymore, but I can sure spend hours surfing the internet for that special something that I think will make me feel content. I’ve noticed that when I am restless, irritable or discontent is when I often think buying something will fill the void. Wonderfully insightful post, my friend.

    • Yes, I do the Internet surfing thing for fountain pen or art supplies and techniques.

      I love that quote–he also mentions in that chapter that even the Dalai Lama fell prey to this want after passing by windows with techno gadgets every day in a city he was staying in. So, it happens to us all.

      I suspect Bev that we were heavily influenced by the Sears Wish Catalogue that came out each Christmas, right?

        • I checked online and they still have it as does Sears Canada, but it’s probably not as thick as it used to be.

          Our local Sears store closed, so it doesn’t look good. They made it so difficult to order from a catalogue up here and then started charging extra fees to have things delivered to the local pick-up stores, that I just gave up.

  2. Oh yes … I can relate. I’ve spend money to fill gaps and often, it has only resulted in the gaps feeling bigger. It’s never really the thing that altered my mood, but that feeling that it would give me something I was lacking. I’m not sure it ever really does though.

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