I have only a poor understanding of economics, though I have always had an interest in the political and philosophical values and assumptions that underpin the various processes involved. I remember being struck, when first introduced to the basic principles of Buddhism, how utterly and diametrically opposed they were to the capitalist values and philosophy that represent the essential principles of modern Western society. Consumerism, and incessant spending in a world where "consumer confidence," so necessary to "healthy growth," requires borrowing, not saving, is touted as the model of "success."
As we watch this latest current economic meltdown unfolding, it is easy to consider we are getting one of those rare glimpses of capitalism's picture of Dorian Gray; usually hidden away in a secret room, not to be viewed until there is no option left but to face it. The debt, the spending, the living it up whilst the corruption steadily rots away, the ferryman very silently walking closer and closer hand out, asksfor payment now we've reached the other side.
Buddhism's three poisons, the kleshas, of hatred, greed and ignorance; how do we not look at the behaviour of the markets and the community over the last four years in particular and not see them paraded, exalted, in stark definition? For hatred, we see the fear that comes with massive sell offs when the "confidence" dries up because people won't borrow or spend themselves into debt; this represents the "bear" market. The greed, perversely, represents capitalism's healthy "bull" market where debt, borrowing and spending represent healthy "consumer confidence" and "growth." And the dull, unquestioning mind that cannot, or will not, see outside this paradigm, these unchallenged values and measurements of "success" and "failure" represent the ignorance that lies at the heart of the whole system.
I hope I do not come across as overly, or overtly, political; zen is beyond such concerns in many ways, but equally, it's practice and raw material cannot be divorced from the reality of the world.
How do Buddhists live in this world which so confounds the most essential premises of the Dharma? How do Dharma teachers help those who find themselves lost in such a world of upside-down values?
Perhaps Jesus said it best; "for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Our treasure is the experience of ourselves, the discovery of self, true mind. What we consume, what we gain or lose in our external world, are useless, of no value.
We just continue our practice, as the Buddha said, like an elephant slowly walking through the forest. Without regard for the trees and obstacles that spring up, just treadily stepping through it all.
Be mindful of our ignorance, our fear, our hatred; be mindful of the institutions that breed and encourage them.
Our society is doing us a favour right now; it is showing us its essential nature, and showing us the illusions of samsara as it does so.