Sunday, March 20, 2011

Buddhism and Wealth Continued: Liberating Economic Narratives

To continue yesterday's discussion about Buddhism and wealth, it seems to me that when faced with the enormity of situations like global economics, a few responses are commonplace. One is to go totally inward and focus only on yourself. Algernon called it the "inner peace fetish," wherein the view is basically that the world's fucked up and always will be, so I'll just try and create an oasis within myself. Another common response is to do the opposite. To jump on every last social issue on the planet, and try and offer your view, action, time, and money in an effort to put out the fire of suffering. A third common response is to try and combine pieces of the first two responses and then call that "the middle way."

Now, I have lived periods of my life in all three of these. I don't think any of these responses is completely wrong, and in fact, they each seem to contain elements of truth and awakening. But in the end, none of them feel whole to me anymore. They seem off the mark, ways of being that aren't unified expressions of the total dynamic functioning of this world of ours.

Turning away from the troubles of the outer world in search of an inner oasis is ultimately a false expression of renunciation.

Turning towards the troubles of the world, but away from the manifestations of your "inner" heart/mind is ultimately a false expression of compassion.

And cobbling together elements of both of these approaches is ultimately a false expression of the middle way.

In terms of wealth and right livelihood, one of the challenges I see is that too many of us, even many who are influenced by Buddhist teachings, look around at the larger social/economic environment and see it as a fixed story. Some love it, and say we've reached a pinnacle of wealth and innovation. Others hate it and see all the exploitation, suffering, and inequalities occurring. But for most of us, it's a stuck narrative and we talk about either trying to cope with all the shitty stuff, or about all the ways it might be beneficial (like developing new technologies to deal with energy crises.)

However, not only is this "global capitalist" narrative we have going on not permanent, but it's also not even all that old. It's a really tall tree with entirely short and weak roots. The roots are in our head; but they aren't embedded in our body/minds. So, while it's true that we have to do the hard work of facing what's going on now - it's also the case, in my view, that if enough of us do more deliberate pawing and clawing around those roots - through shifted thoughts and actions - that the tree could be tumbled to the ground.

In other words, we don't know what the future will look like. Not in our own life. Not in the ways in which our communities and nations will be held together, or broken apart. We don't know.

Two weeks ago, several thousand people in Japan woke up and went about their days in a regular fashion. A few days later, they were gone. Their houses: gone. Everything they owned and loved: gone.

Twenty five years ago, people in the former Soviet Union woke up every day and thought "This is it. We live in this Communist country. We can only do what we do." Some loved it. Many hated it. And there was a lot of suffering to go around.

How many of those people could have written the fast crumble that came?

How many had the audacity to orient their lives from some deeper place, and imagine something different?

There had to be some folks with that audacity. Just as there are folks today trying to shift their orientation and imagine something different from global capitalism.
But this is big sounding stuff - probably befuddling to a lot of us. I feel befuddled by it fairly often myself.

Which brings me back to two commenters on yesterday's post, Richard and David, who both basically pointed to the fact that individuals need to each make the pivot in their lives, in order for social change on a massive scale to occur. And I think, ultimately, that this is true. That change might be incubated alone. It might be incubated in collective silence. It might be incubated while in the middle of collective action.

Returning to the original topic, whenever you talk about economics from a Buddhist perspective, renunciation somehow comes into the picture. So, here are two questions to consider.

What are the marks of renunciation? Do they look the same for each person?

Liberating economic narratives, narratives around how to work with the movement of material stuff in the world, doesn't seem to be any different from liberating anything else. And renunciation is a big part of it. Although I'd argue that renunciation may not be at all what we think it is.

So, perhaps an exploration of renunciation is in order. May your meditations be fruitful.

1 comment:

Ji Hyang said...

Not only within Buddhism, but within indigenous societies there seems to be a consensus that the dominant economic narrative is not sustainable. We need to source from other narratives which while they may not be as widely sourced- from, may be more liberating. See Awakening the Dreamer,