Purpose Statement

Exploration -> Experience -> Feeling -> Transformation -> Understanding

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The General Welfare

A Thai Buddhist monk once led me in meditation. We started with inner peace and calm, which we visualized as a glowing sphere internal to my torso. The boundary of this sphere slowly expanded until it encompassed my entire body, but then expanded even further to include the person next to me, then everyone in the room, then everyone in the building, the city, the state, the country, the continent, the earth, and ultimately all sentient beings in the universe.

One of my favorite Zen Buddhist prayers is called Great Vows For All:

The many beings are numberless, I vow to save them;
Greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly, I vow to abandon them;
Dharma gates are countless, I vow to wake to them;
The Buddha's way is unsurpassed, I vow to embody it fully.

So the Buddhist notion of the general welfare includes all sentient beings in the universe. The Buddhists notably begin within themselves and plan to spend numerous lifetimes.

Now consider corporate America. CEOs. Enron. Bear Stearns. Adelphia. Worldcom. Etc. The general welfare is for me and my posse and the goal is as much as possible as quickly as possible.

So what would it look like if a Buddhist was running a company?

American business is preoccupied with net profit, return on investment, cash flow.

Buddhists are preoccupied with ending suffering, which comes from ego attachment to image (status), people, places, things, comfort, security, etc.

Buddhist wisdom: Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. So what you do for a living, chopping wood and carrying water, is just a fact of life; you have to feed yourself, put a roof over your head, insulate yourself from the cold.

A Buddhist would not see the point in accumulating wealth beyond food, shelter and security. For that matter, neither would a Christian:

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.”

What is American capitalism/business/materialism/consumerism good for? What do we have that most other people do not have?

Hygiene. Comfort. Opportunity. Technology. Prosperity.

What has American capitalism/business/materialism/consumerism been unable to deliver?

Meaning. Fulfillment. Peace. Justice. Community.

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