Sunday, July 31, 2016

Overcoming natural delusions

I’ve written about this issue before, but our divided response to the current political race for a new POTUS deserves review. This is a textbook case to illustrate two fundamental Buddhist teachings—The correspondence between attachment and suffering, and karma. 

Some time ago I listened to a radio interview with Wall Street trader and psychologist, Dr. Richard Peterson. During the interview Dr. Peterson was speaking about the two primary, motivating factors for investing. The two were greed and fear and he said that fear was twice as potent as greed in determining investor behavior.

Dr. Peterson didn’t say these emotions had anything to do with Buddhist teachings, or politics, but as I listened I could see the two headed hydra of attachment flailing about, as well as the wish to escape from the consequences of past choices. On the one hand—greed—the excess of possessiveness, and on the other—fear—lies the illusion of permanence. The Dharma teaches us about the impermanence of all things. What goes up eventually comes down and it doesn’t matter whether it is water, money or nationsthus the saying, “Easy come; Easy go.” The other Buddhist fundamental (karma) teaches us that we reap the product of whatever seeds we plant, whether individually or collectively.

Many years ago I cut my spiritual teeth on a book I thought radical at the time. The book was The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. I remember his central point as if it were yesterday. His point was that we have an upside down understanding of what leads to fulfillment. We yearn for security, which we equate with permanence, yet the only aspect of life which may produce this is something no longer living. The most basic definition of “phenomenal life” is fluidity—continuous change, whether we notice it or not. That was his Wisdom—That life is insecure, so don’t become attached. Love when you love. Cry when you cry. And know that such conditions will change. Be genuine (no and sadness are real human emotions) and know that change is inevitable. This is great wisdom, full of hope and patience.

And how very different this wisdom is from what we see today. The illusion of permanence leads investors, lovers and citizens to cling to fortunes made and 
to resist their loss, and neither behavior produces fulfillment. Nor does it work for us to plant seeds of evil and expect to reap fruits of joy. What we all need is a wake-up call and a strong dose of Watts Wisdom. Resist our natural tendencies to act out of fear, and take responsibility for whatever choices we make.We can learn from this crisis and be the better for it. 
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