Posted on July 24th, 2012 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Featured, Interfaith, Leadership, News, Social Issues, Theology, Uncategorized
Tagged with Doctrine of Discovery, economics, engaged Buddhism, Honorable Chief Oren Lyons, native american culture, native american history, politics, poverty, theology, wealth inequality
I've been rejoicing to witness our US presidential election campaign narrative turning to economics, thanks to a contender with a background in the private equity business (or, vulture capitalism, as it is known to some). At the same time, I continue to feel great anguish that poverty and our nation's and earth's most impoverished have gotten little if any air time since the last election, and via the current proclamations from our politicians and elected representatives.
On this evidence, it would appear that we have successfully politically disenfranchised our weakest brothers and sisters, offering representation in government policy-making to only the biggest donors, leaving no seats with voices at the table for our nation's hungry, working poor, and dispossessed. It is as if their very dignity has been sold, as an acceptable collateral cost of holding the worship of private wealth accumulation as an ultimate value. Has wealth accumulation replaced cherishing of our human brothers and sisters as the most respectable way to make life most meaningful and society harmonious?
I'm troubled by the one-sided-ness of the blame on the propensity for the selfish hoarding, "me-first" memes, and its associated corruption culture of preserving and defending the most privileged and wealthy residents (which is nevertheless promoted and defended mainly by many "mostly-wealthy" politicians and much of the "un-wealthy" general public). I'm even more troubled by the public demonization of China, and, by inference, my Chinese brothers and sisters, American and otherwise. Through our philosophical materialism, which rationale is driving our relentless desires, we Americans love, and indeed worship and attach ourselves emotionally to countless products of Chinese manufacturing and Chinese laborers more than we seem to realize. Yet hatred of China (and its Chinese) is on sale in our election discourse and economic debates for a dime a dozen, and there is no end to those who are buying and reselling this poison!
Where are the consistent, significant voices from our nation's religious and spiritual communities providing moral leadership to politicians or the general public, or concrete instruction, for how to operationalize the value of allocating the most basic human dignity to others in our economic lives? If religious leaders are speaking out, they are not breaking through. America appears to have no Chuck D-voice among its religious leaders, and needs one badly.
In my own attendances of religious services in my own Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, I've never once heard any leadership speak of economic issues (except for during secular public lectures on world peace by Buddhist leaders). Yet our Buddhist tradition has much of value to offer this discourse. Namely, the Buddhist doctrine known as dependent origination, pratītya-samutpāda, is a view of reality as a dynamism, whereby phenomena exist and function interdependently. Thereby, processes can be discontinued, altered, or promoted by precisely arranging (or removing) the causes and conditions upon which they rely. While this view is fundamentally ontological, one might also consider it an extension of natural laws of mechanics into a behavioral ethic similar to the Christian notion of free will, but with an added hindsight that we choose not only behaviors but behavioral patterns that influence our future desires and aversions for all such future behavior choices.
For example, no one forced our American public's behavior of purchasing foreign-made consumable acquisitions over a twenty-year period, at cheaper and cheaper prices, without considering any long-term consequences on domestic economic forces and labor markets. Although our inflation-adjusted wages didn't increase significantly over the period, people didn't notice so long as they could keep buying more and more stuff at cheaper and cheaper prices. It appeared to be an increase in wealth, but a wealth of "penny-wise, pound-foolish". Of course, it is hard not to conclude that many business models and tax policies were in fact designed deliberately to profit from such sleights of economic-hand, this blind pacification of American materialism, driven by insatiable desire. But they were aided and abetted by the public in spreading this economic auto-immune disease.
Now, as if awoken from a bad dream, and still utterly disoriented, we see an America of devalued properties tied to over-valued mortgages, 401k retirement plans gutted, public workers pensions unable to pay out what they originally promised depositors in their contracted compensation packages, while at the same time, domestic and international corporations "sit" on $5 trillion worth of cash, according to some estimates. That this can be so, while millions are in poverty, evidences a profoundly tragic social failure of humanity.
Although our public didn't pay much attention to causes and conditions and consequences, this dynamic did not simply develop overnight. Yes, I reckon it is true that our banks, corporations, policy-makers (many from private industry ranks) and politicians created tax policies and legislation to enable these outcomes. But WE the People, the public, were also active enablers of this disaster, as both consumers, public citizens, and voters.
Now, instead of reckoning this responsibility, the blame-games continue, within an ethical context (at least as our media outlets tell it) of a self-cherishing culture driven by a sentiment of "I don't care about anyone or anything else as long as I can keep fulfilling my own personal (and family) desires." Yet this is precisely the ethos which, pervading both personal and corporate behavior, produced our present (dysfunctional and immoral) economic culture, which by definition, ultimately has no capacity to care about, or for, the 40 million+ people living in poverty, while simultaneously pursuing our fervent quest to deny funding for public governance and welfare.
Thus it is time for a truth and reconciliation process for American society. Just as the country was built on the dispossession of indigenous inhabitants from native lands, so we see a new generation disconnected to its land, buffered by an "invisible hand" of domestic (and international) banking and finance.
A first step in this process is to remove the veil of ignorance, and, as individuals and a society, recognize, regret, and vow to refrain from repeating the immoral but legal manner in which American lands were first capitalized and transferred from inhabitants at profound costs of suffering and indignity. Reconciling ourselves with the truth of native American history, through to our most recent economic history, we can open our eyes and begin to take ownership of our own individual roles in relating to our economy, our homes, and land. We can rebuild an economy grounded in the fundamentals of land and nation stewardship, built by communities whose resident's contributions of labor and talent are dignified by sustainable trade instead of toxic exploitation. We can exercise this profoundly moral imperative, and still enjoy the benefits and privileges of a fair trade economy.
Our religious and spiritual congregations can make this process a priority, and lead in rebuilding sustainable communities based on values of respecting the land, environment, and its ancestors, requesting and earning the honor of its stewardship, and mutually supporting individuals and families in living these values.
Many faith groups, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church, have integrated economic justice and welfare into theological practice. It is time for the rest of us to do the same, in our religions and our interreligious collaborations. Let us do this in partnership with our local native American communities, whereby we can inherit and integrate the oral histories of the original stewards of the lands which we inhabit (as renters, owners, or squatters). Let us learn, and teach, an economic lifestyle based on cherishing others, respecting our land, animals, the environment, and earth's peoples, including Chinese laborers. Like Maslow's pyramid of needs, spiritual health and flourishing depends on fundamental conditions which dignify and nourish all living beings. Such health yields an enduring wealth. Corporations cannot build healthy wealth-their mandates are pure profit. Healthy economies will take communities of mindful, ethical consumers. We must pursue this moral imperative.
By Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica C. Smith. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bhikshuni Lozang Trinlae, B.Sc., Ed.M., (भिक्षुणी लोजाङ् त्रिन्ले) is presently a doctoral student in practical theology at Claremont School of Theology at Claremont Lincoln University, where she is conducting research in formal Vajrayāna contemplative practices. She was ordained a novice Buddhist nun in Mysore in 1991; took full-ordination Bhikshuni precepts in 1998 in Bodhgaya, India; and is also a priest in the Buddhist Vajrayāna tradition (Drukpa Kagyu and Gelug lineages primarily). A summa-cum-laude graduate in physics, she earned her master's degree in education from Harvard University, where she also studied Tibetan language in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and non-profit management at the Kennedy School. She taught science and English in India and in Tibet while undertaking contemplative training in Vajrayāna Buddhism. After teaching Buddhism in Taiwan in the mid-1990's, she founded Mahāpajāpatī Hermitage in Sagarmartha Mt. Everest National Park in Nepal, where she completed ten years of cloistered, intensive, Vajrayāna retreat, including two great approaching retreats (शतलक्ष मन्त्र इष्टदेव पुरश्चरण/བསྙེན་ཆེན།). Bhikshuni Lozang is also a trained chaplain and certified instructor in relationship education. More details of her present research, and hermitage, including texts and photo album, can be found at bhikshuni.insightdeliverysystems.com, research.insightdeliverysystems.com, and mahaprajapativihar.insightdeliverysystems.com.