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A Buddhist Perspective on a Troubled Economy

A Buddhist Perspective on a Troubled Economy

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Published by Charles Day
This essay reflects upon how understanding Buddha's Four Noble Truths and practicing meditation and mindfulness can help us deal with suffering related to the troubled economy. Two Buddhist fables illustrate the benefits of letting go of negative thoughts and feelings and of practicing generosity.
This essay reflects upon how understanding Buddha's Four Noble Truths and practicing meditation and mindfulness can help us deal with suffering related to the troubled economy. Two Buddhist fables illustrate the benefits of letting go of negative thoughts and feelings and of practicing generosity.

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Published by: Charles Day on Mar 25, 2009
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06/14/2009

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BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE ON A TROUBLED ECONOMYCharles Day*
See www.desmoinesmeditation.org & click above on “More from this Publisher”
Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths can help us understandand possibly relieve the suffering associated with our troublingeconomy. Buddha’s first noble truth is that life is inherentlyproblematic, filled with various degrees of suffering and discontent.Not only is there the obvious suffering associated with birth, sickness,aging, and dying, but we suffer when we are separated from what welike or want and when we are associated from what we dislike or can’tavoid.In these troubling economic times, there is much suffering related tothe loss of jobs, homes, and retirement and investment savings.Even if we are fortunate in not yet being effected, perhaps familymembers or friends have lost their jobs. Or taken cuts in pay, perks,or hours so that everyone can keep their job. Or we are expected towork even more hours without additional pay to do the work that laid-off employees were doing. And we all live under the economic threatthat continues into an unpredictable future.
Suffering is caused by attachment to likes and dislikes
Buddha’s Second Noble Truth is about the causes of suffering.Suffering is caused by our attachments. We cling to wants anddesires and try to push away and resist aversions and what we don’twant. And we have difficulty letting go of these attachments whenit’s appropriate and beneficial to do so..In these troubling economic times, it might be helpful to askourselves, how attached are we to our possessions, to our money,our home, our job, our style of living. And to our social and economicstatus and reputation as these are viewed by ourselves and our family, friends, colleagues, and community. Can we let go of our attachments to material possessions and the psychological imageswe have of ourselves? Ask yourself, “How much does my self respect, my self esteem, my self worth depend upon my net worth?”
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Our difficulty in letting go of attachments prevents us fromacknowledging without judgment and simply accepting the way thingsare. Instead we deny what Buddha called the three primarycharacteristics of reality: suffering, impermanence, and theinterdependent unity of everybody and everything. We’ve alreadytalked about suffering.
Everything is impermanent and interdependent
Denial of impermanence was evident in our expectation that the valueof our homes and our investments could only grow, and in the failureof the so-called experts to predict what was coming. And In our longing to maintain the illusion of what seemed to be a permanentlyrising market, most of us probably continue to ride the market up anddown, despite its continuing to be part of a dramatically unpredictableand impermanent environment.Buddha’s third characteristic of reality that we tend to deny is our interdependency. This refers to the fact that everybody andeverything in existence is interconnected and interdependent, andthat nothing, no thing, no person, no self exists as a completelyseparate, independent, or autonomous entity.In these troubling economic times, it might be helpful to remember that no one individual or group of individuals, no one industry, no onepolitical party, and no one nation, is responsible for the problems wenow face. Nor can we solve them as individuals or as one nationalone. We are all parts of an connected web of reality that functionsas a unified interdependent whole. There is no better demonstrationof this than the wide-ranging impact of the economy on housing,banking, investments, and employment, and on local, national, andglobal levels. We are all in this together. We always were, and wewill always be.
Let’s cooperate, not compete, as a unified whole
Acknowledging the reality of our interdependence can aid us inunderstanding and compassionately cooperating with each other,rather than selfishly competing for what we fear are limited resources.
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We are not and never have been separate, and we need not feelisolated, alone, and afraid.It should be emphasized that accepting that what is is does not meanapproving of the way things are. Nor does it mean being passive,indifferent, or insensitive to any suffering experienced by ourselves or others, or to the reality of the need for action or change. It simplymeans accepting the way it is and letting go of negative reactions sothat one’s energy is not wasted in emotional reactivity to what can’tbe changed, since it’s already happened, or worrying about a futurethat has not yet arrived.Let us realistically acknowledge and accept the problems associatedwith these troubling economic times and devote our energy tooptimistically cooperating with others to find mutually acceptablesolutions to our economic problems. And let us accept the realpossibility that such solutions may not be forthcoming anytime soon,that what we and our leaders try may fail and ever backfire, and thatwe may have to continue to come with new cooperative strategies.Accepting the way it is in order to deal more effectively andcompassionately with problems is exquisitely reflected in the SerenityPrayer of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Grant me the serenity to accept thethings I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, andthe wisdom to know the difference.”
Suffering is overcome by accepting the way it is
Buddha’s Third Noble Truth tells us that suffering can be overcome,even when troubling circumstances remain the same. Calm andequanimity can be attained by letting go of our attachments to selfishdesires and to our negative judgments and reactions to what we don’tlike. We need to accept the reality of the ever-changing impermanentnature of all physical and mental phenomena, in this case, of theeconomy and the way of life we’ve grown accustomed to. We need toexperience our interconnectedness and trust in the unpredictable flowof a continuously changing and interdependent universe.In short, suffering is overcome when we experientially and intuitivelyrealize and accept that life is inherently problematic, impermanent,
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