Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trick or Treat? Conservatives Masquerading as Zen Buddhists

In his very thoughtful book The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde discusses the tao of scarcity and abundance, noting: "The problem is that wealth ceases to move freely when all things are counted and priced." As we know, stagnation is death.

Hyde presents Marshall Sahlins, University of Chicago anthropologist, on modern scarcity, saying "that hunters and gatherers have  affluent economies, their absolute poverty notwithstanding,:" and continues, "Inadequacy of economic means is the first principle of the world's wealthiest peoples."

The term "conservative" used to mean taking care of what you have. (As in, "A conservative livestyle will insure the sustainability of the planet.") Conservative now means grabbing what someone has, too.

We are supposed to know how much is "enough". Surely not enough (aka poverty) seems endless, but in fact it ends in death. But how come the sky's the limit on excess? (Yes, I know the rich die, too, but not so fast.) And what about the "middle class". I am so sick and tired of discussions about maintaining middle class lifestyle.

Through this means, captors can (and do) calculate the minimum amount amount of food and water necessary (as determined by official human rights judges) to sustain the life of a prisoner. This is the stuff upon which sanctions are developed. A gentlemen's agreement on how much is enough is not exactly torture, but it certainly is not generosity. As your Holy Beggar has discussed in this column, generosity makes the world go round.

If the rhetoric spewing forth from the Republican party's shill in the 2012 presidential election seems a bit twisted to you, as it does to your Holy Beggar, beware NOW! All those promised "jobs" that will being created (probably at chain stores) will offer standardized minimum wages that just happen to be "enough" to buy a Big Mac. Hey, If it sounds like jail, it must be jail.

Despite all the soothing wooing, the "middle class" is not going to be the winner because THERE IS NO MIDDLE CLASS. Will the government be issuing official middle class IDs in the future? It's another faceless fear tactic to keep us beholden to the hope of redemption by you-know-who. We must realign with the reason to thrive and save ourselves by remaining vital, being active.

Only the members of the "middle class" (presumably represented by the independent / undeclared voters of the "battleground" states) are being offered the opportunity to stay where you are, to cling to their right to be mediocre. The poor aren't even being told anything, and the rich are assured they will never fall below. Is this an incorrect reading of "Be Here Now?" Enjoy the moment?

Are the Republicans promoting Zen Buddhism?

Not likely. "Clinging" is the tip-off. No self or sangha respecting Buddhist would want to develop one's capacity to "cling" to anything.

Beware and Vote ... and press harder for Change.

And, remember,
No matter what,
Don't forget to ask for the money.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Is Empathy a Profession? Isn't This the Job of The Holy Beggar?

In advance of the Z√≥calo event (public lecture / discussion to be held in Los Angeles October 4) Is Altruism a Wonder Drug?” the planners approached several people who, in their words, "make a profession of empathy" to tackle a simple question: Can kindness be taught? You may read their comments by clicking the link.

What a strange job ... "profession of empathy". Isn't this what your Holy Beggar does in fact (vs in a think tank)? 

Anyway, this is my comment (below) and I'll post a link to the write-up about the live event.


Which comes first: the need or desire to give? According to my teacher Gilla Nissan, the first word of the first verse of Genesis is easily rendered as “creates an offering”. This promotes the notion that gratitude and the means to express it are inherent in the very creation of existence; that we are always in a position of negotiating an exchange, of giving and taking.

According to Jewish tradition, it’s not just as a matter of empathy -- " ... what it must be like to be in her situation." To stop here would be to yield to a dualistic understanding of who I (vs?) and you are / am. A full understanding of gemilut chassadim requires more than such sensitivity. In practical and spiritual terms, these acts of loving-kindness – together with a knowledge and appreciation of the standards of being human and determination to take responsibility for action -- bring about "tikkun olam", the repair of the broken vessel of existence that we all share.

The eminent Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Han describes this greater reality as “inter-being” … you and I “inter-are”. I am already part of “her situation.”

Judaism’s mitzvot, spiritually weighted deeds, are specific actions to this end. When a boy or girl at the age of 13 is declared a son/daughter of the mitzvot (bar/bat mitzvah), s/he is accepts personal responsibility for such behavior in the presence the community.

I also must impulsively respond and only “… lean on my imagination …“  as to what is needed in a situation. Consider what colonialist Europeans "knew" and thus projected on their “discovery” of native peoples (who wondered the same thing) when they landed on the shores of the "new world". Even if I could empathize with the “obvious” situation of who is in front of my nose seemingly hungry, in need of clean clothes and a safe place to sleep, my imagination is always limited, and, thus, my conclusion and response may be inaccurate, even harmful I quickly abandoned the notion of “quaint” after visiting economically impoverished neighborhoods in southern Africa and seek a deeper understanding of the dimensions of Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness”.

These are some of the concerns that I have been addressing throughout my 40 years in the nonprofit “sector”. Perhaps this is why the "role" of beggar exists among us across time and space of human experience. I’m exploring these ideas in my blog www.holybeggar.blogspot.com.

P.S. The larger discussion now has passed. One may audit it here. It was none too cleverly subtitled: "Take Two MItzvahs and See Me in the Morning", but it was more than that. Bravo, Zocalo.