Buddhism is about sustaining happiness. Whilst the credit crisis and impending recession will cause many unpleasant situations, our experience of these times depends on whether we believe that money and a permanent job could actually make us happy in the first place. After all, it is not our cars or houses that get happy - it is only our minds that can do that.
Buddha’s teachings are not beliefs, but a logical system based on the experience of both the outer and the inner world. A key building block for a happy life is the understanding that we are responsible for the world we see around us and the teachings on cause and effect explain how to have an easier life and avoid difficulties. Greed and assumed-ignorance appear to have caused the current situation but if one believes that one will not experience the consequences of one’s actions this doesn’t stop them from happening. As such, the advice is simple: work consciously with the motivation to benefit to others.
Impermanence also reminds us that both the joys of our hard-won trophies and the headaches from difficult times never last. Even our most dearly held inner views are often on shaky ground and so by gaining this inner perspective we can avoid some of life’s tragedies and instead enjoy the comedies. One can then use this position of personal ease with the human qualities of kindness and compassion. To use one’s power and clarity of experience for others is natural for those that are truly rich on an inner level, regardless of outer material circumstances.
Traders, accountants and merchant bankers from our Buddhist groups also use meditation to get the presence of mind to be rational, compassionate and act beyond their own immediate needs. Meditation brings further benefits: unlike our fashions and fads, the freshness of the immediate moment is never lost and daily life moves toward a fearless, joyful and compassionate stream of experience - something which money cannot buy. When applied to politicians and businessmen with power, they must have the maturity and compassion to act for the long-term benefit of others and to protect the freedom in our societies.
Lama Ole Nydahl who is a Danish Buddhist master, founder of 600 lay Buddhist centres in 50 countries around the world in the Tibetan Kagyu School and first western student of the great 16th Karmapa puts it like this:
The financial crisis which threatens a year-long decrease in living standards worldwide and much suffering for the poorest should make us think. It is yet another sign of the growing confusion and loss of values among those in our societies we have been taught to trust.
Politicians who push the unpleasant results of unsustainable immigration and debt on to our children and refuse to protect women declassed by alien cultures have prepared the way. Greed and political correctness have emptied our banks of their capital.
May the crises of money bring forth the internal values that can never be lost.
Dr Steve James works at the London Diamond Way Buddhist Centre. For the last 10 years he has worked as a doctor in central London and travelled around the world teaching Buddhism.