Saturday, February 20, 2010

Money As Emptiness

The Buddhist teaching about emptiness is that all phenomena, including material objects, bodies, sensations, emotions, thoughts, and attention are essentially not graspable, have no solid existence, no intrinsic essence, arise interdependently with everything else, are subject of causation, are constantly changing, and are unable to produce lasting happiness. The analysis of the Abhidharma has the goal of reaching an intuitive understanding of the emptiness of phenomena so that we have the deepest reason to totally let go of all clinging and become from sorrow. The mantric formula of the Heart Sutra is: "Let go, let go, really let go, totally let go, awake, rejoice." This formula can be considered a summary of Buddhism as well as an outline of the entire process of transformation into eternal peace that it offers. This formula is, in itself, something that needs to be intuitively understood to the point where we deeply let go. In other words, intuitive wisdom and letting go are interdependent. The more that we intuitively understand reality, the more we let go and entrust ourselves to reality. Paradoxically, the law of karma, the assertion that there is a stable order to all existence and links all causes and effects together in some wise, compassionate, and creative way, is behind our intuitive realization that we can trust life to take care of us and thereby release all our clinging, negativity, and delusion, and be totally free and totally happy.

The principle of emptiness was a key idea in the Mahayana Revolution in Buddhism. Nagarjuna said that he received it from the Dakini Tara in Dreamtime. He was taught this principle in a series of dreams. This paradoxical concept is somewhat hard even for Buddhists to understand. Even to genuinely understand it even a little amounts to getting a small enlightenment. In a real sense, every Zen koan is about understanding emptiness. When Hakuin systematized Rinzai Zen practice to 100 koans that you studied and solved one at a time, he felt that having 100 small enlightenments allowed one to develop one deep and mature enlightenment.

Emptiness has, as one of its characteristics, the intuitive knowing that everything is conceptually nongraspable. This realization of emptiness therefore always comes in an event/realization which releases a mental bind which frees us from sorrow. This is the key to understanding the Heart Sutra verse that goes, "The Bodhisattva of Compassion, from the depths of intuitive wisdom, saw the emptiness of all the five skandhas, and completely cut through the bonds that caused him sorrow." In this example, the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Avalochiteshvara) is a model for the kind of realization that we are meant to have. As a model, he is behind the cultivation of Bodhicitta (enlightened attitude) in Tibetan Buddhism where we learn to have a selfless loving attitude towards everyone. This same cultivation of Bodhicitta is behind the Beattitudes of Jesus and many of the phrases in the Sermon on the Mount, many of the phrases are similar to many Mahayana Buddist phrases concerning altruistic compassion.

While emptiness may be a lofty idea that is literally impossible to mentally grasp without some intuitive wisdom, it is also within the range of human experience. The shortest version of the Heart Sutra is the bija mantra (seed syllable), "Ah." This bija mantra is often uttered when people have a flash of intuitive insight and go "Aha!". The bija mantra is, therefore, a natural mantra that people often spontaneously utter when they understand something directly and fully. The key thing that makes "realizing emptiness" important is that it applies to everything without exception and therefore can release us from every sorrow. Paradoxically, the Buddhists teach that there is even "the emptiness of emptiness". What this means is that even emptiness cannot be conceptually grasped and there is no thing that can be called emptiness that can be grasped, and that there is no thing that can be called anything else that can be grasped. Emptiness is a simple universal negation concerning the graspability of anything at all, but behind this simple universal negation is what the Zen Buddhists call, "the great affirmation". This is the waking up from the mental trance of sorrow and rejoicing in life. As a realization it is both about the nature of external reality and the nature of the conceptual mind. When people even start to understand emptiness, it sometimes produces a feeling of vertigo, because the mind is used trying to grasp and wants to grasp something in order to feel secure. This very attempt to grasp to feel secure is what causes fear. This is why intuitive wisdom ends all fear and all the pain caused by fear. Because it is resolves all fear, the thing that fear wants to do the most is grasp emptiness. This is why there is a verse in the Heart Sutra, the center verse or key verse, that goes, "The Bodhisattva or Dakini clings to nothing at all, NOT EVEN WISDOM." Intuitive wisdom is not a thing that can be grasped. This is why Buddha negated the "realization of atman" behind Hinduism. The whole Hindu teaching of atman is an attempt by the mind to objectify and grasp our true nature. The Buddha, to be very fair, also negated the whole Buddhist path, and said that there was no Four Noble Truths and no Eightfold Path, so that these, too, would not be objectified and grasped on to. Because there is no such path, grasping on to the Eightfold Path is a delusion and therefore one of the three poisons of the mind that needs to be released. The teaching of emptiness is really the most subtle medicine to the most subtle and core grasping there is. It wipes out the last trace of sorrow from the human mind. It teaches us to not even try to conceptually grasp the medicine itself. It teaches us to release the subtle stranglehold of the thinking mind itself. When this is done, then the thinking function is something we can use without being caught in its grip. It is supremely useful, even more so than before, because its limit is recognized and transcended. We are not caught in the fabrications of the mind that result from trying to grasp the ungraspable.

Part of the understanding of emptiness is that it applies to everything, including money. The Madhyamika Buddhist texts apply the understanding of emptiness to the nature of reality. I find that in American capitalist culture that it might be wise to choose something that hits closer to home: Money. American culture prides itself on being pragmatic, down to Earth, and practical, rather than being lofty spiritual and philosophical beings like the early Hindus and Buddhists. We have people who get excited in this culture when on Super Bowl Sunday that smash their brains against each other in a game called Football, rather than use these brains to move into the deepest nature of ultimate reality and complete a vast biological evolution that took millions of years to form the brain as we know it. Apparently when a pragmatic culture like America talks about "using your brains" it is more as a battering ram than as a wetware biocomputer that still is superior to any hardware microchip driven computer (no punt intended). Strangely enough, the contestants in this Football game are rewarded with little pieces of paper called "money" to the tune of "millions of dollars". This is what makes them feel like they are doing something very practical, more practical than farming for food that is absolutely necessary for human biological survival at this stage of our evolution. So it might be good to go into what money is and see why accumulating all these little pieces of paper is so important, especially when money is mutating into an electromagnetic imprint on a hard drive in a bank vault and guarded by magical verbal incantations involving threats and penalties which are in turn enforced with uniformed beings with guns who have the power to lock people up in jails. This means that money does not have any substantial or intrinsic existence, it cannot literally be grasped, it only has meaning when it is arising interdependently within our social interactions with each other which in turn only has meaning as our society also arises as part of biological reality on this planet which also in turn has meaning as it arises as part of galactic and cosmic reality. Money has, for the most part, ceased to be identical with actual pieces of paper. It also used to be anchored to the "gold standard" and had a legally voted correspondence with a certain amount of gold. Yet it was not the amount of paper in the money that gave it a correspondence with the amount of gold, it was the little ink numbers that were printed on the paper that determined how much gold you could get by exchanging it. If your piece of paper had "20" written on it, you could get more gold than someone who only had "1" written on it, but less than someone who had "1,000,000" written on it. Money started out as gold certificates that were made by goldsmiths. People found that they were easier to carry around and exchange than lugging around blocks of gold. Goldsmiths found that people were just leaving the gold in the vault and decided to issue a certain amount of gold certificates as "loans" to people, since the certificates themselves were being used more than gold coins. Very often, the loan was paid off "with interest" meaning that a person rewarded the loaning person with some extra gold or something of value. In a sense, money started to take on a life of its own from these "counterfeit gold certificates". In terms of Right Speech, these certificates were not part of kind and truthful communication. They did not have the gold behind them that the certificate said that it did. Because the community or sangha dependents on a harmony that depends on kind and truthful words, these fake gold certificates undermined the necessary faith in an agreed upon system of transaction that allows us to exchange good and services with each other, to lovingly support each other, to heal each other, to take care of the needs of each other. Money started to take a curious life of its own. It began to be loved for its own sake. One New Testament verse wisely points out, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."

There are people who would like to go back to the gold standard, because gold is a "real value" as opposed to an arbitrary value. The gold standard tries to put a limit on a government about what it can do with literally "making money". When the government is unhinged from needing to stockpile a certain amount of gold for each unit of paper value, then it can simply produce as many dollars as it wants. Apparently one of the early kings of France, who saw the power of controlling money, made money as the product of goldsmiths into money as the product of a government. This king caused the first inflation by producing so much money that it diluted the value of all the previous units. It is a bit of a double standard that if a regular citizen produces money that it is illegal counterfieting and if a government does it then it is legal. It reminds me of a bumper sticker that says, "Do not steal, the government does not like competition." But money as we know it, really starts as a product of the government. Money originally arose to simplify bartering. Everyone would exchange for something that was of common value to all concerned. This way you did not have to keep on making one trade after another to finally get the product that you wanted. You could simply trade what you had for money and then trade money for what you wanted. You would only have two transactions rather than a large number of transactions. This meant that money arose to produce more harmony and more efficient social coordination of resources. People found that by "storing money" that they could "retire" and live off of the money that "they saved". This is also when money took on a life of its own. Money had a better shelf life than seeds which would eventually spoil and decay if saved for too long.

Unhinged from the gold standard, the money became the patented product of a government. This is what all the money of the planet has in common. Each currency is tied to a different government, has different policies regulating it, and these policies can change by the decisions of that government, the kinds of checks and balances that function in this government, the kinds of elections or succession of rulership that happens in this government, and what the people of that country are willing to tolerate before trying to overthrow that government. A currency is usually considered stable and reliable if the government behind it is stable and reliable. The value of the currency is partful due to its stability and reliability, and partly due to "what you can buy" with your money. This is, in its turn, dependent on what the country produces in terms of products and services. This is also related to the faith of the people in their money, their willingness to use money as a means to make transactions with each other. Value, too, is a relative thing. Some of what is valuable is related to biological survival needs and some of what is valuable is related to the kinds of pleasures we are willing to buy in the form of music and movies. Some of these pleasures are related to addictions and some are related to what makes us grow and thrive. Life becomes more worth living if there is high art, beautiful ecological landscapes, and technology. What humans value is dependent on what kind of dharma is behind their life, what they choose to live and find a purpose in. Behind capitalist "supply and demand" are all these fluctuations of the mind in terms of "volitional impulses", unconscious and automatic choices based on transitory thoughts, emotions, and sensations. There is some stability in all this, which means that the changes are relatively slow, though it is speeding up because transactions are being streamlined by electronic transfers, and a vaster system of checks and balances to govern these electronic transfers. What humans are finding valuable is related to product choices that have some logic to them, though human thoughts and emotions, what humans are willing to spend and why, does change in response to "news" which in turn is an abstraction and description of very complex multicause events unfolding on this planet. There are competing news stations which are also governed by a strange kind of supply and demand. There are different versions of the news depending on which political parties try to successfully or unsucessfully control the "media" and vote with "money" by investments and divestments. News that does not take into account the "stock holders" who own the company may disappear. News that is too delusional to be useful may also disappear because it becomes useless for investors who will look for their news on other stations. News that is too realistic and presents facts that expose some illegal activity of some powerful group may also be terminated by the powerful group. You end up seeing a vast "field of karma" where people are making choices and the choices are getting reflected back by life. Although there are many sources of seeming control and seeming power in this process, no sentient being, no ego is really in control. It is interesting, because many economically powerful beings seem to still age and die, many of them earlier than the current scientifically expected lifespan if you are living well according to certain factors. The reason why is, again, the dharma, greedy cravings, angry cynical negativity, and egoic delusions about what is worth having are the causes of sorrow, and money can symbolize all of them and feel worth getting in massive amounts. The Buddhist idea of creating wealth is connected with "giving" (dana parmita), rather than "taking" (greedy nonparmita). When we give things of value, then the law of karma reflects these back to us. When we take things from others and leave them worse off than before (aka harming them), then the law of karma reflects these back to us. Egos are always secretly struggling against each other (this is what hell is), rather than lovingly supporting each other (which is what heaven is). Conspiracy theories and conspiracies trying to control others is the natural thinking and activity of egos. Fortunately the ego is empty of substantial existence and is really a construct and "not self" that we can release and find tremendous joy. The ego is a kind of hypnosis we can wake up from and be truly free, feeling the oneness of life, and relaxing into this oneness.

Money is in some sense very abstract and exists, like the Madhyamika Buddhist philosophers said, by "mental imputation". In other words, piece of paper becomes money through a magical process. We write things on a piece of paper, make it into an elaborate art, with really fine inks and special templates, special fiber, now imbedded with special imprints that make it harder and harder for amateur criminal citizens to copy without getting caught. I find it ironic that this culture laughs at images of Wiccans springling herbs into a vat and mumbling incantations to make a spell, when the elaboration of activities, some involving vats as well (with wood pulp from trees mashed into generic plant fiber and mixed with hemp), with thousands of little political incantations that involve arguments, debates, deals of all kinds, bribes from special interest groups, and so on is seen to be "more scientific" (!). It is obvious to anyone who has studied "objective magic" that a pretty vast spell is producing an essentially illusory product that only exists in the minds of all the users of the product. There is even the conjuring up of "protective dieties" in the form of police and military in uniform so that the process cannot be coopted by amateur magicians, though sometimes it is subverted by "black magicians" with rituals almost as elaborate.

Like a lot of corporations, the government locks people into its product and make sure that it cannot be replaced by another product. This is because, right on the product, its says, "Suitable for all debts, public and private." This incantation is enforced. People must take our money as satisfaction for debt according to some increasingly abstract idea of what a fair settlement is. Other things, like store coupons, have a more limited "magical range" and are only useful in reference to a store or chain of stores. Rather than link their value to gold, they link their value to the items in their store. The products and services that are assigned a monetary value are also increasingly abstract and even involve complex mental operations and assumptions that not everyone can even understand any more and sometimes not easily. Like "insurance" which at first seems to be a guarantee of support when a disaster happens, but may or may not in actual practice, because the actual enforcement requires that the government decide, on the basis of reading the incantation that we "bought" whether or not the spell covers the disaster and requires the release of "money" to solve it and whether the money will be enough to neutralize the disaster in some way. Money, again, has a strange life of its own when taken as a thing emerging in a field of interaction, and becomes an "investment" which can "earn more money" through "interest" though money can also go up and down in value with trends recorded in news.

One interesting thing about the current "money crisis" is that the value of houses is going down in "price" which means that our money should be getting more valuable in the sense that our dollars should be able to purchase more stuff per a unit. If I have a "million dollars" then I can buy more houses than before. Yet this reduction in the value of houses is causing a crisis because people cannot pay their "mortgage" (talk about magic! -- mortgage is French for "death pledge") and cannot make "ends meet" (income at least equalling expenses). This not making ends meet has to do with all these little money price numbers being assigned to all kinds of products and services so that some people cannot "afford to live" and "go unemployed" or some disaster. The strange thing is that our current level of industrial, agricultural, and technological production can be very high and usually is. We are getting wealthier in that, for instance, I can buy a small netbook computer that is superior to any technology 50 years ago of any size and better than the computers that helped to land a craft on the moon and I can buy it for "chump change". I do not want to belittle the economic crisis, but wish to shift perspective about it and perhaps in this altered perspective other solutions may arise. I would say that things like how we treat the environment do matter, though usually efforts to heal the environment focus on pushing policies through government economic control systems and magical spells called "house bills" being run through elected officials who have learned to give the right kind of speeches to mobilize votes for them to get in office (or at least to reprogram the voting computers to make it appear so). I think this is why it seems, to me, that egos hate the "law of karma" because it is something that this delusional construct that thinks it is real cannot control and which governs all of reality. Egos believe that life is unfair and want to win in this unfair world by cheating and the law of karma says that it is impossible, in the long run, to cheat. But it takes a deep intuitive wisdom that can see every single process as connected to every other process within a unified field (the holy grail of Quantum Physics) to see this big enough a picture (thinking outside every box including thinking itself) to get all this and realize it. Paradoxically, the government is also empty of substantial reality too, being dependent on causes and conditons which arise within a field of interactions between everything and everything else. The actual members of the government constantly change, vote on new things, get bribed or not bribed by different lobbies, cheat in new ways, sometimes get caught immediately and sometimes not, always suffer karmaically eventually (and immediately if you know how to look) though few people in this culture believe in such things or trace the karmaic effects to relative completion (the chain of cause and effect tends to ripple almost forever until friction dissipates it completely). Part of the economic crisis has to do with a culture that did make wealth plundering other cultures with having better ships and guns than other cultures for a short while and consumed 90 percent of the world resources. Now other cultures are empowering themselves economically and freeing themselves from this grip in a kind of globalization process where the wealth will be distributed more evenly. Because we have also shared our best manufacturing methods and they are being used, there will be more wealth for everyone, but also that wealth as a concentration of power will be more diffused. There are millions of subprocesses that are involved in this larger view and seeing everything "from emptiness" actually can see "billions upon billions of processes" interacting in the field. The human mind tends to simplify and represent these processes in terms of abstractions that are ultimately delusional no matter how accurate they may seem to be and no matter scientifically fine tuned they become. The reason why is because the human mind is not really equiped to represent reality as it is. Awareness is, because awareness can simply see reality as it is moment to moment and stay with it. Any abstraction of the mind gets isolated from this feeling of an interactive field and gets analyzed separately. There is a kind of "logic of unity" that gets missed in the process of abstraction, with the analytical mind creating the isolated sense of self called the ego, which feels isolated and abandoned by life when this abandonment never really happened, we are always inside the field and are a part of the field. Even all those conspiracies "real" or "delusional" are ultimately devoid of substantial existence, subject to cause and effect, constantly changing its membership as tribes shift their alliances and form new teams to struggle with each other, and the members change their opinions constantly and are not the same for moment to moment. Some shift parties, join different causes and special interest groups, sometimes win and sometimes lose. Or some technological shift makes the black oil seem less valuable than it was (it was considered a worthless toxic goo until we learned to harness it as a fuel through a very complex magical purification ritual) compared to other forms of energy conversion.

My question is when a person does get "emptiness" and "thinks in terms of emptiness", then how does this shift change their life, how do they live, what do they do, and how to they see/relate to this total ever changing pattern of events. What I feel is that they see the entire equation is trustworthy and they relax into the flow, spontaneously adapting to the changes in real time and without strain (because our brain emerges within this field and is meant to adapt to the field as part of the field). It is a different mode of thinking that the primate ego "us versus them thinking" tends to frame all issues in terms of a power struggle with other tribes/conspiracies/factions and is essentially fear based and paranoid, angry and combative, and delusional in terms of feeling separate and threatened by the total process that is always unfolding in the now. There is a kind of surrender to life and trust in life that appears in consciousness when we let go and go beyond the artificial isolated sense of self.

Curiously, it seems that there is an actual brainwave frequency associated with this of 7.83 hz, the Schumann resonance frequency (which may be shifting now, though since we are moving to some galactic energy shift around 12/23/2010), which is the magnetic pulsation of the Earth. The Buddha would sometimes say about some of the events that happened in his life that "the Earth is my witness". After about 10 years of medtitation, Kamiya found that Zen Masters had cultivated a "rhythmic theta train". This is a coherent wave pattern oscillating at a certain frequency in the theta band, associated with dreaming sleep, the awakening of paranormal abilities (telepathy), and other states like hands on sending of healing energy. It seems that when there is an enlightenment experience, the brain shifts its magnetic pulsation to harmonize with the Earth and lives in communion with the Earth.

If I were going to give some advice about how to approach money from this perspective. I would recommend that people not go into debt. There might be some exceptions to this that might be worth doing, but they should be very few. I would like to offer the idea that perhaps we could live without going into debt at all, have a small amount of savings as a kind of buffer to draw from when some emergencies come, and not plan to get locked into a house debt or an education debt. I think that we can envision another way of dwelling and learning that does not involve going into debt. The internet itself has become perhaps the most amazing encyclopedia that humans have created. One could design a learning process through studying web sites, ordering books online, and interacting with experts from all over the world. It may be possible to even visit some of the experts and dialogue with them one on one, perhaps even auditing their classes or just hiring them as a tutor for a certain number of hours to go over some key lessons. We could design a kind of in life education that can even superior to a school education and then find work where we can get life credit for what we have learned. In the computer world, many classes are behind the "cutting edge" of where things are being invented and learned, and a very large number of people are learning on their own and keeping up on their own.

In terms of ownership, this may be a more complex process. One choice is just to rent and find something affordable. This seems simple and could work for many people for their whole lives. It is possible to own a mobile home or RV, make an informal deal with someone to live on their land, find a way to co-own some land with a group of people, or move to a country where land is more affordable. I think that the housing market collapsing can actually be a good thing, because it means that a certain system of debt economy is no longer going to work as well as it did before. It is only a crisis if we are locked into a certain pattern. If we remain loose and natural, trust in life, and flow with life, then something else will take its place. The Buddha emphasized "transitoriness", "nonsubstantiality", "nonsatisfyingness", and "interdependence" as the four marks of existence. I found "nonsatisfyingness" an interesting one. What it means that anything that we cling to and hold on to for happiness, security, and peace is not going to satisfy this need. There is no investment that is going to work this way. The constant change of life will make all those things feel less secure. Yet we can simply flow with life and find peace.

The fifth branch of the Eightfold Path is "right livelihood". The Buddha shared that we are meant to be generous with each other, serve each other in love, trade products that truly help make our lives better, be honest and fair with each other, and not earn our livelihood through scams or stealing, not work for a place that exploits workers or kills animals, or makes death dealing weopons that will be used in a military invasion. It is also wise to find the "middle" way, not spending money in an indulgent and excessive way or being so strict with our finances that we feel deprived and impoverished or hoard our money so that our energies to do flow and support others. Our ideal investment is into our service to others and taking care of our real needs. If I gain money by some stock market investment, it is taxed at least 25 percent. If I gain money by putting in insulation into a home and not spending it, this money is not taxed at all and the investment continues to save money for a very long time. It may also be a good exercise to think that if the money system collapsed what would be of value that you could trade with.

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