it’s very simple,” Shugen Sensei told us at the start of our week of Zen Buddhist meditation: “Stop creating it.” I’ll come back to that in a moment. Just notice he did not say it’s easy.
Thinking why I blog reminded me of what Steve Jobs said is the secret to product development “Start somewhere”. Just starting has always been my path. Only later, sometimes much later, if what I started still feels worth doing, do I try to understand why. The urge to figure out the why of Himalayan exploration, Buddhist practice, economic and governance research and blogging has now arrived. To my surprise, it centers on ending suffering.
It all started ten years ago in the Himalayan mountains. It wasn’t my idea to go there and I had no specific objective. What happened was I found myself among people who appeared to be living with dignity, not aggressively, not hurriedly, and happily without the nice things we take for granted. Could it be true? Did they have a recipe my society might learn from? So I kept going back.
I began to wonder if Buddhism was part of the recipe. When we visited Buddhist temples our crew always lit lamps and prostrated. But later, when we visited Hindu temples and the dwelling places of animist spirits, they showed reverence there, too. I’d done some Buddhist reading by that time and was trying to meditate. That’s why I went to the Zen monastery.
By the end of the first day I was pretty sure I’d made a mistake. It was so hard to do nothing, sit completely still, just notice my thoughts, make no judgments, not reject or follow them. By the end of the day I was exhausted although I’d “done” nothing. I fell instantly asleep. In the morning I thought, “I’ll see how it goes until breakfast”. After breakfast I thought, “I’ll see if I can hang on ’til lunch”. At day’s end I thought, “Maybe day three will be better“. It was worse. Day four was a little better, though, and so it went. I’d suffered a lot by the end of the week but I’d also had glimpses of the truth of what Shugen Sensei told us at the start. I was bringing my suffering onto myself. That felt worth knowing.
Before I could go to the Himalayas I’d forced myself to retire. It was hard because from then on, investments would have to support us. With more time to worry, I realized my ignorance of how the economy works meant I had little confidence we’d made good investments. So, when I wasn’t in the Himalayas I studied investment and economic theory. The Great Recession arrived just as I was starting to feel I had the theories sufficiently clear.
Now I had to understand why our economy collapsed. I studied governance and saw some parallels with the paralysis of government in Nepal. That’s when I started blogging. The US economy is embedded in the global economy. There are so many moving parts in the system. I had to start recording facts and analyses to get a holistic picture. Charts and writing are my best tools for thinking and I hoped for critical feedback.
It’s only recently that I began to sense all these activities are related and they all start where Shugen Sensei was pointing. They’re all aimed at happiness and stopping the creation of suffering.
The historical Buddha taught that we will only become truly happy when we work to end the suffering of others. It must be so because we are not separate from others. If they are unhappy we will also be made unhappy. Communities were small two and a half thousand years ago. People made each other happier or not with face to face interactions. Today we also interact via nation-state and global systems that impact both us and future generations. That’s why I care about governance.