Friday, January 6, 2012

The Emptiness of Money by Tenabah c2012

The Emptiness of Money
through Tenabah, c2012

I wanted to apply one of the deeper teachings of the Dharma to the current political events. In the Heart Sutra, the Bodhisattva of Compassion sees "the emptiness of all the five skandhas and cuts through the very root cause that keeps us in sorrow". In later Mahayana teachings, the theme of emptiness is applied not only to all the five skandhas (consciousness, thought, emotion, sensation, and body), but also to the entire material universe and all the mental, emotional, sensory, and material objects within this universe. The key word in this passage is "seeing the emptiness". It is not an intellectual conclusion but something that is done through awareness, direct experience, and intuitive wisdom. However, later Buddhist philosophers, mainly the Madhyamikans, found that through a kind of intellectual contemplation of mental, emotional, and material objects that one could deduce their emptiness and open the path to realizing emptiness. This contemplation is considered valuable to do, because the solidity and existence of material objects has been an illusion reinforced by mental interpretation and has never been validated in actual direct experience. It is like an optical illusion which can be seen through, but also analyzed mentally first to prepare for this "aha" experience. If the illusion is mentally challenged, the delusion is "loosened" enough for direct perception to happen more easily.

The principle of emptiness is a middle path between "eternalism" and "nihilism". The eternalist fallacy is that things are substantially real and existent from their own side. The nihilist fallacy is that nothing exists at all and that nonmaterial things like a soul are completely nonexistent, are merely epiphenomena of brain activity or something like this, so that when the brain is annihilated that the soul is annihilated too. The seeing of emptiness is to see that all things have a kind of dependent existence, arise within an interdependent field of energy, are subject to cause and effect, are the result of convergent lines of cause and effect, and are defined as existent in relation to other phenomena. If all the causes for arising are eliminated, then the phenomena also ceases. Yet the "life continuum" of any object is always changing, within a kind of historical flow, and this continuity flows almost eternally. If we take the human personality, it is never the same for any two moments, thoughts, emotions, sensations, reactions, impulses to do, and behaviors are always changing. Even the body itself, arising from the formation of the zygote and ending up being a decaying corpse that is compost for trees (and even a wider array of possible patterns than this), is a continuum of snapshots that are very different from each other, and how this convergences and joins that personality is another interdependent set of causes and effects. Inside this field of interdependent causes and effects that are constantly converging and diverging is "no thing" that exists independently of those things and no combination of phenomena that adds up to a "thing". There is only the flux of phenomena always woven together, within this field, and the field itself is nothing but this vast series of interdependent processes and is itself not independent from all these processes, and therefore does not "exist from its own side" as well. In short, there is nothing that exists separately from this field, but only existences that are dependent on this field contantly recreating them in a moment by moment process. This all can be verified by looking at how everything is in constant change on every level of perception (visible level, organ level, chemical level, subatomic level, quantum level, and the spinning vortexes arising from empty space level). In short, nothing is "absolutely existent", but everything is "dependently existent". The realizing of this truth is ccompanied by a feeling of oneness with everything and a relaxation into the creative process that is birthing us moment to moment, and an entrustment of ourselves to this process that has always sustained us. If we contemplate "money" in this light, we can easily see how it is not substantially real for its own side, how it is dependent on a vast array of multiple causes converging in each moment for its meaning, purpose, and existence, and how it is not "real for its own side" and how it is even different in its meaning depending on how each of us individually relates to it, and how this individual meaning is not arbitrary or absolute. None of us is right or wrong about how we relate to money and how it feels to us and for us, each of us has a different feeling about money, and money does not exist independent of what we feel about money and how we use it. Money is different from the material form of paper dollars and yet not separate from the paper dollars. It has a historical continuum of transformations where it becomes "electrons" stored in a bank main frame within an internet server system and then gets converted "back to dollars" when we make a withdrawal, either through a an ATM or a bank teller or through vast array of other means. The "value" of money has more than one side. One is the "mental imputation" of a value by our consensus consciousness of certain papers being "one dollar" and other papers being "20 dollars", etc. This mental imputation is then translated into electron form when making a deposit and is "separated from the paper" during this time, yet it also continues to be the same amount on this level, even though the "20 dollars" is "added" to the electron totals in our server file (which is protected by all kinds of magical barriers and enchantation passwords and designated key keepers and guardians), and yet continues to be used by others once it is released from our "ownership". This ownership is also not an absolute thing and can be transfered from us to someone else by all kinds of magical acts from "losing pocket change by having it fall through a hole in our pockets", to "donation", to "theft", to "investment", etc. All these operations have a strange kind of dependent existence that is not separate from our mental imputations of what they mean and how they are anchored upon some material process whether it is ink printed pieces of hemp or electrons pumping through the internet server system or even transfered via handshakes and trades.

To further deepen the feeling of how empty money is, even if we "do nothing" with the money, but "leave it in the bank" (where is it actually?), it is constantly changing its value by all kinds of events, from the Federal Reserve printing 7.7 Trillion paper dollars, from how these dollars are being manipulated in the stock market, from how "world events" shape our lives, from how gold and silver dance in relationship to money by various exchanges, including how "paper silver" and "paper gold" (which is only paper with the word "silver" or "gold" written on them and being exchanged "as if" it were "real" silver or "real" gold, and which drive up or down the "real" price of silver and gold in relation to the phantom dollar that is going through all these changes too. There is something very magical about how money works and how many emotions we have about money and how it relates to so many things, including how happy, sad, afraid, or angry it makes us. Money is floating around many deep fears that people have, it is tied up in how "successful" people feel they are, it is tied up in how much people have feel they have "failed", how "secure" people feel, and whether or not people are in "survival mode". It "pays the bills" and if you do not have "enough" then people believe that they are kicked out on the street and become the "homeless" (the outer bardo ring for people in capitalist society). Money has replaced older forms of punishment of previous eras of society, where physical torture was once used. You now get "fines" instead. Judges arbitrarily assign the "fine" or "punishment" for crimes according to what "legislatures" determine is appropriate, with the judge using "judicial discretion" to determine what is "the appropriate application of law". These processes are also vastly interdependent upon all kinds of phenomena and causations, lines of cause and effect rippling through our world since the big bang and earlier. With "Occupy Wall Street" people are protesting unfairness, because these paper and electron dollars are being "controlled" by and "pumped" to a small number of people called "the one percent", and who want more accountability and justice in how these processes have formed. What is called "corruption", too, is "emptiness", with nothing substantially real from its own side or truly existent about it, but yet it not nonexistent either, but arises in interdependence with a vast array of processes that form our society and our global community.

When we delusionally feel that money is substantially real or existent from its own side, then we feel it was the same thing it was in times past, that there is something of "essence of money" that is eternal going through all those changes and that "money should always be this". We want to impose this feeling on the money and insist on being something that no longer exists. Or we believe that money is a complete illusion (the nihilist fallacy) and that it is totally arbitrary or that it "no longer exists" when the money essence never did exist or never did not exist. What happens is that we are not flowing with the endless changes that money is making every moment. We could be attaching to money for security and then experiencing anxiety when it changes, and are resisting our death and fearing our death when the "money is gone" or "runs out" (aging).

This kind of perception of money fits in with the more usual Buddhist understanding that the world is transitory, not secure, and nonsubstantial, and that if we attach to anything in the world for security then we will suffer as a result and already have a subtle anxiety in the moment. The subtle anxiety is really a confused wisdom energy that sees the truth of how insecure and insubstantial money already is. The alternative is to rest in the flow itself and live within the guidance of intuitive wisdom. When money is seen as emptiness, then sharing it and being generous with it makes more sense. It can serve compassion while it always frustrates greed. It is a paradox that it can function in the moment to address immediate needs as part of the interdependent flow of what is happening.

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