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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 40 Facing the Financial Crisis How Buddhism can help Introduction by Michael Carroll forum • joHn tarrant • sHaron salzBerg • david loy • Michael Carroll is a consultant and business coach, and the author of Awake at Work and The Mindful Leader. M y father was a steamfitter—as were my uncles, grandfather, brother, and many cousins. Heating schools, building oil refineries, and tearing down massive, obsolete boilers—these men worked carefully with their hands and minds to build a world that functioned well. My father was a tough man who, like many other Irish-Amer- icans of his generation, wrestled life into order and shaped it to his will. Part of my father’s journey was relating to money as an obsession. He had watched his father lose his job during the Great Depression, and as a teenager had become the bread- winner for his family. He had learned as a child to fear the possibilities of failure; to dread the prospects of poverty; to worry endlessly about a worst-case scenario. So my father spent interminable hours managing his checkbook and invest- ments, as if his very life, and his family’s, depended on it. Because of his obsession, my father was not a confident man. He was smart, reliable, and devoted; tender in his own way. He had an unshakeable sense of right and wrong, always looking out for the underdog. But, underneath it all, my father was afraid of his life. “Life offers you happiness and pain, Michael,” he once said to me, “and if you can make it to the end of your life having at least 51 percent happiness, then you have succeeded.” And so he struggled—admirably, powerfully, and, in the end, futilely—to live life with a scorecard, hoping for the best and fearing the worst, trying to be as confident as he could in a world that offered absolutely no guarantees. I, too, became frightened of my life, and not just in my corporate career or in trying to secure myself financially. But, because of my father, I was able to see early on that my fear was deeper than just losing a paycheck, a job, or a savings account. My fear was about losing confidence in myself. My fear was about strategizing my way through life rather than living it; securing my life rather than opening up to it; argu- ing with life’s circumstances rather than embracing them. My fear, like my father’s, was about losing touch with my basic resourcefulness. In Buddhism, it is noble to face the facts of life. Life hurts (at times a lot), nothing lasts, anything can happen, and we will die. It is noble to face these facts not because we enjoy the pain of it all. It is noble because in facing such facts we express a confidence that has no conditions; a confidence that does not rely on emotional scorecards, retirement funds, or paychecks; a confidence that stands utterly on its own—resourceful, dig- nified, and free. In Tibetan Buddhism such confidence is called ziji—the indestructible confidence of primordial mind. But as we all know, and as our panelists so aptly point out, millions of people throughout the world have become pro- foundly disoriented by our present economic disaster. Many of us have become frightened and distressed. And given the present stark reality in America that 3.9 million jobs and $7.1 trillion in household wealth evaporated in 2008 alone, such anxieties at first glance seem to be in order. But what are we to do? How can we, as Buddhists, help? We can’t simply say to those in distress: “Here’s a big piece of ziji pie. Take a bite of unconditional confidence and cheer up.” Our panelists contend that Buddhists ought to be humble about offering solutions, and be wary of offering trite advice. Yet not surprisingly, our panelists point to the wisdom of sit- ting meditation that can help us see through our false hopes and deconstruct them, become more mindful of the anxiety that tends to arise when money problems occur, and possibly discover the genuine source of happiness. In the end, our anxiety about money—indeed our fear about all of life’s uncertainties—is about our human longing to rediscover our natural resourcefulness, one that relies on nothing but is a courageous expression of our original nature, the unconditional confidence of ziji. And in my heart I know this was what my father was searching for each time he bal- anced his checkbook and each time he worried about paying my college tuition. PHoto:jussiMononen