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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 46 easy to say it’s imperfect, and it’s not very easy to say what we should do about it. DaviD Loy: I agree, sure. I don’t mean to imply that Buddhism has the answer to the economy and the ecology. I do think, though, that Buddhists have some role to play there because of what we’ve learned from practice. buDDhaDharma: Why do you think money is such a juicy and powerful klesha-generator that can lead to such harmful disagreements? DaviD Loy: In our culture, money is not only a medium of exchange and a storehouse of value. It’s also a collective real- ity symbol. It’s how society has taught us to evaluate our- selves. There’s not simply a fear of being able to eat and find a roof over one’s head. There is also an element of judging ourselves—we decide how well we’re doing and how good we are and how real we are. Sharon SaLzberg: One of the reasons money is so powerful is that it can cover the full hierarchy of needs. For one thing, it represents safety and security. For many people, the current financial breakdown is not simply a crisis of status. It’s a real crisis, about eating and having shelter. Then, of course, there is the esteem issue that David was just talking about. People are not just facing fear and uncertainty about how to proceed. There’s also a level of humiliation as people are facing not having as much, or not being able to spend as much. That’s worth examining. John TarranT: Money is so interesting to us, as practitioners, because if the meditation practice is real, it has to engage with the world—love, work, money, everyday things like that. There’s a romantic part of us that would rather not think about money, but the things that are difficult are things that you can get good practice from. DaviD Loy: How we regard money is also wrapped up with our being an individualist society. More traditional societies would have stronger family networks and more extended community networks. Religion would often play a stronger role. John TarranT: I’m not so sure it’s wise to say that there are other cultures that do this better. There are cultures that do bits of lots of things better, but wherever people can get money—no matter what culture—they try to get it. It doesn’t help to be romantic about the past or about some other more evolved society, as if we should all be peasant farmers. Sure it’s not great if people start thinking they are their money, but someone can just as easily think they are their cow, their car, their number of wives, their tall husband, or whatever counts for status in their culture. buDDhaDharma: In an article in Harper’s many years ago, prime examples. And they provide us an opportunity for a much greater understanding. John TarranT: To me it’s interesting to see all the ways Bud- dhism is already here, so to speak. When prajna is there, com- passion will come out. DaviD Loy: It’s also part of our practice as Buddhists to con- tribute whatever we can to these larger issues of social trans- formation. We’re in a time when a lot of things have come into question. Buddhists have a responsibility not to be pre- sumptuous about having the answers, but also to contribute what we can to the debates and discussions. For example, we could hear more and say more about the interconnectedness of economy and ecology, which all the panic over the financial crisis has tended to bury. From a Buddhist standpoint, when we talk about money and economic issues, we ought to see the wider context. The economy and the financial system are a wholly owned sub- sidiary of the biosphere. John TarranT: The ongoing train wreck of the ecology is cer- tainly connected to how we handle money. DaviD Loy: When the system seems to be working well, it’s harder to get people to look at it, but now there are a number of crises coming together. With more and more people raising these questions, I’m hopeful that we may be able to change things. John TarranT: I work a lot in the medical world, where we talk about exceeding the scope of one’s practice. We can do that, too, as preachers. I don’t know if I really know enough about economics to offer anything of real value in that realm. I know that none of the known economic systems seems to work very well. And sure, trading is about greed, just like having a body is about having desire, but it’s one of those things where it’s It’s possible that financially things are going to become an awful lot worse and that isn’t necessarily all bad from a dharma standpoint. It may encourage the development of sangha, of community—depending on each other rather than our bank accounts. —David Loy