exploitation

Heart to Heart

  Heart to Heart is a new section of the Mindfulness Bell — for you to express your thoughts and share your practice on a given topic. In this issue we focus on the Second Mindfulness Training (of the Five). For the Autumn 2007 issue, we invite you to write on the Third; please send your submissions, under 500 words, to editor@mindfulnessbell.org by July 1, 2007.

mb45-Heart1

The Second Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving-kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

mb45-Heart2

Aware of the realities of today’s global economy, I realize that as a U.S. citizen it is impossible for me to live without stealing from and exploiting someone else somewhere in the world. Though I try to live and consume mindfully, I know that my own lifestyle rests on the exploitation of others. It is, for instance, almost impossible to buy clothes not made in sweatshops, where the workers (mostly young women of color) are treated mercilessly — forced to work twelve-to sixteen-hour days, six to seven days a week; paid a pittance that is sometimes not even enough to live on; sometimes forced to work unpaid overtime; subject to sexual harassment by their bosses; and forbidden to form labor unions that might empower them to work for better conditions. Most likely, the computer on which I write this was also made under such conditions, as were many of the other things I use in my daily life. In order to cultivate mindfulness of these grim realities, when I put on my clothes in the morning, I look at the tags on my clothing to see where they were made. Then I try to visualize the workers, while reciting this gatha: “As I get dressed, I remember with gratitude those who made my clothes, and with compassion, the conditions under which they work.”

I do try to consume mindfully and ethically where I can--buying recycled paper goods, ecologically friendly cleaning products, cage-free eggs, leather-free shoes — but there are limits to what I can do as an individual. Understanding interbeing, I see that many of my choices are conditioned by the larger global society of which we are all a part. I cannot buy products that were not made in sweatshops if they are not available to me when I go shopping — unavailable, because our economy is built on the principle of maximizing profits ahead of human and ecological needs. It is a race to the bottom, where corporations compete with each other, scouring the world for ever cheaper labor, and thirdworld governments compete with each other to attract business by providing this ever cheaper labor. Even my ability to buy those ethically sound products that I can rests on my own economic privilege, the fact that I can afford to spend a little extra money and such economic privilege inevitably rests on a system where others lack such privilege, living lives of poverty and exploitation. Understanding interbeing, I see that however mindful my actions, I still participate in a society based on theft and exploitation.

Understanding interbeing, I see that if I wish to live a life where I and others do not steal from and exploit others, it is not enough to look at my own individual choices when I go shopping. We must work together, collectively, to change the shape of our global society — to create an economy where, at the very least, everyone has a job where they are paid a living wage, treated with dignity, and allowed to form unions that can give collective voice to their concerns. The public good must be given greater priority than private profit. Only then will we all be able to live in a way that we do not have to steal from and exploit others.

Matthew S. Williams Reverent Joy of the Heart Boston, Massachusetts, USA

mb45-Heart2

Thay often says that if you have never gone hungry, you won’t appreciate the value of food. You take your safety, your freedom to move around, for granted. When you live behind locked doors, and don’t feel safe on the streets or walking in the countryside alone, then you know how valuable is the freedom to move around safely. This is not a freedom that we enjoy in our country, South Africa.

I live in a country where it is not safe to leave your doors open. You normally lock your doors when you go out, but we have to keep them locked even when we are at home, because this is the best time for criminals — they don’t have to break and enter --they just enter. This is not a nice way to live — behind bars in a kind of private prison to keep you safe in your own home.

mb45-Heart3

We have one of the highest crime rates in the world, and much of it is violent crime. The situation in South Africa has come to be because of the past history and collective karma that we have created. Everybody knows the story of Apartheid. The past is past, but it is still with us in the present moment. We have to work very hard to change it and to create a better future. We have undergone major transformation in our country under the bodhisattva Nelson Mandela, but social change takes much longer than political change.

We live in a hard country, and it can make you a hard person, or it can soften you and make you more compassionate. I used to be hard and uncaring before I encountered the Dharma. Since then I am constantly trying to increase my compassion, open my heart wider, and become a bodhisattva. I think of the bodhisattvas who go to the darkest places in order to help, and sometimes it feels like this path was given to me by default. “Darkest Africa” is my home, and many bodhisattvas are needed on this continent, which is plagued by tribal wars, famine, AIDS, poverty, and crime.

As aspiring bodhisattvas, there are many teachings to help us cultivate our capacity to love:

  • The teaching on Buddha nature: All beings are the same, we all have the same potential, we all want happiness and don’t want suffering.
  • The teaching on cause and effect: We take responsibility for what we are experiencing without blaming others. It is our own karma; we are reaping what we sowed. Even if we personally did nothing in this particular lifetime, we may have contributed through our non-action, our apathy.
  • The teaching on dependent origination: Everything depends on causes and conditions. Nobody is inherently “bad” — people act in certain ways because of causes and conditions that are often beyond their control. This understanding helps us to cultivate compassion, to open the door of our heart so that we can love instead of hate. Thay’s poem “Please Call Me by My True Names” about the sea pirate, helped me a lot. Here is an excerpt:

I am the 12 year< old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate. And I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving. Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one. Please call me by my true names so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open the door of compassion.

These wonderful teachings help us to transform our minds, our emotions, our ways of being. We do this for ourselves and for the world, to relieve ourselves of suffering and to create a better world in the future because happiness and suffering are universal. I know that if you suffer, you will make me suffer. We know that if we exploit people or take unfair advantage of them, oppress them, discriminate against them on grounds of race, culture, religion, gender, we are committing a kind of theft — we are stealing their dignity to be who they are. This will make them suffer and it will make us suffer, because one day their suffering will impact on our lives and become our suffering as well.

We are all creators. We are creating all the time. We are responsible for creating the kind of world that we live in, and this is why the Mindfulness Trainings are so important. We must learn from the mistakes of the past so that we can create a better future based on love not fear, on giving not getting, on helping not harming, on supporting not exploiting, on building up not breaking down, on creating the conditions for happiness not suffering. Then we can all live in the Pure Land. The Buddha said:

If you want to know your past lives, Look into your present condition. If you want to know your future, Look into your present actions.

Carol Leela Verity True Stream of Light Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

PDF of this article

Toward a Compassionate Economics

An Interview with Riane Eisler By John Malkin

mb55-Toward1Compassion is a deeply valued aspect of Buddhist practice. Caring for others is a natural expression of interbeing. How would our lives be different if compassion were a foundation of politics and economics? Riane Eisler explores the possibilities of a compassion-based economics in her latest book The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (Berret-Koehler Publishers, 2007). She writes, “Strange as it may sound, we can’t just focus on economics to change economic systems. We have to go deeper and further.” Eisler is pointing to a reacquaintance with compassion, a movement away from domination-based societies toward a partnership model.

mb55-Toward2

Eisler makes the point that “…the exclusion of caring and care-giving from mainstream economic theory and practice has had, and continues to have, terrible effects on people’s quality of life, on our natural life-support systems, and on our economic productivity, innovativeness, and adaptability to new circumstances.” Riane Eisler’s 1987 book The Chalice and the Blade draws on anthropological findings to reveal that human beings have lived in partnership societies where compassion has been highly valued. In The Real Wealth of Nations she addresses the question, “What kinds of social confi    support our enormous human capacities for caring, for problem-solving, for consciousness, for empathy and creativity—rather than for destructiveness, insensitivity, and violence?”

Thay has so often taught that all these seeds—from empathy to anger—are present in us and can be cultivated or diminished. Indeed, the Second Mindfulness Training focuses on the practice of not supporting exploitation, social injustice, or oppression in any of its forms. “I do think of my work as spiritual because I think of spirituality as putting love into action,” Eisler recently told me. “In that sense,” she said, “it does connect to the Buddhist philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh.”

John Malkin: Tell me about the relationship of economics to common beliefs about human nature.

Riane Eisler: There is a popular notion that human nature is selfish. In domination systems, one of the biggest myths is that there is something wrong with us. Whether it’s original sin or the popular version of selfish genes, we’re bad. With that belief comes the belief that we need to be strictly controlled. That is one of the bases of domination.

Humans have a very large spectrum of possibilities. We can be cruel, violent, and insensitive. But we also have an enormous— indeed unprecedented as a species—capacity for consciousness, caring, and creativity. The issue that I’ve been probing is what kinds of social configurations support or inhibit the expression of these positive capacities. Unfortunately in domination systems, you’ve got rigid rankings (man over man, man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, man over nature).

JM: Economics is not easy to understand. It seems that much money is made from the exploitation of people and nature while caring professions are not well compensated.

RE: Economics is basically about what is or is not valued. Classical economists will say, “It’s just a matter of supply and demand.” What they ignore is that much more important are underlying cultural values which are unconsciously embedded. Like the devaluation of anything considered to be soft, caring, care-giving.

Just having “caring” and “economics” in the same sentence causes a lot of us to do a double take. It’s a terrible comment on the un-caring values that we have learned to accept as driving economic rules, practices, and policies. We need economic policies that give real value to the most important human work: caring for people and nature.

These life-sustaining activities aren’t counted in our measures of productivity, such as GDP (gross domestic product) and GNP (gross national product). Market economy professions that don’t involve caring and care-giving, like engineering and planning (they may be done by caring people but the work isn’t care-giving), are uniformly higher-paid than professions that are about care-giving, like child care and elementary school teaching.

In the U.S. we think nothing of paying the plumber—the person to whom we entrust our pipes—$50 to $100 an hour. But to the person to whom we entrust our children—the child care worker—we pay an average of less than ten dollars an hour with no benefits, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. This isn’t logical. It’s pathological.

JM: Some countries are developing economics that place a high value on caring.

RE: There are nations that have moved more to the partnership side, and they have more caring policies. Sweden, Finland, Norway. They were so poor at the beginning of the twentieth century that people fled famines in droves. But today they have the highest life spans and the lowest poverty rates. They invested in caring for people and caring for nature. It’s not that complicated. They have universal health care, as well as high-quality child care and early childhood education.

JM: In your book you write, “Policymakers always seem to find money for control and domination, for prisons, weapons, wars. But we’re told there’s no money for caring and care-giving. For feminine activities such as caring for children and people’s health. For nonviolence and peace.”

RE: Anything that is stereotypically considered feminine— associated with caring, care-giving, nonviolence—is devalued, whether it’s in a woman or in a man. That’s very important. Women can be cruel and men can be caring. How a society organizes the roles and relations of the two fundamental halves of humanity— female and male—doesn’t only impact our individual lives, but it affects everything about our social system, including economics. It makes our families either authoritarian or democratic.

We did a study at the Center for Partnership Studies comparing statistical data from eighty-nine nations that correlated the status of women with measures of quality of life like infant mortality, human rights, and environmental ratings. We found that the status of women can be a better predictor of the general quality of life than GDP.

We now have the enterprise of coming together and constructing a better future. It’s the most important work for us on the planet. If we don’t join together to change how we think and act, we just don’t have much of a future, and neither do our children.

Editors’ note: Sister Annabel, Senior Editor of the Mindfulness Bell, read this interview and offered an additional question for Riane Eisler.

Sister Annabel: While I was reading this article I felt there was something missing. It was the feeling that we should pay the caregiver more than the plumber. Why do we not pay everyone the same? The caregiver cares because that is how she expresses compassion, and the plumber can also plumb compassionately. What is wrong is that we continue to express value in money. I think this is something economists have to look at. In a humane society, everyone has the same material needs and everyone should receive the same amount of money.

RE: Thank you, Sister Annabel, for your question. I want to say, first, that what our work is about is not that one kind of profession be paid more than another, but that the work of caring for people and nature be given visibility and real value. This is essential for a more just and caring world, because as long as caring continues to be devalued, not only will the essential work of caring for children, the elderly, and others in need of care be given few if any rewards, but we cannot realistically expect more caring policies. So policy makers will continue to have no trouble finding funding for prisons, weapons, and wars, but won’t find money to fund health care, child care, and other “soft” caring activities. From my perspective the problem is not money, which is a useful invention for exchange, but that money is not allocated in humane and caring ways.

For more information about Riane Eisler and the Caring Economics Campaign, see www.partnershipway.org.

mb55-Toward3John Malkin, Clear Path of the Heart, lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Author of Sounds of Freedom and The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America, he hosts a radio program called “The Great Leap Forward” (www.freakradio.org) on Free Radio Santa Cruz. His guests have included Thich Nhat Hanh, Riane Eisler, Philip Glass, and Sister Chan Khong.

PDF of this article