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Apr 07
Tuesday
Dharma Teachings
Karma and the Economy, by Acharya Eric Spiegel

How are we to understand what is going on right now in the world? How can so many people be suffering and there be no direct culprit? As I have been contemplating this crisis and watching (and living) the enormous suffering that is it’s mark, I have decided to write a series of short pieces examining our world from different points of view. I invite comment and questions. I don’t necessarily have great answers.

Right now, teachings on karma are helpful and relevant. In every moment, every being is generating karmic seeds for future germination. Every thought, positive or negative, that we have – every action we make – has some effect on the interdependent universe.

Somewhere, in some office or lab, a very bright guy – or an accumulation of bright men and women having great ideas – came up with a way to limit the exposure a lender would have when they wrote a loan or mortgage. This didn’t happen overnight. Many gradual great ideas led up to this one. First, the loans that airlines take to buy 747s were packaged and sold with the planes provided as collateral. Then your Mastercard debt was sold, along with my American Express bill, and our payments were the collateral that guaranteed this new, trade-able, piece of paper so that your neighbor’s pension plan or money market fund could buy a piece of it and allow her to retire more gracefully. I worked in a company that bought these “Collateralized Mortgage Obligations” or CMOs as they were known, and further packaged them in bundles so that a pension plan could have just the payout level it anticipated needing at a given time. I am pretty sure that no one along the way thought they were doing anything other than finding new ways to make a living while also being of some benefit.

Then, of course, someone realized that the millions of mortgages could be packaged into big bundles and those bundles could be sold in smaller pieces, and these became part of each of our retirement plans, bond funds, etc. And I’m sure there were further great ideas that made it even less likely that we would ever experience pain or suffering of any sort, or that ANYONE would ever experience such pain. The world was only going to get better. Yet, while everything seemed to be moving in a positive direction, the foundations of our economy (stable pricing and reliable markets based on common interest) were eroded. We could say that this was a prime example of samsara at work.
The Buddha brilliantly noted that wherever there is space there are beings; wherever there are beings there are conflicted emotions (klesha); and wherever there is klesha, there is suffering. And as we know, he is usually right.

Coming back to the seeds that we sow: Some seeds germinate quickly, grow for a season, flower and die. Others lay dormant for many years – some need to freeze and some need to burn – and eventually perhaps the conditions will be right for them to germinate. Even of those that germinate, some may have too much moisture and rot and some may dry up and wilt. Very few will grow into great trees with many branches that release new seeds into the world.

photo by Jennifer Holder

photo by Jennifer Holder

The idea of packaging mortgages was one idea that grew and spread. Some people realized that since the bank writing the mortgage wasn’t going to own it for very long, they weren’t very concerned about the stability of the loan. Other people realized that if this was so, they could be fairly free with the appraisals because as soon as the loan was written it became a free soul, un-tethered to a bank or banker. Others realized that if the banks were giving away money they could have a bigger house than they’d ever imagined. Little here would be defined as criminal in any direct examination.

Now, of course, the mortgage broker is out of work. Is he or she to blame? The folks who invented the programs that made it possible to parse these mortgages a million ways – they are probably out of work too, or perhaps they have a new job: trying to get the cows back in the barn. The people who bought the house are probably not living in it anymore.

Part of the teaching on karma is that the fruits of seeds planted are rarely uniform – some plants may grow strong and others struggle to survive. Sure, maybe the seed was stronger or weaker, but so much depends on the environment being conducive to healthy growth – just enough moisture, just enough warmth. In this case we could say, just enough belief in deregulation, the right administration(s), and just enough greed so that no one was willing to take their winnings and go home early.

Of course, some people did do wrong to greater or lesser degrees. To many of his clients Mr. Madoff wore two distinct faces; one as a friend and the other as a thief. He personally caused great harm and pain. His was another seed that germinated in the conducive environment of deregulation – in another time it might have borne a much weaker fruit. But most people in this puzzle were part of such a complex world of dependent arising that they are just grains of sand in the desert of our time. The greatest share of this suffering was caused solely by the ignorance of beings playing out over and over in small ways.

As the teachings on karma tell us, in every situation it is up to us to determine what future seeds we sow. Rather than acting out of a continual lack of awareness, we can begin to be aware that our thoughts and actions may germinate in ways we can’t imagine. This is why virtue is taught in the Buddhist teachings. Virtue implies that we ourselves will not continue to cause ceaseless suffering. It creates situations in which our actions can ripen into a beneficial fruit. Virtuous activity arises from a stable mind and embodies the characteristics of clarity and warmth.

photo by Jennifer Holder

photo by Jennifer Holder

We live a constant balance between virtue and non-virtue. Few of us know what is really in our past: whether you believe in multiple lives or not, you can see that each of us is programmed by complex threads. In addition to the historical time of our birth, we have our national heritage, cultural background, race, religion, parents, and the kids at school who tormented us. Whether you recently lost your savings, your home, or your job, or are somehow beyond the reach of the economic decrease, each individual’s story has a million causes. The essential point is that this unending cycle of cause and result – which creates so much suffering and is the fruit of endless ignorance – can be worked with moment by moment through practicing stability of mind and generosity of heart.

The seeds we carry in our mindstream are mostly unknown. But as we go about our days in this economic period of instability and tremendous uncertainty, we can work directly with our karmic situation – personally, culturally, globally – to sow seeds that are of benefit. In practice and activity in the world, we can express our stability, our warmth, our bravery. The lead principle of the Shambhala teaching is Warriorship, which implies a direct, sane relationship to our world. To accomplish this we have to literally take our seat – on our cushion and in our own world – and train ourselves to see the patterns of our mind before they play out in the greater environment.

Acharya Drukda Thaye
Eric Spiegel

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22 responses to “ Karma and the Economy, by Acharya Eric Spiegel ”
  1. Bill Sutton
    Jul 20, 2009
    Reply

    Although it is really helpful to understand how our current economic situation came about, the bigger picture of how it relates to our ecological and energy problems is even more eye-opening for understanding what we as a species together with the other living beings on the planet are up against.

    And as buddhists, we have been admonished not to spend too much time finding the source of the poisoned arrow, but having realized the extent of the damage, to remove the arrow. (Of course some analysis of the source will help us from getting a poisoned arrow in the other eye as well!)

    So the question becomes first to realize the extent of the problem and second to come together as a community to do whatever we can to help. This is what Shambhala is all about — helping the world create an enlightened society in its time of most dire need.

    I went to a seminar by Chris Martenson this weekend on The Crash Course. A scientist by trade, Chris and his wife Becca have spent the last many years devoting their time and energy into analyzing the facts behind the economic, ecological, and energy crises upon us, and how they are all interrelated. And they have come up with a very positive vision of how we can respond and create genuine prosperity amidst an inevitably approaching period of chaos. You will be surprised how well this vision meshes with our teachings — and I feel we should consider how we can help. We have something invaluable to offer here.

    They have compiled The Crash Course into about 3 hours of presentations, broken up into watchable chunks. Like the Buddhist teachings, they start with the bad news — but the vision of a genuine society that emerges from it is tangible.

    You can watch it here: http://www.chrismartenson.com

    Several Shambhalians attended the recent workshop in Denver, and we realized we urgently need to start a community discussion around these issues, and Chris and Becca’s extremely skillful presentation is a great place to start.

    PLEASE WATCH THE CRASH COURSE AND LET’S GET THIS CONVERSATION STARTED. The Vidyadhara predicted a lot of what is starting to happen and we have precious little time.

  2. Thanks Ross for the welcome. I did check some entries in your nice blog and we may be thinking along same lines. One of my wish is that we create a space within our community for good dialogue and open discussion in the spirit of generating collaborative understanding and creative insights. I did view part of the PBS Frontlime ‘Breaking the Bank’ and Fed seemingly acting as an unbiased? broker, when in reality FED is the most direct culprit, but ‘we the people’ and our ‘government representatives’ do not see it that way. Experts, politicians and economists are trapped in the box of elaborate conceptual framework and political ideologies that have avoided or puposefully kept distracted from looking into the ‘fundamental process of money creation’ and our perception of ‘money’ itself is confused. Well its time for my yoga class…anyway it is fascinating subject unravelling of which hold great promise for collective liberation from social dukkha.

  3. that dharmabrats link is here:
    http://dharmabratsforum.yuku.com/topic/1343/t/ACHARYA-SPIEGEL-FAIL.html

    I had to search around to find the forum – interesting. I didn’t want to register just to suggest they come over here to join this discussion, but maybe someone registered there could suggest that.

  4. rita ashworth
    Apr 28, 2009
    Reply

    people may want to check out a programme on the British Channel 4 called Despatches which details the financial collapse in the world very accurately -all the honchos are on it including the British Chancellor and many Americans aswell.

    Politics is getting quite gross in the UK – Tories are talking of an age of austerity which means they will cut all public sector services when they get in………a rerun of thatcherite policies with a Cameron smiling face (Cameron is the leader of Her Majesties Opposition). There is also talk of three million people being unemployed in the UK…….the last time that happened in the UK there were riots in our cities……..probably the army is gearing up to run essential services if that happens……..anything can happen – I don think I am being pessismistic just realistic.

    There are some good comments on Dharmabrats website about the above article – I would give the comments there a buzz.

    I hope America becomes less isolationist after the above financial crash………as your finances affect the whole world……I hope all Americans will become more savvy about politics and not let greed predominate on your shores to the detriment of the whole world.

    please post some more comments to this article – would love to hear peoples opinions.

  5. Susmita Barua that’s a nice blog you linked for us, thank you for creating it – I’ll spend more time there trying to figure out the best way for us to become civilized in this world.

    Acharya Spiegel thank you for reminding us so powerfully that everything we experience is a display of our karma, and to be worked with even as we grapple with the many disturbing facts and concepts revealed by our economic malaise.

    I do believe that on balance most people involved as foot soldiers in this massive transfer of wealth didn’t have a larger view of specific wrongness. I also guess that those who precisely DID have an accurate view of what they were doing (and we could write many of their names I’m sure) will have their hands full dealing with their own karma somewhere in their future. And even they have buddha nature, and are acting from negative inspiration.

    I remember a cartoon years ago of two executive types in prison – obviously the minimum security kind – and one says to the other, with a mystified look on his face: “All along I thought my level of corruption was well within community standards.”

    Somehow we have to raise the standards of the community. I believe this is what our Shambhala teachings are trying to tell us about how to create enlightened society. And our actions are two-edged, I think: manifesting the qualities of what we’ve been taught, and yet at the same time engaging with the world in concrete action.

    We can learn from Gandhi, we can learn from Robert Thurman. We probably are wasting valuable energy in reacting directly to this present crisis (I may be wrong) – but I think we can record all its events, and be ready at all times to replay their meaning to everyone. We can learn, and usefully teach, about economics and money. We can propose different systems. We can also start small, and we can also start local. And I really like Susmita’s question in the blog she linked: Is sustainability possible without sustainable currency? This is something I’ve been wondering.

    Somehow the world’s economy must evolve into a sustainable model. Eventually this means capitalism must create business with zero footprint, and with returns foreseeably stable through seven human generations of future operation.

    I don’t believe we have the political strength to take on and prevail against the bankers, because the Federal Reserve System will always act (with our money) to protect them, and with their money they’ll own our representatives. And yet the answers aren’t quite the old populism, the answers are something new-ish.

    How far out can we afford to be in gaining traction in the material world with ideas of sacredness? And how far in dare we pull without losing the essential message, the inspiration to do better? I don’t know. I’ll stop here.

    Nice conversation. Thanks :)

  6. Andreas Manthey
    Apr 16, 2009
    Reply

    Good morning, Acharya Spiegel! I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this happen and for your great teaching It’s so important, complex and i find it really painful to talk about this, bythe way, i beg your pardon for my silly first post…
    i’d like to ask you: Can we go beyond the economy? Maybe by the virtous action of trying to understand where we come from? And then acting on that intelligence, we might even come up and change something in our life in our lifestyles, maybe forget after a while about our more or less miserable interlude as HOMO ECONOMICUS… i understand economy as living and exchanging with other under the assumption of SCARCITY, while we lived lets say 500 years ago in a relative and simple affluence of the COMMONS, when the church and its beginning nations intensified their enclosure and a war on subsistence…
    we need to dig in deeply and find out about the truth as ‘bittersweet as it may be’. Great observation of the Sakyong on Shambhala Day: this year we shouldn’t do so much thinking! (and planning) but difficult to get back to practice, thank u for reminding us Acharya…
    i’e been rereading my first teacher Ivan Illich, he was such a great christian warrior, most profound analyst of christian spiritual materialism as the origin of modern institutions.
    And also Majid Rahnema, whom i met when studying with Illich, was on executive council of UNESCO, written several books on how liberal economic politics were chasing convivial poverty to install half the world in modernized misery. He just published: The Power of the Poor(in french), but he has several books in english and on the net.
    And not to forget the OLD WAYS, thanx to Gary Snyder, who inspired me to SIT!!

    Love and Harmony among All Beings!
    Andreas Manthey, Paris

  7. Hello friends. Thanks Achariya Spiegel for raising this issue. I could browse and scan a few comments as I have to go. Like to share my perspective and blog on how to change the system mindfully through conscious intention and skillful understanding of the problem of not only banking but the unsustainability of money-as-debt paradigm.

    Peace
    mita
    http://conscious-capitalism.blogspot.com

  8. Dan Magorian
    Apr 14, 2009
    Reply

    Sherab Gyatso’s reply is extremely impressive in its factual analysis and insights instead of spindoctor platitudes! I strongly suggest that he submit it as an article to the Times and the Sun instead of just a blog entry for greater exposure and benefit to people. Let those who actually understand, speak the truth!

    Dan

  9. Sherab Gyatso
    Apr 14, 2009
    Reply

    Dear Acharya,

    While I agree with your conclusion, I have a lot of factual problems with your economic analysis.

    First, you have not addressed the cause of this crisis. The crisis was caused by too much money being in the financial system. There were more investors than investment products. To match the demand, more product had to be made, but this could only be done by lowering the quality standards. Today’s AAA corporate bonds have the same spread (risk) as yesteryear’s BBB bonds. So where did all this extra money come from?
    a. Some of it was borrowed and invested (due to our fractional reserve system, a dollar borrowed is a dollar added to the economy).
    b. Some of it came from “cashing in their earned house equity” or “stock equity”. Although price is often considered a linear function of supply and demand, supply and demand is affected by non-linear network effects (i.e. if all my friends think buying a house is a good idea, I tend to think so too).
    c. Some of it comes from “the savings” from outsourcing that go to the corporations that then invest it somewhere.
    d. Some of it comes from the fact the countries to whom outsourced work goes have lower cost-of-living and save the rest.

    Secondly, you have excused the perpetrators. While many people did not understand the math and implications behind these financial transactions, the 2 mathematicians I do know of who worked in this field both worked in risk management. They told their management very clearly that the incentives the stock traders were being given were the main form of risk to their companies as it benefited the stock traders to take big risks and there was very little downside to the traders if they lost it all. Both mathematicians said they were overruled (at different banks) by the more powerful trading desks.
    Boards of directors were given expert advice and ignored it. Even though they cannot plead ignorance, they have yet to assume responsibility: no resignations to date. This tells us a lot about the moral caliber of these people. It is idiot-compassion to accept the spin that this was unforeseen.

    Thirdly, and probably most tragically, you don’t seem to realize the system is flawed by design because of interest.
    a. If I lend you money at an interest rate that is such that the expected return on my investment is zero, the money supply does not have to increase. (Explanation of expected return: Because there is a risk of you losing my money and my not being able to recover it, the amount of money you repay me has to be slightly greater than the amount I gave you to compensate me for the times when I invest my money with you and you lose it). The money supply does not increase because although you lost my money, someone else got it, so the total amount of money in the system did not change.
    b. However I have little incentive to do that because it’s a hassle to lend money. So I charge more, so that my expected return is greater than interest. Now more money has to be created. There are 2 possibilities. Either the amount of money increases but the amount of goods in the economy does not. This leads to inflation which is exponential. Or the economy has to grow to keep money valuable. That’s great, except the environment has finite limits — we can only produce so much before our planet becomes lifeless.
    The way to fix this is to base money on a limited commodity. It can be gold, but it can also be tally-sticks which were the worlds longest lasting currency and were pieces of wood. They were still used during the British Empire.

    I do not believe the people who have the power to fix this mess, actually want to, because they guided the evolution of this mess, so as to benefit themselves unfairly. It is however a disservice to those that might have some influence, but are ignorant of the mechanics behind our financial system, to further misinformation. For instance, the IMF has shown that the current “pump money into bad banks” model does not work. Only a nationalization of the banks, followed by removing their directors, cleaning them up, and selling them, has ever benefited the banks, the economy and the tax payers. Sweden did it, and made a profit.

  10. Andreas Manthey
    Apr 11, 2009
    Reply

    i’am doing something verey meaningful
    going to the cinema with my daudghter
    Love to u all,
    Andreas

  11. david quinn
    Apr 11, 2009
    Reply

    Dear Acharya Spiegel,

    My apologies for not using my last name in my previous post

    Thank you for your response. Particularly given your extremely busy schedule. I very much appreciate the opportunity to contemplate and exchange ideas that your article has inspired and your generosity in initiating them also.

    It was not my intention to suggest that karma was not central to this topic, or that it is in some way a hinayana view. I believe as you, that it is indeed central.

    I simply meant that the interpretation of karma that you present in your article seems to me to reflect a hinayana point of view, rather than a vajrayana or Shambhala one. To be clear, this is a view I entirely agree with and aspire to practice, but feel that expanding on the Shambhala interpretation of karma presents the potential to cast the current financial situation in a new and perhaps beneficial light that I was interested in hearing from you.

    My understanding, please correct me if it is incorrect, is that of course the two interpretations are in complete agreement with each other, yet the vajrayana/Shambhala view of karma, building on the foundation of doing no harm, is a subtle refinement in understanding. Where the hinayana interpretation is about recognizing that which one perceives as the ripening of ones karma and then not doing harm to others, the vajrayana interpretation goes further to recognize that “not doing harm to others” is more subtle than simply not acting. We recognize that we are compelled to participate with our arising world, and how we chose to engage it becomes central. So neurotically for example, we may chose to deny what arises, which seems like an expression of ignorance, or fight what arises which seems like fear/aggression, or consume and grasp what arises which seems like passion, but as reactions to one’s own projections, all these responses are misinterpretations and therefore perpetuate karma.

    I’m interested in hearing about transmuting that neurotic response, based on passion aggression and delusion, into an enlightened one based on seeing what is there, appreciating the qualities, and responding with sanity, compassion, confidence, bravery, intelligence exertion, good head and shoulders, a sense of humor, etc. to what arises.

    So my point is, that this financial situation arises like a bully at school, who wants to steal one’s milk money, on a global scale. It’s a form of terrorism, and as long as everyone is confused, scared and isolated, the money keeps rolling in, the confused karmic acts continue to be committed, and the neurotic karmic structure perpetually stabilizes. One hardly needs to exert oneself to see evidence of this in the news and in the world.

    Assuming a position that fails to acknowledge the bully’s presence, whether by intentionally looking the other way, or by genuinely not seeing, may cause or allow one to act in a manner that is in accord with a hinayana interpretation of karma, which at an extremely profound level is fine, “blame is not the issue, so just see these tough times as the ripening of one’s karma and practice doing no harm”, but the problem is that from a vajrayana perspective, a bully or a harmful demon(s) has clearly manifest, and denial in response to such a projection is a karma perpetuating misinterpretation. The situation seems to be not so much about casting blame or indulging in rage or even outrage, but about first not mistaking ones projections for real appearances and then second, not validating those projections by denying their existence.

    I would very much appreciate your thoughts and experiences Acharya Spiegel in interpreting and understanding the current global financial situation from this Shambhala vajrayana perspective on karma.

  12. Eric Spiegel
    Apr 10, 2009
    Reply

    A couple of words of preface, before I add to or respond further. Firstly, I have very little experience with blogs — some with reading them, none with posting to them; less than none with being responsible for one. I casually agreed to the blog request from Shambhala Times without any particular thought about it. Since one of my two main motives for writing the piece on Karma as to start conversation and contemplation, I’m glad to have done so. The other reason was because I think many people in the sangha are feeling like deer caught in the headlights of the oncoming economy — losing savings, jobs, health insurance — and I am hoping to engage them as well, in more personal ways rather than just discussion about karma. My time is limited, so I will join in this as I can, either by postings such as this or by generating new streams of insight or confusion with additional pieces. (I have not yet had the chance to view any of the videos or articles posted. I will get to them as I can – and thank you for the contributions.)

    Alright, now one more request. It’s really helpful, this being the larger sangha which is a very specific subsect of the blogosphere, if people would sign their posts. I think names are very important. I try to know people’s names when I teach. The longest comment as of a couple of days ago was from “David”. Very difficult to know where someone is coming from when knowing so very little about them. Perhaps last names don’t add much more, but they add something.

    I apologize for declaring, somewhat blithely, that no one had any intention of doing harm. That is obviously an exaggeration, but I think most people don’t really know what they are doing and most people are not malevolent by nature. I would be in a different line of work if I believed otherwise. From what I understand, as the cycle progressed more and more people (I was blissfully not one of them) did start to see that they were getting away with something. And not doubt people in positions of power did know they were abusing the markets to the eventual harm of others. But more generally, when there is a mass culture moving in one direction, in fact, wrong is difficult to discern right from wrong. Especially in a world where people don’t have a fundamental view of basic goodness as both ground and fruition. The vast majority of the players in this mess were in this situation, from the people who sold excessive mortgages to those who took them out.

    The issue of karma IS in fact very central to this. I don’t think it is a hinayana view at all, and I don’t know what the “Vajra” view would be without a clear foundation of not causing harm and, when you’ve gotten some prowess on that front, actually spending years cultivating an attitude of benevolence. I think that as Shambhalians both facing this crisis ourselves and trying to be of benefit in the world, being very clear about the ultimate causes of suffering is quite necessary. Casting blame before we ourselves are very sure about our practice and motivation is probably less useful and in fact very dangerous.

    It is fine to be outraged. I come from a long family lineage of social and political outrage and engagement. But outrage should not be confused with right action: it has to be channeled through enormous practice before it begins to approach “Wrathful Activity”. I think that when we say “Wrath” or “Vajra Anger” we are talking about the opposite of rage – a completely processed, steady and benevolent mind that does not abide ignorance and can cut through the confusion that causes suffering. If we just continue to lead with our outrage, the landscape of civilization just grows more scarred. So, how can we alter the landscape? Can we actually take the time and steadiness of mind to find out who has been hurt and what they need to get by? Yes, when we have a real government based on Dharmic principles, there will also be a justice system. But right now, that is not likely to happen in the immediate future, so perhaps we could do something MEANINGFUL that might lessen the suffering rather than increase the anger.

  13. Barbara Blouin
    Apr 10, 2009
    Reply

    This article is pretty good, as far as it goes. But in my humble (??) opinion, it does not go far enough. “Deregulation” is mentioned and described, and the devastation is has wreaked worldwide. But nothing is said about those with the power to allow those who created these destructive financial instruments — those with the most power, and in particular, the United States government. I do not think that we need to limit ourselves to a strictly Buddhist approach to this situation. Sure, it’s good to contemplate karma, both the karma on the big stage, and our own. It’s good to work on our own karma. But it isn’t enough. We are all in crisis. We must do more.

    We can do more: we can take action. It doesn’t need to be aggressive. We can tell the federal government to stop bailing out the big banks, for example. We might consider whether it is necessary to bail out General Motors, which is likely to fail, anyway. We need to tell the President what we think. We also need to tell the senators and congresspeople. We could also join with others, who have organized so diligently to spread the message that the measures taken to try to contain the financial crisis are not going to work, and that we need to go further. What is needed is a fundamental restructuring of the banking system, for starters. C’mon, Acharya Spiegel, let’s get involved!

  14. Kate McKenna
    Apr 8, 2009
    Reply

    In the spirit of diving in and engaging intelligently with our world, I think this is another excellent video. William Black suggests that it is imperative to analyze what has happened in order to be able to respond appropriately:

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04032009/watch.html

    Bill Moyers sits down with William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. Black offers his analysis of what went wrong in the current situation and his critique of the bailout.

  15. Michael Rogan
    Apr 8, 2009
    Reply

    I agree with many people that the word ‘blame’ is not very useful, but I do like the word ‘responsibility’.

    “Some people realized that since the bank writing the mortgage wasn’t going to own it for very long, they weren’t very concerned about the stability of the loan. Other people realized that if this was so, they could be fairly free with the appraisals because as soon as the loan was written it became a free soul, un-tethered to a bank or banker.”

    This sounds to me like profiting from deliberate lies, constructed with a clear appreciation that profit would derive from the fact that the consequences of the lie were most likely to be borne by other parties who were either deceived, or were hoping to sell the lie to others. The fact that ‘Little here would be defined as criminal in any direct examination’ is an indictment of our criminal code.

    It’s pretty clear that if Madoff had taken the time and trouble to construct a better web of lies he would not be prosecuted either. His failure to do so may have been the result of a degree of self-honesty, or a lack of skill, or just stupidity.

  16. Eric Spiegel
    Apr 8, 2009
    Reply

    Although I am reading these comments with interest, at the moment I am preparing to leave on 10 day teaching trip. I will respond or post additional comments over the next week, as time permits.
    Eric Spiegel

  17. Dear Acharya Spiegel,

    Thanks for your article.

    Ever hear the one about the overly pious guy who in the midst of a torrential flood seeks refuge on his roof?

    First, a man in a rowboat comes along and offers to take him to land. The guy declines saying, “No, I’ll wait, I believe it’s in God’s hands”. A couple hours later, with the water up to his eave, another group of would-be rescuers come by in a motorboat offering help, and again the guy declines as before. Later that evening, as the water is almost to the ridge and the guy is clinging to his chimney, a helicopter comes by. Frantically, the guy waves it off, exuding faith that God was looking out for him. Eventually, an hour or so later, the water rises past his chimney, sweeping him away to his death.

    Once through the pearly gates of heaven, the guy says to God, “God, I don’t understand. I was faithful my whole life, yet there was a flood and you did nothing to save me. Why?” Looking puzzled, God answers, “Whadaya mean, “did nothing”, I sent two boats and chopper!”

    Your article seems to me like Hinayana interpretation of karma that portrays the current financial crisis as something clouded in confusion, so just practice seeing what arises as the ripening of your karma, and do no harm to others.

    But Shambhala is a Vajrayana tradition. We dive in, get our hands dirty and interact with our world. Not because we like making waves, but because we recognize we have no choice in the matter. We must interact. And through interaction our path is defined, and our karma ripened.

    Just because, by the law of karma, “bad” things happening to “good” people due to karmic acts committed in another life doesn’t necessarily mean one should just accept bad circumstances. While it’s important to see ones bad circumstances as the ripening of ones karmic seeds rather than external acts of aggression or neglect or what have you perpetrated by another, at what point does such a stance become overindulgence in self-victimization, or idiot compassion?

    Inversely, the vajra quality of being compelled to engage in one’s world beyond choice isn’t a license to indulge in retribution upon ones attacker either. We participate in the world because we have no choice, but HOW we participate IS our choice. We can dance with it or be at war with it, or deny it, but I don’t think Enlightened Society means, letting criminals run amok until their karma catches up with them. Surely Enlightened Societies have rules and procedures for meting out justice, no?

    In my opinion, your article’s initial assumption of “no direct culprit” is too hasty. It implies we should just throw up our hands, sit back and take the financial raping we all seem to so karmic-ly deserve.

    First, I’m not convinced there aren’t some “direct culprits” out there, and I’m not referring to a Madoff patsy type of fellow who seems to have been thrown to the wolves to placate the angering hordes. There are a couple of appropriate sayings in this regard. “Qui bono”, and “follow the money” come to mind. There are more than a few quiet and respectable folks standing quietly off to the side who clearly warrant further scrutiny.

    Second, how does anyone know it isn’t their destiny, their karma, to simply and directly stand up to a bully, with good head and shoulders, like a buddha, perhaps even inspiring countless multitudes of other downtrodden people to do the same, such that they instantly realize their own inherent buddha nature? Because, at this point it’s no longer even about the money. It’s about indentured perpetual servitude to an oligarchy of corrupt banksters. Real live Lords of Materialism.

    At present, in the 6 months following the October 2008 stock market crash, the banks have been “bailed out”, and US tax payers (including future generations) have been put on the hook, to the tune of $12.8 TRILLION with a T, and counting, according to Bloomberg news:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=armOzfkwtCA4&refer=worldwide

    That’s over $40,000 for every man woman and child in the US since October alone, with both Bush and Obama presiding. That’s 14 times the currency in circulation, and roughly equal to the US GDP in 2008.

    Now, jet fuel didn’t cause this to happen:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtx_GcFCs6c

    And similarly, a sub-prime mortgage bubble didn’t cause our current financial crisis. If it did, $12.8 trillion could have easily covered those mortgage defaults. Before looking at folks who bought too much house, I’d look at the multi-trillion dollar derivatives market. Fictitious, toxic, based on no real wealth or asset, intentionally obscure and inaccessible, likened to gambling for the ultra exclusive. Derivative trading was illegal in the past but since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and other banking deregulation in the 80s, they have grown out of control.

    The people who benefited from banking deregulation designed and administered the “bailout”, Paulsen, Geithner, Rubin, Summers, along with the chairs past and present of the private banking cartel known as the Federal Reserve, Bernanke, Greenspan and Volker, et al all worked for institutions that are beneficiaries of the “bailout”. They, and the private individuals they work for seem to have some serious conflicts of interest, and therefore top my list of suspects for questioning, at first blush.

    There is an excellent video online called “The Money Masters”, that presents the history of money and banking at:

    http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-515319560256183936

    I’d be extremely interested in your take on it.

  18. Chris Levy
    Apr 8, 2009
    Reply

    Two words on this subject – hope and fear. Emotional immature creatures trying somehow to govern themselves. Hope and fear drive the misuse of primordial intelligence to dream up scheme after scheme after scheme. This whole mess if you look at it closely was a gigantic kids game of hot potato. Who was going to be left holding the toxic debt last? Who cares if it not me. Typical of greedy fear. You can also see how panic (fear) comes in. If you look at a herd of cattle – the ones in front become genuinely afraid of a stimulus, but the ones on the back of the herd become just as afraid – but don’t know why. If you’re afraid, then I should be too. The same happens to the Human animal as well. A few well placed rumors (greedy scheming minds) can take an investment bank with a hundred years of tradition and reputation, with 10s of billions of dollars in wealth assetes and bring it down in a matter of one hundred hours! Bear Sterns was a victim of this. Fear and panic. This is Karma at its worst and most dramatic (except for the start of wars for very petty reasons).

    Money used to be a fair and workable system for humans to conduct their affairs, and has largely lifted us into civility. But the current money system is all based on the hope that someone will pay their debt, and feat that they won’t. Money these days is actually based on nothing other than that. This is very dangerous. Through the scheming human mind, we somehow said that the less than good debts (sub prime) are actually securities. Sub prime = security? All of a sudden? Sure – why not. It doesn’t matter anyway because you can a) sell that loan for a profit -abating your fear of loss and giving hope of profit to someone else, and also hedge the risk through all kinds of options and derivatives. More schemes. Credit default swaps – one of the other main schemes that helped bring down the whole house of cards down.

    I often contemplate if there would actually be a stock market in an enlightened society. To me an enlightened society has learned not to scheme anymore. It has learned that the habit of scheming causes pain to self and others and has agreed to abandon this.

  19. Lisa Moore
    Apr 8, 2009
    Reply

    Dear Acharya Spiegel,

    I appreciate the calm relaxed wisdom that you give on your take of the current economy. I am currently reading, “The Worst Time”, a compilation of history and stories of folks who experienced the Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. I was adopted into a very “poor family” who survived many tradgedies including the Depression and as farmers, the “Dust Bowl”. In the same vein, farmers who moved to the Texas Panhandle in the late 1800’s early 1900’s did so to feed their kin. They never had any idea that the plowing of the “Great Plains” would lead to the complete devastation of the natural environment. Only some Native tribes had this Wisdom. The wisdom gained from my family is much the same as the Buddhist belief; “maybe this will be the outcome, maybe it won’t, only time will tell” Granted, a simplistic version but the wisdom gained, was in the letting go.

    Universes are vast and we are just a grain of sand in time and space.

  20. Dan Magorian
    Apr 8, 2009
    Reply

    I thought Nat Roman’s comment was well said. The article breezily glosses over the important bits about specific process that as a financial person you have insight into, and then trots out the same generalities about karma that almost everyone is well acquainted with. The devil is in the details, man! That’s what separates a good investigative reporter from the many talking head armchair philosophers pontificating away via every media outlet. (One might call the Buddha one of the best investigative reporters). And like Nat, I think your premise that could be summarized as “no one really is to blame, everyone is just part of the process” doesn’t hold water. It turns a blind eye to the culture of engineered top-end kleptocracy that has developed over the last few decades. There were many voices in Congress and elsewhere who well understood the implications at the time and strove in vain to prevent them.

  21. Greg Zwahlen
    Apr 8, 2009
    Reply

    I am inclined to agree with Nat’s remarks. I’m sure many people have read the big article in the Atlantic Monthly this month by Simon Johnson, formerly the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (here: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200905/imf-advice) – if not I’d highly recommended it. He details the ways in which our oligarchical system has been designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. This is a very credible voice in a very credible publication.

    While I agree that it would be misguided to grasp at scapegoats, I second Nat’s assertion that systemic change is long overdue, and it won’t be facilitated if we adopt a “shit happens” mentality and confer a universal, a priori absolution of accountability.

  22. Dear Acharya Spiegel,

    I appreciate your article, reminding us of the collective creation of this mess through individual actions attempting to create a world without suffering. I completely share the view of individual responsibility but would like to point out that a very small portion of the global population was actually benefiting from this “positive economic growth” even before the bubble burst. I do think it is important to acknowledge that there are those who hold significantly more responsibility for the suffering that has been created as a result of the lack of foresight or concern, and in my opinion, the incredible amount of greed that was the driving force behind increased deregulation.

    Call me cynical, but I strongly disagree with your statement “I am pretty sure that no one along the way thought they were doing anything other than finding new ways to make a living while also being of some benefit.”. Being of benefit to who? Over the past twenty years or so, in most parts of the world, there has been a vast increase in the disparity in the division of wealth, leading to an incredible amount of suffering. There has also been untold destruction to our planet. This is directly related to the ability of corporations to act with impunity, which has come about largely as a result of the incredible power to influence policy and public opinion that money can buy.

    I’m not interested in determining who is to blame so that we can direct all of our anger toward those individuals. However, I’m not willing to pretend that the capitalist system that exists today is not based on corruption, greed and ignorance, and that those at the top of the food chain aren’t more responsible for this mess than the minimum wage workers with no health insurance who are now homeless.


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