Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

right livelihood

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Recently someone asked me why I hate capitalism. I don’t. I do hate greed (and I wish I could — with accuracy — use a less violent verb).

There’s nothing wrong with an honest living. We all deserve a home — shelter — food, clothing, and medical care. An education. Skill sets. Independence, in other words. And that requires an income.

Today I read a review on one of my favourite websites, brainpickings.org. It’s a GREAT site, in case you aren’t familiar with it: running reviews of current, classic, even antiquated books and other media that are thought-provoking in the best sense of the term.

The review I read I’ve been saving, as the title spoke to me: Buddhist Economics. And yup — there was my old friend right livelihood. It’s the sticky wicket for a lot of my non-Buddhist acquaintances (even, I’m sure, some friends & family). It’s the principle underlying my refusal to buy Chick-Fil-A, or shop at WalMArt. Their practices hurt people. Attack people I love. So to encourage that ongoing harm with my $$ is, at least according to my interpretation of right livelihood, to participate in the harm.

Here’s the thoughtful Thích Nhất Hạnh on right livelihood:

Right Livelihood is a collective matter. The livelihood of each person affects all of us, and vice versa. The butcher’s children may benefit from my teaching, while my children, because they eat meat, share some responsibility for the butcher’s livelihood of killing.

from Right Livelihood, by Thích Nhất Hạnh

In other words? It’s not only what we do for our own ‘job,’ but whom we support — whom we buy from, pay to, watch, vote for — as well. With our actions, our $$, our attentions. So for me, right livelihood is one of the anchor threads of the Buddhist ‘web.’ You believe in the Buddha’s teachings, sure. And you try to live your life according to them. Which brings you smack uppaside of right livelihood. :) spider web

Now here’s the deal: I like my work. I ADORE teaching. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t need to pay my bills. Feed myself, any family I have. So I am NOT saying that Buddhists should accept crap wages because we’re ‘above’ all that. As the review quotes E.F. Schumacher arguing, it’s not wealth itself that’s the problem. It’s the craving for wealth, the attachment to what it buys.

This is  pretty obvious when you look at American business today (and we return, circuitously, to the accusation that I hate capitalism): there is never enough profit for some folks. Workers are let go, other workers required to do more, vacations and benefits cut, and entire companies gutted by the desire for more. Desire, attachment, greed — it’s all taṇhā, translated as ‘thirst, desire, craving.’ The hunger for more.

That’s sooo not Buddhist economics. Yes, I need to make a living. And if I’m verrry good at what I do, it’s fine if you pay me lots. In fact, I would LOVE that! :) But it’s NOT fine if I make a living by hurting anyone else, because I thirst, or hunger, or just plain WANT more stuff. More Benjamins. A bigger, faster car. Whatever. That’s not okay.

So it’s not capitalism. It’s not even capitalists. It’s greed, and inhumanity that set me off. Because those are NOT ‘good business,’ despite what the Koch brothers would like us to believe. They’re very bad Buddhism. And I’m NOT okay with that.

 

the fragrance of lilies

imageThese are two of the lilies growing against a rather derelict fence at my son’s & DIL’s. Beautiful, pale yellow, with only a light lily fragrance. Not the heaviness that always seems to suffuse funerals.

I love them, of course. Cut them while my DIL was away at a working retreat, and placed them in her blue glass vase to welcome her home. We hadn’t thought we’d be here when she returned — we expected to be on the road this morning — and I hoped she’d know I thought of her.

Love is full of small gestures, and I’m afraid I don’t make them often enough. I’m pretty good to lend you a tenner if you need gas, or help with a reference or a resumé question.  But I don’t always think to do the small things — I’m actually not a very thoughtful person!

But I adore my DIL, and wanted to leave her something concrete, besides leftover roast beef. :) image

As it turns out, the universe had plans for us. The guys (my son & best-beloved) are still in the throes of house chores: frosted glass in the bathroom, shaving two doors so they no longer stick. Building sawhorses and then worktables. So we were already considering leaving tomorrow.

And then my grandson woke up with a fever. It went down bit by bit, but he obviously didn’t feel well. So we’re here another day, and I can try in other ways to let my son & DIL know how dear they are.

Love’s kind of like lilies, isn’t it?  There’s the concrete — the flowers — and the ineffable, the fragrance. I love them both. But the fragrance, I confess, is my favourite. Of course, you can’t have it w/out the physical lily, I realise. Still — I can smell these in the kitchen, when the fan moves the still air.

Kind of like love.

dreaming of houses

imageWe visited a realtor today. Just looking for information, nothing formal. But it set me to dreaming of houses, a thread that connects me with all three of my sisters.

We dream of houses the way other people dream of jewelry, or vacations (note: we also dream of those :) ). This past week-plus, spent where summer  days are NOT 100+ in the shade, and evenings dip below 70, have been idyllic. Add the lure of son, DIL, and grandson, and it’s a big draw, Virginia.

So today we went to talk with the exceptionally knowledgeable Jeremy, who was the realtor for my son & DIL when they bought their house recently. It reassures me when someone is obviously very smart — I know, that makes me a bit of an intellectualist, but what do you expect from a writer & former college professor??

As it  turns out, it might be a good bet to build. Now, I have to share something: my husband used to build houses. We went broke doing that. TWICE.  So he doesn’t have good memories of building houses. Given, he was a framing company. But still — it’s not his favourite thing. And I had heat exhaustion more than once, those many years ago, just being a gofer at the building site. Need I mention again that building isn’t a huge draw for my beloved?image

Me, however? You get to play house for real! Get to choose wood floors vs. carpet (yup), tile vs. wood (bathrooms only), wall paint (cream/ ivory/ watercolour blue/ grey), moulding, roofing, trim… WOW! How cool does that sound?

So a smallish Craftsman bungalow was one of the possibles from a local builder. Well, actually it wasn’t small. But it could be! (We do NOT need a house as big as the one we currently rattle around in, even if my beloved doesn’t agree…yet. :) )

This is a part of everyday living that’s wonderful: dreaming of a perfect house, that would — of course! — be filled with a perfect life, and perfect days. As my meditation teacher Sister Ellie would say, these are castles that may well be nothing. But at least they’re not worrisome castles (you know: the kind you haunt in your own dreams).

And really: doesn’t a small-ish Craftsman bungalow, not far from the kids, w/ a spare room for the traveling son, sound wonderful? It sure does to me.

Someone asked me once if Buddhists shouldn’t be grounded in the everyday world. And sure, we should. But daydreams don’t contradict that (in my not-humble-enough opinion :) ). Beginner’s heart can live very nicely in a dream house. At least mine can!

what you do comes back to you

imageRight after we married — literally a couple of days later — my husband & I left for his new job. In Algiers. Or Alger, as the French call it. My mother-in-law bore this with the fortitude of prairie pioneers, although she did take us to see her cousin, who had lived in North Africa. Well, her cousin remarked, it’s not as bad as some places. They won’t eat you in Algeria. Mom didn’t look that reassured. This all comes to mind because my younger son is off, next month. Committed to places w/ names like Mumbai, Goa. Hanoi and Chieng Mai. Some names I recognised, although I’ve visited none myself. Others (I’m talking to you, Goa) I had to look up. I’m grateful to all my friends who thought Goa was in China. :) When our sons left for Portland, we were happy for them. These days Oklahoma is not a good place for young men wanting to start careers. There aren’t many jobs, unless you’re in very specific industries. Musicians, computer engineers, and teachers need not apply. A colleague left his job teaching in June. He’s accepted a job in Columbia, MO because that’s what he could find. This a man with an established teaching resumé, not a recent grad. So we understood completely, and knew we’d be using our  Southwest miles to go to Portland.

via google

via google

But going around the world, w/ only a backpack and a daypack? Wow. That’s mother-terrifying. Yes, he’s a grown man. Yes, he’s responsible, thoughtful, and planning well. And yes, I trust his judgment. I do NOT trust the folks he may encounter. And then I remember — really revisit — the Hotel Djemila Palace, where we lived for several months when we first arrived in Alger. How the maître d’ watched over me, scolding me when I didn’t empty my plate, functioning as an odd (French-speaking) uncle. How the ladies who ran the laundry (the only one in the country, they told me with pride) giggled when I said I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to do our laundry; that’s what wives were for, right? How I made friends in the apartment house we moved into eventually — dear Saliha w/ her 10 living children and 14 pregnancies. Almost 1/2 my husband’s age today…

via google

via google

Noah will make friends too, I understand. But like Mom, what I see instead of the friends he will make, and the wondrous experiences and memories he’ll create, is the distance between Oklahoma and Sweden. Oklahoma and Mumbai. Oklahoma and Việt Nam and Oklahoma and Thailand and Oklahoma and Goa… All so very far away. Beginner’s heart is harder sometimes than others. To let go of our fears for ourselves is difficult enough. But to open our hearts like windows, and let our love fly out with even adult children, is harder still. My sons sometimes read my blog, so I won’t get mushy. I will miss him terribly, but technology makes it a bit easier: there’s Skype, of course. We already FaceTime my grandson, son, & DIL weekly. But it’s not the same as going to tea together just to catch up, as we did yesterday. It’s not the same as a weekend call. He won’t even have a cell phone (unheard of these days!). And he will be gone for many months — perhaps well over a year. The point to this for my beginner’s heart is not to cling, I know. To live in this perfect weekend, when even the Virginia weather has cooperated to give us grilling weather.  Deck weather, instead of the 98 degrees it will be in Tulsa. We’re off to lunch momentarily. Thai food, which is comfort food for me. I need it.

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