Has the Buddhist revolution begun? This Wall Street Journal headline, “U. S. Superrich Vow to Share Wealth” gives hope that perhaps the revolution has begun. Buddhism doesn’t have a patent on generosity and none of these philanthropists has cited Buddhist reasons for doing so, but doing so certainly embraces the virtue of dana (generosity). Nevertheless, these bodhisattvas are seeking to make a difference.
One strategy to enforce generosity is through taxation. According to Timothey Geitner this woudl be bad for the economy. For people to give voluntarily because it is the right thing to do rather than because they are mandated to do so seems to make more sense. It also gives these individuals the ability to direct where there funds go and whom they should benefit, rather than going into government coffers to pay for whatever the government deems appropriate (and that seems rather always and lately on defense spending.
Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle donated $46.9 million to his medical foundation, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, donated $175 million to USC’s film school, Barron Hilton, son of hotelier Conrad Hilton, will donate $1.2 billion to the Conrad H. Hilton Foundation, Peter Peterson, co-founder of Blackstone Group, will donate $1 billion to the foundation bearing his name, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, CEO of Abraxes BioScience, donated $65 to Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. The effort towards such giving has been spearheaded by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates. They have convinced 38 other such mega-wealthy to do as they have pledged. The goal that Buffet is aiming for is setting an example for others, not through coercion but through admiration and inspiration.
Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg puts it this way, “Making a difference in people’s lives – and seeing it with your own eyes – is perhaps the most satisfying thing you’ll ever do. If you want to fully enjoy life – give. And if you want to do something for your children and show how much you love them, the single best thing – by far – is to support organizations that will create a better world for them and their children. Long term, they will benefit more from your philanthropy than from your will. I believe the philanthropic contributions I’m now making are as much gifts to my children as they are to the recipient organizations.”
Q: Talk a little bit about mindfulness. What is it? What are it’s benefits? How can it be cultivated?
A: A New Yorker cartoon shows a beleaguered looking man clutching the arms of a stuffed chair being addressed by his wife. She tells him with a look of pity and concern, “You should never engage in unsupervised introspection.” This is a pretty good definition of the target for mindfulness. Such unsupervised introspection can get us into trouble, causing distressing emotions and reactive behavior. Mindfulness shows us how to supervise our minds.
The father of American psychology, William James, said 100 years ago that our intellectual life consists almost wholly in our substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. He points to our tendency to live in concepts and stories and how we can be out of touch with our actual lived experience that is occurring right now. The definition for mindfulness that I used in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness is, “an intentional and curious directing of attention to our experience as it unfolds in the present moment, one moment following the next — the very happening of our experience as it is happening without commentary, judgment, or storytelling.” Mindfulness is not about suppressing thinking but recognizing that it is occurring and not elaborating it automatically and without choice. Mindfulness is the ability to cultivate awareness and the ability to retrieve attention from the future or past, or commentary about the present to bring it into intimate contact with what is happening right now.
Sounds rather simple, right? Well, it is. While mindfulness may be “simple” in the sense of being uncomplicated, that does not mean it is “easy.” Our minds don’t want to stay in the present and will keep going to the future and past or talking about the present rather than being with the present. This is a long-standing and strong mental habit. To better realize the “simple” nature of mindfulness, most of us need to practice and for that reason we practice mindfulness meditation (see entries on the instructions for Mindfulness of Breathing One, Two, and Three). We practice coming back from the future and past to the being of this moment, training awareness to disengage from telling stories to attend in this experiential way to what is actually happening. The more we practice coming back, the more adept we’ll become at catching ourselves in a place we’d rather not be and coming back to now. With mindfulness practice we learn to supervise our minds in a gentle and skillful way. We learn to undo the exchange of the conceptual for the perceptual and dwell in the magical and ordinary perceptual experience of this moment.