Thursday, February 21, 2013

Money, Karma, or a Zen Strawberry?

Dhr. Seven, Pat Macpherson, Dev, Wisdom Quarterly
Good verbal actions, by helping others, are also a store of merit (

For the love of money people will do a great deal. But it is not the money. Paper money grows on trees. We add the significance.

Few love money for money. "Money" is, of course, what it symbolizes -- the effective power to sway.

Money buys lots of things: speech, education, sex, medicine, life, death, knowledge, Congress, the presidency, the Internet, armies, mercenaries, even slaves.

Wait, there's something I can't buy?!
Of course, there is much money will not buy: intelligence, wisdom, kindness, empathy, compassion, rebirth in one of the heavens, enlightenment, happiness... These things are of inestimable value. So it is good they are free.

WTF? (idropkid/
 We obsess about money even as our government crashes the "greenback" dollar. Bye-bye, bank account. There will be real property, gold, silver, food, and abilities. When the gas stops flowing, we can put ethanol (alcohol) and vegetable oil in our cars. But will we know how to garden, farm, or grow edible plants? Will we have learned to survive in the concrete jungle? Do we know where every household has a few gallons of potable water hidden without knowing it?

Quit money: Interview
Get it now while it lasts -- get all that money will buy and learn about the things it won't. With a little leisure -- rather than squandering it lamenting or ruminating -- we can get all the industrial world has to offer. Soon enough the famine comes, soon the killing fields, soon the struggle overcomes us. But we are here now.

So be here now. Why worry? Act. Why stress? Do. Why not smile? Smile.


For an answer, think of the original British comedy Bedazzled (1967). The devil is up a telephone pole in Berkshire with a foolish man named Stanley, who sold his soul for seven wishes. Half of them are used up, and he has little prospect of finding happiness and fulfillment trying to use the rest of them. The devil always outsmarts him by giving him exactly what he asked for, which naturally comes with an unsavory twist.
May you get what you wish for!
--Traditional Chinese curse. In the West we might say: "Be careful what you wish for!" or "Want to make [omnipotent, omniscient] God laugh? Tell God your plans!" We can hardly know what's coming, yet we must plan as if we do.

The devil (Lucifer, Mephistopheles, the titan Light Bearer trying to get back into Heaven of the Thirty-Three), out of compassion, toys with Stanley by asking him a Zen question. And it is not the question so much as Stanley's answer that is telling:

Zen Master Lee Quay Kwach once asked, 'If a tiger were chasing you off a cliff and its mate were waiting for you at the bottom of the cliff -- to be eaten if you stayed up here and eaten if you fell down there, What would you do?'"

Stanley pondered for a moment then exclaimed, "Cliffs and tigers. What a stupid question. I wouldn't get myself into such a predicament in the first place!"

"No, not you. You're too smart for that! Here you are halfway up a pole in Berkshire, half your wishes gone, no, you'd never get yourself into a situation like that."

Stanley grimaced.

What are we doing? It is good to reflect now and then. What is the best thing to have in Samsara, the Round, the endless cycling through the planes of existence? Merit -- a store of profitable karma (well done deeds). It comes in handy for everything from sensual delights to meditative attainments, from modifying ruinous karmic results to being happy for no apparent reason.

Mara's Cliffhanger Koan
Wisdom Quarterly translation
A person traveling across a field encountered a tiger and fled, the tiger giving chase. Coming to the edge of a cliff, clambering over, and taking hold of the root of a wild vine, the person was now stuck in a precarious position over the edge. The tiger sniffed and snarled above. Trembling, the person looked down and saw below another tiger sniffing and snarling. Hanging onto the vine for dear life, the person suddenly realized that there were two mice, one white the other black, beginning to gnaw at the vine.
Curious in the Garden of Eden
Then suddenly there, next to the vine, the person noticed a luscious strawberry. Grasping the vine tightly with one hand, plucking the strawberry with the other -- how sweet it tasted!

(This koan might make more sense if the Zen strawberry were replaced with a Jewish apple -- a deadly poison appealing enough to distract one from the bigger predicament it would get one in).

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