The Root of Dukkha – Part 4 – Wrath and Sloth

Praying mantis who died on 11/18/2015.
The most formidable warrior I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. She is a perfect praying mantis, a blip in my life, and in turn I’m even more of a blip in the Life of Earth.

Analogous to how Lust, Greed, and Gluttony arise from Envy, the last two of the Seven Deadly Sins, Wrath and Sloth arises from Pride. From the perspective of the quasi evolutionary psychology point of view of this blog series, Wrath and Sloth emerges in our Earthly lives from our fight or flight mechanism, respectively. That is, the simple rule we employ to decide to stand our ground or run away to live another day.

Recall from Part 2 that Pride only masks our fear, similar to how deodorant only masks body odor. Pridefulness is not genuine fearlessness. Pride is the reason we become wrathful, vengeful. We’re defending our self-worth, that thing which exists only in our mind and nowhere else.

Wrath is our conviction that the wrathful actions we are executing – or wish to act on – are indeed justified. It’s crucial for our minds to have that conviction as we’re battling our enemies because doubt will undermine our efforts. Whether we’re right or wrong, over or under-reacting, Wrath doesn’t let doubt trip us up, dissipating our focus.

Sloth also masks our fear so we can protect our pride. However, Sloth masks our fear in the opposite way of Pride by making excuses for not dealing with a problem for which success is far away. Sloth is procrastination – doing something you made yourself think is more important, or dulling the nagging of your mind with drugs and other vices.

Instead of masking our fear with wrath or sloth, why don’t we cut off the source of our fear? That is, the fear of losing what it is we’re clinging to. So cling to nothing. Stop clinging to your self-importance, even your hopes and dreams, and the most difficult of all – all the stuff you’ve always believed.

Well that’s easy to say. It’s even surprisingly easy to do once Life pushes you far enough. Hopefully, we can figure this out before we’re pushed that far.

But if we stopped caring about anything, wouldn’t we eventually get fired from our jobs, lose all of our things, dreams, and families? What happens if we stop working 70 hours per week? Maybe we’ll be replaced by someone who will.

What if we didn’t stop? Would we burn out and lose everything anyway? Would we be rewarded accordingly? In any case, it’s time that we’ll never get back, and that’s how we chose to use that time.

The Middle Way?

Surely, perpetually wrathful, vengeful, hateful, people can and often do end up being the ones driving the BMWs, living on Melody Lane, and wielding the power at work. These “successful” folks are the ones we notice and envy while ignoring those wrathful, vengeful people in jail or homeless or isolated, who just simply fizzled out.

Did those failed people simply not try hard enough, not understand the concept of “go big or go home”? Perhaps in some cases, one could have won if they were more committed, all-in to their fearsomeness. But like any other game, and the quest for material success is just a game, there can be only one winner. And there’s a whole lot of luck involved.

Contrary to the “wisdom” of “Go Big or Go Home”, in Buddhist literature it’s often said that Buddhism teaches a “middle way”. You know, Goldilocks chose Mama bear’s porridge because it was not too hot and not too cold. It was just right.

Siddhartha Gautama was an indulged, coddled Prince, not even knowing there was anything to fear. He eventually learned that this wasn’t the way for most of the world. He lived in a fantasy world. He wouldn’t survive if that fantasy world suddenly disappeared. And it very well could have, as it has for many other such coddled prince and princesses throughout history.

He then ran away, did a complete one-eighty living the life of an emaciated ascetic, near death, not much wiser. The many great self-inflicted pains did connect him to much of the “real” world, but he was still just as troubled. Then one day, after a nice meal brought to him by a nice village girl and a nice long sleep, he awoke on Bodhi Day to the wisdom of the middle way.

The “Middle Way” thought of in the Goldilocks context is easy to understand and it is usually a wise thing to follow. The Middle Way is indeed a very good simple rule of thumb, a heuristic, which is right more often than wrong. Unfortunately, Life is so complex that there is a mindbogglingly large number of things to which we need to be in the middle at any given time. We can barely manage staying is our lane, eating a hamburger, and carrying on a conversation while driving in rush-hour traffic. There’s only so much multi-tasking we can do.

The Middle Way is attractive, not only because it’s easy to understand, but because it doesn’t force us to give up anything completely. It keeps us from crashing on the side of the road, but it doesn’t vanquish those Seven Deadly Sins, tamed, but still lurking in our animal brains. They await you losing balance and starting a slippery slope.

Alcoholics Anonymous understands that. An alcoholic avoids trouble by never touching alcohol again, but you’re still always an alcoholic. There is no middle way in that case. The advice as you leave the rehab center isn’t “drink in moderation”.

That Middle Way is useful, but not nearly good enough. However, there is a different way, the Way that the Buddha intended. It’s a way that is in some sense not as simple as the middle way, but like many paradoxes in Buddhism, in some ways even simpler.

Go With the Flow vs Being One with the Universe

It’s easy to see how the Goldilocks context of the “middle way” can be mistaken for the different way. They both mean the right amount at the right place at the right time. But sometimes the middle way is a euphemism for half-assed and sometimes the different way requires going all-in.

For example, in the case of Wrath, it’s not a simple a matter of being neither too wrathful nor too unwrathful. Any level of Wrath in your heart pollutes your Enlightenment. But yet, we must go all-in with full wrath while pinned down by a bear. The different way, the Buddha’s way, is to not cling to anything – to be fully accepting of what Is. That’s certainly different as we’re all indoctrinated from birth with attachments to what we should want and the way things are.

When we hear the phrase, “Go with the Flow”, we imagine complete passivity such as a leaf flowing down a river as if it was just part of the water. But the intent of non-clinging, that is non-resistance, is subtly different. The leaf flowing down the river leaves (no pun intended) no sign of ever being there. It may as well not have been there. Without resistance, nothing in our Universe would exist. All the phenomena we experience, including our own selves, is the result of Yin and Yang friction where things meet.

Non-Resistance means no resistance to what Is. It means to be sensitive to what is and fully do your part with a light heart.

All things put up this resistance to things, but they don’t suffer as we do. Unlike we sentient humans, other things have no will of their own, just their mass and energy. Anthropomorphically speaking, things just 100% yield to the will of Everything else.

Remember, though, we do still compete with other creatures. Our primal brain does come in handy. Our sentience emerged out of a mechanism, our limbic brain. It evolved simply for creatures to compete with other creatures for survival. At a relatively mundane level, Wrath does at least get our head out of our ass. Ringo says, “Bettah mahd than sahd … but bettah yet, glahd … Lahds.”

A tricky thing about the virtues countering each of the Seven Deadly sins is that taken to extremes, it circles back to another sin. In this case, too much patience, the antidote to Wrath, can merge into Sloth. Too much diligence, the antidote to Sloth, creates a lot of unnecessary drama in the form of Greed, Envy, Lust, and Gluttony.

Wrath at the extreme is horrible when it leads to killing or ruining the lives of people with whom you have conflicts. The key word is conflict. If we have no conflicts, we have nothing to defend.

As just mentioned, the virtue typically considered the antidote to Wrath is Patience. “Patience” says to await the right moment, not necessarily never to react to something. This suggests that it’s not so much the acts of wrath itself – fighting, revenge, preemptive strikes – that is the sin. It’s impetuousness – taking actions without a complete awareness of the present. We jump to conclusions with outdated assumptions from the past, incomplete information from the present, and flawed predictions about the future.

People do get mugged. Sometimes bad things are done to us. But genuine patience means we should logically carry no burden of Wrath in our heart. Wrath really does weigh you down like carrying around a 200 pound cross everywhere you go. As I say, I don’t like to write about dependence on anything “supernatural”, but I nonetheless know that the Universe is surprisingly just.

Let things go. Remember The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet’s mantra: Faith and Patience keeps me calm so I can focus on the present.

Running Away

It’s difficult to convey how can I suggest the logical train of thought that if we have no wrath, we have nothing to fear, which means we should cling to nothing, without concluding you may as well just walk away from your job, your friends and family? Mostly, it’s because simply walking away from what is in front of you is clinging to the Dream of Sloth. Sloth will get your brain to demonize everything around you so you feel justified in walking away.

Remember too that not everything is bad. Running away means you run away not just from what you think is bad, but all the good things that take a back seat in your mind, while you deal with those bad things. Your life is interconnected with all that is around you. Go back and read the beginning of this series, Envy.

Ringo says, “Even if ya have nuthin tah cling tah, ev’rythin’s still clingin tah you.” What this means is your suffering is your insistence on molding the world to your image. That “image” based on that pitifully inadequate model of the Universe we refer to as our brains.

At best, running away will hit the restart button for you to start again, but you’ll be no wiser. You’ll run the same patterns and soon enough end up in the same place, just another decade or two older. Whatever seems annoying in your life is just your rough edges being polished away. Lean into that seeming discomfort like you would with a good massage.

Cliches

Another difficulty with writing about Buddhism is avoiding the invocation of very tired cliches, such as:

  • You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
  • Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

We’ve all heard them. Chicago and Kelly Clarkson have sung these gems of wisdom to us. Yet there are still so many unhappy people in the world. After thousands of years of human sentience and a great many geniuses having said their part, humanity’s knowledgebase is an incredible treasure trove of wisdom that’s already here. Those cliches make sense, are difficult to intelligently argue against, and we can even offer logic holding up the wisdom. So why can’t we just fully digest these cliches and be happy?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be born with that wisdom already wired into our heads? After all, we’re not born completely blank canvases. Of course, there are our instincts with are hard-wired or at least there is a foundation laid that makes it easy to learn certain things and build certain tastes. But for the most part, our immensely complex web of neurons and synapses is well beyond hard-wiring such wisdom encoded in our genes.

We’ll each need to learn those things unprogrammable in genes. The great thing is, unlike most creatures, we humans have that choice! Most brains aren’t capable of learning things like “you’re stronger than you think you are”. The problem is these cliches don’t mean much until you have context under which you can appreciate it. Without experiencing any pain, what good is it to know you’re stronger than you think you are? When you hear it, it has nothing in your brain to link itself to.

The answer lies in the complexity of our brains. We mostly learn the same lessons, but the wiring is different. Wisdom isn’t not like the bits on a DVD for installing software. Each character is carefully crafted by very highly skilled people, every copy is exactly the same. It’s Windows or Office or SQL Server.

This isn’t an inadequacy in humans. This learning that each of us has to do also means we’re capable of being wired to be whatever we need to be at the place and time of our life. Creatures not as loosely wired as we are have no choice but to be whatever they were born to be. In the whole scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay for sentience.

What Buddha promises with the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path (the recommendations enumerated as the 4th of the Four Noble Truths) is to eliminate suffering. He doesn’t promise to to solve the World’s problems with these teachings. Easing our pain is like restoring oxygen if we’re trapped in a cave. There’s nothing we can do to get ourselves out without it. But once we have oxygen, we can devise a way to get out of the cave using what is right there for us to use.

Rubber Ducky and Fishnu with their malas.
The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet and the Eternal Fishnu wish you Peace.

Why?

We sentient humans always need to know why we’re doing something. Our brains are constantly analyzing, constantly predicting what will happen. Knowing why an opponent does something is the secret to figuring out how to outsmart it. There are many paths to the same place, but fewer destinations. For example, there are tons of ways to satisfy hunger and many ways to get to our work place.

In my field of Business Intelligence, there is something called the last non-empty value, in English, the last known value. For example, a patient’s body weight. If we’re doing analysis, say predicting who may contract diabetes with the next three years, we probably haven’t seen many of those patients recently and will use that last weight, with the bad assumption that it’s better than no weight at all.

It’s good to ask questions about what’s happening now. Where asking questions becomes a pain in the ass is when we spend a great deal of time planning around a truckload of assumptions we’ve gathered over the years that may no longer be true. We’re afraid to ask questions because the answers have probably changed and that means our plan probably won’t work. By not asking questions, we can continue to work in our delusion.

There’s a Zen joke that goes: A candidate arrives at the site of her job interview for a Senior C# programming position. She is stopped by a burly security guard. He spurts out “Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you here?” She say to him, “Wow! I really want this job now because hopefully you’ll ask me that every day!”

Sometimes we completely forget why we’re angry, and since we always need to know why, we settle on something plausible if we can’t remember the original reason. It’s true – read Oliver Sachs’ great book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Sometimes our reasons aren’t really even our reasons, but a bill of goods we were sold.

Do lions hate gazelles? Is the praying mantis at the top of this post vengeful towards crickets? In the big picture, they are a Yin and Yang system within recursive levels of a much larger Yin and Yang system of dynamics. That dynamics is the mechanism of the evolution of Life on Earth, which at three-plus billion years old, is the secret of Her eternal youth. She is forever young because whatever Life on Earth looks like, it’s fit for now, was fit for all times past, and will be fit for whatever future there may be.

The Four-Part Series on the Root of Dukkha

The Other Shore

Waimea Bay.
Waimea Bay – Looking out to the ocean. What’s out there?

The Heart of the Matter

Early this morning I was recalling Thict Nhat Hanh’s  English interpretation of the Heart Sutra and its place in my Bodhi Day ceremony last year. In particular, the phrase “… while practicing deeply with the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore …“, strikes a profound chord within me. I envision crawling onto the shore, nearly dead, after being adrift at sea for days as a very good visualization of Enlightenment. It’s not all that different from Siddhartha Gautama’s journey to his Enlightenment on his Bodhi Day.

The Heart Sutra is the Elevator Pitch of Buddhism, succinctly capturing its essence, its “heart”. It’s something familiar to me since my earliest memories, mindlessly chanting that Sanskrit (sometimes “mindless” is not really that great a thing … hahaha) at my family’s Shingon Mission. It wasn’t until a few years ago that the thought occurred to me to find an English translation so I could know what I was saying all those years.

And that didn’t help. “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” What?! Since then, through hundreds of hours of contemplation, meaning in the Heart Sutra began to take shape for me. I wrote of my understanding of “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form” in two posts, No Thing Exists and Everything forms Every Thing.

Hanya Shingyo Heart Sutra
Rev. Hanamoku’s mother jotted down the Hanya Shingyo, the Japanese name for the Heart Sutra. It’s a “Japanese-ized” Sanskrit. For example, “han ya ha ra mi ta” is supposed to be “prajna paramita”, actually the sanskrit title of the Heart Sutra.

Back to “the other shore” and why that phrase in Thict Nhat Hanh’s interpretation clicked something in me.

I was born and raised on Oahu, one of the islands of Hawaii. Before moving to the Mainland in my mid twenties, I spent a total of less than a month outside of those islands over three separate trips. In my mind, Oahu seemed like it was the entire world. I recall as a very young child riding in the car with my parents around Hanauma Bay, thinking that must be the deserts I saw in cowboy movies.

Like many others born on isolated islands, or small towns, we sense that there is so much more out there. But we don’t leave. It’s a long swim or hike to whatever is out there. People on our islands and small towns need us. And we need them because they are part of us.

Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay. The desert-like Leeward side of Oahu. My mother used to sing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” here to me when I was a very young child. Why didn’t the guy pining for Bonnie go over the ocean too?

Like a Fish out of Water

All journeys are treacherous as all of them by definition mean we’re leaving our comfort zone, the safety of what we know. The Eternal Fishnu says that in the entire history of Earth, there have been countless brave souls reaching the other shore. The fish of the Devonian, from where Fishnu first appeared, made a horrendous journey from ocean to land.

The Eternal Fishnu has told me tales of small bands of brave souls he appeared to as a blue salmon well over ten thousand years ago. They came from Asia and Europe, reached the other shore of North America, and continued Eastward or Westward, respectively. Some drowned, starved, or froze along the way. Some who actually made it to shore were greeted by the short-faced bear. Of course, brave souls continue to reach this shore today. No matter how far they got, they all found freedom.

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My Bodhi Day gear.

Bodhi Day

Very early in the morning of December 8, 2017, I left the warmth of my Airbnb log cabin, my Bodhi Tree, on a two mile hike into the dark desert to my chosen place. It was very cold and very dark. I needed absolutely no distractions, so I didn’t bring my phone, no camera, just what’s shown in the photo above.

It wasn’t just very cold and dark. I also heard rumors over the week of a cougar in the neighborhood. It is also a place filled with history of Native Americans, miners, and Mormons. If anywhere is haunted by spirits, my Bodhi place certainly is a great candidate. But I had no fear of cougars or ghosts – for Thou was with me.

I arrived at my Bodhi site, sat down on a rock, still dark, cold and very isolated. I had no idea how to begin, so I just starting playing the singing bowl (towards the left in the photo above). The sound amplified in the open desert unlike anything I’d ever heard. Soon enough, something took over.

I spent what I think was around thirty to forty-five minutes chanting, starting with the Hanya Shingyo the way I learned it and the English translation, to the Morning Star Mantra, to Psalms 23. I then closed my eyes and went into a deep meditation. There, I found myself standing on a long shore that went both ways forever as I could tell. Just off the shore were many little islands. From one of the islands I could here my name being called.

I wanted to get to the island to see who was calling me. There wasn’t any vehicle to take me there, so I would need to swim. It wasn’t a big swim, but I didn’t know how to swim. They kept calling me over. I eventually learned how to swim and made the tough but doable journey over to the island. I found it was my parents calling me.

I spent much time on that island, getting to know if very well. Periodically my parents and I would take trips to the nearby islands to visit friends and relatives. Eventually, I would hop to further islands, by myself, making friends of my own.

Until the time I found myself on an island staring off in a direction with no other islands in sight. I looked out into that endless ocean wondering what was out there. But that’s all I did. I went back to my parents’ little island, eventually finding a nearby island of my own.

The world was made up of countless islands. All those islands were worlds of their own in the most obvious sense, but the isolation seemed so artificial. Life was experienced little chunks at a time, no big picture. It was like eating a wonderful hamburger one ingredient at a time. The parts were certainly not as good as the whole hamburger, but there was comfort in the confines of those little chunks. As Siddhartha Gautama jumped from guru to guru diving all-in to what they had to teach, I went from island to island never finding the one with all the answers.

I tried to go back to the shore from which I came, but no one would let me go back there. Well then, what about that big ocean? Everyone warned me not to go there. They really didn’t know what was there. They just knew a few went a little way out and came back terrified, never to try it again, learning to be happy with their island life.

See, not everyone discouraged me from jumping out into that ocean. Some seemed curious and wanted me to go further to see what’s there so I could report back to them. The problem is that anyone who swam far enough out of sight never came back.

I jumped into the ocean heading out towards something that wasn’t just another of these islands. I wasn’t much of the way into the swim before I wondered what I had done. There I was beyond the point of no return, trapped, needing to struggle for every little breath, to stay afloat, and to ferociously battle the creatures of the deep.

As I thought I lost all hope in finding anything out there, too far to turn back, and the creatures of the deep would soon defeat me, I disengaged. I let myself settle into the calm of the deep water. Then the blue of the ocean turned into The Eternal Fishnu.

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This is from the day I met The Eternal Fishnu.

The Eternal Fishnu

“Fishnu! I’m a terrible Buddhist, probably the worst ever!”

For months I had been more cynical, dissatisfied with my accomplishments, and just about gave up hope that I would ever be happy with myself. How could anyone be further from Enlightenment?! I recalled something Ringo said, “Sometimes it’s hard tah tell a good Buddhist from a wankah.”

Fishnu asked, “Who from your daily life do you think is happy with themselves and really have things figured out?”

Many people came to mind. Those who I’ve been comparing myself to because they always seem so happy and calm. Those who started life with more than me, those who seem so comfortable with themselves and others, those who aren’t afraid to sell anything.

Fishnu said:

“There are four ways people appear happy and calm – not necessarily happy, happy at least from outside appearances. They could be Enlightened, they could have their head stuck up their ass, they could be masters of camouflage, or they could be lucky enough not to have faced genuine hardship.

“For the Enlightened, all of them have made this gruesome journey to get to the other shore. All of them left behind their comfort and faced what they thought is the Demon Mara.

“The people who have their head stuck up their ass have learned to ignore horrors, sweeping them under the rug. They are sometimes mistaken for being enlightened because they’ve indeed let go of things – which in a nutshell are all the things in the direction of the other shore. These are people who have jumped into the ocean, made some headway to the other shore, but turned back. This group accounts for well over 90% of people who appear happy and calm.

“For the masters of camouflage, virtually all creatures on Earth utilize camouflage as a very inexpensive form of weaponry in the eternal battle between predator and prey. They only appear happy and calm just as a puffer fish only appears to be big and strong. These are the poker players.

“Then there are those who have not have encountered horrors – either because they are very lucky to have not bumped into any yet or they have been sheltered from it by others. The latter being the situation of Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

“During Siddhartha Gautama’s long meditation under the Bodhi Tree, he was tormented as never before by the Demon Mara. But it wasn’t a demon stopping a soon to be Buddha for whatever reason. There was no demon, just a tough journey to the other shore that all must make to see the reality of the Universe.”

With that, The Eternal Fishnu vanished and I found myself on The Other Shore. None of those islands in sight, none of those creatures of the deep either. There was just a big frontier, a dynamo of One, with no boundaries.

For what seems like eternity, I explored the big frontier of no boundaries. Nowhere to be, nothing to defend, met everything with “Is that so?” Until one day, I happened upon another shore, a shore that seemed so familiar. It was the shore where I began, before I knew anything about the islands, or the ocean, or the Other Shore. I could again see my parents calling to me from that little island. And again, I swam over, but this time knowing what is on the other shore.

zion_observation_point
The long steady path of the Enlightened. Enlightenment is having the smarts to visit the fantastic Zion National Park.

Picking Up the Bag

I opened my eyes, awakening not just from my deep meditation sitting in the Utah desert, but from the illusion of the islands. The sun was just rising over a mesa in the distance. No Morning Star, Venus, to greet my awakening as she had done for Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha, about 2500 years ago. I later learned that Venus actually was there, but behind the mesa. By the time she rose above the mesa, the sun was too bright in the sky to see the her. That was a little lesson driving the point home a little more.

I sat there in the desert for a few minutes, not knowing what was next until a raven flew just above my head. I told the raven that’s too cliche, too Carlos Castaneda. Nothing changed, but everything changed. I collected my things and walked back to the log cabin, back to what wasn’t “my life” anymore, but just “Life”.

We’re all unique souls and even if the end lessons are the same, we all converge to Enlightenment from different paths. And that’s the beauty of human sentience, the way each of our complex brains reflects the vastness of the One. But we must all live among the islands for a time to safely gain the skill we need to make the big journey to the other shore. Then we must fully understand that reality isn’t a bunch of fragments to experience in isolation before we want to venture out to the Other Shore.

 

 

Corporate Dukkha

McGangBang, an item from the "secret menu" world.
This concoction has a name a bit too uncomfortable for this PG-13 audience. But it’s one of the most intriguing concoctions of the “Secret Menu” subculture. It’s a McChicken Sandwich smashed between a Double Cheeseburger. This was made for Mrs. Hanamoku and I by a very amused McDonalds employee – even though it’s made incorrectly. This photo is an example of where the epitome of Corporations, McDonalds, meets the tinders of creativity still out there in the wild. If you meditate on this rogue product, you’ll see there’s a lot that can be read into this graphic.

This post is dedicated to the laborers on this Labor Day!

Situation

Think about the life of your liver, a part of you. And let’s say you’re an alcoholic. Your dukkha lead you to alcoholism, which soothes your mind’s dukkha passing it along in the form of a tougher life for your liver. Try as your liver might, your brain is in control. As a liver, the dukkha of the human it serves is its dukkha.

Similarly, as a part of the corporation at which you earn your living, the dukkha of your boss is your dukkha. And the dukkha of your boss’ boss is your boss’ dukkha. It goes on and on and on.

Corporations are all about dukkha – goals, competition, punishment, deadlines. It is the social organization invented by the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution is about the exploitation of machines, perfect in execution and uncomplaining. Unfortunately, we poor human parts get caught up in the same bucket of expectations of perfection.

Unlike people, corporations cannot become enlightened with the realization that all suffering is due to clinging. So even if we as an individual has tossed our dukkha overboard, neither have the corporations where we work nor most of the the people working there. We are still submerged in corporate dukkha.

Before continuing, I need to make my obligatory clarification. I need to be clear that this post isn’t about denigrating corporations, corporate culture, or corporate workers, particularly the executives. In a similar vein, I don’t denigrate the evolution mechanism of Life on Earth where pretty much every animal makes its living killing and devouring another creature. How much more sadistic could a system be?

When I talked to Ringo about this post, he warned, “Your readuhs ah goin tah wundah why of all places yah took a sad song an’ made it worse!” On the contrary, my intent is to smooth out (un-dukkha) our unavoidable love-hate relationship with corporations. The wonder of humanity’s potential can only be fully realized through the organization, scale and integration of human minds through corporations. Humans are creatures of evolution and corporations are creatures of humanity.

Those seemingly depressing views on corporation and evolution are from the low-perspective of we poor humans as helpless little scraps of flotsam caught in the whirlpool of Life on Earth. It’s just our half-baked sentience, caught in the ugly stage between animal and Enlightened. From the high perspective of the Enlightened, we see the big picture and understand that it’s easy to take a limited view out of context and make it bad.

Background

In the beginning, there was no dukkha …

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We all know that in the beginning Adam and Eve enjoyed dukkha-free lives in the Garden of Eden. “Worry” was a word yet to be invented as they were One with God.  Because they were One with God, there also wasn’t really an Adam and Eve, just One. Speaking of One, there was just one rule – don’t eat that stupid apple.

The act of making a decision completely changed the world. Decisions are made to satisfy desires. Desires are for things outside of us to become a part of us, so that implies there is a me and everything else. The world was no longer One to them, but now they were symbolically-thinking beings, capable of manipulating things in the World.

It wasn’t some magic apple, a tangible object, Eve ate that brought dukkha into the world. It was the intangible act of making a decision, which we all do at some time a year or so after we come into this world, declaring we are our own person. For humanity, it was the progressive emergence of our self-aware, symbolical-thinking sentience.

Go West, Young Man … Try East … South then? … OK, Up!

Compared to the way our old hunter-gatherer ancestors made a living, our means today of earning a living under corporate culture has advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, most of us don’t risk our lives fighting with animals a magnitude stronger than us anymore. On the other hand, there’s something appealing about not having eight bosses breathing down my neck and dealing with daily commutes, those real-life video games.

Whichever is better, right here, right now, we’re stuck with corporate culture. We’re dependent upon its massive capabilities to support the seven billion people alive in the world. Without that massive scale, half of us would starve, and those of us remaining will live with those ungodly memories. There are no longer enough wild buffalo on the plains of the American Midwest or and Copper River salmon in Alaska to feed us all. We depend on the innovation of these enterprises to eventually fix the many messes we find ourselves in during this “ugly stage” of our transition.

We can’t quit our jobs. In today’s information world, all corporations are pretty much the same – no different than some cars painted mauve and some magenta. They all learn from the same articles in Harvard Business Review, follow each other’s best practices based on published case studies, satisfied with minimally incremental improvements.

Besides, how would you obtain the $100 million for your 1000 acres of quality woods at $100,000 per acre to build your log cabin and self-sustaining farm?

Forty Hours per Week?

For those with typical “8 to 5” jobs, that euphemism doesn’t even begin to account for what our corporate job entails beyond those nine hours. It also doesn’t the door to door commute each way, the time to put on your corporate costume. That’s not the mention the intellectual drain of navigating the traffic madness as well as compressing your life chores into an hour or so. Most importantly, what about the clouds hanging over your head even when not on the clock due to deadlines.

Literally, at the “end of the day”, you probably didn’t enjoy the sun at all. On many days, I actually end up with more on my plate than I started with.

Having worked for about 40 years with hundreds of people, I’m pretty sure I can safely say that most people would readily choose to quit their jobs and choose the freedom of the retirement life now rather than later. Even if they say they love their jobs, I can’t help but sense that for some it’s one of those Stockholm Syndrome things where “You keep telling yourself that and some day you’ll actually believe it”.

But I know many retired people who find retirement boring. And somehow with all that freedom they managed to fill their lives with a different set of dukkha. I’ve personally known a few people who just died soon after retirement.

It’s not corporate culture itself that’s the bad thing. It is the reality we live in, as much a part of our lives as the “natural” world. It’s just a part – a huge part – of the journey to the other shore. It’s the “ugly” of the “ugly stage” of the journey.

Maybe there is some insight into how to begin to accept the lot of being a corporate cog in a lesson I got very long ago in karate class.

When I started taking a karate class as a teenager, I was clumsy and really, I struggled with it. Even after only one class I was bitching and moaning! A senior black belt who was helping me out could see most of my attention was focused on worrying about how others were perceiving my efforts – as opposed to focused on my efforts. She snapped at me, “Who do you think you are? Don’t you think they’re focusing on their practice and not on you?!”

It certainly helped me in karate class and most other sorts of training classes I’ve been in. But the key phrase is “training class”. In a class, we are there to build our skill, not compete against each other – even though that’s how it may seem, with tests and all. The “competition” we perceive in that class is for us to test each other. The problem is that in real life, business, we do compete against each other from the business level (SQL Server vs Oracle) down to you competing with your colleagues/friends to keep your job.

However, as Enlightened Beings, a perpetual beginner with an empty cup, we understand that yearning for some other ideal, such as a life of retirement where we are free, is too clinging to something. We understand that randori, the chaos we navigate in the real world, is this complex system we ultimately don’t control but can and must learn to blend into.

Our corporate jobs gives us the opportunity to see life from the point of view not from the comfortable perch as the apex predators or the most sentient creatures of Earth. Rather we get to see life from a perspective similar to how our organs (heart, kidney, lungs, etc) would envision us as entire human beings.

Assessment

The Consciousness of a Corporation

A corporation is an organism. It competes against other corporations for the right to live. It has an anatomy. It is made up of very many moving parts, forming hierarchies of departments (organs of real organisms), ideally working in concert towards some goal larger than each of the little parts. It evolves along with changes in business climate. If you prick it, it does bleed, albeit in a metaphorical way.

However, a corporation itself isn’t sentient, it isn’t aware of itself. But the bigger chunk of its many moving parts are sentient humans – most of whom are still filled with dukkha. Perhaps a corporation could be viewed as somewhat sentient if we imagine the CEO, a sentient human, as the highest-level mind, the master puppeteer. But even with a master puppeteer a puppet is still kind of lumbering, not as graceful as a sentient human.

Sentient or not, corporations are subject to the same things that cause our human dukkha – clinging to things. Corporations cling to its business plans, clings to its market share, clings to the satisfaction of its customers, clings to the blessing of the government(s) under which it operates, and the familiarity of how things were always done (what seems to have always worked).

Since corporations aren’t sentient,  they don’t suffer as we humans do. However, like flesh and blood beings, corporations have an “instinct” to survive and are in a perpetual state of entropy requiring constant care. That perpetual state of entropy is the equivalent of our human experience of dying. Corporations can be “reincarnated” through Chapter 11 deaths. Beyond just the entropy all entities endure from just existing, corporations are battered, constantly at war with other corporations – no different from bear on bear, bear on lion, or lion on gazelle violence.

A big difference between our human body and a corporation is that at least our parts (our organs) don’t really have desires of their own. Our organs don’t have their own hopes that dreams. They just carry on with their nature. For corporations, we all certainly have our own hopes and dreams and cycles.

On the other extreme, a corporation is certainly not akin to a hive of busy bees all completely in alignment for “the greater good” of the hive. Each bee has no goal, each is a perfect bee. Each just follows simple rules whereby the “hiveness” of the hive emerges. A corporation isn’t made of simple bees with no goals just following simple rules. It is made up of many very individual people with individual tastes, goals, ideas, all trying to be goal-less machines.

However, bees can only make honey. They can’t make space shuttles and iPhones. Further, as wonderful as each of us humans are, we cannot individually make space shuttles and iPhones. It takes the incredible organization and integration of our countless respective skills to do in a matter of days, years, or even decades what it took evolution billions of years to accomplish.

Corporations are not just the many independently intelligent moving parts. It is also the designed processes by which these many moving parts interact, or at least intend to interact. A corporation is a designed entity, not the product of evolution. Designed things impose onto the smoothly changing fabric of an evolutionary environment. The dukkha of a corporation is worse than for a human. At least a single human is a single set of desires compared to the collective and often competing dukkhas of all the employees.

The problem is that these processes are rather rigid. As the “god of these processes”, that is, as the designers, it’s our responsibility to update them along with the relentlessly changing world. But like people, corporations cling to “what works”, fighting the change, exacerbating its ability to adapt, to innovate.

In this day, most of us spend most of the day under the direction of our employer, the government, in addition to tending to the needs of ourselves, family, and friends. Earning a living is essentially an institutionalized proposition, with all the laws and regulations. It’s a monopoly on the means to earn a living by relatively few.

We can’t just go out into the woods, build a log cabin, and farm the land from which we cut down trees to make our cabin. We’re told that if we don’t like where we work, we’re free to leave. But to where? Every corporation today is almost identical.

Driven by Relentless Growth

At the foundation of Life on Earth are molecules that replicate themselves. For simplicity, just think of these replicating molecules as our DNA. The don’t “desire” to replicate, they just do, it’s their nature – and relentlessly. Because they do relentlessly replicate, with the finite resources on Earth, they quickly reach a point where they are competing with each other, winners getting to replicate and losers that become the material for that replication. That same relentless growth manifests at cell levels, individual levels, species levels, and ecosystem levels.

The corporation we know and love, is too driven by relentless growth, not any different from any species of nature. It is as much Life on Earth as we are Life on Earth. After all, it is our creation, and we are certainly creatures of Life on Earth. Corporations too are on layers of existence starting with our DNA that are phenomenon out of relentless growth.

What happens if something ceases to relentlessly grow? It’s snuffed out of existence by other things that didn’t decide to cease its nature of relentless growth. Life on Earth is a Yin and Yang kaleidoscope of relentlessly growing entities grinding away at each other.

Is this just life on Earth? Why does a star or planet stop growing? Because it thought it’s big enough? Gravity doesn’t stop at some size. There’s simply no more available material.

Recommendation

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The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet meditating next to a beautiful cactus. A cactus that is here today because it evolved to do with less.

Different Paths, Different Sets of Dukkha

Climbing the “corporate ladder” is a game no worse or better than the game of fighting to be the best at some skill – such as Big Data consultant, lawyer, or HR recruiter. It’s just another of the countless paths to the same place – Enlightenment, freedom from Dukkha. The only real differences among the paths are the measures of success. But it’s hard to see that equality in paths since we still look up to and fear those higher on the corporate ladder.

Obviously, that’s because the power to control others is pretty much defined by where you are on the ladder. More power to control means less stress, less power to control your lives means more. However, everyone has a boss. Measuring your success by your place on the corporate ladder naturally hands your happiness to the mercy of the will and dukkha of those above you, those people who have “rightful” control over you. Again, that’s not good or bad – and it’s critical to not judge that or anything else. It just is.

In all sincerity – absolutely no passive-aggressive sarcasm intended – have compassion for your bosses, the executives. They and Pontius Pilate aren’t all that different. They play a part in this wide drama, no bigger or smaller than anyone else’s part. The Eternal Fishnu reminds me that Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, who held Jesus’ fate in his hands:

You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” – John 19:11

Executives don’t realize that they are caught in a very sticky web of dukkha. They can’t afford to realize that since it will undermine the confidence they need to pass judgement on a fellow human. They lead many people, thousands up to millions. The fortunes and 401Ks of many are at risk. They must whole-heartedly believe that they are indeed better than everyone to perform such a feat. How could they do their if they didn’t believe that? For all herd animals, the role of leader goes to the strongest.

But Jesus’ sentiment towards Pontius Pilate goes for everyone, not just those who hold power over you, but for peers as well. Jesus addressed to a wider audience:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

Forgive the lions for killing gazelle, and give the gazelle the right to flee or fight back even if that means the lion’s cubs will starve.

Buy Inner Strength at Pennies on the Dollar

As far as Life on Earth is concerned, if you provide a valuable service with a high level of skill, you are valuable. You will be needed somewhere by someone for something – whether or not your Mama/Papa Boss actually likes you.

Inner Strength. You don’t care about who is the best. You are thankful that there are those more skilled in your Zen Art to pull you forward, as you pull others less skilled. Have the patience and faith to conquer the folly of instant gratification.

It’s important to keep in mind that Inner Strength isn’t something you “build”. It’s something that’s already there as you are One with the Universe whether you think you are or not. Rather, Inner Strength, is taken back from the delusion of your symbolically thinking self.

If you were to focus on your level of skill, you probably won’t climb the corporate ladder very high and live on “Melody Lane with all the other rich people” because that’s no longer your narrow-minded destination. You will be of value. The question is, how can you hone your skills when many struggle to find even ten extra minutes in the morning to have a leisurely breakfast with your loved ones, the difference to scarfing a bagel in the car on the way to work?

How can we make time to hone our skill? That is, not for the skill required for our part of the cog in the machine, but our Zen Art, our passion for which work is not work. As soon as we figure out how to do a task at more efficiently at work, that is, make me some breathing room, that vacuum is filled … whooosh! More with Less and the obsession with growth.

The answer is to realize energy is more powerful and precious than money and even time. Time is finite and limited, excess money is a false security easily rendered useless – how much does it help with cancer? But energy has no maximum. There are megawatts to reclaim by dumping all that crap you mindlessly cling to that you shouldn’t care about and use that energy to build more energy.

It starts with the scary and counter-intuitive notion of forgetting about those piddly bonuses, employee of the month prizes, and promotions. Those are scraps! Say you make $50,000 per year as I do (give or take $40,000) and can receive a 15% bonus upon meeting stated benchmarks, your KPIs. Did you really work just 15% harder to earn that bonus? Isn’t the reality more like well over 50% harder if not double or more than that?

Let go of the injustice of being a cog in a corporate machine. Embrace it, remove that friction. Counter-intuitively, you will actually be of much greater value to your employer as you will be the cog in the machine your corporation always wanted you to be. And you will have purchased with those lost bonuses the energy you need to escape your corporate dukkha – a bargain at pennies on the dollar! It may not seem like much, but if you invest that energy wisely into your skill, your Zen Art, it pays compounded interest.

Not seeking the power of the Executive Suite goes against everything pounded in our head since we can remember. The better to control us, right? Instead trust in the wisdom of polishing your sword. Every path, whether it’s the corporate ladder path, the altruistic path, or the skill path, they all have their own sets of dukkha. Let everyone have their path and the interaction of those paths yields the wonder of this Universe.

Corporate Buddhism

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The Eternal Fishnu first appeared on Earth about 400 million years ago when life started a profound expansion from the ocean onto land. It was ugly, but look at where we are now. The Eternal Fishnu is here to help us through another great expansion. This time the frontier involves corporate life – ugly now, but eventually taking us to unimaginable wonders.

If there were a corporate counterpart to Siddhartha Gautama, that sat under a Bodhi Skyscraper until it became enlightened, what would it come up with? What would be its equivalent to Sakyamuni Buddha’s realization that “all suffering is caused by clinging”?

Well, first off, as mentioned, corporations aren’t self-aware. So corporations aren’t aware of any suffering. By “Corporate Dukkha” I’m not referring the dukkha a corporate entity may feel, but the dukkha it heaps onto we sentient humans caught up as cogs in those lumbering, greedy machines.

So even if that corporate counterpart to Siddhartha Gautama itself doesn’t suffer, corporations are nonetheless a tremendous new source of dukkha we humans are cornered into carrying. As Siddhartha’s Four Noble Truths ironed out the rift between human sentience and Life on Earth, The Eternal Fishnu offers this as the corporate version of the Four Noble Truths that irons out the rift between human sentience and our own corporate creations:

  1. There is no corporate ladder. Every diligent employee, from CEO to we lowly software developers plays an equally important part. The scope of the part has two dimensions – width of the big picture (call it w) and depth of each specific task (call it d) such that w * d of any job position is always equal to 1.
  2. All actions have hidden costs. There are rarely genuine free lunches, most things being zero-sum games with costs that are really hard to see and/or easy to hide. Some may take a while to notice, some are swept under the rug. Such hidden costs are transferred to the poor employees, the environment, and even the customers.
  3. A corporation doesn’t live in a vacuum. A corporation is a part of Life on Earth, neither an abomination nor the shackles placed upon us by the rich.
  4. A corporation must take care to not be an impenetrable wall to change. Change is constant, and impenetrable walls are eventually penetrated, but will come with an explosion of built-up dangers. All things must be yielding, but not completely submissive, to change.