Buddhists continually surprised by insanity in our lives
The Rev. Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya
Through the practice of ethics and meditation, Buddhists develop the ability to step back and observe life objectively. We begin to see what we had come to accept in our everyday lives of work, school and community norms as nothing other than normalized insanity. For example, in this nation we have more time-saving devices than other modern nations. Because of this we have more free time than any other people on the planet. What? Don't you have more free time than you did 10 years ago? If not, ask yourself this question: If we have more time-saving devices than any other nation, then why is it we have no time? Shouldn't technology have created more leisure time? Insanity. Part of this can be traced to the 1980s when corporations began downsizing. If there were three employees, one was fired and the work of that employee was distributed to two others. The time it takes to do that work didn't change. So employees who had been able to be home for family dinners were no longer able to do so. They were making money for the corporate bosses who were at home having dinner with their families. Insanity. One result of downsizing was, actually, decreased productivity. Workers became sick, they liked their jobs less and, most of all, they found it difficult to focus. So rather than fix the problem in a rational way - by hiring the number of employees needed to complete the actual work - corporate executives came up with a great idea: multitasking. The solution corporations found was to make employees feel bad for not have the right skill in their "skill set." Corporations would tell employees they just had to learn to multitask; leading to the mantra, "Work smarter, not harder." This is nonsense. Multitasking is nothing more than socially sanctioned schizophrenia. People of my generation and earlier were confused by this because we had been told our whole lives to focus on one thing at a time. Now being able to focus on one thing at a time was no longer a skill but a liability. Insanity. And, of course, all this multitasking and longer hours led to the "bedroom communities," at best an oxymoron. This term was applied primarily to suburban "communities" where parents rise early for a long commute and then return home to sleep. Their work interfered with their ability to be on town councils or be involved in community organizations or their children's schools. Insanity. And the children are in school at times that go against their biology and their ability to learn. The research shows that having high school students start school at 7:30 a.m. is actually detrimental to them both physically and mentally; they should not start till 9 a.m. (Though at a regional meeting on this issue, one doctor noted that 8:30 a.m. was acceptable, but no earlier.) Even though districts could switch the high school kids to be in later and the younger children in earlier (which is in order with the younger children's biology), communities refuse to change the schedules for the well-being of their kids. Insanity. And, of course, during the school day youths are taught not only subjects but also expectations. For example, youth are taught that violence is not the solution to a problem. If they use violence, they are suspended. And then, while on suspension, they watch TV and witness the use of weapons of destruction in Iraq to solve a problem. Then we wonder where they learned to use violence and why they think adults are hypocrites. Insanity. Some will justify the use of violence to our youths by saying you cannot reason or work cooperatively for mutual benefit with religious fanatics. And in the next breath they will invoke the name of the deity of their religion to help our troops be successful in killing these religious fanatics. Insanity. Many people ask: How do you stop the insanity? You stop it by understanding that all people are interconnected and knowing our own security is guaranteed by working for the security of all people. You stop it by dedicating your life to the benefit of beings, rather than the accumulation of things. You stop it by having compassion and wisdom and by eliminating greed (corporate downsizing), ignorance (school start times) and hatred (war) from our own minds.
One thing Buddhists focus on, and are continually surprised by, is the insanity of the way human beings live.
The Rev. Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya is an abbot with the Middle-Way Meditation Center in Danbury.