by Jack Bragen
A popular interpretation of Buddhist thought is that the conditions of life are the same for everyone since every person on the planet is subject to birth, suffering and death, and that, furthermore, it makes no real difference what one’s specific life circumstances are; suffering is created by ignorance. I don’t know if this is a completely accurate interpretation of what Buddhism says, or a distortion fostered by “new age” thinking.
However, whether or not the above is the message of Buddha, I somewhat disagree with the “new age” belief of some people that “it’s all in your mind.” Wealthy people with their lives of comfort, safety and indulgence are subject to far less suffering in their lives compared to poor people, sick people, and victims of violence.
When someone is financially well off, it is a cushion against the physical suffering that must be endured by poor people. Even when sick, a rich person is resting on clean sheets, in a heated and air-conditioned house, and has the best people caring for him or her. The rich person must face the end of life, too. However, the circumstances under which a rich person leaves this life are likely much easier than for a poor person.
People who are born into wealth might be more subject to the kind of suffering that is created by egotism and arrogance. When safety and physical comfort are a given, the human mind seeks petty reasons to create suffering. But, if someone is wounded, sick, starving, or physically threatened, it might be too tall an order not to suffer, even for those who have practiced meditation for decades.
It is obvious that physical suffering is much harder to deal with, compared to being physically well and having unhappy emotions. Unhappiness because of not getting the things one wants in life compared to severe physical suffering is like a flea bite in comparison to an amputation. And yet, your bank balance and your credit rating shouldn’t determine whether or not you must live with danger, violence, sickness and hunger.
Incarceration is one of the worst causes of human suffering. How often are those whose income is in excess of a million dollars ever incarcerated? They can afford the best lawyers, and it is almost a guarantee that they won’t be wrongfully charged with a crime. If poor, a person is subject to conviction because of physically resembling a person who really committed a crime. (That’s one reason why DNA evidence can be so important. It has recently cleared the names of some who have been wrongfully accused.)
Why is it that the one percent continue to gain an ever-increasing share of the money and the 99 percent are doing so poorly? For one thing, the members of the one percent are in positions of power. This allows them to have control over who gets the money. The one percent have conspired to keep all of the wealth to themselves and to deprive anyone who isn’t in their club. This behavior has caused our economy to grow stagnant.If you own a store, you can probably get away with paying your employees as little money as possible. You can fire them before they become eligible for pensions, unemployment and other benefits. You can fire them if they ask for a raise. You can fire them just because you want to.
If you own a business, you make the rules, and you can keep most of the profits for yourself. You can use predatory pricing to put yourself in a monopolistic position, and when your competitors have gone out of business, you can raise prices so that people can barely afford your products.The problem is not that people aren’t playing by the rules of the game; they mostly are. The problem is that the one percent has learned ways to tweak the business and economic environment in such a way that they can receive massive amounts of wealth while depriving others.
Why do people continue to behave in this way, amassing piles of wealth while others go hungry? I expect that the reason people do this — which is seemingly the universal reason why people commit cruel actions — is because they can.