This morning I read the news and discovered that over the past several years I have myself paid more in income tax than Donald Trump. This does not mean that I’m a superlatively rich man. You’ve probably paid more then Donald Trump as well.
One could easily be led by this simple fact to conclusions that perhaps we live in an unusually corrupt and degenerate age. Yet, in 1875 Anthony Trollope published a book called The Way We Live Now. He depicted a financier, who became a member of parliament, who ran financial schemes, that made money based upon dishonest assertions and trickery and flattery of people in a position to influence opinion.
This sort of thing is certainly by no means new. No doubt it was going on even in the time of the Buddha. Power and riches have often been such a temptation that people are willing to use all manner of sharp practice in order to become associated with them. The result, however, can often be completely disastrous, as it was for the central character in Trollope’s novel, who in the end committed suicide.
One could see that in the position of Mr. Trump there are a lot of birds that are thinking about coming home to roost, which could well yet lead him into a great and terrible endgame.
Last night I had a dream. I don’t remember the whole of the dream but the part that I do remember, there was a class going on about the differences between different religions; and the conclusion of this class was that the main difference between the monotheistic style of religion and the Buddhist style of religion was that the cause of all the trouble in the theistic religions was sin, was a disobedience of the commandments of the god, whereas in Buddhism the cause of all the trouble was ignorance, miscalculation, self-deception.
This leads to a very different way of construing what is happening in politics and history. When people are caught up in greed, hate, delusion, in Buddhism this is not the working of an “evil force”, it is the result of stupidity.
When somebody is motivated to rise to a powerful position in order to get revenge upon somebody else who has defeated or insulted him, then he is setting himself up for trouble in the future, because this kind of action and reaction has no end. There is no point at which one can arrive at a complete victory.
And when one chases after riches in the hope that this will bring great happiness, of corse, it doesn’t. It brings worry. It brings rivalry, competition, jealousy, and leads to one’s life being surrounded by sycophants, who really are only interested in taking away from you what you’ve got.
It doesn’t produce the end that you intended, so, it is a mistake, it’s a folly, it’s a miscalculation; and this is the Buddhist way of seeing things; and it enables one to have some sympathy even for the people who go down in the history books as the villains. You see that they just made a mistake – and what a mess it gets them into.
The root of all our troubles is self-deception. If we set as our lighthouse on our journey through life something noble and pure and good, like the Pure Land, then we are much less likely to make such mistakes on a large scale. This is the worldly benefit of the spiritual life.
And even if we pay more taxes than Donald Trump we certainly won’t have as many enemies and as many worries.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much