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David Nichtern

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The Debt Ceiling And The Law Of Karma

Posted: 07/28/11 09:30 AM ET

What is the law of karma?

In Buddhism, the law of karma describes how causes and effects interact in our world. The point of understanding how karma works is to see the nature of things as they are, beyond any kind of delusion or wishful thinking.

What does the law of karma have to do with the current economic crisis? Maybe our national economic policy could use a good healthy dose of seeing "things as they are."

In our individual meditation practice, there is no magic bullet, no fantasy transformation, no gimmicks -- we have to work through our karma, brick by brick -- it is manual labor.

With meditation practice, we can see how our mind works -- what creates positive karma (compassion and wisdom), and what creates negative karma (aggression, attachment and ignorance). That is how we get clarity about how certain causes create certain conditions -- how did we get where we are and what we can do about it.

With the same approach, with real scrutiny, perhaps our current debt ceiling crisis can be seen to be nothing other than our national money karma coming to fruition. There are some basic principles at work here, immune from any kind of fancy talk or manipulation. Certain basic causes and conditions have created the current situation:

1. We have borrowed too much money.

Just as many of us have done as individuals, as a nation we have simply borrowed too much money, and now our creditors are knocking at the door. I don't think you need an advanced degree in economics to figure this out. Sometimes common sense is more valuable than intricate theories. It's time to pay some of this debt down, just as we would (and as some of us have) if this were our individual problem only.

2. We have been too greedy.

As a nation (and many of us as individuals) we have been willing to sacrifice long-term prosperity for short-term gain, over and over again. Many of us are addicted to a hyper-extended materialistic lifestyle (certainly by global standards) and have been willing to go deeply into debt to maintain it. Additionally, a tiny percentage of extremely wealthy people are now in a position to manipulate our entire economy to further their own self-centered, limited agenda, which they are now doing on a global level. Gordon Gekko said "greed is good," but now we will get to see if that will be his "final answer."

3. Our national political arena has become overrun with personalized agendas and bad manners.

We seem to have a chasmic divide amongst our so-called "leadership." Creative friction can sometimes be very effective in flushing out different points of view and perhaps reaching a higher fusion. But we seem to have gone well beyond that kind of creative friction in our national politics to the level of some kind of permanently feuding mentality.

Like the Hatfields and the McCoys, we now see our two "parties" immersed in an ongoing tit for tat, with nobody being very clear about the origin or the point of it all. There seems to be a crescendo of personalized agendas in the public sector. Temporal leaders, just like good spiritual teachers, could be invited to check their ego at the door. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

The solution? We need bigger vision.

Let's think about what would be good for ourselves and others. Are these really two completely different things? Perhaps we bring out the best in each of us and are also happier individuals when we have a feeling of contributing to a common cause beyond self-aggrandizement. If we are arguing about what would be the best outcome for the larger good, that could be a healthy argument to have. If we're going to keep playing the "me, me, me" game, we might be spinning on this particular wheel of karma forever --- like a giant Ferris Wheel with all of us on it.

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