I could finally see the monastery nestled amid the lush mountains of central Tibet. I have journeyed to the Lamar Monastery because it has a unique vision of combining community activities with their spiritual discipline. Hopefully here I will find the answers to the questions that haunt me.
The monastery itself is a thing of contemporary beauty. I was amazed at the simple and elegant way in which the entrance way was adorned; just beyond the array of hanging prayer cloths were an impressive collection of brass singing bowls and chimes. I found myself being brought back to the present by a warm greeting from the temple monk who was seated amid a series of small brass bells that he was polishing. He was dressed in his temple robes which were royal blue and edged with golden lapels and red fringes.
“Good Morning! I set aside a plate for you; have a seat and refresh yourself with our morning meal.”
I was presented with a plate of vegetarian dumplings and kale fritters that were artfully presented and garnished with roses made from thinly sliced carrots. On the edges of the plate were two small bowls of soy sauce and a napkin that the monk moistened with warm lemon water. I was also amazed by the incense that was burning which seemed to be a blend of sandalwood, cinnamon and a floral scent that I couldn’t identify.
“The breakfast and even the incense that you are trying to analyze all come from the surrounding hills which we cultivate mindfully and present with intention. Enjoy as we now begin our time together. By the way, the incense is to be enjoyed rather than scrutinized.”
I found myself feeling as though I was way out of my league even though I was in my final semester of study just prior to me beginning work on my Doctoral Dissertation. “I have studied economics on the highest level but I am having trouble connecting the dots in terms of creating an economic methodology that has a meaningful impact on most people’s lives. I am feeling as though much of my time in studies has been a waste in that every approach in economics seems to wind up with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I am frustrated and to be frank with you, I am feeling lost. I am actually here to see if I can continue your work here as a monk.”
After a few moments, the monk replied; “Serving as a monk in this community isn’t nearly as glamorous as you may think it is. We work hard to maintain a supportive relationship with the families that surround us. We spend a lot of time walking through these hills visiting the sick and sharing in the ups and downs of our extended faith family. I am touched by your respect for our work but we can talk a bit more on that later. Exactly what concerns you?”
Enjoying the final dumpling and wiping my hands on the lemon scented napkin I replied; “Systemic and institutionally affirmed issues seem to be embedded in the very DNA of capitalism. I am touched by the powerlessness that poverty creates and the self sufficiency that it erodes; I wrestle with finding a way to reverse that trend so that economics can be tilted in the favor of the very people that support it rather than being used as a tool of institutionalized suppression.”
Sitting beside me, the monk replied “I may not be of help to you but perhaps I can stimulate your thinking. Here in Tibet we don’t wrestle with the sophisticated theories that you bring. We rather find solutions for life’s issues in the simplest of interventions. Our funds are limited but we manage to finance the needs of this temple each year with little more than $500 in seeds which are donated each year by local farmers. We grow our food, sell our surplus and create jobs for many within our community while also feeding anyone who needs a hot meal and a place to rest. The meal that you have obviously enjoyed is the same meal that is being served next door to the group that shows up just about every day for a meal. Here we eat the same food that we serve the community; it is our way of honoring them as a member of our family. We are able to do this all for $500 in donated seeds and additional food items that are donated from time to time; whatever surplus our neighbors choose to share with us.”
“As you can see, God in His wisdom has so crafted the world so as to provide more than enough food and shelter for all of its inhabitants. The problem is that man’s greed has gotten in the way. That is the problem that you have to deal with.”
“Your issue has little to do with powerlessness. An ember is powerless only when separated from other embers. United however, they can grow into a flame that can warm an entire family. Capitalism above all demands belief in it and cooperation with it for its principles to function. Your dollar bill which your prize so highly would be little more than just a colored piece of paper to one of my villagers here in Tibet but in your country it is a medium of exchange, a way of dividing people into classes and so on. Capitalism is based upon greed and along with it your people’s willingness to agree to be divided into component groups in line with the age old concept of divide and conquer. If the component groups that you represent would merely collaborate, you would redefine the parameters of your country overnight. Your combined power would be deeply felt.”
“Poverty is interesting in that it is largely an outward manifestation of an inward state of mind. You ask how can several million people affect the marketplace and in so doing redefine capitalism and I ask why haven’t you done so already? The question is one of mindset; are you willing to lead in the marketplace or do you want to be led by it. Although the choice is yours the ramifications are clear; as long as the majority is willing to be led by the minority in the marketplace, the top 2% will continue to own or control the majority of your assets. Your willingness to be powerless will give the rich a free pass to buy their yachts and private jets at your expense. To lead in the marketplace is to support the businesses that support you; it is as simple as that. That way business is no longer a cancer within your communities draining them of all available assets and then moving on but rather a co-contributor to community growth where they engage willingly or unwillingly in community development.”
“Everything follows its seed; cherry trees grow from cherry seeds, apple trees grow from apple seeds and so on. Poverty grows from its own seed; a mindset of accommodation and subjugation. Challenge those seeds within your community and work to plant new seeds of hope and unity and in time you will be amazed at the prosperity that grows.”
“Here in Tibet our power lies in the fact that we are a self contained and viable economic unit determining our destiny independent of any outward economic factors. We have accomplished this by owning the critical elements that supply our community and as such are able to actually retain our economic gains within our faith family. The ultimate challenge of being viable in any economic environment is to be able to retain funds within your community and this is obtained through ownership. I leave you with our adage;”
Until you own, you are owned.
My doctoral studies lacked this homespun wisdom but I began to wonder what the monk would say about my lacking love life. “I do see the power that resides within us on a community level. What about intangible issues like love which we all desire?”
“Your culture misinterprets love which is not something that you receive but rather something that you give. Words spoken in this valley will create an echo where those same words will inevitably return. Love is much like that; when you give from a place of selflessness to the needs of another, love is not only received by the other but in time will always return to you in one form or another.”
“Look at our dog; he cannot speak or even understand the complexities of everyday life but he sure knows how to make you the center of his world and in so doing he both shares and receives both love and affection.”
“I am touched by your earlier offer to join our discipline and we would love to have you work with us. I suspect however that your service would be far more significant if you return home, complete your dissertation and then work just as we do to make a difference in the very community in which you live. This monastery was started just ten years ago and has flourished because the community sees our existence as being in their best interest and as such they work with us and support us. There is no reason why a similar work cannot be created wherever there is a desire for self sufficiency and empowerment.”
“It is time for you to return now but as you leave, let me give you my blessing;”
Be courageous as you walk in darkness.
Let your light shine
so that others may see through you
a new world order.