One of my teachers explained Buddhist monasteries are made practically feasible by creating a “permanence department” that handles the assets of the monastery and does all the corrupt things monks and nuns themselves refuse to do. This is particularly ironic since the word “permanence” is precisely the opposite of the word “impermanence” with its preeminent place in Buddhism.
Franciscans and Poor Claires are famous for insisting on total poverty. But later generations of friars lessened these demands, because the demand of total poverty made the sustainability of monastic institutions infeasible.
The idea that losers in life should be neglected and ignored is justified by the premise that everyone in life gets what they deserve. The athlete ridicules the frail boy, in denial of the fact that he is one accident or disease away from becoming disabled.
The world shows no mercy to people when they have no money. We know it’s their own fault. They were imprudent. Foolish. Irresponsible. Probably on drugs. No one is ever destitute for any reason other than a personal moral failing. The world is perfectly just.
This idea that the world is perfectly just and everyone gets what they deserve is what sociologists call “the just world fallacy.” Studying history for five minutes will teach you, this is not a just world.
Even if I lived in a perfectly just world, I would still have some sympathy and mercy for people who made bad decisions. But in an unjust world where anyone can get sick and die, it is foolish to withhold mercy.
Some of you will be familiar with this story. A farmer paid workers who worked all day the same wage as those who arrived late. Confronted by exhausted workers, he explained the wages were given out of mercy, not justice.
The corporation is premised on the idea that employees must behave justly in the context of a fundamentally just world. The idea is, you pretend the system is totally just and then work justly within it. This is what we sign up for when we go to work.
Moral conscience understands ignoring the helpless is an unacceptable lack of mercy.
Intellectual conscience understands the world is not perfectly just.
But the practical mind knows money is necessary and there’s no way to get it without flattering those who have it.
Success in maintaining intellectual conscience lies in separating the mind into two departments, one where you can be as cunning as a serpent, and one where you can be as innocent as a dove.
Everyone has to acquiesce to the system to survive.
So long as intellectual conscience survives along with the body, the child’s “why” does not cease until answered in a way satisfactory to conscience.
The “Why?” of conscience is sometimes answered “That’s just the way it is.”
But my conscience was never really satisfied with this answer.
Things are the way they are. The world considers starving orphans irrelevant. But does it follow from this that my conscience must agree and also see starving orphans as irrelevant?
If you allow the premises you need to function in the office to define your entire intellectual life, you have killed your conscience, you have committed intellectual suicide.
People say I don’t practice what I preach.
It is very true. I’m a hypocrite.
On the other hand, French philosopher Nicholas Chamfort says, “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.”
There’s another way to look at it.
By virtue signaling, at least I pay the tribute!
They say my intellectual conscience is irrelevant because it has no real power to enforce its demands.
They say speaking the truth is just virtue signaling.
There’s no market for it. It has no practical effect in the world.
I live in this world, which means I accept the lie that money determines the importance of a person’s requests.
Tra La La. I sing on my way to the office. The homeless man’s demand for shelter and the starving orphan’s demand for food should be left unfulfilled because they have no money. Money determines the fitness of a demand to be fulfilled. People with no money should have their demands ignored. Those with lots of money should have all demands fulfilled promptly. I step over the homeless man. I am late for work.
On the other hand, I know all this isn’t right. My conscience notices the way I treat the least and lowest. I am not happy.
The point is, keep both parts of your mind alive.
I mean, it would be better if we could always be as innocent as doves. But this is not sustainable.
If you are going to demand total consistency, you are going to have to always be cunning, all the time, never innocent.
My claim is: It’s better to lead a divided, inconsistent, hypocritical life than a unitary, consistent, sincere life. Why? We all have to live in the corporate world. If that becomes your only world, your conscience is dead.
It is better to have a divided mind than to kill the part of the mind that cares about the suffering of the unfortunate.
La, La, La. I’m on my way to work. Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds! Everything is perfectly just. All suffering is merited. There’s no need for mercy and kindness.
If I’m perfectly consistent, my mind will be in this merciless, barbaric state for my entire life!
Honestly, this was me. I wanted to be perfectly logical and consistent like Mister Spock. Until I realized it just doesn’t make sense. It would imply I either can’t work for the corporation or can’t have an intellectual conscience. Both unacceptable. Therefore a divided life is inevitable.
If total consistency requires that we kill the part of ourselves that wants to speak honestly and cares about the suffering of the helpless, I would rather be inconsistent.
The point is to set aside at least some time to think about things in a human way, instead of a commercial way.
Don’t let the permanence department take over your monastery.
Mercy In Defiance Of The Merciless.