Kadam Bjorn once said there is not a single Dharma mind is narrow or closed, they are all open and vast. Most of our daily problems and wrong attitudes come because we are too tight, too narrow, too closed in our thinking and outlook. I have had several experiences over the last 24 hours, all of which have pointed to the same conclusion: “always take the broader view.”
First, yesterday I attended a conference by a group of young Muslim activists here in Belgium. They are putting together an umbrella organization of all of the different Muslim associations that target empowerment of the Muslim community, whether it be for the young, for women or for entrepreneurs. We brought in some really high-calibre American Muslim activists to exchange experiences, etc. What really impressed me was how each time they took the high road. One of them was a woman who founded a chic Elle-style magazine for Muslim women. The goal of the magazine is to help break the stereotypes and show there is no contradiction between being a fully empowered woman and being a Muslim. She said something that really struck me, she said, “Excellence is the best defense against discrimination.” She encouraged them to strive for excellence in everything they do and in doing so, all wrong stereotypes will fall away with time and by force of the example.
Later in the day, I was debating with somebody about the Eurozone crisis, and they were looking at it purely from the German national view, and from that view, everything the Germans are saying makes some sense. But when looked at from the broader European and macroeconomic view, their conclusions no longer make sense. Then later I was thinking about those who work on issues related to international organizations. At that level, you are thinking about things from the perspective of the planet as a whole, so again, have a higher view. And then this lead me to think about how Buddhas have the highest, broadest view of all because they look at things from the perspective of what is best for the enlightenment of all living beings.
Then later in the evening, I was watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and he had the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development on. He was talking about the millions of homeless people in America. He talked about people “losing their home”, not just single kids on drugs, but whole families. When we think about it, having the appearance of a “home” is incredible karma. When many people look at the homeless, they think “its their fault, they need to work and get a job.” Yes, people need to take responsibility for themselves, but that does not mean we do not, as a society, also need to assume our responsibility to our community and others. Many times people try to justify not helping others on the grounds that helping them doesn’t actually help them. They say, “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.” But then they use this phrase as justification for not giving him a fish, but they also don’t teach him to fish either! When an earthquake, flood or tsunami wipes out an area, we can all see it is not their fault and we rush to aid. But a financial crisis, like we had in 2008 and are continuing to have with the Eurozone crisis, is also like a natural disaster, it is a financial disaster which wipes out everyone, the guilty and innocent alike. Imagine how you would feel if for no fault of your own your employer went bankrupt due to the crisis, you lost your job, couldn’t find another job, and lost your home and found yourself on the street with your family with nowhere to turn for help? The Secretary took the broader view. He said they have found that in the long-run it is actually cheaper to eliminate homelessness than it is to allow it to continue. It costs society about $40,000 per year for a homeless person between shelters, clinics, etc. Of course most of that money comes from charitable donations, but it is much cheaper in the long run to take them in, help them get back on their feet, give them training and help them find a job than to year after year keep them homeless. In the old days, they told homeless people “if you sober up, we will find you housing.” This seems like wisdom, but it fails to understand the trauma of being homeless. When they reversed this and pursued a “housing first” policy, the people then had enough societal support to begin the work of sobering up and those with psychiatric problems started taking their medicines again.
In Europe, there is a whole community of homeless called the Roma. It is incredibly sad and anger-provoking at the same time. You see these mothers on the street with their very small children, and they are teaching their kids how to look pathetic and how to beg and even how to trick people into giving by pretending to be doing Red Cross petitions. You can’t help but get angry at the parents, why aren’t they putting their kids in school. But then when we take a broader view, you see a different story. Is it the kids fault that they were born into such a family? They grow up and are raised in such an environment so they never learn how to do anything else. As a people they face tremendous discrimination and are never trusted, so they are never given an opportunity to get on a different track. If all you have ever known how to do is scrape by on the streets, when later you have kids, you will do the same thing. So it perpetuates generation after generation. Those who do manage to escape never look back and try to hide the fact that they are Roma because there is so much discrimination, so all the best escape and only the least capable remain without any support. They become enculturated into crime and begging, which then causes people to discriminate against them even more in a vicious cycle. It is very sad, and there is no real solution that I know of other than massive investment in retraining.
I think in any situation, we will find the wisdom view by taking the broader view. When our mind feels spacious and has space for both wisdom and compassion for everyone, then we know we are on the right track. If we find ourselves judging, being defensive, feeling tight, narrow, stressed out, etc., then we should try take the broader view.
Your turn: Describe some problem in your life, and how by taking the broader view you realize a wisdom view of that situation.