19 November 2010

The Buddha on Debt

From "In the Buddha's Words- An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon"-

"And what, householder, the the happiness of freedom from debt ? Here, a family man is not indebted to anyone to any degree, whether small or great, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of freedom from debt."

As the Bible says, there truly is nothing new under the sun. Given the current debt situation of the United States, the individual states that make up the Republic and the average American household (not to mention Ireland, Portugal, Greece...well, let's just say the entire world is in hock) these words written over a thousand years ago are as relevant now as they were then, if not more so. Having been deeply in debt, then out of debt, then back in debt and now finally (hopefully) permanently out of debt, I can say that the Buddha was correct in his statement. Drowning in debt leads to despair, stress and depression- being clear of debt leads to freedom, happiness and a lighter view of the world.

In America, the deep debt of the average household was brought on by a consumer driven society where material possessions are used to judge the character and value of the individual- who has the biggest house, the best car, the coolest vacation house. I see this scene play out repeatedly when interacting with parents at our kid's sporting events- despite the financial crisis that has engulfed as all to some degree, the talk is still about who is buying a new house in which upscale neighborhood, who bought a 2011 model year SUV etc. It all reminds me of the scene where the orchestra kept playing on the deck while the Titanic sank. My personal belief is that this behavior is driven by a deep sense of insecurity and lack of self esteem. A person with a healthy view of the world should not care what others think of his or her home or car, and shouldn't judge others on the same basis.

Hopefully, on both the world and individual scale, people have wised up to the personal and national destruction that a debt driven economy has brought upon us. People are saving more, shopping at cheaper stores and generally adopting the spending habits of our parents and grandparents who still carried memories of life during the depression. My prediction is that we will survive this economic crisis only have our own children and grandchildren fall into the same trap. After all, our parents and grandparents didn't know what they were talking about either, right ?