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Are We on the Wrong Path? Eastern Philosophy’s Approach to Self-Fulfillment & Sustainable Happiness

Being born and raised in a western culture, I found it very difficult to train my mind to embrace the eastern philosophies of Buddhism and Zen. Some of you may be asking, why consider eastern philosophy at all? Well, I have come to realize that there are fundamental flaws in western philosophy as practiced in America. Many of us know that these flaws exist, but are so consumed by the dogmatic practices of western philosophy that addressing these flaws can only occur during a catastrophic societal breakdown like what we are currently experiencing with the Wall Street crisis.

Now, why do I use the term flaw? I use this term because there are many instances when western philosophy or customs don’t align with the individual, society, or nature. In this specific case, greed was the culprit. Wall Street, our elected officials, and corporate elites may not agree with this assessment, but whose interest would it serve if they agreed with it? Not theirs.

To be fair, greed does not occur on its own. It is nurtured in a western philosophy that is based on the concept of survival of the fittest, which espouses that the more I produce, the more I earn. Now, I have no problem with the purity of this concept provided certain regulations and safeguards are in place to protect the society at large from unscrupulous and unethical business practices caused by greed. The crisis we now find ourselves in was allowed to fester because there were no safeguards and little regulations in place to protect the global public against excessive greed facilitated by:

deceptive bundling of mortgage backed securities by Wall Street executives

predatory lending practices by banks and mortgage brokers

irresponsible and overspeculating by real estate “investors”

All of these groups blindly bought into America’s old adage of greed is good (watch Micheal Douglas’ portrayal of Gordon Gecko in Wall Street). This philosophy has been celebrated and pushed by America’s business elite since the inception of this nation. Facilitated by their money and power, America’s corporate elite have used their campaign contributions to our elected officials to create unhealthy alliances that do not serve the best interest of society at large. In addition, special interest lobbying groups funded by these corporate elites have silenced the voice of the common individual. Now, many industries are deregulated in the name of a free marketplace (telecommunications, energy [Enron-Need we forget?], financial markets, and radio broadcasting are some of the now deregulated sectors of our economy). Is greed at play in these markets? Yes. But, why?

Western philosophy pushes the notion and ill-fated practice of pursuing self-fulfillment and happiness through excessive consumption of material goods and services (entities outside of our being). This practice of excessive consumption spawns consumerism, which is fueled by the pursuit and acquisition of the almighty dollar. This is why Americans are constantly chasing the buck and why we go to work everyday, even though we may hate what we do for a living. Our western philosophy has conditioned us to believe that money’s ability to buy us things leads to happiness. The problem with this notion is that while money can buy us a sense of safety and security in the form of clothing, food , and shelter, it can’t do much more than that. Of most importance to us is that money cannot provide sustainable fulfillment and happiness, because it is an entity outside of our being. Therefore, it does not and cannot address the internal workings of the human spirit.

Western philosophy embraces an outside-in approach to life, which often times leaves the mind, body, and soul defenseless to the world’s negative distractions and influences. I am not here to say that eastern philosophy is better than western philosophy. But I am here to present you with an alternative if you find that how you are living your life no longer works for you, society, or nature.

What are the signs that your life no longer works for you? Here are some hints:

You feel disempowered and disempower others versus feeling empowered and empowering others.

Life is not seen as a fun adventure, but rather a required chore.

You can’t find or don’t even realize that your not living as your authentic self (the essence of what it means to be you, the uniqueness that makes you special).

Eastern philosophies (Buddhism and Zen) are very different from western philosophy, as there are no hard and fast rules that implicitly or explicitly impose their will on individuals to live their life a certain way in order to attain a “material-based” notion of happiness and fulfillment. Still, there are some guidelines. But know that these guidelines are all geared to empowering the individual as he/she relates to the world in a synergistic (balanced) way, leading to sustainable happiness and fulfillment. In the eastern philosophy,

the western philosophy’s outside-in approach is replaced with an inside-out approach.

the western philosophy’s consumerism is replaced with humility and simplicity.

the western philosophy’s survival of the fittest dogma is replaced with embracing and aligning the mind, body, soul, and nature.

In eastern philosophy, no entity is left out from experiencing life to the fullest should it choose to do so. So, what path are you on? Is it working for you? If not, could you use a change in philosophy?

Think about it.

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