Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Problem With Capitalism

The Problem With Capitalism

Lately there has been a plethora of postings all across the internet bemoaning the ills of Capitalism.  Capitalism, as found, does have some significant shortcomings, but it is not the evil it is portrayed to be.  Most of the problems of Capitalism are not with the economic system, the system of production and distribution of wealth: the problems with Capitalism are problems of our society.  More accurately, they are problems of individual character. 

Let’s take a quick review of what “Capitalism” actually is.  Go read the Wikipedia article on Capitalism at

Okay, now that you have a thorough grounding in what Capitalism is thought to be, let’s look at “the problems” of Capitalism: “social inequality; unfair distribution of wealth and power; materialism; repression of workers and trade unionists; social alienation; economic inequality; unemployment; and economic instability.” 

Social inequality stems from the lack of benevolence (mettā), the lack of compassion (karuṇā), the lack of altruistic joy in others accomplishments (muditā) and the lack of inner peace (upekkhā) in our citizenry. 

The unfair distribution of wealth and power is the manifestation of greed; of clinging to our desires for self-gratification, for self-aggrandizement. 

Materialism is the product of ignorance (avijjā) and delusional thinking about what is satisfying and fair.

Repression of workers and trade unionists, social alienation, economic inequality, unemployment, and economic instability all trace back to these same base and ignoble human characteristics.

It seems to me that all of these issues can be subsumed under the rubric of “dukkhā.”  And dukkhā stems from the interaction of our lack of insightful understanding of reality with our desire for gratification.  We want this, and we want that, and we want reality to be the way we want it to be.  And we lack the wisdom to see Reality as it really is; to see that having this and having that, don’t, in the large view, provide any more satisfaction or happiness.  Temporarily, yes, but then we strive for more of this and that for more happiness and satisfaction.  (For those of you with a psychological bent, refresh your understanding of intermittent reinforcement.) 

The "problem" here is not Capitalism. The problem here is human nature in its raw form. When we are born, we are lacking in wisdom, and totally focused on self-gratification. Some of us "mature," that is we gain a tad of wisdom, and we manage, from time to time, to postpone gratification. But far too many people are focused on "me." On getting what “I” want.  They are greedy for money, for power, for status, for control.

The Pāḷi words for the lack of wise and insightful understanding is “avijjā,” and the Pāḷi word for the attachment to self-gratification, for craving, for greedy desire is “taṇhā.”  Avijjā and taṇhā combine to produce dukkhā, a state of unsatisfactoriness that propels us toward getting more, and more and more.  More wealth, more power, more status, more control.  We operate under the delusion that having these, and having more of these, will bring us joy, contentment, peace, or whatever.  But it works only temporarily.

There is a solution to this problem, but most folks aren't interested, because they are blind to the problem.  Lasting peace, joy and contentment can be had, but we have to alter our character by developing wisdom and equanimity.  One proven way to do this is practicing the Noble Eightfold Path.  Practicing the Noble Path develops the Four Noble Characteristics of mettā, karuṇā, muditā and upekkhā.  Practicing the Noble Path leads to vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization and illumination.  Practicing the Noble Path will lead to a more just, peaceful and enlightened world.

For more on dukkhā and the Noble Eightfold Path, see the postings on 6/12/16 and 5/23/16

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Words are Goopy

Words are Goopy

April 1, 2016

Words are goopy.  Or at least they can be.

Words function as referents – signs and symbols that point to things and acts and ideas.  Some of the things words point to are concrete, such as . . . well concrete.  Some of the things words point to are abstract, such as “love.”   So, to assist in communication, to promote “Right Speech,” we need to be mindful of what WE mean when we say a word, and what OTHERS may think the words means when they hear it.  Maybe even go so far as to functionally or operationally define what we mean so that others can be on the same page.

I really like the example of how goopy words can be that was composed by a fellow who went by the name of Noam Chomsky, and which he published in his 1955 thesis "Logical Structures of Linguistic Theory"  It goes like this:

“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

If you study this sentence carefully, you will find that it is absolutely correct according to the rules of English grammar.  Syntactically, it is flawless.

But semantically?  Does it say anything meaningful?  Well, as a matter of fact, because the words used in the sentence are goopy, because the words can have more than one meaning, yes it does say something meaningful. 

“Colorless” can mean having no color, or being dull or pale in hue.  But it can also mean lacking distinctive character; being dull and uninteresting.

“Green” can refer to a color, or more specifically to a range of colors, but it can also mean young and unripe, as a green banana.  It can also mean sickly looking.  So, if “colorless” means having no color, and “green” means a specific color, then there is a contradiction in the first two words of the sentence.  But if “colorless” refers to being dull and uninteresting and green means young, why then of course ideas can be both colorless and green.

And what are we to make of “sleep furiously?”  Well, sleep most often refers to a state of somnolence.  But it can also mean “death,” as in Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To sleep, perchance to dream . . . “  And, of course we talk about computers going to sleep.  Huh.

“Furiously” can be understood as intense activity, as hurried or rused, as when one pedals furiously to get home. 

So, another way to express the idea of “colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” is “uninteresting young ideas die quickly.”  Goopy huh. 

And goofy.  Can we somnolate intensely?  I dunno’.  Doesn’t matter.  The point is, we need to make the effort to be precise and accurate in our speech.  We need to make sure that when we communicate verbally, we communicate what we intend. 

Huh.  Right Speech.  Right Intention. 

Just some things for you to consider.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

We’ve got wheels!

We want to thank everyone who contributed in any way!  We now have a 2005 Dodge Durango which will nicely meet our needs for transportation for the next few years. 

Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society's
2005 Dodge Durango 

As with so many things in life, this was a compromise.  We didn’t raise enough to purchase a newer vehicle, but with 175,000 miles this one is still in pretty good shape.  However, this vehicle will cost more to operate and to maintain than the Honda Element.  For example, the insurance on this is about $400 a year more than the same coverage for the 2003 Honda Element.   And it gets only about 17 miles per gallon.  Also, in the month we’ve had it, we have had the transmission flushed, and some electrical work done, and there is still some wiring to be replaced.  We drive about 1800 miles a month, so it will soon be time for an oil change. But it will do for the next 50,000 miles.

These increased costs mean we need to increase the income, and, we have to refigure our budget a bit.  That said, we have set up an “internal” account for the increased operating costs, and to save to replace the Dodge when the time comes. 

If you would like to support our mission of creating a more just, peaceful and enlightened world through the teaching and practice of the Noble Path, you may do so at

Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society
c/o Wat Phothisomphan
2560 SE 14th Street
Des Moines, IA 50320

Or may contribute online via GoFundMe.  
The campaign link is:

May your life be peaceful and blessed.

Bhante Dhammapala

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Position Advertisement:

Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society (AMBMS) is an Iowa-based non-profit with the mission of facilitating peace, justice and enlightenment through teaching and supporting the practice of the principles embodied in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.  We are currently seeking Trustees to serve on our Board.  We are looking for broad-minded individuals who can commit to our mission, who diligently practice the Noble Eightfold Path, and who have achieved leadership stature in business, government, philanthropy, and/or the nonprofit sector.

This is an extraordinary opportunity for an individual who is passionate about AMBMS’s mission and who has a track record of board leadership.  We are actively seeking diversity among our Trustees, and encourage all who practice and promote the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path to apply. 

If your would like more information, please email us at