Lessons of the Principle of Dependent Arising for Politics and Investing
While politicians and investors around the world praise the practice of mindfulness as the new “cool” tool to lower stress levels, increase productivity, and maintain focus, wisdom is not regarded as the priority, but a by-product arising from deep mindfulness. But wisdom is one of the three integral components of the Buddhist teachings, together with moral discipline and mental concentration, for personal development and mental cultivation.
A key Buddhist teaching on wisdom is the Principle of Dependent Arising, a profound understanding of the relationship between cause and effect. The Avatamsaka Sutra uses the metaphor of Indra’s Jeweled Net to illustrate the amazing nature of interdependence and the true meaning of interbeing. If we look closely at any one of the jewels on the net, we can see the reflections of all other jewels on its surface. In the reflections of the other jewels we can see the original jewel and the reflections it carries once again being reflected, constituting an infinite interweaved web of reflections:
The Avatamsaka Sutra is the sutra that helps us to see that one element is made of all other elements, and that the all is made of the one. When you look at A, you see B, C, D, E, F, G,
H. . . . When you see B, C, D, E, F, G, H in A, you see everything in A, you see [that] A is not A, [and] that is why A is really A. Thich Nhat Hanh on The Diamond Sutra (A Buddhist Library)
In this interconnected world, a key challenge for world leaders and financial market investors is to understand the significance of interdependence. While decisions and events in one corner of our world now have worldwide implications with the advancement of technology and global information exchange, many world leaders and financial decision-makers still operate and think with a “silo mentality”—pretending that they can isolate their self-interest and decision-making processes from rest of the world. Those with great political and financial influence must realize the great responsibility they carry. For example, when the US withdrew from the Paris climate accord, previously agreed on by 195 countries in 2015, they should have acknowledged the time, effort, and compromises it took for so many nations to put a workable agreement together. When President Trump mentioned that no deal would be better than a bad deal, he is still thinking with a win-or-lose mindset, in which he is only willing to be the winner in every situation, and if he has to lose, this would only be acceptable in a lose-lose situation. This way of thinking is driven not only by self-interest but also greed and ignorance. Similarly, as we can see with the global financial crisis, Brexit, presidential and general elections in the UK and the US, as well as the decision of the US to leave Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris climate accord, there is a dangerous trend of politicians and financial market participants gambling for some marginal wins for “one” at the expense of “all.”
As we have seen with Brexit and the UK general election, these gambles are risky and unworthy. They demonstrate a lack of humility and a lack of awareness of the interconnected nature of individuals, society, and nature, and show the failure to realize the adverse consequences of selfish acts. World-renowned investor Ray Dalio has also voiced concern at how the increasing number of conflicts has a detrimental effect on the government and the economy. Dalio elaborated that he is inclined to analyze Trump’s policies, as a global and US citizen, from an economic and market-oriented perspective, which is further informed by a thorough study of history and nature, and an understanding of the patterns of cause and effect. He was alarmed by the observation that:
When faced with the choices between what’s good for the whole and what’s good for the part, and between harmony and conflict, [Trump] has a strong tendency to choose the part and conflict. (LinkedIn)
To some extent, Dalio shares a Buddhist understanding of the concept of interdependence as he “believe[s] that we are connected to our whole ecology, our whole world community, and our whole United States, such that it pays to be in symbiotic relationships with them.” (LinkedIn) He is thus concerned about Trump’s path of conflict and particularly the impact this path might have on his presidency and rest of the world.
When this path of conflict and hostility is paved with the greed for an absolute “win” at the expense of the “other,” a hatred toward those who are not part of “us,” and ignorance of the independent nature of this world and of nature, we should all share this concern.
The Diamond Sutra (A Buddhist Library)
The Last 24 Hours’ Developments in the UK and US Increase the Odds That Conflict Will Lead to Political Ineffectiveness (LinkedIn)
A Couple of Thoughts (LinkedIn)
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