Monday, 21 November 2011

The Emperor wears no clothes.



Emperor Wu of Liang heard a great Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma, had come to China. When they met, Emperor Wu asked the teacher how much karmic merit he had gained from his noble support of Buddhism. Bodhidharma replied, 'None at all.'
The Emperor then asked, 'Then what is the truth of the teachings?'
'Vast emptiness, nothing holy,' Bodhidharma replied.
So the Emperor asked, 'Then who are you, standing in front of me?'
'I do not know,' replied Bodhidharma, and walked out.


Today marks a special day. It is one year, exactly, that I found 'no work'. I sold my share in the family business, with the intention of taking a few months out, do a lot of running, abit of traveling, and to reassess in what direction I wanted my life to go. I had plans to run long miles- I have, but no longer than when I was working. I have traveled- but only to the mountains of Gran Canaria for a month or so. I would look for some work as the summer came round- I didn't. As the months passed, despite periods of guilt that I should be working, I discovered that not working was exactly the sort of liberation that I had sought, and I now adored it.

Not working when you have savings is easy, providing a comfort blanket against misfortune and unexpected events. However, as my savings have dwindled, my desire to work has not returned. Choosing not to work and survive on savings is acceptable. Choosing not to work and live off the state is not, or is it? My reconciliation is simple. If the powers that be can afford spending millions on bailing out failing private organizations, and provide a defense budget running into billions, then, weighed against these evils, giving someone a couple of hundred pounds a week to live and provide a roof over their head, is surely no bad thing.

Ultimately, however, I am aware that a culture in which people refuse to work, but rely on state payouts, is not fair and not workable in the long term. If an individual is serious about working less or not at all, there has to be radical changes in lifestyles and attitudes, especially regarding consumption. We currently live in a culture in which hard work, and being a hard worker, is regarded as a noble, rather than a foolhardy trait. It takes innocent eyes to see that the Emperor actually wears no clothes. We are all pressured towards work from childhood, bombarded with aspirations of wealth and ownership. The more you work, the more you earn, the more you buy, the more you own, the more you work. The perpetual circle goes round and round.

To work less we have to consume less, to be prepared to challenge the concept that just because your neighbor owns 'x', which necessitates working 'y' hours, while you, yourself, owns little, the neighbor is in no sense superior. To be able to live a comfortable lifestyle by carrying out the least amount of work possible, freeing up time for leisure and family, is surely the preferable option?

Two weeks ago I moved house. My entire worldly possessions fitted the boot of a super-mini. However, rather than regarding this as a failure, I viewed this as a great success. With every possession shed over the last few years, the burden on me was lifted. The black dog, that constantly walked by my side, was let further off its lead. Although I am certain that I will work again, I am also certain that the amount of hours given over to it will not be excessive. Life is too precious. It is my hope that when politicians or anyone beseech the valve of hard work, then others, in common to myself, will actually see they are naked.

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