A couple of good comments yesterday on "No Attachment to Dust," which was quoting a short story from the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.
Christopher Lovejoy commented on the line, "Poverty is your treasure. Never exchange it for an easy life." He asked -
I ask you with sincerity: in your travels, have you ever had a glimpse of poverty as a condition to be treasured, either for yourself or for others?
If so, what were your impressions? Could such a condition be lived on a permanent basis? Or do you believe such a condition is best experienced as temporary?
Great questions and good critical thinking. A few points.
First, I don't agree with 100% of the excerpted passage, but I still think it's worth reading... I probably agree with maybe 80-90% of it? It's well-written and there's some nice insights in there, but I'm pro-wealth and anti-poverty, definitely.
That said, you've got to look at the context of the quote. This is a Zen monk advising one of his students who has dedicated himself to pursuing Zen Buddhism to Enlightenment, which most likely included vows of poverty, chastity, etc.
Also, I'd guess that Zengetsu doesn't mean the mindset of poverty with normal connotations... remember, this quote was translated from ancient Chinese to ancient Japanese to modern Japanese to modern English before we read it. He says "Never exchange it for an easy life" - I interpret that to mean that comfort and luxury isn't superior to austerity and striving and challenge.
I said something similar in "Give Me Strife and Suffering (but in manageable doses)" - which, ironically, was me criticizing one interpretation of Buddhism.
I'm not a fan of the mainstream Western interpretation of Buddhism, but I do like and find a lot of value in the Japanese evolution of Zen Buddhism. The aspects of duty, service, readiness, training, order, putting things in their correct places, mastering yourself - it fits well with a warrior or artist or statesman.
Here's another quote from Tokugawa Ieyasu, who definitely took many Zen precepts to heart -
"Life is like unto a long journey with a heavy burden. Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not. Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair. When ambitious desires arise in thy heart, recall the days of extremity thou has past through. Forbearance is the root of quietness and assurance forever. Look upon the wrath of the enemy. If thou knowest only what it is to conquer, and knowest not what it is like to be defeated, woe unto thee; it will fare ill with thee. Find fault with thyself rather than with others."
Now, there's a guy you can learn from. Great stuff.
The condition of poverty - the lack of wealth and civilization - is a terrible thing. But taking on responsibility, challenge, growing stronger, serving, taking on more strife as you gain the capacity to in order to do greater things in this life - that's magnificent. And then you have to remember, it's all coming down in the end. It's easy to get caught up in the day to day nonsense when you forget it's all going back to dust.
Ironically, that perspective - it's all going back to dust - seems conducive to high expansion, to building, to serving, to doing more and greater things. I reckon, why not build an empire while you're here? Dead is dead, gone is gone. Why not do something magnificent and meaningful while you're alive?
Poverty? Bad. But voluntarily taking on more burden, more strife, more challenge, physically and emotionally suffering to make yourself into the best you can be, to do the most you can, to build, to expand, to serve - I think there's something to that.