The ways of the greedy and corrupt

September 15, 2009

question: are we really all the same? I can’t think of a time that I lied to, manipulated, robbed or poisoned another person in order to gain/provide protection, support or safety for myself or my children. I can’t think of a time when I felt so empty that I craved bigger houses, better or more cars, more technology and an endless cash flow and would stop at nothing to obtain these things. These are the ways of the greedy and corrupt. And nothing in nature exhibits the greed and corruption of humans. I for one have a difficult time justifying this type of behavior by telling myself that these people are simply seeking protection, support or safety. answer: I was reminded of a story, as I read your comment. I would like to share it with you, if I may. In my early twenties, when I lived in Poland and practiced Zen, I used to attend Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats. They happened every year. For five days people from all over the world, from all religions and spiritual traditions, would gather in the Concentration Camp to meditate, pray, sing, feel. Being Polish, having grown up about an hour and a half away from the concentration camp, I wasn’t moved to tears just by being there. People would stare at photographs in horror, people would walk around crying, I wasn’t. I’ve been there before, a couple of times with school trips. Reading books, diaries, memories of the war survivors was a significant part of my school curriculum, I knew all of it already. I knew the stories. I shared how I felt with another participant after a day or two. She told me that I am not doing this right. She said I should make myself cry, she said I should look at the photographs and imagine that it is me, my family. What she said didn’t make much sense to me and yet I was so firmly convinced of not being good enough, of being broken, wrong, insensitive, that her suggestion fitted right in and I believed it. Every night, at the end of the day, all the participants would gather together to share their stories. That night I decided to listen very hard, to try to feel the pain, to make myself cry. I was going to do it right. I stared fixedly at each speaker. I was willing myself, forcing myself to feel, to experience their pain. After a while my eyes begun to hurt, but I kept pushing. But the more I pushed the less I could feel. It seemed that the more I strained my whole being to listen, the less I could hear. Gradually all the feelings receded and there was nothing in me, just a blank emptiness. I could feel nothing, I was moved by nothing, I cared about nothing. There was no pain, there was no being right or wrong, there was no striving or trying, there was nothing. I was absolutely empty. As I walked to the hotel that night I thought about killing people. It seemed such a normal, ordinary thing to do. I couldn’t see why I would have any problem doing it. “If someone handed me a gun right now I would kill this person on the other side of the street” I thought. Why not? The next morning I woke up utterly miserable, without having the least idea why. I went to my small group, about ten people, that would meet each morning. When my turn to share came I started telling them about last night, about how I wanted to feel, to do it right, about how I was pushing myself, trying as hard as I could. I started crying sometime in a middle of the story. Then I couldn’t stop crying, I was sobbing uncontrollably and words were coming out of my mouth that I didn’t know where there, that I had no intention of saying. Those words said that we have to pray for the nazi, we have to pray for the SS-men and we have to pray for all the capos, because they were in such incredible pain. They were in so much pain that they couldn’t feel it anymore, they couldn’t feel anything anymore. They were dead, empty, and it hurts so much. I knew exactly how much it hurts. I have learned that day that there is no justifying the greed and corruption. There is no justifying the horrendous suffering that people inflict upon people. There is no justifying the atrocious crimes that people commit against people. I also learned that day that there can be an understanding. I learned that there can be a relationship. I learned that, ultimately, we are not so very different.

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