There was an interesting story this week on Business Insider, it was about Wholefoods and the apparent woes of a new Just-In-Time re-stocking system that is leaving shelves empty across stores as produce is not re-stocked in time, and aisles empty of customers.
The Wholefoods fiasco shows the perfect storm that can happen when the an idea based on wrong intention leads to implementation purgatory which in turn leads to operational hell. In Wholefoods case, you just know a middle level executive with a desire for a large bonus, promotion and self-aggrandisement added two and two together and made five. If that is the case then that person is taking the first (or next) tentative steps on the studied path to endarkenment.
The concept of right and wrong intention sits at the heart of Buddhist philosophy, the second step on the eightfold path to awakening or enlightenment. Right Intention is thinking and ideas that are free from craving, ill-will and cruelty. Wrong intention the opposite. The key aspect of wrong intention does not lie in the obvious: the knowing desire to hurt or harm, but usually in the more subtle craving and desire, a craving for the individual pursuit of wealth, power, sex, self-aggrandisement.
When I worked in technology, mostly in implementations or operations, I used to dread when an executive approached my office brandishing a copy of Forbes with the same evangelical glow I saw on my doorstep when a Jehovah’s Witness tried to give me a copy The Watchtower. I knew I would have to spend the next ten to fifteen minutes talking him or her (but usually him) down from the Elysium fields of ‘C’-Level management speak to the practical Tartarus of operational reality. Not because the idea was wrong per se, but because, most often, it was the intention driving the idea that was wrong. The idea was not designed to improve anything other than the person’s own prospects. They didn’t want to hear how to do what they wanted well and equitably, they usually wanted a quick fix to a complex problem so they could sell it (meaning them) up the chain as soon as possible, getting the heck out of Dodge. Walking the path.
The Eightfold Path in Buddhism is the answer to the conundrum of the Four Noble Truths, the idea that life is suffering as a result of cravings which we should overcome. By thinking and acting in the right way, without ill-will and without craving the Eightfold Path strategy can lead to wisdom, and that wisdom may lead to awakening or enlightenment. Not guaranteed.
Follow in the opposite direction and you end up in a place of deep yearning and a sense of absolute entitlement. A place of suffering, though you may not know it. Endarkenment is a place where you still crave and demand and where your karma is all shot to hell, but you won’t recognise any of that because life is good, or so you convince yourself. But, like the junkie in the blissful stupor of alcohol or heroin, the high will wear off. All is good in this world until it stops. That is guaranteed.
Now, this observation isn’t about wealth. There are plenty of very wealthy people who are also very enlightened. The practitioners on the Path to Endarkenment are the folks who practice what are dubbed the ‘dark arts’ to acquire power. Those who spread ill-will. Those who practice wrong intention in a deep, conscientious and mindful way.
From the outside we view the eccentricities of such powerful devotees with disdain and hilarity. For instance, even as Merrill Lynch tottered towards collapse around him, the head, John Thain, brought in to try and solve the institutions travails, spent millions on his office decoration, including the infamous commode, as if it was normal behaviour. For him, it probably was normal, I assume there was a craving to satisfy: a craving for luxury, a craving for power, that sense of entitlment. The itch wasn’t fully scratched. You’re suffering, but you (probably) don’t know it. He travelled far on the path, but he hadn’t reached the end.
But someone has.
He followed the Ignoble Eightfold Path: Acquiring more wealth, more power and less knowledge, less empathy. In the end he become a powerful king and soldier, well, Commander in Chief.
It’s almost as if his entire life has been a piece of performance art based on the Buddha’s life, only in reverse. Rapidly gaining power and wealth, keeping it, revelling in it and, at the same time, losing comprehension, understanding and gaining deep rooted fear. Moving away from the lightness to the dark, the tragedy coming in the lack of recognition of these things. Apart from the fear.
He has become the anti-Buddha.
Now, this isn’t a completely depressing story, there is light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. The majority of us recognise the anti-Buddha for what he is. We reject endarkenment. We want the light (I would say crave, but to crave is to suffer). This year we can show that light across the world. In the ballot box, either voting or standing, or on the streets, like yesterday’s demonstrations marking the first anniversary. By making ethical choices in how we shop and consume. Darkness is the absence of light. One star, one flame and true darkness is banished
Put simply, there are more of us. Many more.