As the world financial crisis deepens, conversations tend to turn toward money rather than other subjects. Last night I was with a group of people who discussed the ins and outs (not to mention the ups and downs) of investing in tough times like these.
I didn't have a whole lot to say.
Briefly I held forth on the Buddha-like nature of index fund investing, where you don't try to beat the market through some clever scheme but rather rest content with rising and falling in concert with the overall financial tide.
I told my friends, "If the world and national economy go to hell, so will our investments. If things improve, so will our portfolio. It's a humble way to invest, since you're happy to be average."
This is pretty much the same way I feel about my spiritual investing strategy now.
For many years I thought I could beat the system. That is, find a way to salvation, God-realization, enlightenment, or whatever, that would lead to a better result than others would enjoy who weren't privy to the inside knowledge I possessed.
I've written about my shift from "active" to "passive" spiritual investing in previous posts:
"Running so fast to become motionless"
"Spiritual diversification, a sound investment strategy"
"Spiritual investing takes nothing"
In the last post, I said…
Here's some further thoughts about spiritual investing, a subject that I've enjoyed pondering since writing my post of a week ago. I advised that, just as it makes great financial sense to invest in index funds that mirror an entire market, a person's spiritual endeavors should be similarly widely diversified.
However, there's a difference between worldly and other-worldly markets that I neglected to address sufficiently before. When you buy a monetary index fund such as the Total U.S. Stock Market, you end up owning a piece of every single company stock in the United States. Thus diversification is accomplished in a manner that is easy to understand: own a little bit of everything.
But to invest one's soul in the Total Cosmic Spirit Market means taking an exactly opposite approach: owning nothing. You diversify widely into the One by not clinging to any part of the Many—anything that can be demarcated by name or form.
…So I'm convinced that spirituality is, purely and simply, the embrace of Nothing. Nothing, that is, of the world of illusion. Which means everything of the world of reality.
It's a damn good deal: Nothing for Everything. The only trick, and it's damn difficult to figure it out, is how to acquire that spiritual investment capital, Nothing. Seemingly you should be able to find it anywhere just by letting everything else go. Sounds easy enough.
But I've been looking for Nothing inside my head during more than thirty years of daily meditation. I always end up with something. The search continues. I'll keep you posted.
Well, I've done just that on this blog for the three and a half years since I wrote those words. Here's an up to the second update: no change. Nothing still hasn't made an appearance.
I am, though, starting to suspect why. The Nothing that I equated with God (since ultimate reality isn't like anything we know now) probably is much more of a nothing than I suspected. Or could begin to imagine.
So much of a nothing, there's no trace of it. Which leads to a question: "Is there any difference between non-existent and unknowable?"
Mystics and theologians often speak of God as unspeakable. They urge us to think of God as being beyond thought. Rather than seek a divine light, embracing darkness is recommended – the via negativa.
I'm no longer so big on embracing Nothing. I still love the notion of emptiness, of becoming a receptive vessel that can be filled with truth, happiness, knowledge, and other good stuff (including money).
However, the notion that there's a Nothing on the other side of Everything – Christians would call this "God," Taoists "Wu Chi" – maybe this is just a meaningless concept lacking any foundation in reality. People who want to make money don't ask, "What is the ineffable source of wealth?"
They just invest. Not in nothing, but in something. Hoping to get more of it: something.
This morning I read some intriguing passages in Fung Yu-Lan's "A Short History of Chinese Philosophy." I got a different impression of nothingness. Suddenly it seemed a lot more nothing'ish. So much so, there was nothing to it.
The Tao is "Nothing"
The Hsiang-Kuo interpretation made several most important revisions in the original Taoism of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. The first is that the Tao is really wu, i.e., "nothing" or "nothingness." Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu also had maintained that the Tao is Wu, but by Wu they meant having no name. That is, according to them, the Tao is not a thing; hence it is unnamable.
But according to the Hsiang-Kuo interpretation, the Tao is really literally nothing. "The Tao is everywhere, but everywhere it is nothing."
…Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu denied the existence of a personal Creator by substituting in His place an impersonal Tao, which is that by which all things come to be. Hsiang-Kuo went a step further by insisting that the Tao is really nothing.
According to them, the statement of the earlier Taoists that all things come into being from the Tao simply means that all things come to be by themselves.
…Likewise, the statement of the earlier Taoists that all things come into being from Being, and Being comes into being from Non-being, simply means that Being comes into being by itself.
Makes sense, in a wonderfully simple recursive fashion. The ultimate questions of life basically are answered (or ignored) by "Things are what they are; the universe is what it is."
That's real spiritual index investing.