The world is full of people with a lot of good intentions, but intention and action are often out of kilter. One important change anyone can make to their lives is to recognise the importance of the “now”. This is the ability to shut out the noise and focus on what is happening in each moment. For example, when you sip a glass of wine, or taste a morsel of food, being able to focus entirely on that action will enhance the experience considerably. Whereas if, while you drink your wine or chew your food, you are thinking about the things you need to do next, or reliving the events of the day, then the experience of the food and drink is diminished.
The same is true of intentions. At any moment, you can decide to do or not to do things that will enhance and change your life. How many times will the voice in your head distract you from your intention and purpose (“oh a quick game of FreeCell first”, or “what will people think if I do that”, or “I’ll have plenty of time tomorrow”). Living in the now allows you to recognise this voice and through recognition, you have the choice to either be distracted, or to fulfil your intention.
It has been my intention, since an early age to grow and understand the reality in which we find ourselves and, with that, the desire to communicate and give comfort and happiness to others; to help give meaning to all our lives. One early ambition was that everyone should be happier for having met me – unfortunately I have not always succeeded.
Although many people appear to try and hide the from the fact, we are a world in crisis and we need to fix the fundamental problems with the Earth that threaten, not just our societies and our civilisations, but the ability of our planet to support the abundant and diverse life that in the past has so often been taken for granted. We need new leaders who take responsibility and change good intentions into positive actions.
In the Buddhist tradition, the world we live in is the consequence of the Karma of everyone who has ever lived. The world we create for our children and their children is therefore the consequence of our own Karma. The way in which we each live our lives has a direct impact on the future. As the priest and poet John Donne succinctly put it: “No man is an island.” We cannot and should not hide from the consequences of our actions; rather we should be positive that our actions secure a better future for ourselves and subsequent generations.
In the process of writing this book I have met or corresponded with many people who have challenged what I say and have been introduced to other works by other authors from other traditions who, I believe, agree with the central precepts of the book, although expressed in different terms.
Over the last few decades the relationship between man and the earth has changed. In the early 20th Century it was deemed proper in Western societies that man should have dominion over the Earth and its resources – after all it was written in the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah. Resources were perceived as limitless and there to serve the march of progress. Visionaries of science (and science fiction) have often viewed the resources of other planets as existing specifically for exploitation, as man spreads his way destructive across our galaxy.
However, scientists, industrialists and financiers, who have built and continue to build the wonders of our modern world, have learnt that rampant exploitation of materials and people to build empires of industry and to fuel consumerism is not a formula to guarantee a safe future for our children and their children to come. Whilst consumerism may produce an “easier” life for those who can afford to enjoy it, it does not necessarily produce a satisfactory meaningful life and the gap between the richest and the poorest in the world grows ever wider. Life is about more than having an excessive amount of food and the latest electronic gadgets.
Our goal should be sustainability and balance and, learning from our mistakes, to rebuild the diversity of the world we inhabit. The ancient Egyptians had a concept of living in harmony that they called Ma’at which was the presence of truth, order, balance and justice in the world. I believe that after a century or more of world conflicts and unrestricted exploitation, the concept of bringing Ma’at back into the world through the deeds we undertake in our own lives is a valuable one which can make a real difference.
There is a fashion amongst self-help gurus to talk about the “Law of Abundance”, but there is a dichotomy between this law, where riches can be heaped upon those who desire them (without any apparent consideration of the consequences) and the need for everyone to achieve success. We live in world where there is an ever increasing gulf between the richest and the poorest. In the Western world becoming rich is an ambition instilled in us in our education and in the media. I would be a hypocrite to suggest that having wealth is in some way evil, but would strongly support the idea that, following the concept of Ma’at, we should consciously place our ambition for abundance within the bounds of balance. That is to say, in our ever more crowded world where there are increasing demands on resources, we need to look at both how we can achieve sufficient abundance for all and examine what is meant by abundance in the first place. Fundamental to this is a belief that we should not be selfish and greedy focusing only on our own desires, but to look at our own process of wealth creation as part of the solution for creating wealth for all.
Material wealth often brings power, but there is no point in having wealth and power if it is just to serve our own ego. Wealth should be spent so others benefit from it, not hoarded, for that is miserly. Money for money’s sake is pointless. Power should be used to serve others, not ourselves, as happiness in its many forms is not achieved through the domination of others, or the creation of unhappiness in others. Equally, except for those who follow aesthetic traditions to find spiritual enlightenment, or who have found Ma’at through a different life tradition, poverty is of no benefit to an individual or the society they find themselves in.
That is not to decry people, such as the few remaining hunter gatherers, nomads and those who value alternative lifestyles and to whom money and possessions are meaningless. These people find wealth and abundance in a different way. We can learn much from people who live in harmony with the world around them – who take no more than they need, who intimately know the value of each plant and animal in the environment in which they live. This type of harmony is one which, because of our arrogance and ignorance, the privileged in 19th and 20th Century western societies often sought to destroy.
It is impractical and would be meaningless to advocate that our vast populations and varied cultures could return to a hunter gatherer a way of life – mankind has evolved. However, it is only recently that the value of so much ancient knowledge and culture has been appreciated – an appreciation that has been far too late to save much of it. The value of diversity over homogeneity is being shown to be important not only in the way we live as societies, but also in our agriculture where monoculture threatens the very sustainability of our ecosystems.
Real wealth is measured in happiness, not in possessions. Happiness does not come from glitz and glamour, but from love and appreciation.
Things are changing, we have the success of the Fairtrade Foundation and similar bodies and various other non-governmental organisations trying to make life better and fairer for those who have been exploited for decades and build a better life for all.
Those who would seek to guide the world forward need to master themselves and come to an understanding of the true nature of themselves, of mankind and our relationship with the universe. We are in need of a new generation of great thinkers with new ideologies to create a better world – every individual has the potential to lead the stage of humanity’s evolution.
 Maat or ma’at (thought to have been pronounced *[muʔ.ʕat]), also spelled māt or mayet, was the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. Ma’at was personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Estimated to be 2,000 years older the Forty-two Declarations of Purity of Ma’at are a group of precepts that codified ethical behaviour and are the source of the Judeo-Christian “Ten” Commandments.