The second leading cause of death among 17 to 25 year olds is suicide.
Suicide, to me is perhaps the most significant indicator of malaise at the core, the sickness of the spirit. Why is it that in the most affluent, well-to-do, country in the world, where if happiness is equated with wealth, you would expect to see widespread joie de vivre among the young and a healthy will to live, you find the opposite? The leading cause of death for this group is "accidental," defined by experts as high-risk-taking behavior that flirts with death, and often tragically ends in the same. Now, while there are many factors contributing to these phenomena, they all point to a widespread "spiritual crisis," i.e. something missing or amiss at the very core of life. They suggest a hollowing-out of the inner or psychological dimension: a spiritual disturbance. I would suggest that much of this is the predictable result of placing the values and aims of the market economy at the center of modern life; making it our "religion" if you will.
All of this is what one would expect from the Buddhist model: desires unchecked, greed made central to our lives, the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power (all the "virtues" of the market economy") are the cause of suffering. While this economic system has produced vast amounts of wealth (but for only a few as we have seen), and huge quantities of things, it also has engendered a lot of disease, disconnectedness, anxiety, alienation, fear, and a profound sense of emptiness, loss, and drift.
Let me close by suggesting that Buddhism offers an alternative, quite practical and accessible, to the market-driven worldview. Buddhism is not simply a set of beliefs or doctrines that one holds to and thereby is "saved." It is a whole reorientation of the way we look at things, and the manner in which we live our lives. It involves a detailed and systematic method of self-cultivation, with deepening levels of mindfulness, insight, and consequent freedom and wholeness in our three basic dimensions of existence: our relationship with nature (natural), our relationships with each other (social), and our relationship with ourselves (psychological). It is perhaps this prospect that explains the immense and growing interest in Buddhism in the West, making it the fastest growing eastern religion in America now.
I will stop here as time is up. I would have liked to have gone further into the Buddhist methodology, instead of spending so much of the hour bashing capitalism. Yet, as soon as I get in my car and turn on the radio, I will be painfully reminded of how pervasive is the influence of the market; and so I don't feel the bashing a waste, or at all redundant. We are so immersed in economic activity that we hardly notice its all-consuming power over us. I am reminded of a Chinese saying: "Been in the fish market so long, I can no longer smell the odor of fish." So I hope through this meeting today we are all keeping alive a keen sense of what could be, what may have once been, and not just benignly accept what is. As we say in Buddhism, "return the light, illumine within." Perhaps therein lies the answer.
I will leave you with a passage of text I didn't have time to explore, but which I think you may find relevant to today's discussion.
Classic of Purity and Stillness
The human spirit tends toward purity,
but the mind disturbs it;
The human mind tends toward stillness,
but desires entice it away.
If you can control desire, then the mind will be still;
If you can clear your mind, then the spirit will be pure.
Cravings will vanish, the three poisons disappear...
But when the mind is wild,
the spirit is disturbed,
When the spirit is disturbed,
it attaches to the ten thousand things;
When the ten thousand things are sought,
craving and desire emerge,
Because of craving and desire, stress and anxiety rise
and the body and mind are afflicted by tensions—
You live in disappointment and anxiety,
and sink into an ocean of suffering
and forever stray from the True Way.
If you can see intuitively,
you will live the true and natural way.
If you understand the Way intuitively,
you will always be pure and still.
Venerable Master's Dharma Words
Neither loving nor hating anything is the Middle Way. We speak of cultivating the Way, but what is this Way that we cultivate? It is the Middle Way-treating everyone with equanimity, kindness and compassion.