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Debt: Wholesome and Unwholesome

Mostly when I think of debt, the crappy kind comes to mind.  The debt that exploits people, and leads to the exploitation of other beings and the earth.  Indentured servitude.  Tenant farming.  Structural Adjustment Programs.  Debilitating student loans.  Astronomical medical debt.  The sub-prime mortgage crisis.  And, more insidiously (to echo Charles’ recent observations), the exploitative debt that we accept as normal, as part of everyday life.  The fact that we owe someone money in order to gain access to decent shelter.  To non-toxic food.  Increasingly, to water.  Or to control over our own bodies, our health, and whether or not to be pregnant.  This kind of debt, I could live without.

But as December approached, and with it our Debt & Dharma month at Turning Wheel Media, it occurred to me that exploitation might not be the whole story.  There is also what we call a “debt of gratitude.”  Which is perhaps less about power and exploitation, and more about the recognition of gifts received.

To whom, to what, do I owe this incredible opportunity of a brief and precious human life?

To whom do I owe my encounters with Buddhadharma?  What histories, what lineages, which known and unknown beings passed them all the way down to a place and time where I could touch them?  And who is keeping the dharma alive right now, in ways great and small, moment by moment?

To whom do I owe the lessons I am learning about organizing for change and freedom?  What political histories, what lineages, and which beings have sacrificed for my inherited visions of collective liberation?  Who is consciously and unconsciously nurturing this freedom-seeking today?

Unwholesome debt is a trap, no doubt.  But perhaps wholesome debt can nurture gratitude, awareness of interbeing, and courage to fight on, to strive to repay the un-repayable.

Looking forward to investigating both kinds together, this month, with you!  Thanks so much for being with us.

Metta and solidarity,



Top Photo: At a bodhisattva precepts ceremony for participants in the East Bay Meditation Center’s Practice In Action program, teacher Mushim Ikeda presents a certificate to Kam McCallum. More coverage of this beautiful ceremony to come! Photo credit: Katie Loncke



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