What Do You Call The World

May 5, 2012
There is a famous story from the Zen tradition that has been passed down for more than a thousand years, about two Zen teachers discussing a primary issue of where we put our focus and attention:
One teacher asks another, “Where do you come from?”
The second replies, “From the south.”
The first asks, “How is Zen practice in the South these days?”
The second responds, “There lots of discussion.”
The first states, “How can all the discussion compare to planting the fields and cooking rice?"
The second asks, “What are you doing about the world?”
The first replies, “What do you call the world?”
I find myself grappling with this question: What is the world and how do I take care of world and at the same time, how do I take care of myself – earning a living, shopping, cooking, eating, helping others, to solving the problems of “the world.” Could I be doing more and how can I have the most impact, best leverage my time and resources.
And the larger, underlying question – What do you call the world?
Many of us are committed to taking care of the world. We work hard to take care of our financial world, our family world, our internet/phone/electronic worlds, the world of our friends, our communities, the world of our body, and our spiritual worlds. Each person we meet is like their own world. Each experience we have can be its own world. Every organization is its own world. Sometimes each moment can seem like its own world; when we slow down enough to notice.
The question that this dialogue is raising is – What really matters? In what way is our activity helping, or not? What about the world of pausing, the world of just doing the simple, mundane things; things like planting the fields and cooking rice; things like meditation and other less goal-oriented activities; things like taking care of our children,or tending to our lives and the lives of others. What about taking care of these?  And yet, there are so many pressing problems to solve.
This simple dialogue also raises the issue of context and control – how much do we create our worlds, as well as the different worlds that exist and are created around us. What can we influence and what is beyond our influence?
There are many ways, small and large to change the world. One powerful way is to change the structure of corporations. I’m excited about the creation of a new corporate structure called a For-Benefit Corporation or a B-Corp, now legal in several states including the state of California. This movement has the potential for creating significant systemic change. Whereas the definition of a corporation today is that its sole responsibility is to maximize profits for its shareholders, a For-Benefit corporation has a different, wider responsibility built into its corporate By-Laws. A B-Corp’s responsibility is to be of benefit to its stakeholders and its customers. It operates with not just one bottom line, profits, but with three bottom lines: people, planet, profits.
Please, take care of the world, and take care of you. What do you call the world?