Values could be defined as beliefs in which we have an emotional investment.
If we study the values of rural areas throughout the world, we see that a pastoral, agricultural life naturally propagates ethics and ideals that create harmony between people, such as thrift, honesty, quietness, peace, generosity, maintaining the status quo, tradition, and so forth.
Conversely, values created in many urban settings throughout the world reflect their crowded, chaotic conditions. This can result in a dog-eat-dog mentality, where its survival of the fittest, and where a general disharmony and distrust exist among people. Gambling, greed, insecurity reflected by clannish mentality (gangs), dishonesty, violence, noise, anarchy, a tearing down of the status quo, no regard for principles; these are the values in inner city conditions.
It appears that our external situation, or the setting we find ourselves in, affects how we interact with each other. Peaceful, calm conditions promote trust, while crowded, frenzied settings pressure us to become alienated and insecure. We become a product of our environment.
The earth is becoming more crowded every day, and with religious organizations stepping up their mandates to propagate profusely in order to swell their ranks and outnumber their rivals, we can look forward to a world that will soon be primarily inner city. Then we could have a world on fire; we have to look no further than the Middle East to understand this.
Yet, there are crowded countries that have maintained a value system usually reserved for the wide expanses of an agrarian society. This is an anomaly, and worth looking into in order to see why a country such as Thailand, with crowded conditions, can maintain a peaceful environment. Although Thailand's GDP since 2003 has grown at almost twice the rate of ours, its major city of nine million people; Bangkok, has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
Having spent some time in Thailand living as a Buddhist monk, I became acquainted with the Thai culture and values, and would like to make whatever distinctions I can at this time in order to offer a different perspective on values.
For one thing, Thais are not uptight about anything. The common saying is, "Mi pen rai" meaning "No problem." This attitude alone creates great breathing space for people of all cultures. You just dont find much judgmentalism there. If Westerners ( farangs) come to Bangkok for sex, there is no underlying condemnation or jealousy; sex to a Thai is a natural thing, not a sin, so No problem!
If you come to ordain as a Buddhist monk in order to devote your life to meditation, they support you 100% -- it costs nothing to stay in a Buddhist monastery (wat) in Thailand. The Thais are very clever and intelligent, and therefore understand the value of a calm mind. They know that a calm mind, cultivated by meditation, promotes values much the same as a calm environment, regardless of where meditators may find themselves -- in the middle of a busy city, or in a remote monastery. The entire society is grounded in these kinds of values that originate with the meditation monks and filter down into society.
Meditation in America is more or less viewed as a waste of precious time -- instead of sitting in meditation, a person could be making something out of themselves! The value of a calm, perceptive mind is not valued here as it is in the East, as a matter of fact, anything Eastern is looked upon as a threat to the status quo.
This represents a clash of values -- the Christian work ethic vs. the Buddhist inner search for enlightenment. But it shouldn't be a clash, because at the end of that enlightenment, and actually during the entire journey toward it, the exact values that Americans hold so precious; thrift, honesty, quietness and peace, generosity, fairness, tradition, and integrity are all developed. The only thing missing is the judgmentalism and fear.
I dont believe that fifteen or twenty minutes a day spent in meditation is un-American. Actually, I believe that the values resulting from meditation will strengthen our country. Wisdom and compassion are both cultivated when we acquire a calm, intelligent mind -- the wisdom to understand that the world is now a dangerous place and that we must defend ourselves, but at the same time understand our place in the world. And the compassion and courage to allow a world to develop in its own way without our undue interference.
We must begin here at home by calming our desires, calming our egos, and trusting that if peace is to become a reality on earth, which is truly a great Christian aspiration, then peace must be cultivated within each of us, personally, because it is us that make up America.
"Mi pen rai"
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com