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The Tree of Merits

By | 12/5/2021

By the late nineteen fifties, the Indian community in Burma was divided. There were those who were sure they saw the handwriting on the wall. Being convinced that sooner or later a socialist regime would be installed, these people reasoned that in the meantime they ought to enrich themselves as much as possible, without any thought for others, and ought to pursue lines of business from which they could easily extricate their capital when the change of government came.

For this reason such people confined their business activities to commerce and trading. However, I did not accept their reasoning, and I started a factory even though I knew I could not withdraw my capital should nationalization come. To me it seemed that by trading I could gain wealth for myself, but by starting an industry I could benefit not only myself but others too. So many would gain their livelihood by working in the factory, and the country as a whole would benefit, by being relieved of the necessity of importing at least some goods.

For these reasons I established a factory, looking after it with such solicitude for those who worked there that I earned the name of “ the red capitalist”. Whenever I visited the factory, I will sit and eat together with the leaders of the workers. I set up consultation committees in which workers could express their needs. It sometimes happened that if profits one year were higher than usual, I would urge the workers to demand more of the management, since it could afford to meet their demands.

I provided fringe benefits such as sport and recreational facilities as well as health care; in fact I would visit sick workers personally. Many of my employees also took courses in Vipassana meditation . All this gave a feeling of oneness and harmony between employer and employees. Eventually, as some has feared, a new government was in fact installed, and it began to introduce its policy of socialization and nationalization.

To celebrate the takeover of private industry it distributed new brooms to the factories, so that workers could metaphorically sweep out the dirt of capitalism. In my factory, however, the workers began to cry when they were given the brooms.

“ What have we to celebrate? We were well off as we were!” they insisted.

At last the day came when the factory was to pass formally out of my hands. A colonel from the army came to take possession of it in the name of the people’s government. All the workers gathered in a hall, and I requested the colonel to grant me a few minutes to say farewell to them. Often enough the government army officers were brusque in their behavior, but this man kindly agreed to my request. However he warned me: “ Take care of what you say!” Perhaps he feared that I might stir up animosity against the government among my former employees and even urge them to sabotage the running of the factory.

I stood in front of the workers, and they all bowed and paid respects to me. Now, what to say to them but words of Dhamma?

I told them that establishing this industry had not been an act of dana or pure altruism on my part; in fact it had provided support for my family and myself. But aside from this industry I had so many other business interests which had not tied up my capital as this industry had: import and export, and domestic trade. All this commerce and trading, however, put money in my pocket but not in the pockets of others. By founding an industry I had created a source of livelihood not only for me but for thousands of others.

To me it therefore seemed a punna, a meritorious deed, to establish a factory--- like planting a tree, from which one would expect to receive fruit year after year. This factory, I said, is the tree of merits that I have planted, and I expect you to see that the tree continues to give fruit. It makes no difference who owns it …. I or the state or yourselves; so long the industry continues to function, my merits will continue to grow. If production is stopped for even one day , it will be a real loss to me, and I shall be very sorry. As you worked diligently under me, now continue in the same way, and I shall continue to reap the rewards of my meritorious action.

As I spoke facing the workers, the colonel had been standing behind me. When I finished, I turned round to him and found that this hardened soldier had tears in his eyes. At the time of the government takeover, so many factory-owners suffered heart attacks or became deranged, unable to face their heavy losses. Still harder to face was the fear of worse to come. In fact, during the giddy first days of the change of the regime, a proposal was seriously considered by the new government to hold trials and executions of the ten leadings capitalists of Burma; and my name appeared at the top of the list.

With the help of Dhamma, however, I was able to weather the storm and to remain balanced and happy.

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