Friday, April 8, 2016
Transcending the "Banker's Heart"
I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. Early on, I worked in San Francisco proper, mostly in the Fisherman's Wharf or Levi's Plaza area. Frequently, I traveled in an out of "The City" by public transportation -- either by BART (the subway) or bus. And I would sometimes walk by 555 California Street -- at the time the world headquarters of the Bank of America. For a couple of years, it was the tallest building in San Francisco, only to be outdone in overall height by the iconic Transamerica Tower. In front of the buildings a 200-ton black Swedish granite sculpture called "Transcendence" (by sculptor Masayuki Nagare), but known by most San Franciscans as the "Banker's Heart" (a name bestowed on it by local columnist Herb Caen). Even when BofA merged with NationsBank, and the headquarters moved out-of-state, they left their "heart" in San Francisco.
The notion that the "heart of a banker" was best-symbolized by a huge piece of cold black granite waxed and waned in popularity as the economic situation in the country changed. Beneath it all, however, was a sense that the financial industry, and those who worked in--and profited from--it had less-than-noble intentions. That characterization is a stereotype, as I certainly have known many folks throughout the years who have worked in banking and investments who have had the best interests of their customers/investors in mind. Yet there is something malleable about the "heart" of humans that is implied in Caen's nickname for "Transcendence".
The "Banker's Heart" came to mind a couple of times this week. The first was in a lecture at DU by Devamrita Swami -- a lecture entitled "Spiritual Economics." The talk was a critique of our human tendency (and advertisers' playing upon that tendency) to want, want, want. Our desire to acquire, however, is never satisfied. What is required, Devamrita Swami asserted, was a change of mind, of heart. A monk of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (the "Hare Krishnas"), Devamrita Swami's point was that we needed to recognize that we were NOT, at essence, material beings . . . and, therefore, that we could never satisfy our TRUE selves through material means. And I thought of the Banker's Heart, and the huge industry built around acquisition and hoarding of wealth. Wealth that, as the old saying goes, "we can't take with us".
The second reminder of the "Banker's Heart" came from an interview I heard with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain). The interview touched on a number of different topics, one of which was whether religion was the cause of violence. Rabbi Sacks passionately denied that assertion, calling it quite naive (he took to task many of the so-called "New Atheists" who might make that claim). In contradistinction, Rabbi Sacks said, "The biggest weapon of mass destruction is the human heart." Unknowingly echoing Devamrita Swami (at least as I was listening), Rabbi Sacks called for a change of mind, of heart.
A Jewish leader and a bhakti-yoga leader, speaking to different issues, both calling for a similar conversion. Other religious traditions assert much the same. All of those traditions can be mis-used, mis-appropriated, by those of an un-changed mind/heart. Rabbi Sacks and Devamrita Swami would agree, I think, that the real "battles" that religions must wage are for the change of those minds/hearts, not for the acquisition of land/wealth or subjugation of people.
Perhaps Hebrew prophet Ezekiel put it the best (while addressing the scattered peoples of Israel -- but applicable much beyond!): "I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead" (36.26).
Transforming the "Banker's Heart" to "Transcendence".