When I first opened, I had a philosophical attitude. A Zen attitude, if you will. I was inspired by one of my favorite stories, that of Zen master Hakuin. That's what this post is about, if you want to bail now. I've written about Hakuin before, but this is in more detail.
There was once a Zen master named Hakuin Ekaku. He lived next to a couple and their daughter, and when the daughter got pregnant, she panicked and named Hakuin as the father. His response?
"So you say."
When the baby was born, Hakuin was given the baby and he took care of it, raising it, feeding it, loving it. Then the real father was discovered, a local fish monger (evil merchants), and the family demanded the baby back. Hakuin's response?
"So you say."
Hakuin's mind was not troubled by the cares of the world, the whirlwind of distress in the mind of others. Take care of and love a baby? Sure. Give up that child you love? Sure. In the face of chaos, Hakuin's mind was calm. He was also brave in the face of adversity, while the silly common people were fearful leading to deceit.
That was my initial attitude in running my store. Unfortunately, I am no Hakuin. I have no doubt an untroubled mind could deal with the chaos of a store, but that's not me. I don't have the spiritual cajones to back up my "so you say" with appropriate action in the face of chaos.
One of my favorite Tibetan texts talks about evil merchants. The most scorching of commentary is reserved for these folks who are in the thick of the day-to-day world. They are accused of all kinds of cheating and skulduggery. You'll hear better talk of prostitutes than merchants. It's like a merchant shortchanged them on the monastery robe order and boy are they getting an earful now.
My philosophical attitude in the face of the general public changed quite a bit. I still cultivated "so you say," but I did so with an every growing framework of what was appropriate, what I would tolerate, what I would and would not discuss. "Action through non action," the Taoist approach of Wei Wu Wei was not an option. People would get hurt. The worldliness of running an establishment would regularly challenge my "so you say" attitude, while I tried very hard not to be the kind of wretched merchant I was warned about by angry teachers.
The truth is there are few profession that are incompatible with "so you say," the pursuit of a spiritual path. All professions that aren't harming others are compatible. Some, like the game trade offer more grist for the mill. I think it's much harder to follow that path when your peers are so very far from the road, and your customers are looking for distractions. But we do bring happiness to others, albeit momentarily, so we've got that. I've reconciled this, that what we do is a positive in the world. I am no Hakuin, and with long hours and a chaotic life, I wasn't getting much closer to being one.
If you harden your heart and start wielding the sword of discernment without compassion, which this trade seems to demand, you'll become jaded and you'll be stuck down a mental cul de sac. You might end up with a great business, but an empty heart. I was warned by others to get out before I lose my soul, and this is what that's about. Opening your heart without that sword in hand leads to being taken advantage of instantly in this public facing trade. There are those who are unsuited for this trade, people pleasers who can't handle complainers and those who desperately desire to satisfy customers who don't fit their business model. Finding that balance is incredibly elusive, compassion and wisdom in equal measure. Taking victories and defeats with equanimity, your words each night simply being, "So you say."