We blame these little pieces of paper for so much. Does it deserve the blame? Money doesn’t have a brain, malicious intent, greed, or even a plan. It’s just paper. Problems only start to occur when people enter the scene so I don’t think we can blame the paper. Money is also a necessary as a means of exchange for goods and services. The modern world without money would cease to function causing chaos.
So as a meditator, what is the function of money in my life? The path leads us to live more and more like a monk, and a monk must live without money, so should we try to distance ourselves as much as possible from money? No. As a householder it seems imperative that we take care of ourselves and maintain our independence. If we are irresponsible regarding our personal cash flow we will become beggars which seems irresponsible if one can help it.
So what is right livelihood? What is the difference between work and service? There are so many jobs that perpetuate ego; these jobs are simply about making money by selling your time. Then we have service jobs where people expect to earn less money because part of the compensation comes from feeling good about helping others. Through this same logic, people who have jobs that harm others tend to get paid more. That seems strange.
It seems we need to purify our understanding of money. We give money way too much power and forget that we control the money not the other way around. If you call money evil, your calling the people who hold it evil. This is a complicated subject and this post only touches upon it without any real solutions. Maybe I’ll revisit some smaller piece of it again in the future. For now, I simply feel that we need to stop blaming money, start helping people break their addiction to wanting money without, and begin respecting the important role money plays in our society. What do you think? Time to meditate.
16 thoughts on “The Role Of Money”
I believe right livelihood is when a person feels truly aligned with their work. To me this means being paid a reasonable amount (relative to the economy), and in exchange, my time and energy goes towards something I myself value and would want to receive, so I feel aligned in giving it to the others.
I’ve noticed that sometimes after leaving the meditation center, I would be willing to give my time and energy for a lot less money if I felt it was for right livelihood, but as time went by I realized that wasn’t a responsible way to live, and decided do need to work again for the highest wage I am capable of making.
In north american culture time=money, so if I’m always spending my time struggling to make money I can’t spend enough quality time with loves ones, nor buy them gifts, or offer financial support, and this can be damaging to relationships.
From what I recall of the discourses S. N. Goenka mentions being a middle-man in business as the most impure way to make money. He didn’t speak of limiting the amount of money we make, but to keep the exchange pure.
I like your line of thinking 🙂
There is an aspect of money which is very much ‘to blame’ in our society. Of course, it’s not the paper, but the concept itself which has created so many problems. As Ryan said, this is a complex issue, but the anthropological perspective is helpful: Money is based in violence, because it arose in order to quantify what was owed and establish how much violence was justified as retribution for not repaying that debt. (See David Graber at for a full discussion of this.) So in my opinion, as we participate in the money economy to a greater degree, we are more culpable for the violence in the world. That’s how it connects to right livelihood. When you are getting more than you really need or deserve, you’re taking it from someone somewhere. All this of course, is based on my social analysis, which may differ from yours, so we may come out at a different place. But it’s another view on the subject.
PS: Not that I am able to maintain right livelihood by this standard! It’s pretty hard to get out from under all of it, short of some really radical lifestyle changes. Money and debt both are clearly just the tools of empire, weapons of power to control subjects, and as long as we are subjects, we live by those rules. There are hopeful signs on the horizon, people resisting, movements for change that question the whole power relations between the emperors and subjects worldwide, but it won’t likely be in our lifetime… so we do the best we can to maintain good economic relationships, not directly exploit others, etc. Like all the precepts, it can’t be realized perfectly in this life.
Thanks for sharing John, interesting insights.
I like some of Charles Eisenstein’s ideas, he’s written a book called “Sacred Economics” and proposes the people take back the “gift based” community economy where members stop commoditizing products and services, do more by hand, share with each other, create their own currencies, use negative interest…ect.
Though from my experience, it’s tricky to find the right group of people to do these kinds of things with; as one’s offerings must be valuable enough to the group, or else one will end up in a low status position with needs unmet.
Hope it’s not too controversial – I’m enjoying this exchange!
That looks really interesting! I’ll check it out – sounds a bit like what the Second Nature Co-op folks next door to SEVC are building… they would be a group I’d trust to live in a gift economy with!
These are real life issues that we need to face in our lives. While they may not be appropriate conversations to have at a center, I think this is the perfect space to discuss these issues. This is how we learn and grow!
Just watched the short video on Sacred Economics – I love this guy! This seems really wonderful… thanks for sharing the link!
I agree, glad you’re cool with it! I understand the primary focus is the practice, just nice to be able to discuss implications for life issues… 🙂
Of course, the other side of this discussion is how do you spend your money. If someone has a lot of wealth but uses it for the benefit of society isn’t that better than a poor person not being able to invest in wholesome things? It seems striving for both a wholesome income and spending is important.
Very good point, Ryan! It’s at least half the equation. George Soros has my admiration as a guy who spends money very well, despite being a multi-billionaire capitalist pig! Certainly how we spend it can do a lot to change the balance… some say it’s good to make lots so you can direct the flow of more to good things… I don’t know. I’ve always been a simple living advocate, so the other side is hard for me to grasp. Certainly is a tough issue, this one!
Just got an email from Buddhist Peace Fellowship with link to a piece on Right Livelihood, so thought I’d share it here. Includes this expanded version from Thich Nhat Hanh: “Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of global economic, political, and social realities, we will behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens, not supporting companies that deprive others of their chance to live.” The discussion is at: http://www.buddhistpeacefellowship.org/taking-right-livelihood-to-the-next-level/
Nicely said Thich Nhat Hanh! 🙂
Thanks for the writing and all the comments. Reading them and the links was helpful.