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Wealth and morality

adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
edited March 4 in Buddhism Today

Inspired by a recent comment on another thread: Is it possible to be materially wealthy and live in accordance with Buddhist morality?

@federica said:
Would you rather they [monks and nuns] walked everywhere and slept in a cardboard box?
At least their lives have meaning and significance.
Which is more than can be said for others who travel by private plane and feel entitled to luxurious surroundings.

What do we think? Any scriptural passages that refer to this?

Comments

  • paulysopaulyso usa Veteran

    i was thinking of vimlakerti(hope spelled it right)of the mahaya tradition.an enlighten layperson whose wealthy and buddhist.in one suttra vim. was schooling the buddysatvas,even lord maiytria--spelling wrong---wow.what i got out of that suttra is the intention of the heart:do good,share and care within the lay-lifestyle.

    adamcrossley
  • techietechie India Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    Inspired by a recent comment on another thread: Is it possible to be materially wealthy and live in accordance with Buddhist morality?

    @federica said:
    Would you rather they [monks and nuns] walked everywhere and slept in a cardboard box?
    At least their lives have meaning and significance.
    Which is more than can be said for others who travel by private plane and feel entitled to luxurious surroundings.

    What do we think? Any scriptural passages that refer to this?

    There is nothing wrong with being wealthy and spiritual. But if you're a Buddhist monk, you're supposed to renounce everything except for the basic requirements for survival. You cannot live in a luxury home, own a private jet, and then call yourself a Buddhist monk.

    KundoBunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    It would certainly be against the Vinaya, the rules for monks and nuns, for them to own more than the basic things it prescribes. But for lay people there is no such restriction. I’ve not come across much about it in the sutra’s.

    It does put me in mind of what Jesus said though, that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of god.

    adamcrossley
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Inspired by a recent comment on another thread: Is it possible to be materially wealthy and live in accordance with Buddhist morality?

    Yes. However it is not easy. It is why in many traditions, simple even austere or ascetic living focuses the mind. For most of us wealth and luxury distract us.

    A highly detached individual is not attracted to wealth or poverty, they are independent of circumstance. That is a rare state.

    I would suggest the inner life is a different form of wealth. Who then is really impoverished?

    personFosdickadamcrossleyShoshin
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited March 4

    @lobster said:
    ascetic living focuses the mind

    Yes, I agree with this personally. But in my question, I’m thinking more of the ‘karma relationship’ side of the path. Can Right Livelihood be profitable? Putting spiritual development to one side, is accruing wealth compatible with Buddhist ethics? Or should we alsways be seeking to distribute it, to send it where it’s most needed?

    To clarify, @Kerome and @techie, I suppose I’m thinking more of lay adherents than monastics. The camel and the needle is exactly the kind of thing I’m curious about. Do we know of any similar advice in the Buddhist canon?

  • JaySonJaySon Florida Veteran

    I think a good practitioner knows he/she can't take any of his possessions or wealth with him when he dies, that he'll only take his karma with him. So his motivation is far different than striving for only the pleasures of this life, but he's motivated by landing a good future life, liberation, or full enlightenment so he can help limitless beings.

    Shoshinlobsteradamcrossley
  • techietechie India Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:

    @lobster said:
    ascetic living focuses the mind

    Yes, I agree with this personally. But in my question, I’m thinking more of the ‘karma relationship’ side of the path. Can Right Livelihood be profitable? Putting spiritual development to one side, is accruing wealth compatible with Buddhist ethics? Or should we alsways be seeking to distribute it, to send it where it’s most needed?

    To clarify, @Kerome and @techie, I suppose I’m thinking more of lay adherents than monastics. The camel and the needle is exactly the kind of thing I’m curious about. Do we know of any similar advice in the Buddhist canon?

    Even if you're a lay adherent, why would you need more wealth? If your basic survival needs are met, then why would you crave for more? Wouldn't this craving, as per the 2nd noble truth, lead to sorrow?

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited March 5

    Or should we always be seeking to distribute it, to send it where it’s most needed?

    Teaching takes many forms, not just sutra. The sangha IS a teaching. The giving of Dāna is very generously embodied in one of the three jewels ...
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dāna

    adamcrossley
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:

    @lobster said:
    ascetic living focuses the mind

    Yes, I agree with this personally. But in my question, I’m thinking more of the ‘karma relationship’ side of the path. Can Right Livelihood be profitable? Putting spiritual development to one side, is accruing wealth compatible with Buddhist ethics? Or should we alsways be seeking to distribute it, to send it where it’s most needed?

    To clarify, @Kerome and @techie, I suppose I’m thinking more of lay adherents than monastics. The camel and the needle is exactly the kind of thing I’m curious about. Do we know of any similar advice in the Buddhist canon?

    I think it is clear that wealth brings a whole series of spiritual challenges — how do you keep wealth from corrupting your motivation, how do you use it appropriately, how do you deal generously with the world?

    The Buddha did have wealthy friends, such as the merchant Anathapindika, and he gave them teachings and stayed in places they provided. It’s mentioned in a number of sutra’s.

    personadamcrossley
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    Another aspect of wealth is leisure time. For most of human history, whether poor or rich (in relative terms), people worked from sun-up to sun-down. With the abundance we now have in the developed world we all have the wealth of leisure. How do we use that? For idle pursuits of pleasure or for personal, spiritual growth? Which one benefits others and the world more?

    This video is from a western philosophical perspective, but I think if you think of spiritual achievement as the sort of personal accomplishment it refers to, it has a lot of good points to make.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    edited March 5

    Tangentially, it occurred to me the other day ...
    That most if not all of the founders of one spiritual lineage or another were relatively wealthy and/or well educated by background. Wealth (even as a trickle-down attribute) creates leisure and time to think. Education throws up questions not readily on tap for someone who is underfed and poorly housed. Enforced poverty is a bit different from honest poverty.

    The shuffling and oh-so-humble mendicant in need of a bath may be more myth than reality.

    Reminds me a bit of Ummon who was said to have observed, "When you don't say it, it's missing. When you can't say it it's here."

    Just noodling.

    personlobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Would you rather they [monks and nuns] walked everywhere and slept in a cardboard box?

    Those were the days. ;)

    Here are some earlier boxes ...
    http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/7127/buddhism-and-poverty

    As we clothe and enrich ourselves in the Buddha Box, we are choosing to empty our neediness. We are not the mythical and symbolic Buddha Beggers that @genkaku mentions. We are just a shell or box. Who will we shelter?

    adamcrossley
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran
    edited March 6

    Or should we always be seeking to distribute it, to send it where it’s most needed?

    There is a Jewish concept of tzeddakah - charity. In most orthodox Jewish houses you will find several pushkah's which are charity boxes. Those of you who had a Christian upbringing, think of the cardboard moneyboxes some churches would give to take home to fill with change for various charities. This is similar. I have a pushkah box in my bedroom. My synagogue regularly has events to raise money for charities both here and abroad - regardless of race, religion or creed. The pushkah reminds me of the concept of dana in Buddhism.

    lobsteradamcrossley
  • me2me2 USA New

    Buddhism is about mitigating and eliminating misery. Poverty causes suffering that is not found in wealth. Wealth doesn't eliminate suffering, but those who can afford proper housing, clothing and food suffer less than those who can't. So wealth eliminates one form of suffering. And properly shared it can help eliminate or mitigate the suffering of others. But the world runs on the monetary system. In a modern society the monetary system is the only system that will work since people's skill sets are very narrow in today's world and the bartering system is no longer valid as many people earn a living with ideas and non-tangible products. Plus, money is what feeds the monks and maintains monasteries. Without people of means supporting them, monasteries do not exist and the dharma gets lost. Money is necessary. Money is neutral. It's how we use the money that gives money its' value.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @me2 said:
    Poverty causes suffering that is not found in wealth.

    I’m not too sure about that. Extreme poverty yes, but there are gradations. One can be poor and still have a roof over your head, food to eat and clothes to wear. Most people think Buddhist monks are poor as they do not own many possessions, but do they suffer?

  • namarupanamarupa Veteran
    edited March 7

    @adamcrossley said:
    Is it possible to be materially wealthy and live in accordance with Buddhist morality?

    Yes. Wealth has nothing to do with the path, where as morality is part of right speech, right action, and right livelyhood.

  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @namarupa said:

    @adamcrossley said:
    Is it possible to be materially wealthy and live in accordance with Buddhist morality?

    Yes. Wealth has nothing to do with the path, where as morality is part of right speech, right action, and right livelyhood.

    Spot on

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Wealth and morality

    I know I may sound like a broken record...But as with all things related...
    Karma has a lot to do with why one has obtained material wealth...

    And I guess it would be Karma again as to how one deals with such wealth...

    One can be Materially wealthy but Spiritually poor.... Or Spiritually wealthy but Materially poor. Or one can be Materially & Spiritually wealthy or Materially & Spiritually poor...

    Hmm regardless a middle way is called for.....But I would say being Spiritually wealthy and Materially poor would in the long run be better than being Materially wealthy and Spiritually poor... (Well at least it would be good for the spirit so to speak :) )

    adamcrossleyperson
  • LionduckLionduck Veteran

    In the sutras there are wealthy lay believer. Wealth is not evil. It is the spirit of the practitioner, not degree of wealth that matters. simply put: If you are contributing positivly to society and you have honest personal gain, good. If your gain is at the expense of others (negative effect upon society) bad. Gain is ok, greed is not.

    Peace to all

    federicaadamcrossleypersonKundo
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited March 8

    I think what’s emerging from this thread, as our general opinion, corresponds to something I heard in a podcast with Jack Kornfield recently. You can listen to it here:

    https://beherenownetwork.com/jack-kornfield-heart-wisdom-hour-episode-02-duncan-trussell-pete-holmes/

    He addresses this question specifically and suggests that it’s not so much about how wealthy you are, but what your relationship with money is like.

    He heard an opinion from one of the guests that being materially wealthy in this day an age was equivalent to violence, that it was deliberately turning away from the suffering and deprivation all over the world. And consequently everyone should live like a monk. But Jack countered this by saying it was possible to have a very beneficial relationship with wealth.

    He said that just because plenty of monks and nuns choose to live without music and dance, we don’t all have to. He would mourn for a world without these things. And just as some people have a gift for the arts, others have a gift for making money, and both can be used in very positive ways.

    He did, however, point out that one’s happiness increases with one’s wealth only up to a certain point, after which the wealth might increase but the happiness plateaus. So what we do at that point, with the excess, is an opportunity for great altruism—or dāna, as some people here have reminded me.

    So I personally wouldn’t argue that wealth had nothing to do with Right Livelihood. I think we have to make sure we’re using our material resources wisely. In a lot of what I’ve read, I’ve found that the ethical side of the 8FP is often underemphasised, with more stress (pun not intended) placed on mindfulness and meditation. Not that these things are unimportant, but the 8FP isn’t a hierarchy.

    I’ve enjoyed remembering Vimalakīrti and Anathapindika, from the comments people have made here. They’re good examples of lay practitioners “doing it right”. (‘Anathapindika’ is apparently a nickname that means “one who gives alms to the needy”.)

    I guess I’m interested in this whole topic because I’ve never really aspired to be that wealthy. In fact I’d rather live quite minimalistically. My gifts must lie elsewhere...

    lobsterperson
  • techietechie India Veteran

    No one should be against wealth. But people should be against the OBSCENE amounts of wealth that some people have. Some people are richer than entire nations, believe it or not. This is morally deplorable.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @techie , that's not what you were implying in the comment you made, to which I directly responded, which in turn prompted, and was quoted as principal comment of this thread.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited March 8

    Then there’s this...

    And what is wrong livelihood? Scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, & pursuing gain with gain. This is wrong livelihood.

    From MN 117.

    Think of politics, marketing, advertising, lobbying, even investing in stock markets.

    Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.

    From AN 5.117

    Think of weapons, meat products for eating, alcohol or moth balls. Most supermarkets will stock a few of those, as will a lot of restaurants and other businesses.

    It is difficult to be either acquiring or keeping hold of great wealth without some form of direct or indirect transgression of that.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    ...even investing in stock markets.

    Are you talking about stock brokers, day traders and such or do you extend that to personal long term investment for retirement and general wealth growth?

  • techietechie India Veteran
    edited March 9

    @federica said:
    @techie , that's not what you were implying in the comment you made, to which I directly responded, which in turn prompted, and was quoted as principal comment of this thread.

    This thread is about LAY adherents and wealth (the OP has clarified that in the 6th post of the thread). That comment, however, was about 'monks' who had - allegedly - renounced their luxuries.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @person said:

    @Kerome said:
    ...even investing in stock markets.

    Are you talking about stock brokers, day traders and such or do you extend that to personal long term investment for retirement and general wealth growth?

    If this is considered “pursueing gain with gain”, then all of it. Otherwise it depends exactly who you are investing in, and how... if you’re investing with a broker the question is is he honest or does he adopt tactics that could be said to be “scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling”.

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited March 9

    Anyone know what “pursuing gain with gain” actually means?

    In my understanding, it’s using money to make more money. So I guess that would include lending, gambling, aggressive capitalism, etc. But I think buying stocks and shares might be different—there’s more of a mutual benefit to making an investment: you only get back more than you gave if the company is successful. You share the profits. Compare this with lending where you receive your interest even if it costs the debtor their entire profit margin, or with gambling where you consciously set out to take money from people.

    My first introduction to spirituality as a child was through my Quaker grandparents, and Quakerism is strongly against gambling because it’s never an equal exchange. It’s always becoming rich at the expense of others, which typifies the very worst kind of business. Quakerism definitely influences my understanding of Right Livelihood.

    And yet it’s my Quaker grandpa who still helps me to manage my savings. (He reads the Financial Times...) So I personally don’t think having an ISA qualifies as wrong livelihood (unless of course it’s investing in tobacco, arms, fossil fuels, etc.).

    person
  • namarupanamarupa Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    Then there’s this...

    And what is wrong livelihood? Scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, & pursuing gain with gain. This is wrong livelihood.

    From MN 117.

    Think of politics, marketing, advertising, lobbying, even investing in stock markets.

    I think here the Buddha is referring to unvirtuos behavior that involves lying and harming others through lies. Not all forms of businesses involves lies.

    Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.

    From AN 5.117

    Think of weapons, meat products for eating, alcohol or moth balls. Most supermarkets will stock a few of those, as will a lot of restaurants and other businesses.

    I am thinking that the Buddha is referring to all weapons, prostitution, livestock, recreational drugs and alcohol, and manufacturing chemicals designed to cause harm. Not necessarily all products from grocery stores as a whole.

    It is difficult to be either acquiring or keeping hold of great wealth without some form of direct or indirect transgression of that.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.041.than.html

    Here the buddha talks about the benefits of wealth. I would say that it is possible that wealth is sometimes an indirect benefit of living a virtuos life.

    person
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    From DN 31...

    "And what six ways of squandering wealth are to be avoided? Young man, heedlessness caused by intoxication, roaming the streets at inappropriate times, habitual partying, compulsive gambling, bad companionship, and laziness are the six ways of squandering wealth.

    "These are the six dangers inherent in heedlessness caused by intoxication: loss of immediate wealth, increased quarreling, susceptibility to illness, disrepute, indecent exposure, and weakened insight.

    "These are the six dangers inherent in roaming the streets at inappropriate times: oneself, one's family, and one's property are all left unguarded and unprotected; one is suspected of crimes; then rumors spread; and one is subjected to many miseries.

    "These are the six dangers inherent in habitual partying: You constantly seek, 'Where's the dancing? Where's the singing? Where's the music? Where are the stories? Where's the applause? Where's the drumming?'

    "These are the six dangers inherent in compulsive gambling: winning breeds resentment; the loser mourns lost property; savings are lost; one's word carries no weight in a public forum; friends and colleagues display their contempt; and one is not sought after for marriage, since a gambler cannot adequately support a family.

    "These are the six dangers inherent in bad companionship: any rogue, drunkard, addict, cheat, swindler, or thug becomes a friend and colleague.

    "These are the six dangers inherent in laziness: saying, 'It's too cold,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too hot,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too late,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too early,' one does not work; saying, 'I'm too hungry,' one does not work; saying, 'I'm too full,' one does not work. With an abundance of excuses for not working, new wealth does not accrue and existing wealth goes to waste."

    personlobster
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran
    edited March 9

    @Kerome said:

    @person said:

    @Kerome said:
    ...even investing in stock markets.

    Are you talking about stock brokers, day traders and such or do you extend that to personal long term investment for retirement and general wealth growth?

    If this is considered “pursueing gain with gain”, then all of it. Otherwise it depends exactly who you are investing in, and how... if you’re investing with a broker the question is is he honest or does he adopt tactics that could be said to be “scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling”.

    I'm a believer in passive investing, where you're not dealing with a broker or need to invest much mental energy into concern about your money and all the downside that entails. Basically you invest in the economy as a whole so your money does better when the economy as a whole does better. You don't find yourself rooting for some companies or national economies to do better or worse.

    Personally I think it is good and healthy to take care of your financial well being. Pensions get mismanaged and national economies struggle at times and thus their social programs do too. I find myself being more generous when I feel my personal financial situation is more secure. I guess some people can give away their last meal or the shirt off their back, I don't think I'm one of them. I regularly give away things that I have in excess or that I no longer use, rather than try to sell them for a few bucks, which is fine for me, I'm not trying to be a saint.

    adamcrossleyKerome
  • @namarupa, excellent link—thanks!

    It’s interesting that the Buddha starts his list with the benefits of wealth to oneself: a wealthy layperson, he says, “provides himself with pleasure & satisfaction, and maintains that pleasure rightly.”

    And @person said:

    I find myself being more generous when I feel my personal financial situation is more secure.

    It reminds me of the principle that one can’t love others until one loves oneself. Also, charity begins at home. So it’s not sinful to become well-off. In fact it’s laying the groundwork for altruism, or selfless giving.

    person
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Making more money usually comes at the cost of increased responsibility, which is fine up to a point, but you need to take care of yourself. Stress can cause you to burn out.

    There is nothing wrong with living a modest, simple and frugal life. As long as you have enough to live on, there are no problems.

    Chasing wealth though is a different matter. So many people are involved in doing just that that you almost always run into competition and strife and conflict. You end up in the rat race, worrying about people taking your spot from below and people from above trying to do you a bad turn. It’s often very unhealthy.

    person
  • LionduckLionduck Veteran

    Again, wealth is not of itself bad or sinful. Greed is. The acquisition of wealth at the expense of others or to the detriment of society is evil. How wealth is obtained and how wealth is maintained is a measure of good or evil. Again, it is the heart that makes the difference.

    lobsterpersonKundo
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Exactly @Lionduck

    Independent of circumstance.

    Poverty OK
    Wealth OK

    somewhere in The Middle. Just right ...

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited May 7

    The Buddha encouraged lay followers who were gifted in business matters, to make the most of their talents, for the benefit of the sangha and others. The key is to dedicate one's efforts to improving life for others, and following the Eightfold Path: right speech, right livelihood, etc. Wealth is a wonderful tool that can be used to bring about positive change in the world.

    Harry Belafonte, one of my favorite Bodhisattvas, used his wealth to bankroll Martin Luther King's Civil Rights movement. Later he went on to South Africa, to support the struggle to end Apartheid there. What an inspiring example of using one's talent for generating wealth, for the good of humankind! <3

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited May 7

    Wealth and Morality: An oxymoron, it seems, within the British Royal Family.

    adamcrossley
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    The shuffling and oh-so-humble mendicant in need of a bath may be more myth than reality.

    They are real.
    The often invisible or largely unseen ... like a fish needing a bath ...

    Shattering fetters,
    like a fish in the water tearing a net,
    like a fire not coming back to what is burnt,
    wander alone
    like a rhinoceros.

    http://www.hermitary.com/solitude/rhinoceros.html
    https://howlingpixel.com/i-en/Rhinoceros_Sutra

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