A Buddhist View of Money
Siddhartha Gautama grew up rich. His father was a king and he was a prince. The king isolated young Siddhartha from the ugly and unpleasant parts of life. One day, when he was a young adult, Siddhartha discovered that there was suffering, poverty, diseases, and pain in the world.
Siddhartha did not know why there was so much suffering and pain in the world. He asked other people, but nobody knew. He then decided to find out why people suffered. He devoted his life to finding the truth. He left his father’s palace and lived alone for a few years as a homeless man. He walked the land, meditated, begged for food, and experienced tremendous hardship. Death was always around the corner.
After years of searching for the cause of human suffering, Siddhartha realized that we suffer because we crave. We desire and want things, both tangible and intangible. When we crave, we subconsciously admit that we lack something; that there is something outside of us, which, once received, will make us happy, or satisfied, or rich, or complete. Siddhartha also realized that we live in fear of losing these things or not getting them.
Based on these and other realizations, Siddhartha became the Buddha, or the enlightened one. He spent the rest of his life teaching others how to achieve enlightenment.
The Buddha claimed that we do not lack anything. We already have everything we need. Our cravings reflect a scarcity mentality. When we desire objects, or crave friendships, or want to be regarded in certain way by other people, we become dependent. Craving and attachment lead to dependence, while detachment and lack of desire lead to independence.
A student who wants to get a job after college lives in a dependent state. A woman who craves to become a mother lives in a dependent state. A man who desires a promotion so he can buy a new car lives in a dependent state. A teenager who wants to be liked by his peers lives in a dependent state. A woman who wants her boyfriend to be more romantic lives in a dependent state.
The main action in the dependent state is taking. By taking and possessing, we fall into a cycle of perpetual neediness and inadequacy, which causes us to suffer. If our spouse leaves us, for example, we might cry, or yell at him or her, or feel abandoned and lonely. We suffer because we thought that our spouse was “ours,” and now we lost him or her. In this cycle, there is no end to suffering.
Suffering ends when we stop craving things. When we are in a needy state, our focus narrows and we become a closed system. In regard to money, we believe that “My money is only mine,” which tells the world that we are a self-centered, closed system. If we live as a closed system over a lifetime, life becomes a collection of cravings and desires and the experiences associated with them. This collection becomes our life story.
The Buddha realized that a life governed by desire was an inferior life. He believed that all of us can live in abundance and act from a state of abundance, for abundance is our given right. In such a state, our focus is infinitely expanded and we operate as an open system. There is no more dependence on and waiting for something outside of us to complete us, or make our life better. We create our own happiness, one breath at a time.
The main action in the independent state is giving. We give because we have plenty. We believe that “My money is your money,” and give money away to those in need. By doing this, we share our abundance and help others develop their full potential, so that they also realize and share the abundance in their lives.
Since we live in a world dominated by money and its power, when we give away money, we create value in society and in people’s lives. The view on giving in the business world, and in most individualistic cultures, is strictly selfish. Most companies create value only if they are paid for it. The giving is predicated on the taking. If there was no taking of money at a later date, there would be no giving.
There is plenty of evidence that shows that the most generous companies are some of the most successful companies in the world. In 2015, the top 20 most generous companies, such as Gilead Sciences, Alphabet, Microsoft, and General Mills, among others, gave away $3.5 billion USD to various charitable initiatives. It is a drop in the ocean compared to what these companies could give away, but it is a step in the right direction.
Companies, however, are not people. They are closed systems, riddled with cravings and suffering. Individuals have an advantage over companies, as we can get rid of our desires and stop the suffering. When we become enlightened like the Buddha, we become kind, loving, mindful, and giving. We not only act from a place of abundance, but we also create a cycle of abundance. Money starts flowing from us and to us as naturally as a creek flows down a hill.
Making money by giving money away is the fastest way to make a lot of money. And by giving away a lot of money, we create a larger and more encompassing cycle of abundance for many. We cure diseases, we feed and educate millions of people, we preserve nature, and change the world for the better. Charitable organizations and generous individuals around the world use the power of monetary generosity every day.
Money is for giving. The Buddha knew that. You now know it, too.