[Summary: is wealth or money the antithesis of the meditative life? Further look at the role of money in Buddhism in anticipation of the Dhamma Talk on Tuesday by Ven U Vamsa]
Arunachala is a famous ‘mountain’ in India – more of a hill actually, but a significant bump in the otherwise flat landscape of Tamil Nadu. There it was the now famous Indian sage Ramana Maharshi lived his life and taught Advaita style enlightenment to the many who went to visit him. Even now 58 years after his death, the mountain which he claimed was his only teacher, attracts many yogis and spiritual seekers. The story goes that if you walk around the base of the mountain just once, you will attain enlightenment (they don’t tell you how long it will take to attain though).
Jerry was an American fisherman, with wiry ginger hair. He had not cut either his hair or beard for some 8 years, a practise he said limited his employment options. Thus he had worked as a fisherman. He was traveling about India on the ‘Guru Trail’ and apart from uncut hair and beard, he was distinctive for having only a small knapsack of belongings, and not using any shoes. He would frequently tell everyone too how unnecessary a luxury shoes are, and how beneficial it is to live without the comforts of the world, flourishing his little knapsack aloft in illustration.
There is this idea that to be holy you have to be below the poverty line, that somehow belongings are always going to be an anchor in this world and you have to break the chain. Somehow you are a fake yogi or meditator while you still have any belongings. Perhaps it is a new age idea, or one foolishly surmised from the sight of yellow robed Sadhu’s wondering about India.
Money and wealth is not a real obstacle. Attachment is, and obsession, but not the money itself. Money is not the root of all evil – it is the love of money that is the root of all evil.
Wealth has a number of benefits, especially for the layperson:
Adiya Sutta :
Benefits to be Obtained from Wealth
Five benefits to be obtained from wealth that has been rightly obtained.
- Pleasure and satisfaction of oneself, family and workers.
- Pleasure and satisfaction of ones friends.
- To ward off calamity from fire, flood, Kings, thieves and hateful heirs.
- To make offerings to relatives, guests, the dead, Kings and Devas.
- To institutes offerings of supreme aim, heavenly, resulting in happiness, given to priests & contemplatives who abstain from intoxication and heedlessness, who endure all things with patience and humility, each taming himself, each restraining himself, each striving for enlightenment.
Even if the wealth is lost, one can reflect that full benefit was derived from it.
If the wealth is lost, or increases, it is not the source of any remorse.
For whatever aim a wise householder would desire wealth
To that I have attained.
I have not made actions that will lead to future distress
.. one is praised in this life, and afterwards rejoices in the heavenly realm.
In the developed world of the middle classes, this seems to make sense. You should look after your belongings, and provide for your own security without blame, and without hindrance of meditation. It is the attachment to wealth that makes for problems; or in the phraseology of the sutta, ‘leads to future distress’. But of course, attachment goes both ways – you can be attached to poverty just as easily.
“did you walk around Holy Arunacala mountain?” asked Jerry.
“yes, this morning”
“Did you wear shoes?” he asked, again answered in the affirmative.
“Well then,” he sniffed, “you won’t get the full benefit.”