The Buddha’s attitude towards money is an interesting one. For his disciples who have gone forth and joined the monastic order, the Buddha clearly opposed to them amassing money. Joining the monastic order is a sign of serious commitment towards seeking enlightenment. To them, the dangers of money clearly out weight any benefits or convenience money may bring. They were to depend on the lay community for support. (However, after 2500 years of development, the Buddhist monastic order across various countries/cultures now plays a greater multitude of roles and responsibilities, and the question of whether monks/nuns should handle money has become a more complex one.)
For lay disciples however, the answer is more clear cut. As lay Buddhism, we clearly have to work to make a living for ourselves and the Buddha clearly allows us to accumulate wealth that is righteously earned.
In the Dighajanu Sutta, when the lay man Dighajanu asked the Buddha on how to have “happiness & well-being” in this life, the Buddha gave the following advice;
“… a lay person, by whatever occupation he makes his living is clever and untiring at it, (1) endowed with discrimination in its techniques, enough to arrange and carry it out… (2) has righteous wealth — righteously gained, coming from his initiative, his striving, his making an effort, gathered by the strength of his arm, earned by his sweat — he manages to protect it through vigilance… (3) spends time with householders or householders’ sons, young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He talks with them, engages them in discussions. He emulates consummate conviction… consummate virtue… consummate generosity… and consummate discernment… (4) knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher..”
Of the above piece of advice that the Buddha gave, 3 were related to wealth. Interestingly, many people today who visit temples would pray to Buddha statues and images hoping that it would bestow then wealth or luck. Yet, 2500 years ago, when posted with a similar question, the Buddha (in flesh and blood) gave a very different but wise answer – in order to build wealth, first of all we need to equip ourselves with skill-sets that is marketable and we need to ensure that we are well versed in it and be willing to work hard and smart. Secondly, having wealth that is righteously earned through hard work, we need to learn to protect it. Thirdly, we need to live within our means, neither being too spendthrift nor too stingy.
On what constitute “righteous wealth”, other than keeping to the 5 precepts, the Buddha said that there are 5 types of employment that a lay follower should not engage in;
“…a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? (1) Business in weapons, (2) business in human beings, (3) business in meat, (4) business in intoxicants, and (5) business in poison… These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in.”
Below are 2 suttas, where the Buddha talks about the causes of lost of wealth;
“What are the six channels for dissipating wealth which he does not pursue?
(a) “indulgence in intoxicants which cause infatuation and heedlessness; (b) sauntering in streets at unseemly hours; (c) frequenting theatrical shows; (d) indulgence in gambling which causes heedlessness; (e) association with evil companions; (f) the habit of idleness.”
“These are the four drains on one’s store of wealth: debauchery in sex; debauchery in drink; debauchery in gambling; and evil friendship, evil companionship, evil camaraderie.”
Kula Sutta is another sutta where the Buddha gave his lay disciples advice on Buddhist “wealth management”;
“In every case where a family can hold onto its great wealth for long, it is for one or another of these four reasons. Which four? (1) They look for things that are lost. (2) They repair things that have gotten old. (3) They are moderate in consuming food and drink. (4) They place a virtuous, principled woman or man in the position of authority. In every case where a family can hold onto its great wealth for long, it is for one or another of these four reasons.”
The Buddha’s advice for those who wish to “hold onto wealth for a long time” is to first “look for what is lost”. Money, time, talents can be lost due to poor planning and other inefficiencies. By looking for “what is lost” we effectively fix the leaks and enable “our pot to hold water”.
Next, we should “fix what is old”. Like maintaining a car, we should invest time and money to keep what we have (our assets, knowledge, organisation etc) properly maintained. Doing so could save us having to spend a lot of time, effort and money later on trying to fix these problems.
By not over indulging in enjoyment we can maintain our diligence, focus and mindfulness on our business (the same can be said of all endeavors that we engage in).
The quotes from the numerous suttas above show that just like today, lay disciples during the Buddha’s time were concerned about how to build up their wealth. The Buddha gave many wise and useful suggestions on what they should and should not do.
While not rocket science, these teachings clearly reminded us that what the Buddha wants us to understand is that there is no quick and easy route to take to build our wealth – we need to apply our intelligence, hard work and prudence. While today we live in a far more complex and fast changing world, these teachings continue to remain relevant.
Finally, a beautiful quote from the Sigalovada Sutta aptly summaries what we, lay followers of the Buddha, should do to growth our wealth.
“The wise and virtuous shine like a blazing fire.
He who acquires his wealth in harmless ways
like to a bee that honey gathers,
riches mount up for him
like ant hill’s rapid growth.”