Wealth And The Golden Middle Path
July 25, 2012 10 Comments
Asceticism was experimented with and rejected by the Buddha before he attained enlightenment.
Buddha preached contentment (santutthi) and limited desires (appicchata).However, contentment and paucity of wishes must be accompanied by effort and diligence, not by complacency and idleness.
Poverty (dadiddiya) is never praised or encouraged by the Buddha. “For householders in this world, poverty is suffering” “Woeful in the world is poverty and debt.”Many passages in the Buddhist scriptures exhort lay people to seek and amass wealth in rightful ways. Among the good results of good kamma, one is to be wealthy.The possession of wealth by certain people is often praised and encouraged in the Pali Canon, indicating that wealth is something to be sought after. Among the Buddha’s lay disciples, the better known, the most helpful, and the most often praised were in large part wealthy persons, such as Anathapindika.
The main theme in the Buddhist scriptures is that it is not wealth as such that is praised or blamed but the way it is acquired and used.Blameworthy qualities are greed for gain, stinginess, grasping, attachment to gain and hoarding of wealth.Acquisition is acceptable if it is helpful in the practice of Dhamma or it helps others. What is blamed in connection with wealth is to earn it in dishonest ways. Worthy of blame also is the one who, having earned wealth, becomes enslaved by it and creates suffering as a result of it. No less evil and blameworthy than the unlawful earning of wealth is to accumulate riches out of stinginess, and not to spend it for the benefit and well-being of oneself, one’s dependents, or other people. Again, squandering wealth foolishly or indulgently, or using it to cause suffering to other people, is also criticized. To sum up again harmful actions associated with wealth can appear in three forms: seeking wealth in dishonest or unethical ways; hoarding wealth for its own sake; and using wealth in ways that are harmful.
Good and praiseworthy wealthy people are those who seek wealth in rightful ways and use it for the good and happiness of both themselves and others. Accordingly, many of the Buddha’s lay disciples, being wealthy, liberally devoted much or most of their wealth to the support of the sangha and to the alleviation of poverty and suffering. For example, the millionaire Anathapindika is said to have spent a large amount of money every day to feed hundreds of monks as well as hundreds of the poor.Of course, in an ideal society, under an able and righteous ruler or under a righteous and effective administration, there would be no poor people, as all people would be at least self-sufficient, and monks would be the only community set apart to be sustained by the material surplus of the lay society.
Buddha acknowledge the role of material comfort in the creation of happiness. A lucrative economic activity that is conducive to well-being can contribute to human development but the accumulation of wealth for its own sake cannot.Many livelihoods which produce a surplus of wealth simply cater to desires rather than providing for any true need.For the individual, the objective of livelihood is to acquire the four necessities or requisites of human existence: food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Again, the acquisition of these four requisites, be it in sufficient amount or in surplus, is not the ultimate objective. The four requisites are merely a foundation upon which efforts to realize higher objectives can be based.Some people are content with few possessions and need only a minimum to devote their energies to mental and spiritual development. Others cannot live happily on such a small amount; they are more dependent on material goods. As long as their livelihood does not exploit others, however, Buddhism does not condemn their wealth. Moreover, people who are charitably inclined can use their wealth in ways that are beneficial for society as a whole.
Wealthy people with virtue use their wealth to perform good works for themselves and others, but the truly wise also understand that wealth alone cannot make them free.”I see beings in this world who are wealthy: instead of sharing their wealth around, they become enslaved by it; they hoard it and demand more and more sensual gratification.”Kings conquer whole lands, reigning over realms that stretch from ocean to ocean, yet they are not content with simply this shore —they want the other side as well. Both Kings and ordinary people must die in the midst of want, never reaching an end to desire and craving. With craving unfulfilled, they cast off the body. There is no satisfying the desires for sense objects in this world.”Relatives let down their hair and grieve over deceased loved ones, wailing, ‘Oh, our loved one has passed away from us.’ They wrap the body in a cloth, set it upon the funeral pyre and cremate it; the undertakers take sticks and poke the body until it is wholly burnt. All the deceased can take with them is a single cloth, all wealth is left behind.”When it is time to die, no-one, neither relative nor friend, can forestall the inevitable. Possessions are carried off by the heirs while the deceased fares according to his kamma. When it is time to die, not one thing can you take with you, not even children, wife (or husband), wealth or land. Longevity cannot be obtained through wealth, and old age cannot be bought off with it. The wise say that life is short, uncertain and constantly changing.”Both the rich and the poor experience contact with the realm of senses; both the foolish and the wise experience contact also. But the foolish person, through lack of wisdom, is overwhelmed and stricken by it. As for the wise man, even though he experiences contact he is not upset. Thus, wisdom is better than wealth, because it leads to the highest goal in this life.”
A true Buddhist lay person not only seeks wealth lawfully and spends it for constructive purposes, but also enjoys spiritual freedom, not being attached to it, infatuated with it or enslaved by it. This is the point where the mundane and the transcendent meet. The Buddha classified lay people (kamabhogi, those who partake in sense pleasures) into various levels according to lawful and unlawful means of seeking wealth, spending or not spending wealth for the happiness of oneself and others, and the attitude of greed and attachment or wisdom and spiritual freedom in dealing with wealth. The highest kind of person enjoys life on both the mundane and the transcendent planes as follows:
1. Seeking wealth lawfully and honestly.
2. Seeing to one’s own needs.
3. Sharing with others and performing meritorious deeds.
4. Making use of one’s wealth without greed, longing or infatuation, heedful of the dangers and possessed of the insight that sustains spiritual freedom.
Such a person is said to progressing toward individual perfection.One who gains riches by diligent application to livelihood, and who puts that wealth to good use for himself and others, is said in Buddhism to be victorious in both this world and the next. When he is also possessed of the wisdom that leads to detachment (nissarana-pañña), when he neither becomes enslaved by possessions nor carries them as a burden, when he can live cheerfully and unconfused without being spoiled by worldly wealth, he is even more commendable.
Though on the mundane level poverty is something to be avoided, a poor person is not completely deprived of means to do good for himself or society. The ten ways of making merit may begin with giving, but they also include moral conduct, the development of mental qualities, the rendering of service, and the teaching of the Dhamma. Because of poverty, people may be too preoccupied with the struggle for survival to do anything for their own perfection, but when basic living needs are satisfied, if one is mentally qualified and motivated, there is no reason why one cannot realize individual perfection. While wealth as a resource for achieving social good can help create favorable circumstances for realizing individual perfection, ultimately it is mental maturity and wisdom, not wealth, that bring about its realization. Wealth mistreated and abused not only obstructs individual development, but can also be detrimental to the social good.
“A life that is free — one that is not overly reliant on material things — is a life that is not deluded by them. This demands a clear knowledge of the benefits and limitations of material possessions. Without such wisdom, we invest all our happiness in material things, even though they can never lead to higher qualities of mind. In fact, as long as we remain attached to them, possessions will hinder even simple peace of mind. By their very nature, material things lack the ability to completely satisfy: they are impermanent and unstable, they cannot be ultimately controlled and must inevitably go to dissolution. Clinging onto them, we suffer needlessly. When we were born they were not born with us, and when we die we cannot take them along.Used with wisdom, material goods can help relieve suffering, but used without wisdom, they only increase the burden. By consuming material goods with discrimination we can derive true value from them.
Buddhism is full of teachings referring to the Golden Middle Path, the right amount and knowing moderation ie. balance or equilibrium. Knowing moderation is referred to in the Buddhist scriptures as mattaññuta. Knowing moderation means knowing the optimum amount, how much is “just right.” It is an awareness of that optimum point where the enhancement of true well-being coincides with the experience of satisfaction. This optimum point, or point of balance, is attained when we experience satisfaction at having answered the need for quality of life or well-being. Consumption, for example, which is attuned to the Middle Path, must be balanced to an amount appropriate to the attainment of well-being rather than the satisfaction of desires. Thus, in contrast to the classical belief of maximum consumption leading to maximum satisfaction, we have moderate, or wise consumption, leading to well-being.
A further meaning of the term “just the right amount” is of not harming oneself or others. This is another important principle and one that is used in Buddhism as the basic criterion of human action, not only in relation to consumption, but for all human activity. Also in Buddhism “not harming others” applies not only to human beings but to all that lives. Economic activity must take place in such a way that it doesn’t harm oneself (by causing a decline in the quality of life) and does not harm others (by causing problems in society or imbalance in the environment).