Monday, August 20, 2012

Concept of Wealth in Buddhism

Brother Jeffrey had kindly took down some notes after the young adults session with Ven. Dr. Bodhi. The topic of the session was the concept of wealth in Buddhism.

Concept of Wealth in Buddhism

In this week’s session conducted by Venerable Dr. Bodhi, we touched on the topic of “Wealth Creation” in the context of Buddhism. The learning objective of this session was to answer these 3 questions: “What is wealth?”, “Where does it originate?” and lastly, “How does it originate?”

To start off the session, Venerable Dr. Bodhi did two very interesting case studies with us: Firstly, the story of the Mouse Merchant who listened and understood well the words of a wise King’s financial advisor, observed carefully for opportunities, put in the effort and eventually achieved great wealth. Story can be found: . After that, Venerable Dr. Bodhi related this story to the second case study of a modern young man who actually turned a paper clip into a house of his own:

These two stories reflected similar learning points for us to take away:

1. Both main characters of these stories had shown intelligence, innovation, creativeness and diligence.

2. Other than these valuable personal qualities, the characters had strong support from the people around them. To achieve that, one will have to show goodwill to the people around him first.

3. Very importantly, as of what all businessmen desired, the characters had a lot of luck. And so what exactly is luck and how should we go about obtaining luck?

i) In Chinese saying, luck is about 天时、地利、人和 (the right timing, right venue and right people)

ii) To have good luck, one needs good karma. This boils down to how we deal with different situations/conditions as our actions will eventually generate effects which will snowball and one day, reach back to us.
So, on a very basic level, we have to do good things. However, to fully achieve the merits of these good deeds, the intentions behind should not just be for your own sake. Instead, the deeds should be done with the aim of benefiting everyone else in your community.
To go onto a deeper level, we have to be constantly practicing mindfulness. We have to purify our mind so as to strengthen it. This is to prevent oneself from committing undesirable thoughts or actions before anger or delusion has the opportunity to take over one’s mind. Practicing mindfulness can also allow one to develop a sharp observation skill which makes one more capable of ‘seeing’ the things, people and opportunities around him

iii) A lot of devotees are blinded by superstitions, failing to think rationally. This resulted in them committing a lot of foolish actions in the pursuit of ‘luck’.

Next, Venerable Dr. Bodhi went on to define for us the word “wealth”. Wealth in pali, can mean Bhoga, dhana or vitta. So, it means the money/valuables in large amounts owned by a person/ institution/ country.

“Take the case of the person who makes his wealth without harming others, and in so doing makes himself happy and fulfilled, shares it with others, does good works, makes use of it without greed, without infatuation, aware of its limitations and keeping in mind his spiritual growth; that person is praiseworthy on all these counts.”

In the above abstract, the Buddha notes that a wealthy person will be praiseworthy based on how he makes his wealth; how he utilizes his wealth; and the attitude he has towards it.

The dangers of wealth: It has a tendency to make people feel proud and complacent especially if it has been acquired with little effort. More on this aspect will be covered for the next sharing session.

There are five higher level meanings of wealth which we should be looking at as well:

1. Wealth of Faith

2. Wealth of Virtues

3. Wealth of Learning

4. Wealth of Generosity

5. Wealth of Wisdom

“Whoever is rich in these and other kinds of spiritual treasures, whether they be a man or woman, they are not poor nor are their lives empty” So, other than dwelling on how to create, acquire and enjoy wealth materially, we must also understand that our wealth can have an even greater value if we use the time, freedom and opportunities in a lot of ways to help us focus on our spiritual growth.

Later on, Venerable Dr. Bodhi led us through a discussion on the opportunity cost (time/ energy/ leisure etc) for wealth. As creation or acquisition of wealth depends mainly on the hard work among other things, how do we go about balancing the “Sacrifice Vs Wealth” question? We started to share our experiences and views on this question. Ultimately, we concluded that it goes back to everyone’s individual goals in life and the need to balance and fulfill the three main factors for happiness in a layman: professional life, interpersonal relationships and spiritual well-being.

Through this meaningful session and fruitful discussions conducted by Venerable Dr. Bodhi, we were able to gain a more practical understanding of ‘wealth’ which does not only encompasses material wealth. Other aspects/ types of wealth are as important if one wants to enjoy his material wealth.

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