Is Money Bad?
I would like to explore a cultural myth that is (it seems to me) dominating, even ruining the lives of a great many people: the myth of “security”. Before I can do that, however, I need to clear up something about money.
Someone asked me recently if I think money is bad. He asked me this because I have throughout my life actively avoided all the efforts typically associated with accumulating wealth. During the eighteen years I was a monk I had no income, of course, other than the food, lodging, and clothing provided for me. Even before I entered the monastery, however, I sabotaged all efforts made to promote me to a place in society where I would enjoy the power to amass money and the things money can buy. He wondered why. Perhaps I think it’s bad to own money?
Not at all. I do not think money (or anything else) is “bad”. Like everything else in the content of our l lives, money is utterly neutral. Money can be used in skillful and unskillful ways; it can be of great benefit and can do tremendous harm; it may liberate just as much as enslave—in itself it has no moral value. The real value of money, it seems to me, lies in the awareness of the person who uses it.
This is a well-known, commonly accepted point of view, I believe. It appears that people do not typically live from this understanding, however. As a culture we are enslaved by money. To live as if money is a neutral commodity which can be used for good or ill requires a person to avoid being attached to it or intoxicated by it, to remain stronger than the lure of material things, and to maintain a perspective all the time that comprehends what is truly beneficial and what is not. Much of what people spend money on provides either temporary pleasure at the expense of long-term health and well-being, or the illusion of long-term benefit at the expense of this moment’s happiness. In both cases conditioned mind has used the neutral quality of money to subjugate an innocent but unconscious human being. Consider how many people are spending their lives, their precious days upon this earth, for money! We live as if money is an end in itself rather than an empty medium for exchange, a vehicle through which we may cooperate in order to provide ourselves a world that supports real happiness and peace.
I learned at a young age that money does not buy happiness. “In that case,” I decided, “I don’t want any.” I have spent my life thus far pursuing a deep relationship with Life instead. That is what I truly want, all I truly want, and all I have ever really wanted. I have often been confused, thinking I wanted outward things over inner, unconditional joy—an expensive and frustrating predicament to be in, but nevertheless very popular—but when I really look it always comes down to the same thing. I just want to LIVE. If it comes down to a choice between a pile of money and the true happiness of my heart, I’ll take the latter—as we all would, I imagine, when we are sane. We are just so rarely sane when it comes to money. It does not actually come down to that choice—money and real happiness are not mutually exclusive—but, for me, life is too short to waste it on nonessential things.