Jul 1, 2010

Our Relationship with Money

Our relationship with money is an indicator of our whole attitude to life,
says Gerry Thompson.


We all think about money and material well-being quite a bit. Most of us have experienced problems with it at one time or another. But what are such issues really about? And how can the principles of Buddhism help us deal with such worries? Matters of money and material provision are not only important in themselves; they also represent a way of connecting with all kinds of other issues; they can be indicators of what else we need to look at within ourselves. Our relationship to money, like everything else, is a matter of cause and effect. For every aspect of our lives is interconnected; every facet integrally reflects and affects the rest. The spiritual and the material domains are not separate, as much of our cultural conditioning would have us believe.

The key to making positive change in money matters, as in anything else, lies in discerning the overall patterns. As Nichiren Daishonin states, 'Your mastery of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of mortal sufferings in the least unless you perceive the nature of your own life'
(Major Writings, Vol. 1, p. 4).

The trick, then, is to look at the patterns that manifest in our relationship to money, and then seek the corresponding patterns of resonance that occur in other departments of our lives. So let's get out the tin-opener, and start opening some cans of worms. For instance, let's take a man who uses money as if it had no value, squandering it as soon as it is acquired. Does this resonate with a personal issue that he has around respect? Does he perhaps need to develop more self-respect and self-esteem? Or perhaps, it's about respect for other people, or for his environment and surroundings. Any of these could be relevant.

Or take a woman who, instead of spending money like water, clings on to it desperately, as if none will ever appear again. Does this pattern appear in other departments of her life? Does she have difficulty with trust - trusting other people, or trusting herself?

All kinds of key life issues can give a clue to the factors at stake, and simultaneously have a direct bearing on our financial fortunes. Gratitude, for instance - can we see that our material good fortune directly reflects our own ability to be grateful? This might be perceived at many levels: gratitude for benefits, for challenges, for the difficult experiences that enable us to grow and develop. Or take commitment: how are we on this? Do we complete undertakings that we start? Are there things that we have been meaning to do, but haven't got around to for months or years? Are we taking full responsibility for our lives and our affairs? Carrying this further, are we living our dream, or at least moving towards doing so? Or might we eventually find ourselves on our deathbed, and suddenly remember what it was that we really wanted to achieve in life? These are all things that very directly influence material matters in the here and now.

Money is, in effect, a form of energy - just one of the ways that we create a flow between ourselves and our environment. Financial contributions towards SGI activities, for instance, is not inherently different from our energy flowing outwards in ways such as putting effort into Buddhist meetings or our Buddhist practice. It is just one aspect of the whole flow of our particular individuality to the universe. This flow outwards is matched with the corresponding flow of energies into our lives from our immediate environment and from other people - indeed, from the whole cosmos.

So what we are doing with this Buddhist practice is endeavoring to 'expand' our lives - to increase both sides of this whole equation and flow pattern. 'More out' means 'more in'; 'more in' means 'more out', and so on, in a self-enhancing positive spiral. That's why the spirit of contribution can produce personal benefits. If we hold back on the output, however, then the scale of our energy system diminishes ('Honey, I've shrunk my life!').

Money, then, isn't distinct, separate or unique in its behavior from other types of flowing energy, even though we may think so when we haven't got any. It's tempting to think that the operation of money is somehow subject to a different set of rules and laws from the rest of life - but it isn't.

As Nichiren Daishonin reminds us: 'No affairs of life or work are in any way different from the ultimate reality' (Major Writings, Vol. 3, p. 270).

That's why attempts to address our financial situation must be made in the context of all the other life factors operating in our particular case, including our personal history. In therapeutic circles, the most commonly associated issues include our feelings of self-worth; the way we have been raised by our parents; whether we experience love, and whether we feel we deserve love; and our basic fears about the ability to survive.
Our attitude to money, in fact, is symptomatic of our whole attitude to life. It's tempting to regard whether or not we have enough money as a main influence on our lives, but, rather, it is a result of our lives. 

The issue of money, therefore, with all its associations of fear and loathing, envy, self-hatred or whatever, is actually one of the most powerful areas in which we can process our basic world-view and life-condition - our fundamental experience of life - and thus work towards revealing our highest potential and our Buddhahood. It can help us to work on unresolved issues that have far more profound and far-reaching effects than the purely financial.

Money concerns can give important clues as to what really needs attending to. All we have to do is discern the underlying patterns, prioritize key issues, and then determine relevant action to take - at least identify the first step, and then proceed from there. This will start us on a cycle of changing inherent karmic patterns that may go far back into our family history. 

Ultimately, the answer is to deal with the personal issues we know we need to deal with anyway, whether we can see a connection to money issues or not. So… get on the phone and talk to your estranged brother / tidy your bedroom / sort out why you can't stand your mother-in-law, or whatever it is. Just deal with this stuff. Your financial issues will improve; I guarantee it!

Money stuff, then, is an indicator of our whole attitude to life. Most fundamentally, it's about trust - trusting the Gohonzon, trusting the practice, trusting ourselves, trusting the process of life. The more we can trust, the more we can give to life; and if we do that, we get more from life - and our trust is reinforced. Tackling the issue of money can therefore expand our lives. It's also about basic gratitude - gratitude for having this life, and for having this practice that enables us to become happier, to create value and contribute to the betterment of the world. 

As Nichiren Daishonin says: '…life itself is the most precious of all treasures. Even the treasures of the entire universe cannot equal the value of a single human life'
(Major Writings, Vol. 1, p. 267). 

UKExpress no. 344, february 2000, p. 40 - 41

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