What are the two most common goals for people who live in the world? Wealth and fame. To gain these goals people are willing to lose everything, including the health of their body, mind and spirit. Not a very good exchange, is it? Worldly wealth and fame fade so quickly that we wonder which will last longer, the money, the fame or the man.
But consider the goal of enlightenment, of attaining the wealth of the Dharma. Those who reach this goal are vigorous in body, keen in mind, and serene in spirit…right into eternity.
The message is that wealth and fame won’t make you happy. We sacrifice too much in trying to acquire wealth, in trying to have the biggest house or the nicest car. And people sacrifice so much integrity for wealth sometimes too. There are plenty of real life examples of this, but I’d like to resort to using examples from movies.
Pretty Woman and Iron Man. These are two very popular films where the main character starts out as someone who is doing something that’s morally ambiguous in the name of wealth. And in both films the character’s journey leads them to some level of understanding, they learn the error of their ways. Richard Gere decides to stop raiding and destroying other people’s businesses and Robert Downey Jr decides to stop making weapons. And they’re both better off when they move toward what we call Right Livelihood.
Giving in to corruption, accumulating wealth on the backs of the bruised, these things can wear you down. And it’s all like a sandcastle anyway. As we know, as we’ve said before, you can’t take it with you.
Now, it might seem like Han Shan is implying that we have to be poor. I don’t think that’s the case. I think what he’s saying is this: making money isn’t the problem. The problem is being obsessed with money. In the modern world it’s easy to become obsessed with accumulating wealth. The same must have been true in Han Shan’s time.
Money is important. It’s the only way we can survive. But we have to remember it’s not everything.