I have a confession to make. As a good Buddhist, I am aware that I should not be attached to anything. I know what the Buddha taught – that attachment leads to suffering. I know that as I release my attachments, I experience more freedom and more happiness. So what is my confession?
I am rather fond of money. Okay, very fond indeed. I don’t have a great deal of it compared to many, but I love to go into my banking app and see it sitting in my savings accounts. I relish adding up the money I receive from my psychotherapy clients and seeing how much will be left over after paying the bills. I regularly calculate how long we have before we pay off our mortgage, and I fantasise about how wonderful that will feel. This fantasy slides into how then we’ll start saving money for our next, slightly bigger house. And so it goes on.
There is a faint feeling of shame as I write this – as if I am exposing a weakness or something about me that is slightly unsavoury. These feelings of pleasure as I hoard money are the opposite of generosity. I am also aware that this pleasure, which is contingent on the figures on my phone and on all sorts of things I’m not in control of, is preventing me from experiencing a more expansive, more delicious pleasure – the pleasure of secure refuge in the three jewels of the spiritual teacher, teachings and community. The Buddha tried clinging on to what was impermanent as a way of finding happiness. It didn’t work.
Bringing gentleness to the shame
This blog is called ‘Gentle Buddhism’. I’m wondering how it would look to approach these money-loving parts of me with gentleness. Straight away I can see that it’s not necessary to get rid of them completely. I don’t believe that the Buddha lived a life devoid of pleasure. He just didn’t cling on to pleasure, or try and make ordinary pleasures into something solid when they could never be reliable. My money-counting and the pleasure of having of a healthy pot of savings is necessary for a well-balanced life.
What I can do is get curious about why these parts of me spend so long on their fantasies, and in receiving comfort from the money I have saved or will be able to save in the future. Part of this is an understandable seeking of the things that money can bring me – new clothes, weekends away – wanting more. Part of this is a desire to escape things – wanting to work less hard in the future, or have a break from running a temple! Part of it is wanting to avoid the ordinary pain of life, by numbing out on expensive chocolate or too-many-books. They crop up everywhere – greed, hate and delusion.
I also have some parts of me that are afraid that I won’t be looked after – by other people or by the world. The savings represents my individualism and my self-reliance, and reassure these parts of me that forget to trust that I am held by my community and the Buddha.
Welcoming the money-loving parts of me
There will be more, but as I write I am softening more and more towards these parts of me that use money in these different ways. They are trying to help me, and they are doing their best. If I felt more grounded and more connected to the Buddha they wouldn’t be necessary, but I am a human being and so they are. I feel grateful towards them and I bow to them. They are pleased to be appreciated, after all the bad press!
Money isn’t a blessing or a sin. It is just a resource. We need it to survive, and some of us are lucky to have a bit left over to play with. If we were Buddhas, we would have no feelings about money at all – we would trust that our begging bowls would be filled with food, or not, and be content. I am not a Buddha. I am a work-in-progress and I will continue to have a complicated relationship with money, as many of us do. That’s okay.
I am blessed. I am blessed by having enough to eat and a warm place to live. I am blessed with friends and companion animals and the view from my office, out across the valley. I am blessed with an ageing body that still allows me to do pretty much anything I want to do. I could go on.
I will keep listening to the parts of me that love counting money, and the ones that are preoccupied with my future fantasy life. Maybe they’ll learn to lean into the Buddha a little more, and let go of their attachments bit by bit. Maybe not. Either way, I know that all these different parts of me are welcomed and loved – just as they are.
Go gently _/|\_
What is your relationship with money? What parts of you have jobs around money – maybe being afraid of scarcity, or spending too much, or being too careful, or avoiding money altogether? How can you bring gentleness to these parts of you? How can you start getting to know them?