Money & Dharma: Not Mutually Exclusive

monk money“Business is not Dharma”,  said the Venerable Thubten Chodron, Buddhist nun, author, and Abbess.  People shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.  A few people clapped, but mostly, the climate was one of bewilderment.  How could business not be Dharma, when it was business which had generated and then donated the funds necessary to convene this Buddhist Leadership conference at Naropa University in the first place? How could business not be Dharma if people didn’t do business to create the surplus that supported the nun herself, and her abbey, who relied entirely upon charity to live?  The venerable teacher later clarified her statement, saying that she felt that Dharma teachings should be conducted in a non-transactional manner.  This is also debatable.  However, the initial statement and reaction to it highlights a tender dilemma – the perception that money is inherently unholy, and the fact that we are all dependent on it.

Dharma means ‘Truth’.  Often, it is meant to express the ‘highest good’.  Buddha Dharma is simply the Truth expounded by a Buddha, or perhaps a pure teacher on a Buddha’s behalf.  A person’s Dharma is the highest and noblest use of her life, or the best choices she can make given a set of circumstances.  To say that business is not Dharma is to say that all working people spend the majority of their lives in service to a lie.  Though this may be true for some people, there are quite a number of us that are only able to find the inspiration to continue working in corporations and other places because we do so in service (with varying degrees of success) to a higher ideal.  This is Dharma.  It is also called Karma Yoga.

Money, sex and power are indulgences that monastics renounce, Chodron said, and indeed, these fascinations fuel great misery among human beings.  However, (and perhaps the Venerable Chodron would agree) it is a mistake to view money, sex or power as being inherently evil, wrong or impure.  Purity of intention, integrity of action,  and  detachment to the fruits of our efforts – these three attitudes can transform anything into a vehicle for Dharma.  As described by Lynne Twist, another enlightening speaker at the Leadership conference, and a businesswoman who worked alongside Mother Theresa and who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for global philanthropic initiatives, money is like water.  It belongs to none of us.  It flows all around us, below and above us, and through us.  “Money is like water – it can be a conduit for commitment, a currency of love. Reallocate your financial resources to support what you love. Take money away from that which is destructive, and reallocate it to that which is productive and sustainable.  You can do that with every spending decision you make.”

For More Info:
The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist   http://www.soulofmoney.org/about/about-the-book/excerpts/
The Bhagavad Gita, transl. Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Ishwerwood

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