Money and Dharma


Back at the end of June, I posted a piece called “Charging Money for the Truth.” It generated 47 comments, which are really worth taking the time to read. This is a hot topic, a juicy topic, and one which opens up all kinds of important questions. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been able to go much deeper into these questions with some fascinating people.

Marc Gafni, for example, has been an ordained rabbi most of his adult life. Until a few years ago, he was living and practicing in Israel. Now that he’s teaching in the United States in a more “secular way,” he finds himself dealing much more with questions of making the books balance. He had some fascinating observations about the relationship between money and “dharma.”

Diane Hamilton was a “starving artist” and a single mother for much of her life. She took Zen Buddhist vows under Genpo Roshi, and is now a widely recognized Zen teacher, as well as one of the senior instructors in Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute.

Sally Kempton started out as a professional journalist and a writer for Esquire, the New York Times, New York magazine, and the Village Voice. She was an early voice in the second wave feminist movement. Spirituality was the last thing on her agenda.  After a powerful spiritual opening, however, she became a “sadhu” monk, and was known for many years as Swami Durgananda.

Together, Marc, Sally, and Diane host the Integral Spiritual Experience conference in  Asilomar, California. I’ve invited all three of them to join me for what I know will be an important and fascinating discussion about money and dharma on Thursday, September 2nd at 6pm PST. Register here.

Why do you suppose it is that money is such a confusing topic for so many people, creating such diverse varieties of points of view?  People don’t get so upset about which spiritual teachers are wearing a hat. People only get mildly upset about teachers who eat meat, or drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes. But when it comes to money, everyone has a strong position. A big part of this has to do with the way that money was created and has evolved in our culture.

Long ago, our ancestors didn’t know money. Even just a few hundred years ago, the first pioneers who settled in America found ways to get along before the creation of the dollar. In any pre-currency culture, commerce works though the exchange of gifts. Imagine that one of your ancestors was really expert at creating thatch roofs for houses.  He might enter into an agreement with his neighbor, who has a bunch of chickens and a leaky roof. thatch“Look, I’ll thatch your roof, which will last you many years, if you could keep me supplied in eggs for the next, say, three years.”  It’s a deal, a mutual exchange of gifts.

Your same ancestor could go to his other neighbor, who makes leather boots and also has a leaky roof. “Sure I’ll thatch your roof, dear friend, and I’d love a pair of those fine boots. But you know, thatching a roof is worth a whole lot more than a pair of boots.”

As soon as we use the word “worth,” we’ve started to introduce the possibility of currency.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll thatch your roof. Give me a pair of boots now, and a credit note good for ten more pairs. I might use them myself over time, but it’s more likely that I’ll pass them on to someone else.”

The next week, your ancestor might go to get some new tools from the iron smith, who, by coincidence, has a very well-repaired roof.

“Sorry,” says the iron smith. “I don’t need a new roof, so I can’t barter with you for tools.”

“No problem,” says your ancestor. “I’ve got something else. I’ve got a credit note from the boot maker. How about we exchange a pair of boots for some tools?”

Another deal. You can imagine that in a society like that, it wouldn’t take more than a few years before everyone agreed upon some mutually convenient currency, so everything could be allotted a value, and then you could just exchange the currency instead of an endlessly accumulating collection of credit notes. Our ancestors from various cultures have used salt as currency, gold, and even various kinds of exotic spices. As long as currency is used in this way, it is still an accurate reflection of the exchange of gifts: The thatcher makes his roofs, the boot maker makes his boots, the chicken farmer cultivates eggs, and the vegetable farmer grows vegetables.

Things only got much more complicated a few centuries ago with the wide-spread introduction of usury and the invention of modern banking. Usury is really a function of the human tendency for greed beyond our willingness to simply give our gifts. Maybe you’ve accumulated a whole lot of the mutually agreed currency (gold, salt, or frankincense)debt_manand you meet someone who really needs a new pair of boots, but just spent all their currency on burying a relative. So, you make an agreement to lend some of your currency, with the understanding that it will be paid back later with “extra.” That “extra” is of course called interest.  Over time  fortunes get passed on from one generation to the other.  And so the people who have extra currency accumulate more and more and more, and the people who don’t have currency get deeper into debt.

I know, dear friends, I’m sorry. I sound like I’m talking to a fifth grade class. Or even a third grade class.  I don’t mean to be condescending, but it’s really important for all of us to sometimes remember these obvious facts. We’re dealing with an economic system that is completely made-up. Artificial. Based only on mutual agreements. Today, the United States is in debt for almost 14 trillion dollars. Consumer debt in the US now stands at 11.7 trillion dollars. Bankruptcy filings rose 20%  in the last twelve months. But all of this is based on mutual agreement. Every single debt in the world could, THEORETICALLY,  be wiped out tomorrow, if we mutually agreed that we’d be happier that way.

This is one of the many reasons why money is so confusing. When we bring money (a concept that is made up in the mind of human beings, something that doesn’t actually exist at all) in connection with awakening (with its pristine focus of what is absolutely true and real) of course we have confusion. As you’ll see on the comments on my earlier blog, many people feel very suspicious of anyone charging money for spiritually oriented services. Other feel that it’s legitimate as long as the cost only covers expenses. Others feel that people only value what they pay for, so  if you want to create value, you’d better charge money.

We’ll be exploring these, and many other dimensions of this conversation, in a powerful and exciting FREE tele-seminar on Thursday, September 2nd at 6pm PST.

You can register HERE for the tele-seminar, and then either participate in the live call or listen to the replay.

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10 Responses to “Money and Dharma”

  1. Jerry Dillard September 1, 2010 at 12:28 pm // Reply

    As you had told me earlier,
    “we need to live beyond our belief’s” and money is nothing but a belief…

    Do the next indicated right thing…
    & Doubt is not…you know this, so I feel awkward reiterating your own words back…



  2. Greg Turner September 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm // Reply

    Thanks for your article. IMHO, you don’t take the analysis far or deep enough. Go back to the barter days. If you have chickens and there another person who is hungry and has nothing to exchange for a chicken, what stops you from just giving that person a chicken to feed himself? I think the answer is that it would induce a feeling of lack, because then you would have one less chicken, less than you had before. In other words, you (as in all humans) maintain a sense of well being made out of ownership of material things, and to give away some thing with nothing exchanged in return reduces that sense of well being. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone knew that the true source of self is not in material things, and therefor would be free to give their gifts to those in need.


  3. Margarita September 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm // Reply

    Money is a self made construct. I come from Ex-communist country. My box was: “we can’t afford it”, “the rich people are thiefs and communists”, “you have to work hard for living” etc. Now, at 53, I understande that it is a self made prison. Yet, when I imagine myslef being financially OK, something strange happens – a very sharp physical pain goes through my entire body. Which means that this picture disagrees with my deep belief (deep means on a DNA level)that having money is not consisten with my exsistance. Intelectually, I know that I CAN change my programming. Deep inside, it is still the same. How to align myself is a matter of a great mistery. How to combine my spiritual awakening with the acceptance having money?


  4. Morgine September 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm // Reply


    I too have told a similar story myself. It began as something real and tangible and then evolved into something with little or no tangibility. I also know that many people would have not hesitated to give someone a chicken if they honestly needed one. I saw this kind of thing many times living in Iowa for five years, about 30 years ago. People took care of each other and did not expect things in return. So it does still exist in parts of our country today! It is a generalization to assume we are all like the people we live with in our own towns :).

    Then again, today we are awakening to reality creation and the part we play in all of this, which is so related to our ingrained thoughts and beliefs.

    I had an inspired conversation with a young child one day, who called himself a Highly Aware Being instead of Indigo or Crystal child. I asked him if he could explain “money” to me. He smiled ear to ear and walked back and forth across my picnic table thinking.

    He looked at me and asked me if I ever got up in the morning, worried I would not have enough air to breathe before going to bed? Of course not! He continued and wondered if I ever thought I would run out of air and there would not be enough? I told him I had never even contemplated that thought. I just assumed there would always be enough air.

    He then smiled at me and told me he had a secret to tell me. He whispered in my ear, “Morgine, money comes from the same place air does!! There is always more than enough!”

    He went onto explain it was old thoughts and ideas and beliefs in poverty, scarcity, deserving, and so much more which kept it away. In and of itself, it was just another part of “god”, because god was Everything! And when I finally understood that at a deeper level, my relationship with money would change.

    I am still working on that one beautiful thought at a time! And today I do understand that at such a deeper level!


  5. Joseph Tany September 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm // Reply

    it may be considered old fashion but let me just say that from my guts perspective, it does not matter how many are greedy as you are, and it’s not the greed which matters any more, but there are much more advanced learning areas which must be contained and by aligning with the old. the freed, you as well as others in the government, you are on the side the regression and i am not listening to you. i don’t even have an idea for how you recover which i am sure you don’t feel necessary..All the best anyways.. Joseph


  6. Morgine September 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm // Reply

    Maybe it is not Money at all which is the challenge. Perhaps it is only our limited perspective, our judgments, our mis-understanding about money’s very nature and essence, which is as Divine as anything else. As long as I “think” I am somehow lacking something or in need of fixing, this is the lens through which I experience myself and my entire life! If I do not have “enough” happiness, fun, friends, passion, love, money…. then I am “missing” something and need to find it, or create it, in order to become “whole and complete.”

    What if we each owned our own unique brilliance, seeing ourselves as perfect where we are right now and expanding into even more of who we can be instead? What if we saw everyone and our entire world from this new perspective? What if there is nothing lacking and it is only a flawed perspective which drags us down every day? What if we could look around with new eyes and find we are already wealthy and abundant in friendships, love, talents, health, home and food and clothing, a business, animal friends, living in nature, having a car, and so much more! We are alive in a world awakening into its Magnificence and Brilliance here and now! We can focus on our problems and keep creating more or expand into our own Brilliance and grow more of this instead. Our experience of money will transform when we shift our perspective from lack into our expanding brilliance which IS beginning to change our world already today!


  7. chris September 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm // Reply

    Jesus is quoted as having said “If you have two coats give one away”. That can be taken in two significantly different ways.

    (1) As a rule, a moral guideline for proper behavior.
    This is (only relatively) beneficial in a society or culture which is stuck in the mundane ego, (hell).

    (2) As a description of spontaneous kindness that accompanies transcendence, in which state there is no fear of lack, (heaven)

    To live by moral imperatives, or with concern for ones karma, even for those with relatively prosperous pleasant lives, is to live in hell when compared to true transcendence.

    Render unto Caesar what is Caesars.
    Seek first the kingdom of heaven (enlightenment, transcendence) and all other things will be fine.

    Heaven is at hand. It is not over there or coming later. It and all its potential and relief from discomfort and confusion are within you, yours now. It is just obscured by the machinations, the compulsive conceptualization of the ego.

    Meditate, Invite your worries to a well deserved rest.


  8. Christine Hoeflich September 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm // Reply

    Greg, Where can one find people who give away rent for free?

    The true sense of self (your higher self) doesn’t require any material things, true. However, your higher self resides in a vehicle called a human body and the human body needs shelter, food and clothing, shoes, etc. Spiritual teachers also belong to this category.

    What a discussion.


  9. Vera Poole September 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm // Reply

    Hi Arjuna
    I was late for the call please send me a replay if possible. I am looking forward to it. as I was looking forward to this call. Thank you…..Vera


  10. Jeffrey T September 15, 2010 at 6:26 pm // Reply

    “This is like this…because that is like that.” Co-dependent, or interdependent arising/creation. Mama always said, “If your heart’s not in it, keep your other parts out!”
    ‘Love’ is a four-letter word-symbol that is thrown about quite a lot.
    And like ‘love,’ ‘God’ is a similar word-symbol in that it refers to a vast, ever-present, yet subtle entity or essence that cannot be measured, owned, controlled, bought, nor sold…though many act as if such were possible, and in ignorant desperation, many others are quick to pay their asking price…and the heart of liberation in each is thereby besmirched.
    But why this talk of ‘love’ and ‘God,’ when the subject here is ‘money’? Because, in our attempt to understand the nature of any thing, there is much understanding to be gained from attention to what the thing is NOT.
    What I notice in many relationships gone very sour is the significant role played therein by money. F’rinstance, in the relationship between a lawyer and a client, a financier and a developer, a congressional representative and a corporate lobbyist for a weapons manufacturer or pharmaceuticals manufacturer, a drug dealer and a drug buyer, a wife and husband, a landlord and a tenant/renter, a bank lender and a borrower,to name a few.
    As the words ‘love’ and ‘God’ are tossed about rather freely and easily, it’s not surprising that these two might even turn up in the same sentence, e.g., “God is Love.” Regardless of whether or not there is any portion of this statement that is ‘true,’ therein exists nevertheless a clue or two: perhaps,since ‘God’ refers to that which is infinite, eternal, and ubiquitous, then, too, might true love be considered similarly infinite, eternal, and ubiquitous by close association. In reverse, we might make the assumptions that since love is merciful, compassionate, and generous…then so too is God merciful, compassionate, and generous. And what has this to do with money? So far,…not much.
    Another word that is given much talk, and so implying it has significant value to us, is ‘family.’ Now it is generally taken for granted—at least outside the home—that this idea, family, has much in common with the word ‘love.’ My main gleaning of the meaning for the connction between ‘family’ and ‘love’ is this: often (though not always and ever), one finds oneself moved to *freely share* the gifts and necessities of life…sans monetary requirements & obligations, between family members. The mother does not demand a price from the babe she suckles at her breast, and this free offering of meals often extends throughout life in many (most?)families, certainly in countries less oriented to money and materialism as The United States of America.
    So, going back, I note that relationships based on monetary demand/exchange are often not truly mutually nurturing, loving, or truly unifying relations, in fact often produce quite antagonistic emotions between the parties involved.
    To do and accomplish the genuine necessities of life, we do not need money; these necessities have always been accomplished, regardless. For contemporary institutions to accomplish many unnecessary and destructive things, it does require money.
    I will assume that the reasons that both Jesus and Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, after their awakening, were moved to cease using money was founded in very basic reasons of universal principle. I’m not sure about the Buddha, (and of course, neither am I sure about Jesus) but it is recorded that Jesus spoke some words similar in meaning to this: One cannot serve both the Eternal Real God of Life-Love-Truth-Peace-Wholeyness..AND serve the god of mammon, i.e., the god of temporal earthly values, form, status!
    It seems to me that what the world needs now is love—not merely in word, or even in deed, but primarily in awareness, i.e., the ‘divine’ awareness of underlying unity…such that yin makes no monetary demand on the yang—or vice-versa—in order to continue upholding balance in the created universe….that the Sun and moon make no demand on the earth and its inhabitants for providing endlessly dependable amounts of life-giving light and warmth; that the heart make no monetary demand on the lungs for pumping blood to it and all other organs in the body; as the lungs places no demand on the heart or the rest of the body for oxygenating the blood…
    It seems to me if people stopped demanding rents, mortgages and taxes, then there would be no need to pay rents, mortgages, taxes. And if there were no politician-legislators writing restrictive laws (in contrast to a higher more real, eternal, and liberating law, often named ‘Love’), then there would be no criminals, police, or judges. If there were not inequality built into monetary systems, there would be no inordinately poor and no exorbitantly wealthy. Through inequality, society prepares the crime, and the person bereft of natural ancient rights to land and food, may thereby feel bound to commit a crime in order to sidestep the restrictive and imbalanced socio-economic conditions brought about by modern monetary systems.
    Money is a ‘win/lose’ paradigm. A conscious being knows we have the capacity to live in ‘WIN/WIN’ social constructs. By a person’s choices made in this matter, so may their heart be known.


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