How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Money

(Photo above by Cotton Bro / Pexels)

We think about it each day. What if I won the lottery or came into an unexpected inheritance? How would I live the fancy life?

Of course, for whatever amount of joy money might bring into our life, it is also a source of great anxiety, fear and suffering. We all need money to survive in this world, but, beyond meeting our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, does having more of it guarantee happiness? What does Buddhism have to say about money and how we can develop a healthy relationship to it?

Money: Good or Bad?

Is money a great thing or the root of all evil?

Buddhism teaches that money is neither inherently good nor bad, but it can take on good or bad qualities depending on how we use it. Using money to feed a destructive addiction or to hurt another person is bad, while using money to support a worthy cause is good.

The 13th-century Buddhist teacher Nichiren writes,

Hungry spirits perceive the Ganges River as fire, human beings perceive it as water, and heavenly beings perceive it as amrita.

Nichiren Daishonin

How we perceive the world and use the resources in our environment are determined by what’s in our hearts. Is it greed or compassion? Anger or a wish to help others?

That is why instead of chasing wealth as means to our happiness, it is better to change what is in our hearts. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes that chasing money, status or fame is as fleeting as “bubbles on the water.” He goes on to explain:

To illustrate, if people with little money manage to stay at a first-rate hotel by resorting to unreasonable measures, then even though they may enjoy fine living there for a time, eventually the truth will come out, and they will have to return to their shabby homes. Using the same analogy, it could be said that the purpose of Buddhist practice, rather than being able to check into a nice hotel, is to securely rebuild one’s home. Through our practice we develop a self that is like a splendid palace. To do so, we must first understand the fundamental causes of our suffering—the places where the roof leaks or where there are drafts—and fundamentally repair these areas, and so create a comfortable and homey state of life.

Daisaku Ikeda

In other words, Buddhist practice lies in perceiving that the cause of suffering is none other than one’s own illusions and then struggling to transform the self so as to conquer these illusions.

Daisaku Ikeda

In order to build a solid home, so to speak, we need to first chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to bring out the wisdom, courage and compassion to see what we can change in our hearts.

For instance, if we chant to overcome our financial problems but still spend $11 for every $10 we earn, we are, in essence, avoiding the hard work of repairing our “leaky roof” in our lives. We can also ask whether money is something we use or something we are controlled by. Changing these underlying attitudes allows us to build the most wonderful palace in our lives.

It’s OK to chant for money

Though chanting for money might not sound profound to some, Buddhism views it from a deeper perspective.

Buddhism teaches the principle of “earthly desires equal enlightenment.” Fulfilling our honest, real desires like financial security or getting out of student loan debt requires us to bring out our enlightened qualities like our courage, wisdom and compassion to achieve them.

Money doesn’t have to be an expression of our greed or the worst parts of our heart. It can be the cause for us to transform something deep in our lives. Money, it’s not you, it’s me.

Our desire to get out of debt or build a dream music studio can give us the inspiration needed to chant each day. And once we start chanting, we can’t help but develop a heart to care for others and make an impact on the world. Gradually we transform all our desires into the fuel for developing a richer, happier and more fulfilling life.

It’s also important to think about why we want to fulfill our desires. Is it simply for ourselves or because we want to inspire others? Looking at it from this viewpoint can inspire us more deeply to achieve something incredible, especially when we reach an impasse.

So, what may have once been a prayer to “keep up with the Joneses” transforms into a determination to use our experiences to give hope to others and show them that they, too, can lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

Money doesn’t have to be an expression of our greed or the worst parts of our heart. It can be the cause for us to transform something deep in our lives. Money, it’s not you, it’s me.

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