Perhaps we’ve even daydreamed a time or two about what we’d do if we received an unexpected inheritance or won the lottery.
For those of us not living in sprawling mansions—and even for those who do—money can be a source of great anxiety and suffering. There’s no denying that 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?
Let’s start with a simple question: Is money good or bad?
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. For example, money that is used to feed an addiction would be considered bad, while money used to contribute to the well-being of others may be considered good.
It is just as it is stated in Nichiren Daishonin’s letter “Reply to the Lay Priest Soya”: “Hungry spirits perceive the Ganges River as fire, human beings perceive it as water, and heavenly beings perceive it as amrita. Though the water is the same, it appears differently according to one’s karmic reward from the past.” How we perceive the world and use the resources in our environment is determined by our inner condition of life.
In The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, Ikeda Sensei describes wealth, status and fame as “ephemeral as bubbles on the water.” And he gives the following analogy to explain a life in which we seek happiness externally, ignorant of the deeper potential and purpose that reside within our lives:
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.
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.
In order to rebuild our home, so to speak, we must first and foremost chant Nam-myoho-rengekyo resolutely to the Gohonzon to generate the wisdom, courage and compassion necessary to achieve that aim.
For instance, if we chant to overcome our financial woes but still spend $11 for every $10 we earn, we are, in essence, avoiding the hard work of repairing our “leaky roof” and constructing the splendid palace that is our lives. The yardstick we can apply here is whether money is something we use or something we are controlled by.
Conventional wisdom holds that praying for something like having a better job or a bigger house runs counter to religious values, but Buddhism views life from a deeper dimension.
The Buddhist principle “earthly desires are enlightenment” explains that the Buddha’s enlightened wisdom can be found in the lives of ordinary people who are driven by their earthly desires, or deluded impulses.
We can chant to the Gohonzon and express our desires just as they are. And as we do so, we tap into our inherent Buddha nature, which manifests as compassion, wisdom and courage that gradually transform all our desires into the fuel for developing a richer, happier and more fulfilling life.
So what may have once been a prayer to “keep up with the Joneses” transforms into a determination to show actual proof of our Buddhist practice and use our experiences to inspire others and show them that they, too, can lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
In The New Human Revolution, Shin’ichi Yamamoto (Ikeda Sensei’s character in the novel) offers a man struggling with severe business challenges this perspective: “Are you only practicing this Buddhism to make money? Or are you trying to make your businesses a success so you can advance kosen-rufu? These two aims are poles apart.”
Japanese Flying Squirrels ~ Yosomono Photography
We were all born into this world with the mission to introduce this Buddhism to people in our communities and society, and enable everyone without exception to attain happiness. When you make that your life’s mission and strive your hardest in your Buddhist faith and practice, you’re able to manifest the life condition of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and you’ll experience immeasurable strength and wisdom welling up from within. Your business will succeed when you apply that strength and wisdom through hard work.
Our prayers and efforts to show actual proof of the greatness of the Mystic Law and help others become happy will yield greater, more lasting benefits over time. When we develop a heart to support others in this way, we are fulfilling our unique mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who are resolved in this age rife with suffering to use our own struggles and victories to help others realize their true potential.
Chanting to realize conspicuous benefits enables us also to gain inconspicuous benefits, which take longer to cultivate.
Speaking to youth, Sensei defined inconspicuous benefit as “good fortune accumulated slowly but steadily, like the growth of a tree or the rising of the tide, which results in the forging of a rich and expansive state of life. We might not discern any change from day to day, but as the years pass, it will be clear that we’ve become happy, that we’ve grown as individuals. This is inconspicuous benefit.”
So what does it mean to become a person of true wealth? In his February 18, 1990, address in Los Angeles, Sensei spoke on this topic, relaying that the word for millionaire, or wealthy person, in Japanese is choja. In Buddhist scriptures, he explained, this word has a different connotation— that of a person of virtue and influence. Sensei elaborates:
Nichiren Daishonin concludes his teaching, “Nichiren and his followers who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are the people of great virtue and influence (of whom the sutra speaks) who have gained the supreme cluster of jewels when they least expected it.”
Therefore, you who have embraced this great Law are wealthy people rich in life force who possess good fortune surpassing the wealth of even the world’s richest people. Material possessions cannot be enjoyed after death. But wealthy people rich in life force are able to freely make use of the treasures of the universe in lifetime after lifetime and enjoy a journey of eternal happiness. That is what constitutes proof of true victory in life.
When we dedicate our lives to practicing and spreading Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching of fundamental equality and respect, we develop true wealth—a free and unrestrained state of life, in which we can live with composure, unaffected by fleeting joys and sorrows. We accumulate such fortune by persevering in Buddhist practice, by not backsliding in faith. In so doing, we become truly wealthy people, millionaires of faith.
When we dedicate our lives to practicing and spreading Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching … we develop true wealth—a free and unrestrained state of life, in which we can live with composure, unaffected by fleeting joys and sorrows.
- “Reply to the Lay Priest Soya,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 486.
- The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4, p. 155.
- Ibid., pp. 157–58.
- The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, p. 121.
- Discussions on Youth, new edition, pp. 226–27.
- Gosho zenshu, p. 819.
- My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 35–36.