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How The Teachings Of Buddha Can Help Heal Our Relationship With Money

Karen McAllister September 2020

Money Kuel Category Expert: Karen McAllister

I woke up on Saturday to wildfire smoke out my front window. It was thick and heavy and we couldn’t leave our residence. I live about 1500km from the California wildfires in the interior of British Columbia.

My eyes are sore, my throat itchy, and a headache has been sitting in my head hammering away since the smoke landed. It feels like the whole continent is suffering the pain and the effects. We are all so interdependent, I thought.

I live at a meditation center and work as a meditation teacher and money coach. And, we sit as a community every morning and evening together, holding all the people affected by the wildfires in our hearts.

My spiritual side is devoting my practice to all those suffering from the fires raging through the Western US. While, my money coach side contemplates a healthier political and economic system that places more value on nature and people than on money. I hope for a day where we can return to being treated more like citizens and less like consumers.

The Fire – Symbolic And Literal:

“Putting out these fires is the goal of Buddhist practice.”

Perhaps the current fire situation is an outer manifestation of an inner imbalance in the human race.

My spiritual lineage is Buddhist. Fire is a central metaphor of Buddhism, usually as a negative quality of mind or consciousness. Putting out these fires is the goal of Buddhist practice. Maybe, perhaps, the planet is actually helping us with this.

Buddha’s Three Poisons:

In his early teachings, the Buddha identified “three poisons”,  Three negative qualities of the mind that cause most of the problems in the world. The three poisons are: greed (​raga​, also translated as lust), hatred (​dvesha​, or anger), and delusion (​moha​, or ignorance).

“measuring our self-worth by how much we have in our bank account”

From my work with clients and organizations in their relationship with money, these negative qualities of the mind seem to come up in our sessions again and again. We tend to fill up our houses with things we don’t need. Spend more time accumulating and less time letting this go. We take more than we need, desperately seeking meaning in our greed and overconsumption.

Lynn Twist from the Soul of Money Institute speaks to an unconscious assumption that many people carry. Most of us are unaware, but many of us measure our self-worth by how much we have in our bank account. Gosh, think of the suffering of trying to keep up with the Joneses here.

Anger To Spare:

There is so much opportunity to be angry with what our governments are doing or not doing. Or, about the great number of inequality in wealth distribution. According to a study from Harvard University, most of the wealth in the US is held by the top 20% of the population. This unequal distribution of wealth particularly affects people of color, including black and indigenous communities. There is a lot to be angry about.

I find it scandalous that a few billionaires have used their money to dominate the US elections. They’ve changed the American political system to meet their agenda at the expense of freedom, democracy, and clarity.

The arising of these feelings in today’s climate is justified. But, the more courageous work is to recognize how our own greed, hatred, and delusion around our relationship with money contributes to the harm in the world. And, learning to manage our feelings can help us to make better decisions around using money as a work for love.

Three Antidotes For The Poison:

“What thoughts give rise to generosity?”

In Buddhism, the three poisons are opposed by three positive attitudes essential to liberation from our dissatisfaction and suffering: generosity (​dana​), lovingkindness (​maitri​, Pali: m​ etta​), and wisdom (​prajna​). Buddhist practice is about recognizing these positives for positives and growing them and recognizing the poisons for the poisons and letting them go.

So, what are your thoughts around this man-made resource called money? What mental attitudes have you projected onto your relationship with money? What thoughts give rise to generosity? And, what is it to be generous?
Can you identify the thoughts that give rise to using money for love, not greed? Lastly, what thoughts give rise to using money wisely, not coming from a place of ignorance or fear?

Money Trauma:

Personally, I feel we have a lot of trauma around money. And I believe we can heal from it. This can lead to improved relationships with others, more compassion, openness, appreciation for life, spiritual growth, personal strength, and a renewed sense of possibilities in the world.

I’d like to end with the fire metaphor again. The word nirvana is derived from the extinguishing of fire. Sariputra, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, was once asked, “What is nirvana?” He answered, “The destruction of greed, the destruction of anger, the destruction of delusion—this is nirvana.” What would our planet, our connection with each other, look like if we cleared up our shame, our unconscious assumptions, around money as a human species?

May this article inspire you to initiate a journey towards healing your relationship with money.

About the Author:

Karen has worked with over 100 clients, helping them untangle their money issues and to become more effective in their work because of it. To do this, Karen has studied financial issues extensively from both the practical, behavioral, and the emotional perspectives.

She has been certified by Deborah Price of the The Money Coaching Institute as a Certified Money Coach, a Couples Money Coach, and a Business Archetype Coach. She has studied with Lynne Twist from the Soul of Money Institute for two years on Mastering your Money and Transforming your Life, including studies in Lynne’s Fundraising from the Heart program. Checkout Karen’s site TheMindfulMoneyCoach. Or, you can email Karen directly at the TheMindfulMoneyCoach.