even if always rich.
even if always poor.
If someone is always poor but always content, he can be considered mentally and emotionally rich in inner peace.
However, if that someone is so content, then there would be no striving for any form of improvement to one’s finances, isn’t it?
If one is content with little and sees no need to acquire more, and really doesn’t need more, why not?
That’s good news for that individual, but bad news for those in business and bad news for the government.
We should tell the government to be content with a shrinking and ageing population, and not worry about declining birth rates.
The thing is what is little and what is more is very subjective. If we see a very poor person who is very content, should we be donating anything to him?
If every person is very content despite being very poor, then there would no chance to practise generosity for others, isn’t it?
Businesses and govts advocating endless consumerism are destroying the planet’s resources. The world is having overpopulation problems even if some countries have falling birth rates. If a person is content with little, why give more to him? NOT everyone will be content enough to give everyone no chance to be generous. Give to the animals then, if humans are doing well.
The issue is not about giving more to the person who is content with little, giving to others who are not content or even to animals. It’s more about the apparent advocation of the ‘contentment’ ideal or mindset.
The advocation of the contentment mindset practice should be qualified with other point of views and supported by facts of life.
If being content makes one ‘rich’ as written in the article, we should spread this thinking to everyone. This is so that even if not everyone will be content; just like no matter how we spread the Dharma, there will always be some who will not get to hear it right up to their deathbeds or chose not to carefully consider the merits of understanding more about the Dharma, we will have less to do on our hands as observers, as spiritual practitioners.
We will not feel guilty or ashamed of ourselves if a huge majority of the poor practise the contentment mindset. If a poor person is perfectly content with having little to eat and feeling weak almost every day and is homeless till the end of his life, indeed, why give him more?
Most wild animals can fend for themselves, except for pets. Many poor people in other countries seem to be content with picking up scraps from rubbish bins and so on as seen from documentaries.
Most of us seem to be content with samsara too. At least for those who do not really understand what Buddhism really teaches. I’m glad the Buddha was not ‘content’ to let the Dharma be seen and understood at our own pace and time. Since the Dharma or the Truth is around us all the time, we will eventually see it for ourselves right? At least for the calm, reflective and diligent ones.
What really should be said is ‘balanced contentment’. Not being content for the sake of it. Not thinking one is content when one is actually ignorant of how he can improve his own life in ways which will not lead to greed and resultant acts of unwholesome behaviour.
In other words, contentment born from mere ignorance is not true contentment. That is the worst kind of contentment, for it seeks neither to better oneself nor to equip oneself with more resources to help those around him.
Agree, but think u read too much into the article, which i read to be about real and proper contentment, not complacence (out of laziness or ignorance), or the word complacence would be used.
Well, it’s ok if you think so. But I prefer things to be more elaborative then to depend on the word ‘complacency’ to guide me. I don’t see any harm in taking the chance to explain more, even when most of us can almost instantly know the real intent of the article.
Even if one person wishes to know more in details about real and proper contentment, I would be happy to say just as much.
I think contentment is one of the more misunderstood idea in Buddhism. I personally like to read the suttas to understand what the Buddha himself had to say about contentment.
In the suttas, we find the Buddha on numerous occasion telling lay disciples to work hard and work smart if they wish to amass wealth. The Buddha’s attitude for lay Buddhists is that wealth and money is not a problem.
However, at the same time, the Buddha do tells us to avoid certain employment that involves killing or poison or fresh trade. The Buddha also tells us to keep the precepts and avoid stealing, be generous to ourselves, friends, family and others. I think taken together we can paint a accurate picture of what the Buddha’s attitude towards lay buddhist and wealth.
For monastics or those interested in Enlightenment, it’s a different story. They are encourated to live a simple lifestyle with only the bare necessity so as to dedicate more time to meditation and learning the dharma. “Contentment” here refers to freedom from clinging and craving. It does not mean one has not desires (voliational activity). Those with few wants will be able to progress faster in meditation. The Buddha worked very hard (out of compassion) but at the same time very contented (because no clinging and craving).
True contentment is of course what comes after diligent efforts; it is a fruit to be harvested; not that arrived at simply with complacence or doing nothing. It is the quality that comes after a good day’s work. It is the attitude of moderate living in all areas of life in terms of sense pleasures, which is tied to the material life, as reflected in the story below in terms of food. The Buddha described contentment broadly as the essence of true wealth. In this sense, the article above is in the same tone.
Dhammapada Verse 204
nibbanam paramam sukham.
Health is the greatest gift,
CONTENTMENT is the greatest WEALTH,
a trusted friend is the best relative,
Nibbana is the greatest bliss.
The Story of King Pasenadi of Kosala
While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (204) of this book, with reference to King Pasenadi of Kosala. One day, King Pasenadi of Kosala went to the Jetavana monastery after having his full morning meal. It was said that the king had eaten one quarter basket (about half a bushel) of rice with meat curry on that day; so while listening to the Buddha’s discourse he felt very sleepy and was nodding most of the time. Seeing him nodding, the Buddha advised him to take a little less rice everyday and to decrease the amount on a sliding scale to the minimum of one-sixteenth part of the original amount he was taking. The king did as he was told and found that by eating less he became thin, but he felt very much lighter and enjoyed much better health. When he told the Buddha about this, the Buddha said to him, “O king! Health is a great boon; contentment is a great wealth; a close and trusted friend is the best relative; Nibbana is the greatest bliss.”
If CONTENTMENT is the greatest WEALTH, discontentment, despite being wealthy, is the greatest poverty, because the quality of contentment is a crucial spiritual wealth – to be able to make peace with what one already has materially in the moment, and thus be glad in that aspect spiritually.
If someone is poor, for example, an old man collecting cardboard for recycling on Singapore streets, is diligent adequately, and content with whatever he makes, he is wealthy at heart in that sense. Of course, this doesn’t mean he can’t advance by working more efficiently or changing work in time to come, especially if it’s going to allow more time to be available for Dharma learning and practice with less concerns about making ends meet.
Although the Buddha encouraged diligence in moral work, lest it be mistaken, he never said it is crucial to amass wealth as in become rich in the conventional sense. He clearly encouraged saving for rainy days though. There is a difference. It is not as if laity must be and live rich. Frugal living, as reflected in the Dhammapada story, is encouraged for all, including kings.
Whether one is able to have enough wealth or not pivots upon where is the point of contentment too, as hinted by the Dhammapada quote above. E.g. the rich AND greedy are never content and thus never rich enough, thus never at peace due to constant craving. In this sense, material contentment matters more than material accumulation – especially on the deathbed.
In the mean time, it is indeed not a problem to be rich AND generous AND content. Wealth is indeed only good when spent on worthy purposes. It is never good in itself when not put to use, but merely amassed or splurged upon oneself for fleeting pleasures.
The Buddha clearly knew that wanting wealth can be a potential problem of endless greed for laity – which is why he encouraged contentment and generosity at the same time. If it is not a potential problem, he would not had made it a precept for monastics to avoid money-making.
Also, it is alright for laity to live bare minimal lifestyles to facilitate Dharma learning and practice too, as long as they are content and self-sustainable.
I agree with most of what you said actually. There are many people in “developing countries” who are materially poor but generally happy people. In Singapore, chinese are generally materially better off, but in a recent study on mental health, it is found that Chinese are clearly less happy than the other races. Bottom line is, contentment is indeed the greatest wealth because there is no end to greed.
Just a few additional comments:
1. Just to clarify, lest anyone misunderstood my previous comment. I am not suggesting that the Buddha said amassing wealth is crucial for lay Buddhists. I am saying that for lay Buddhists, it is not against Buddhist principle to want to amass wealth. It’s a general comment after reading the comments by wordless as well as my own discussion with Buddhists and non-Buddhists who are interested in the religion. There is a strong impression that to be a Buddhist, one cannot aspire to have more wealth. Which I think put off people from wanting to learn more about Buddhism and frankly, is not what the Buddha said.
2. I don’t agree that “discontentment, despite being wealthy, is the greatest poverty”. Being discontent and materially poor at the same time is a greater poverty. Crime & corruption is the highest when there is a great number of poor and a few very rich.
3. To go off tangent a little, I think it is not a good practice to quote one short phase from the suttas and then go and formulate a whole philosophy around it. To give an example, it is often quoted that the Buddha said “be an island upon yourselves”. I think this quote is partly responsible for a whole generation of “hermit Buddhists”. Latter generations of Buddhist have to quote another verse “spiritual friends are the whole of the spiritual life” to balance the first quote. To tell Buddhists it is ok (in fact crucial) to come together to form communities.
I think we should all read the suttas widely. On the topic on wealth & contention, the Buddha said many things to various people. If we want to know the Buddha’s attitude, we need to read the mass of teachings and then come to a coherent understand of it.
If the Buddha said ‘Contentment is the greatest wealth’, does that not directly make ‘Discontentment the greatest poverty’, even if one is wealthy?
On the idea that ‘being discontent and materially poor at the same time is a greater poverty’ than just being discontent, one is in reality always discontent when spiritually poor, regardless of great or little material well-being.
When one is content, one does not perceive oneself to be materially poor. In fact, one might even perceive oneself to be materially and spiritually rich. Even finding a scrap of food is wonderful. Even sunshine is a gift. This is in contrast with a rich but discontent man who finds little joy in his fine meals, who finds the sun a constant bother. Obviously, the poor man is the truly richer one – simply due to his greater ability to have contentment.
One is not necessarily discontent when materially poor. E.g. the well-practised monastics in the Buddha’s time are materially very poor, but spiritually rich, content and happy. The key is to be well-practised.
Based on the above example of monastics, the cause of discontentment is not really poverty but greed. The poor might suffer from discontentment due to greed, leading to crime. Yet, the rich can also suffer from discontentment due to wanting to be richer. Of course, while the poor should seek assistance when truly in need, they should strive to be self-sustainable too. And the rich should express their contentment with their material well-being by generous sharing with the poor.
Dis/contentment is a state of mind; not a material condition. In this sense, to be discontent is already to be poor both spiritually… and materially – as perceived by oneself – even if one is relatively materially rich. This is why contentment is indeed the greatest wealth.
When I say that being discontent and materially poor is a greater source of poverty, I am not making a philosophical stand. It is based on observation of what people are experiencing. In general the really poor worries have to worry more. Worry about when the next meal will come. If they have sick aged parents, they worry about how to pay for the medical bills. If they have children, they worry about their children’s education n nutrition and so on. Therefore i feel that being discontent and materially poor is a greater poverty.
I am not talking about a clinical-philosophical discussion on wherether being discontent+material poor equal more, less or equal poverty.
I have been to dump sites to give food to the poor living there. The children run around rubbish with no shoes, swim naked in filthy water, yet they look happy and contented as any, but that happiness & contentment is not based on wisdom & I don’t think that is the happiness or contentment the Buddha is talking about.
hmm.. again in general I agree with what you said, which is contentment is a great source of wealth and it is better to be contented but poor, than discontented but materially rich. I already said that in my previous post, so I am not sure are your comments directed to what I said or are you making a general statement.
Lastly, when the Buddha said contentment is the greatest wealth, does that mean discontentment is the greatest poverty? Well, yes, no & maybe. I feel the statement is meant to be qualitative, not quantitative. To take another example, in the 38 Blessings, the Buddha listed Nibbana as a “greatest blessing”, but he also list caring for one’s wife and children is a “greatest blessing”. Does that mean “blessing” of caring of one’s wife & children = the blessing of Nibbana? I don’t think so. Many things the Buddha said are not like mathematical equations (aka quantitative). At least that is my understanding.
Worries and discontentment do not always arise simultaneously. As in the dump site kids’ case, who are not only worry-free but content too. Indeed, their contentment is not genuine as it is not based on wisdom but from an immature asessement of the perils of their situation.
Adults living at the same dump site might have genuine worries and discontentment instead, but the point is, it is not always the case, even for adults.
In case this is seen as belittling the plight of most of the poor, it isn’t. Because it’s important to know exceptions are possible. In fact, it offers hope that the attitude of the mind can rise above one’s limiting material conditions. (As discussed, the poor should of course strive to self-sustain while the rich should offer support towards that direction.)
The Buddha himself was very exceptionally materially poor yet spiritually rich. Just because he is a rare one doesn’t mean we should not emulate his example, to move in that direction, to make do with the least of material goods and make the best of our mind. Of course, to each his own. As discussed, becoming rich yet generous is okay too, as long as the eventual goal of enlightenment is kept in mind.
The Buddha was talking about contentment in the material/sensual sense, as we can see in the story about food from which his line ‘Contentment is the greatest wealth’ originated. The quote in the article is along the same line. Such contentment requires wisdom, that leads to happiness too.
I share Dhammadinno’s observation and reflection on ‘being discontent and materially poor is a greater source of poverty’.
I feel both parties here agree on most general points about contentment, but each choosing different ways to point out the intricate or subtle nuances of what contentment is about from the Buddhist point of view.
It’s definitely worth encouraging everyone to follow the Buddha’s example, but at the same time, I urged balanced restrain in that pursuit.
The Buddha’s compassion and wisdom is like that of the rarest diamond – in every aspect of size, colour and so on.
While the point of ‘the attitude of the mind can rise above one’s limiting material conditions’ is perfectly true, we should also take note that everyone’s spiritual potential and affinities can be quite different.
Compassion is most needed when we see others who have not yet achieved the point when they can rise effortlessly above their limiting material conditions. Such group of people gives us the chance to practise dana or generosity.
It may sound strange or egoistic, but I am very grateful to have endless chances to practise some form of generosity, be it financial or emotional support from the point of a human being; before coming down to point of practising as a lay Buddhist. This is partly due to the observation that despite the diligent spread of the Dharma and also similar rational mindset practices, there would always remain a huge number among the world’s poor or rich that would not be able to achieve or maintain the state of mind that helps them rise about the state of their limiting conditions.
I heard from some Dharma talks that Arahants and other highly-enlightened beings can actually go without food for a long time. These are practical limits in which many people cannot realistically achieve in their short lifetimes. Such high-level forms of material and sensual non-dependency should be taken note and recognised as being possible, but not mindlessly encouraged or urged to be practised by everyone Those who are keen can try, but they should not persist as if Enlightenment depends solely on such mindset practices.
In short, without true wisdom, true contentment cannot be achieved. Everyone needs different circumstances to help them achieve the kind of wisdom achieved at different levels of spiritual enlightenment. We, as fellow practitioners, can only share what we have experienced at different stages of our lives, and practise mindfulness at not appearing and behaving as if one is belittling others for lack of effort or will to improve themselves (even when we are absolutely sure we are not guilty at all).
Re: ‘It’s definitely worth encouraging everyone to follow the Buddha’s example, but at the same time, I urged balanced restrain in that pursuit.’
There is no need for ‘balanced restraint’ for those willing and ready. The Buddha’s way of life in his time was not an extreme practice anyway. The Buddha spoke against extreme asceticism. All monastics are supposed to go in the Buddha’s direction, as much as they can and are willing. Those who are ready are ready. Those who think they are ready but unsure can try mindfully by going for short-term monkhood.
By ‘balanced restraint’, it means different things to different people with different needs and learning abilities and it might also apply to those willing and ready. Balanced restraint doesn’t not mean one is not willing and ready.
Final word on ‘being discontent and materially poor is a greater source of poverty’, being poor usually means one will also have less access to education, proper nutrition, healthcare. They are also open to abuse by the powerful and less able to seek help, that is why I feel its a ‘greater source of poverty’. – The reason why i keep pressing this point is I sense that at time the discussion tends to drift towards theoretical-philosophical discussion..
I agree with wordless on “balance restraint”. I appreciate the TDE blogger’s constant focus on aspiring for greater spiritual development. But not everyone is on the same level and too strong a push is counter productive and can do more harm (in fact it already is). I mix around with a lot of ‘cultural buddhists’. And one barrier to them wanting to learn more about buddhism is the impression they got that to be a real Buddhist, one need to have no attachment, live poorly etc etc.. and impression driven by “zealous” advocate.
This might or might not be connected…
1. There was never denial of general disadvantages of being poor.
2. There was encouragement of the poor to strive to better their conditions.
3. There was never denial of general advantages of being rich.
4. There was encouragement of the rich to strive to be more generous to help the poor.
5. There is no mention that all should settle for the materially minimal and be content if not ready. But if one can, why not?
6. There is nothing wrong with keeping a lofty spiritual ideal in mind for a sense of direction, whether the goal is far or near, easy to reach or not. It is not mere theory, but a practice to be practised; just as Buddhahood is to be practised towards.
7. Whether as a layperson or monastic, the Middle Path is to be trod at every point in time. There was no suggestion of ‘unbalance’ or ‘non-restraint’.
8. There was no mention that everyone is at the same level, or any over-pushing.
9. We need all kinds of Buddhist writings in all forms of media in the world. It is impossible for any brief article to state all considerations. That would be a book; not an article. The article is a very simple concept linked to the Buddha’s words spoken over a very simple occasion, when the King ate too much curry, who realised he could be happier with less greed.
10. There was zealous advocating of one who lives without money… who however has many supporters handling expenses. That’s why money is never a concern. This can be misleading, not reflecting life for the majority.
11. On the idea that one must be a super practitioner to be a Buddhist, that person would already be a Buddha, with no need to practise further. This can be shared to emphasise a path is needed to be walked to reach the goal.
12. There are indeed wonderful and real Buddhist practitioners with little attachment, and simple living too. It’s wonderful that there are both lay and monastic Buddhists moving in that direction. It’s also wonderful that there are the rich and generous. Hopefully, everyone is able to keep the ultimate aim in mind and not lose their way. Life is short. May all choose what to pursue wisely – advancement MORE in the material or MORE in the spiritual. (One cannot be brought to the next life.)
How much is too much curry? How much is enough? Back to my tom yam rice… just a quarter bowl… really!
True enjoyment of life (Contentment) does not depend on how much we have, But on becoming one with life.
Rich is the product of generosity, loving kindness towards the less fortunate in previous lives. Poor can become rich by being supportive of others’ charitable deeds, generosity and loving kindness. Chanting of sutra and buddha name are also developing blessing among others. Namo Amitabha
I agree that practice of generosity, kindness & being supportive of charitable endeavors are core Buddhist practices. Personally, these are some of the impt practices I do as a Buddhist. Also, if we believe in Karma, these practices are an impt condition for future wealth in lives. So its win win.
However, if we wish to gain wealth (in this life), the most impt things to do are, to develop skillsets that are valued in our modern world, work v hard & work smart, be frugal & don’t develop bad habits like gambling or womenising. These are the most impt Karma (action) for gaining wealth in this life.
Apart from people who inherent their wealth or are very lucky (win a lottery), everyone who gain wealth in this life did all of the above.
This is an observation I made (not refering to you Ken), that when we see someone “successful”(spiritually advance or Buddhist speakers who could inspire many ppl or someone who is rich etc), we Buddhists frequently think that it must be due to some previous karma. – But we often forget to see the huge amt of effort he/she put in THIS lifetime to develop & build those successes. Many Buddhists can’t seems to think out of this (karma/past-life) box.
Wealth when used well is good, but it is not easy to ensure it will always be used well, life after life, due to possible spiritual backsliding, especially in future lives when there might be unmindfulness of the Dharma learnt.
As such, wealth when not used wisely can be a big problem, both in this and future lives, as realistically described by Master Yin Guang, the 13th Pure Land Patriarch, due to the problem of 3 lifetimes 三世冤:
On the idea that lottery is won by those who ‘are very lucky’, the Buddha never taught the existence of luck. Even sudden windfalls are expressions of karma. And it is not always for the better, as illustrated by Master Yin Guang. Studies show too, that most who strike it big suddenly don’t become substantially happier in the long run:
‘History has shown that winning huge sums of money in the lottery doesn’t equate to happiness. Nor does it mean your financial troubles are over once and for all. In fact, a huge cash windfall can lead to a downfall.’
Thus, the conditions for the abilty to have and sustain great wealth are USUALLY accumulated not just in a single lifetime, but across more, INCLUDING efforts in this life. For example, it takes lifetimes to build up good saving and spending habits to amass wealth.
All in all, wealth can be useful but to those who lack wisdom, mismanagement of great wealth can lead to great suffering. May we remember wealth is but a tool, and not an ultimate refuge. Not a single cent can be brought to the next life. In this sense, spiritual wealth endures more, and is more precious. It is that which leads to liberation.
The benefits, danger & limit of money & wealth have been repeated many times in this discussion so i need not touch on it anymore.
My point, when responding to Ken, is really that NOW is the most impt time. we may have good/bad kamma from the past, but there is always something we can do NOW.
So, depending on our goals, what we need to do may differ. If sick, see doctor NOW, if want to be healthy, start to eat healthy & excerise NOW. if want weath, work hard & smart NOW. If want to have good relationship with ppl ard us, develop EQ NOW. – no need to try to build merits so that in the future we can have what we aspire for.
Money cannot buy you happiness. Having a balanced life is priceless. I know of a person who won a million from TOTO but the next thing she wants to do is to commit suicide.*true story*
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