Craving physical wealth oils the rounds of Samsara.
Accumulating spiritual wealth ends the rounds of Samsara.
The basic difficulty, from a Buddhist perspective, is that we are trying to resolve a spiritual problem… by identifying with something outside of ourselves, which can never confer the sense of reality we crave. We work hard to acquire a big bank account and all the things that society teaches us will make us happy, and then we cannot understand why they do not make us happy, why they do not resolve our sense that something is lacking. Is the reason really that we don’t have enough yet?
I think Buddhism give us the best metaphor to understand money: shunyata, the ‘emptiness’ that characterizes all phenomena. Nagarjuna warns us not to grab this snake by the wrong end, because there is no such thing as shunyata. It is a shorthand way to describe the interdependence of things, how nothing self-exists, because everything is part of something else. If we misunderstand the concept and cling to shunyata, the cure becomes worse than the disease. Money – also nothing in itself, nothing more than a socially agreed-upon symbol – remains indispensable today. But woe to those who grab this snake by the tail. As the Heart Sutra teaches, all form is empty, apart from the forms it takes, forms that we become less and less able to truly appreciate.
Another way to make this point is to say that money is not a thing but a process. Perhaps it’s best understood as an energy that is not really mine or yours. Those who understand that it is an empty, socially constructed symbol can use it wisely and compassionately to reduce the world’s suffering. Those who use it to become more real end up being used by it, their alienated sense of self clutching a blank check – a promissory note that can never be cashed. – David Loy