In ‘Beef’, Amy exclaims to George, ‘Do you ever notice how it’s only people who have money that think money isn’t important? The Buddha is only the Buddha because he was a prince first, right? He had stuff to renounce!’ While these ideas might seem somewhat sensible, there express several misconceptions upon deeper contemplation. Especially if a statement seems to resonate, all the more should we analyse it for truthfulness.
First, even the rich do know that money is ‘important’ for their wealth. It is just that the richer they are, the less important they tend to think smaller amounts of money are. This is so in contrast to those less rich. Yet, those truly rich, who are able to preserve and grow their wealth do understand that larger amounts are made up of smaller amounts, thus unlikely to feel that money is totally ‘unimportant’ to them.
Second, it was not crucial that the Buddha had to be a rich royal prior to attainment of Buddhahood. As the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhartha was manifesting how being born in the lap of luxury is still inadequate for realisation of True Happiness – since even kings and queens are subject to ageing, sickness and death amidst other dissatisfactions. He was offering us all a grave reminder, that ‘money is not enough’.
Third, Prince Siddhartha did not renounce his status because he was sick of too much money or weary of material excesses. He did so to focus completely on seeking and walking the spiritual path to awakening. He was demonstrating how to dedicate full efforts to the accomplishment of Buddhahood, showing how there is a greater goal that transcends amassing of material wealth and worldly power.
Fourth, true renunciation is not merely the giving up of money and stuff; wealth and the material. In fact, both are useful for ensuring survival and well-being, especially for those not ready to become monastics. Even monastics need material support. While renunciates should aim to live frugally, to focus more time and efforts on furthering their spiritual lives, the real ‘stuff’ to renounce are non-physical – the Three Poisons of greed (attachment), hatred (aversion) and delusion (ignorance), which obstruct enlightenment.
Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!