I love exploring different religions, different concepts on how to experience spirituality. Buddhism has been on my mind a lot lately, and I couldn’t help but notice the practical applications of its tenets. They can be applied to almost any area of life, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on how they could be positively applied to finances with you all today:
The 8 Fold Path of Buddhism
1. Right View
The right view encompasses two of the other major tents of Buddhism: the 3 Marks of Existence and the 4 Noble Truths. Essentially it means you have to be looking at life out the right window to be able to see the path to happiness. To orient yourself to that window, you should internalize these beliefs:
The 3 Marks of Existence
- Impermanence. Nothing in this life is forever. You can either let that depress you, or allow it to empower you. While it’s crushing to know that the people and things we love most in this life will not exist ad infinitum, it’s liberating to know that the causes of our suffering are incapable of lasting forever, too. It gives us some hope for eventual relief. In personal finance, that suffering may be caused by debt, unemployment, or poverty. We can usually rid ourselves of these shackles if we internalize this concept of impermanence and act upon it, but in the rare cases where we cannot, we can look forward to relief of the mental/emotional suffering they create for us.
- Not-self. This is a concept that we are all one, down to the electrons we trade with the objects around us simply because we exist in a physical world. We’re one with each other, we’re one with our environments. In a very literal way. When we can wrap our heads around that, we tend to treat others and the world around us better. (This one is a little less direct of a connection, but if you treat your belongings and the people in your life better, those objects and relationships are going to last a lot longer, meaning you’re not spending money trying to replace them every few years.)
- Suffering. Because we exist, we suffer. We are subject to pain, emotionally and physically. We’re not to avoid it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. Rather, we’re to embrace it, and allow it to build empathy and compassion towards others, making this world a better place. Have you ever blindly hated someone of a different socioeconomic class than you? Thought there must be a reason that person was poor or that they are somehow mooching off of you to exist? Have you ever hated someone because they were rich, thinking that they had no problems because their life must have been handed to them on a silver platter? Instead of hating, which only poisons your own disposition, and sometimes dampens the day of the object of your scorn, recognize that we all have suffering, and seek out ways to help those around you rather than tearing them down. It may be giving via financial means, or it may be listening to real or perceived financial problems. A listening ear can go a long way to reducing someone’s stress.
The 4 Noble Truths
- Life is suffering. Much like number three in the Marks of Existence.
- Suffering is caused by craving and aversion. Do you know what else is caused by craving and aversion? Debt. You want it now. So you buy now. But won’t look at your end of month statement until “later.” Inability to improve station/inability to save. We’ve been wanting to buy a house for a while. Money is tight, but we could have been doing better to save. The number seemed too big, so we avoided tackling it seriously for a while. We both averted our savings (for the house anyways,) and succumbed to our cravings by using that money to do other things that sounded more “fun.”
- Suffering can be overcome. Here’s the happy part! Remember how we said nothing is permanent? Suffering can be overcome, and that includes your seemingly insurmountable pile of debt, the institutionalization of the poverty cycle, or the depression that accompanies your financial stress.
- Acceptance of and adherence to the 8 Fold Path. Which we are currently discussing.
2. Right Intention
Right intention is all about awareness. Life is suffering, so no matter what we do we will have some kind of suffering. What we can control is how react to it. The next time you bust out the plastic, think about why you’re doing it. Is there some underlying pain you are trying to quell? Have you fallen victim to advertising overlords? When you get another bill in the mail that you can’t afford, how to you react to it? Do you shut down, or do you get motivated to get out there and increase your income? When your brother comes to you asking for a loan, do you say no because you really don’t have the money, or do you say no because you think you’ll never see it back? (I’m all about gifting money whenever someone asks for a loan. If I have it to loan, I have it to give. If I can’t give it then I really don’t have enough, though I’ll try to find another way to help out.)
Understanding why we do things reveals our intentions. Once we’re honest about what those intentions are, we can start to alter them and put them into alignment with the good, the positive.
3. Right Action
We can have all the right intentions, but if we don’t act upon them it really doesn’t matter all that much. Intending to start saving for retirement isn’t the same as starting today. The world will remind of you of that when you’re 65 and missing out on a ton of interest money you could have had if you had just started 10, 5, 2 years earlier. Debt doesn’t pay itself off because you meant to. Those in need don’t have food because you wanted to donate to charity.
There’s another side to this, too. Acting upon good intentions will make your world and the world of those around you a better place, but not acting on bad intentions can be just as powerful. Recognizing your intentions are ill-willed can save those around you from a lot of suffering, which falls into the “helping not harming” part of Buddhism. Are you buying designer clothes because you really want, but don’t need, them? While you make a lot of money and your college-bound kid has no chance of getting any aid? Recognize that intention for the selfishness that it is, and don’t buy that shirt. Then reorient your intentions so you can take a positive action, like throwing that money into your 529 plan or ESA.
This post will be continued in Part 2 next Monday….