Does the desire for prosperity conflict with religious values?
Rev. RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.
There is the false impression that all Buddhists want to abandon material prosperity, shave their heads and relocate to a mountain top. The Buddhaway asks no such absurd behaviour.
Buddhists are guided by precepts which are few, simple and open-ended.
They allow us to interpret them according to our circumstance, aspiration and the larger body of Buddhist teaching. For us, the relevant precept here would be the eighth, which, in part, says: “I vow to challenge the promises of consumption, to restrain my use of luxuries, to avoid ... exploitation of the vulnerable ... and find skilful ways to use my material prosperity to fulfil all (eight) of these vows.”
Material prosperity in the Buddhist life is never an end in itself, the way it can be for many secular people. Material prosperity is instrumental — it facilitates our fulfilling a larger purpose — compassionate service to all beings.
We understand that everything is transient and so prosperity itself is fleeting, never the solution to the predicament of human suffering. Further, we understand that prosperity comes at a cost to ourselves and others — people, animals and the environment.
The desire for prosperity is more important than what one possesses. Attachment, in the sense of grasping on to what is fleeting, is recognized as the cause of our sorrow. Should we, in the course of our lives, gain or lose wealth, this in itself is neither helpful or otherwise.
The crucial factors are the intention and action. A poor person can be as attached to a few coins as a millionaire to great wealth. A wealthy person can be a great and generous benefactor, using their wealth for the benefit of others. Are we trying to hold or inflate the ever-changing my-me-mine we imagine, or are we making use of this precious human life to effect the awakening of all our fellow beings?
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