Posted on May 4th, 2018

by Ven. Aggamaha Pandita Dr. Walpola Piyananda Chief Sangha Nayake of America (Courtesy The Island)

April 27, 2018, 9:01 pm

Some scholars who have read very little of Buddhist literature have stated that Buddhism is a religion meant only for persons who have renounced household life. Others have tried to show it as a kind of pessimistic religion or, due to their prejudice or lack of knowledge of Buddhism, have tried to prove that Buddhism is a kind of religion hostile to world progress.

But unprejudiced and broadminded scholars have honestly and openly praised it declaring its greatness and practicality for every time. One of the great Pali scholars, the late Mrs. Rhys Davids, said in the introduction to the English translation of Sigalovadasuttanta in Digha-nikaya:

“This Suttanta is called the Vinaya of the Houseman. Hence, in one who practices what he has been taught in it, growth is to be looked for, and not decay.’ And truly we may say even now of this Vinaya, or the code of discipline, so fundamental are the human interests involved, so sane and wide is the wisdom that envisages them, that the utterances are as fresh and practically as binding today and here as they were then at Rajagaha.” (p. 169 Dial. iii)

This world is like a school in which there are beings of varied mental levels. A teacher uses toys and pictures and the like when he teaches the children in kindergarten. The pupils of the middle forms are taught lessons suitable to their level. The students of the highest forms are taught lessons dealing with higher subjects like higher mathematics etc. The Lord Buddha saw the world as a school of many forms and gave instruction suitable to the mental level of his listeners.

One day a poor Brahmin came to the Lord Buddha and said, “Master Gautama, I am a poor person and am going to a distant city to seek a job with a view to earning some wealth. Will you kindly give me some instruction in order to be successful in my job?” The Lord agreed and instructed him on the way to be successful. Some time passed and the Brahmin returned a rich man.

On one occasion the Lord arrived at a village called Veludvaragama. The villagers said to him, “Lord, we are householders working to maintain our families, and have many responsibilities. We do not have any time to devote to higher religious practices. We would like you to instruct us on these two things, to live our present life peacefully and to be born into a happy state after our death.” The Lord knowing their mentality gave instructions to meet their needs.

Concerning the accumulation of wealth Anathapindika, one of His lay devotees, was told that there were five benefits to earning wealth. First, a person can use his wealth to supply all his needs in order to live a healthy, happy and long life. Secondly, a person’s wealth can be used to look after his parents when they are sick, old or in need of his support. Thirdly, a person can support his wife and children, supplying all their needs. A person can help his relatives, friends, servants and others; this is the fourth merit of wealth.

The recluses and priests who have given up household life devote their time for higher religious practices. They depend on the support of the laity which a wealthy person could easily do for them and share in their virtues to be born into a happy state after death. This is the fifth merit of the wealth.

The Buddha taught that it was easier for a rich man to enter heaven, if he properly spent his wealth and fulfilled his duties. It is not wealth but miserliness and other wrong actions that obstruct the way to heaven. He said, “Certainly the miserly cannot go to heaven (whether they are rich or poor).” (Samyutta, Devata)

He praised the generosity of the wealthy saying, “The rich man who gives or helps others and also enjoys himself will be praised here and will go to heaven after death.” (Samyutta, Devata)

Now to answer the question of how can one earn wealth, the Lord taught many discourses like Ujjaya-Sutta, Vyagghapajja-Sutta, Sigalovada-sutta with instructions for successfully earning wealth. His instructions were that a person should be endowed with four things. The first one is to be skilled, earnest and energetic. One should not let slight cold, slight heat, slight rain and the like prevent one from working. Although some times obstacles may cause failure, one should not give up. One should persevere and eventually become successful. At every step, the Lord said, one should be mindful, far-seeing and cautious.

The second thing a businessperson should have is ‘arakkha-sampada,’ which means ‘the ability to protect their wealth.’ This implies being careful in keeping what one earns from being dissipated. The Lord said there were many ways this may happen and therefore one should be careful and vigilant. Sometimes a natural disaster like fire or flood might consume one’s wealth. Sometimes ill-disposed heirs would try to take away one’s wealth. Falling into bad habits like gambling, debauchery and drunkenness drags one down into poverty. One should be on good terms with the government; otherwise one’s wealth could possibly be confiscated. As there are so many ways that could lead to a person’s degradation, one must be vigilant and very careful in keeping one’s wealth from being wasted.

The third thing an earner should be possessed of is ‘Kalyanamittata’ which means ‘having good companions who instruct, help and encourage in carrying out one’s business. A person’s kind parents, relatives, teachers, monks, recluses or priests, whosoever are wise and compassionate hoping for one’s success are good friends or companions. Not finding good companions, one should avoid association with persons who follow evil ways. It is better to keep oneself to oneself carrying out working alone.

The fourth point is ‘sama-jivikata’ which means a balanced or simple way of living. A person in business should spend their money very carefully. Expenditures should not exceed income. If a person with a small income imitates the ways of the rich, before long they fall into insolvency and will become a failure. Therefore the Lord advised every earner to live his life as simply as possible. This does not mean that he should live meanly. If one’s income is great but they live meanly as a stingy person, their effort in earning wealth is useless.

In Sigalovada-sutta, the Lord advised the youth Sigalaka to divide his income into four parts: one portion to be spent for daily expenses; two portions to be used for the advancement of his business; the last part to be deposited carefully for use in the future in case of emergencies.

The Lord said, “Poverty is an ordeal for the person living a household life.” Therefore the Lord Buddha’s advice to householders was to try to earn wealth and to spend it properly to be able to live a useful life.

The Lord speaking about the merchant who would be successful in his business said: “A salesman should know the quality of the goods he buys; know their price; the amount of the profit he will gain; be skilled in the art of buying and selling; be honest and trustworthy so that wealthy would deposit their money under his care.” (Ang. I p. 116)

On another occasion the Lord said that a trader should be active during the day: morning, noon and afternoon. If not, he would not be successful. (pp.114, 115 Ang. i)

Some people live simply, contented with a small amount of income. But if a person expects to do a great service by helping people who are in need, he should try to earn much wealth. If such a person expects to earn much wealth, he must be virtuous, vigilant and energetic. One will never be poor vigilantly following the Lord’s instructions.

At this point one might ask: Isn’t poverty a result of an unwholesome karma from a past life? Poverty may be a result either of a past karma or of a present karma or of both. But most of such karmas can be suppressed and overcome by wise and far seeing steps taken in this life.

Most often it is according to the actions taken in the present life that a past karma, good or bad, rises up and finds the opportunity to give its result. Therefore the effort that is made at present is the preeminent cause of a person’s progress or failure in the case of the majority of people. “Utthahatha, ma pamadattha,” “Get up, loiter not.” Is the Buddha’s frequent advice to the world.

Let us see further what the Buddha has said about wealth and other necessities of life, “these ten things are desirable, pleasing and charming, but hard to achieve in the world. They are Wealth, Beauty, Health, Virtue, Life of holy celibacy, Real friends, Erudition, Wisdom, Genuine teaching, and To be born in heavens. These are all desirable, pleasing and charming, but hard to achieve. (p. 134 Ang. v)

Then there are ten things that are obstacles: Laziness and lack of activity are obstacles to wealth; Lack of finery and lack of adornment are obstacles to beauty; Following unhygienic ways, an obstacle to health. Keeping company with people of foul character is an obstacle to virtue. Unrestraint of senses is an obstacle to life of holy celibacy. Deceit is an obstacle to friends. Lack of recitation and re-reading are obstacles to erudition. Not to listen and not to ask questions are obstacles to wisdom. Lack of practice and lack of contemplation are obstacles to Dhamma. Habitually following evil ways is the obstacle to birth in the heavens. (p. 135 Ang. v)

A person who expects to achieve success both in worldly or religious life should avoid these obstacles and follow the way of growth to success. The Buddha expounded the way to growth and progress as follows: “by increasing in the ten growths, the noble disciple (i.e. a lay follower of a Buddha) grows by taking hold of the essential; taking hold of the best for his progress. One grows in landed property; in wealth and granary; in children and wife; in servants and workers; in four-footed beasts (i.e. cattle and sheep); in faith and virtue; in erudition, and in generosity and wisdom.” (p. 136 Ang. v)

From these words of the Buddha, it is very clear that he valued the growth in wealth and family life as a noble endeavor.

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