LAYPERSONS & BALANCED FINANCES
Using mindfulness meditation for financially responsibility by Brad Hunter
“And what is accomplishment in balanced finances?
Katamā ca, byagghapajja, samajīvitā?
It’s when a gentleman, knowing their income and expenditure, balances their finances, being neither too extravagant nor too frugal. They think: ‘In this way my income will exceed my expenditure, not the reverse.’
Idha, byagghapajja, kulaputto āyañca bhogānaṃ viditvā, vayañca bhogānaṃ viditvā, samaṃ jīvikaṃ kappeti nāccogāḷhaṃ nātihīnaṃ: ‘evaṃ me āyo vayaṃ pariyādāya ṭhassati, na ca me vayo āyaṃ pariyādāya ṭhassatī’ti.
It’s like an appraiser or their apprentice who, holding up the scales, knows that it’s low by this much or high by this much.
Seyyathāpi, byagghapajja, tulādhāro vā tulādhārantevāsī vā tulaṃ paggahetvā jānāti: ‘ettakena vā onataṃ, ettakena vā unnatan’ti;
In the same way, a gentleman, knowing their income and expenditure, balances their finances, being neither too extravagant nor too frugal. They think: ‘In this way my income will exceed my expenditure, not the reverse.’
evamevaṃ kho, byagghapajja, kulaputto āyañca bhogānaṃ viditvā, vayañca bhogānaṃ viditvā, samaṃ jīvikaṃ kappeti nāccogāḷhaṃ nātihīnaṃ: ‘evaṃ me āyo vayaṃ pariyādāya ṭhassati, na ca me vayo āyaṃ pariyādāya ṭhassatī’ti.
If a gentleman has little income but an opulent life, people will say: ‘This gentleman eats their wealth like a fig-eater!’
Sacāyaṃ, byagghapajja, kulaputto appāyo samāno uḷāraṃ jīvikaṃ kappeti, tassa bhavanti vattāro: ‘udumbarakhādīvāyaṃ kulaputto bhoge khādatī’ti.
If a gentleman has a large income but a spartan life, people will say: ‘This gentleman is starving themselves to death!’
Sace panāyaṃ, byagghapajja, kulaputto mahāyo samāno kasiraṃ jīvikaṃ kappeti, tassa bhavanti vattāro: ‘ajeṭṭhamaraṇaṃvāyaṃ kulaputto marissatī’ti.
But a gentleman, knowing their income and expenditure, leads a balanced life, neither too extravagant nor too frugal, thinking: ‘In this way my income will exceed my expenditure, not the reverse.’
Yato ca khoyaṃ, byagghapajja, kulaputto āyañca bhogānaṃ viditvā, vayañca bhogānaṃ viditvā, samaṃ jīvikaṃ kappeti nāccogāḷhaṃ nātihīnaṃ: ‘evaṃ me āyo vayaṃ pariyādāya ṭhassati, na ca me vayo āyaṃ pariyādāya ṭhassatī’ti.
This is called accomplishment in balanced finances.
Ayaṃ vuccati, byagghapajja, samajīvitā.
Meditation & Contemplation on These Stanzas
The Buddha once again urges us not to fall into extremes. In this case he is speaking of practical issues around livelihood, income, generosity, having and not having. On the surface, these stanzas appear to be simply reasonable and common sense financial advice. And yet, aren’t these the very challenging areas of potential conflict and suffering for any householder? I think the stanzas turn on the pivotal word ‘balance’, a word that seems intimately close to equanimity and contentment.Wise and Unwise; Wholesome and Unwholesome.
There is wise and wholesome livelihood, warranted receiving, income, spending and giving (dana), but also unwise and unwholesome thoughts and actions. If we take spending as an example, whether purchasing something one feels is ‘necessary,’ or even well-intentioned dana to support good causes or the teachings, placing oneself or one’s family in economic peril is both unwise and unwholesome. On the surface, it might appear that our actions are well-intentioned, but if we drop below the surface we might find motives that are not so noble and pure. Perhaps we want to be ‘seen’ in a certain way. We could be seeking our wholeness and healing from the ‘outside’. Maybe we are clinging to self-views that crave acceptance and fear rejection. We might be abiding in some space of wrong-view—a nihilistic ‘everything is empty so nothing matters’ kind of place. We might be rationalizing our own greed by viewing an expenditure as necessary and deserved.
There is wise and wholesome use of money, ‘possessions’ and resources, but also much unwise use of same. When there is miserliness and/or insatiable craving for more things, more money, more status etc., we can be sure that the roots of suffering—craving, aversion and ignorance—are at work. Sitting in the driver’s seat will be the I-conceit, while the runaway vehicle will be fueled by greed and anger. Ironically, these mind states—often wearing the mask of Narcissus—arise from feelings of lack, poverty and unworthiness.
But how do we know, and what do we do? Returning to the body for practical guidance. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu says, with mindfulness immersed in the body, all of the other Foundations of Mindfulness (he calls ‘frames of reference’) are right there. These stanzas directly and indirectly echo concerns about the ‘8 worldly winds’: gain and loss, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, respect and shame. Again, the movement of these ‘winds’ pass right through the nerves, muscles and cells in the body and reverberate in the heart.
With mindfulness fully immersed in the body, staying with the object of meditation (whatever it is) calmly observe what thoughts pull the mind away into concerns around money, livelihood, gain and loss, giving- receiving etc. Notice the body and the heart’s responses to the infinite varieties of struggles and challenges of lay life and human interaction. When considering a certain thought, action, struggle, confusion: what is happening in the body? Can you feel constriction, tightening, tension in the body, and a narrowing or a vague aching in the heart? This could be telling you that the thoughts or actions considered are not healthy, wholesome and helpful. Or, the response of the body and the heart might be fear about letting go, being in the world and engaging with others in a different, unfamiliar way. Don’t try to jump to conclusions and solutions too soon. Every issue can have many different levels, and layers of complexity.
Another thing to watch for is the I-making, mine-making process. What is the image and feeling of ‘self’ that all of this concern is trying to coalesce and establish itself around? Is it coming from whole-hearted, well-intentioned, honest place, with a view to minimizing suffering, harmonizing relationships, advancing goodwill and generosity in the world? Or, is there some sense of inner poverty, greed, inadequacy, shame, fear, anger driving the whole process? Keep in mind that ultimately nothing whatsoever ‘belongs to you’, should be construed as “I, me or mine”. As a teacher friend puts it, ‘you can’t even have it when you have it…’With reference to these particular stanzas again, observe what happens in the body and the heart when the mind goes to extremes—there is always stress, tension and suffering. And often this suffering goes beyond ‘us’; we end up passing it on to others, or blaming them for our self-inflicted stress.
When the heart and mind come to rest in place of relative ease and confidence around a specific issue—pointing to the key word ‘balance’—we might be getting close to a wholesome and blameless train of thought and course of action. I say ‘might’, because the mind has infinite capacity to deceive itself and rationalize almost anything. The other extreme that causes suffering is perfectionism. In the Canon, there are instances where the Buddha takes even Arahants to task for mistakes in thought and action. So we do the best we can, and continue to cultivate and deepen our wisdom, discernment, compassion and commitment to the path.