and spirit seem to have a tumultuous relationship, sometimes
going hand-in-hand, other times appearing fiercely at
odds or in painful separation. The following sampling
of voices, personal and cultural, reveal some of the range
of feelings and positions people hold about the relationship
of money to the spiritual life. Some clearly feel their
wealth is a barrier to God; others experience their use
of wealth as God's love in action. All the people we interviewed
are searching to find a relationship to money that honors
their spiritual beliefs.
Walking My Talk
have been blessed with a potent way for my wealth to serve
the spiritual world. It started four years ago at Sotheby's
auction house. I bid $39,050 for three ceremonial "masks."
I knew these were sacred objects to the Hopi and Navajo
nations, and I returned them to their home.
outpouring of support for this action led to my founding
the American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation,
a public foundation which, by facilitating the return
of spiritual objects, enables American Indians to continue
or reactivate their spiritual ceremonies. The Foundation
also gives non-natives a powerful way to connect to the
spiritual lives and powers of indigenous people. That
one act set people and events into motion which have transformed
my life. To be "walking my talk"--that is, taking
what I have felt in my heart for years and turning it
into actions in the world, is fulfilling beyond measure.
am aware of the contrast between my material world and
the Native world, and I grapple with my own addictions--to
comfort, to jewelry or a weekly manicure... I have learned
to live with and sometimes laugh at all my anxieties and
internal contradictions. ("Oh no, what if my money
someday disappears? Will my life be ruined? or will I
be freed to be more spiritual?")
that I have a vehicle to serve the world, I feel more
relaxed. In the larger scheme of things, money--or pain
and guilt about it--is not that important. I also recognize
these feelings as part of who I am--I don't need to get
rid of them or be "pure" in order to serve.
I am thankful to have money to do the work I feel called
to do: transforming money into the currency of spirit.
- anonymous author
Marriage of Spirit and Matter
twenty years I have worked and taught classes in the mystical
realm. About a year ago, midway through teaching a nine-month
course about chakras (energy centers in the body), one
of my student teachers came to the class in tears because
her spiritual group now forbade her to assist anyone who
took money for their spiritual teaching. As I was unwilling
to stop charging fees (which were needed for rent, advertising,
photocopying, etc.) she was lost from the course--another
victim of the division between spirit and matter.
I see it, we are all children of the divorce between spirit
and matter that happened long ago when the archetypes
of the Great Mother and the Great Father were split apart.
The Mother Goddess, worshipped for 30,000 years, represented
the living spirit within the flesh as seen through the
cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In a gradual process
that took place roughly 4000 to 1500 B.C., she was taken
over by a thundering Father God, who denied connection
with the physical and with the Mother archetype.
time, the Goddess was completely overthrown and her worshippers
killed, enslaved and burned. Spirit and matter became
separated, each one seen as devoid of the other. Spirit
became completely immaterial, while matter (and the Earth
itself) became seen as a mindless inert mass with no spiritual
my friend dropped out of the class, I asked her (hypothetically)
whether she could stay if we cut out the meditation, ritual,
and yoga. Her answer was yes, I could have charged money
for a marketing seminar or a cooking class, but not for
anything that had spiritual value. (As if even these things
were devoid of spirit, which as any cook or salesperson
can tell you, they are not.)
society is so convinced that money corrupts the purity
of spiritual pursuits, many small churches and spiritual
organizations suffer and die from a frayed shoestring
budget, while more mercantile industries take over the
planet. I long for our culture to bring our material existence
and our spiritual quest into the same dimension; to reclaim
our right to prosperity, and to use that prosperity to
steer the world to a healthier place.
- anonymous author
most of my life, I have viewed money and Spirit as existing
on opposite ends of a spectrum. Either one is supposed
to make you "happy" or "successful", but not both together.
In addition, money and love got twisted deep inside me
at an early age, when I lost my mother and was handed
an insurance settlement. That money came to represent
the love I didn't have and I hated it.
my financial worth is nearly half a million dollars, I
have treated myself as worthy of zero. Although for six
years I have been touching Spirit daily through meditation,
the idea of Spirit loving, touching, and caring for me
has felt incomprehensible and foreign.
meditation this December I realized I needed to stop giving
money to others until I could say no to requests as clearly
as yes, and until I can offer gifts to myself as lovingly
as I do to others. I remember sitting there in tears,
deciding yes, I will listen to my inner guidance, and
for once money and spirit didn't feel so far apart.
- anonymous author
a young person I yearned to emulate the great spiritual
teachers who spurned money and embraced poverty--St. Francis
of Assisi, Jesus, Krishna... "How can I ever be pure like
them," I thought with pain, "If I have to join the crass
world of money?" In my early twenties I sat in the fields
and meditated and prayed for 4-6 hours a day.
money is like air: even if you dislike it, you still have
to breathe. So I began working on an investment scheme
of my dad's, hoping it would eventually buy me freedom
to follow artistic and spiritual pursuits.
my great surprise I began to see that money could have
a nature that was healthy and vigorous. This was contrary
not only to my spiritual readings but also to the '60s
notion that money was intrinsically evil, part of a capitalist
system taking advantage of poor people. I dove into learning
all I could about money, got degrees in financial planning,
money management and accounting, and started a small business
doing tax returns. Again I was shocked that my experience
contradicted "spiritual" assumptions: what motivated my
work was not greed, but the opportunity to give of myself.
began to use meditation to observe my moment-by-moment
experience with money rather than just be caught up in
my belief system about it. I unpeeled the layers of my
feelings about money. I saw, for instance, that underneath
"envy" was actually grief: that I never had the financial
freedom to write, that my parents hadn't given me more
monetary support...and under that, more basic sorrows
about the human condition, about the fact that everything
I loved would inevitably pass away.
I began to see that these were only thoughts, and I didn't
need to project them onto money. Money was simply a window
to deeper experience.
I work as both a financial advisor and a teacher of Buddhism.
I consider money a powerful spiritual teacher, because
it so frequently calls up people's demons: desire, fear,
guilt, greed, jealousy. In every contact with our demons
is an opportunity to practice quietly noticing what is
going on inside. In Burma, novice monks are sent out into
the jungle to meditate where tigers roam; in our culture,
money takes the place of tigers.
- anonymous author
a Clear Vessel of Spirit
used to earn my living guiding sessions for wealthy people.
Secretly I was a prostitute to wealth, changing my attitudes,
opinions--everything--to be valued by people with money.
Later, I went through a phase of renouncing wealth. When
I walked into a room with five people, one of whom was
wealthy, I would see four spiritual people and a rich
person! Renunciation was no different from attraction--money
still had a hold on me.
gradually, through meditation and by being with people
of extremely varying means, I cultivated my equanimity.
Now I can listen to a person with great wealth and simply
hear her or him as one human being to another. I can look
poor people in the eyes without the urge to give them
everything, to relieve their situation if just for the
moment. Accepting each person's unique karmic predicament
about money, I can start to serve as an instrument for
healing, helping people free themselves from addictions
or pathology about money.
- anonymous author
Love, and Money
I was a young man, I thought it absurd to believe in a
God who knew or cared about me personally. But then in
1969 I had a near-death experience that shook my beliefs
to their core. Some spiritual force had tapped me on the
shoulder--me!--and said "Ed, I need to talk to you!" I
was told that what matters in my life is how I have loved.
Period. This love wasn't about feeling a certain way,
but rather, about action. Did I smile at the person who
walked up the sidewalk? Was I mindful in my speech so
as to avoid hurting others unnecessarily? I was told my
job in life was to be helpful, but I wasn't told in what
way, or to whom.
the ten years following this experience, I suffered with
my own inability to live day to day in line with the directives
I had been given. Before, I thought it fine to yell at
my children if they annoyed me, or to hurt someone's feelings
by trying to be clever. Afterwards, I couldn't. I had
to painstakingly unlearn habits I had practiced all my
time, I did manage to create a fulfilling vehicle for
my love: ironically, through a commodity so often viewed
as contrary to spirituality--money. I founded a financial
planning and investment company which helps clients use
their assets "in ways appropriate to their life path."
We ask clients the deeper questions: "What's important
to you? What does it mean to be a shepherd to money? Just
like intelligence or stamina, a talent or great beauty,
wealth is a gift you can choose to use or not--so what
will you do with it?" We talk about security, obligation,
commitment... not in quantitative terms, but in the underlying
meanings. We are dedicated to treating clients the same
whether their assets are fifty thousand or ten million.
observation over two decades of this work is that people
who think of the money as security are never satisfied
with it. Those who think of it as a responsibility to
retain in a manner appropriate to their ancestors suffer
greatly, always trying to live up to a spoken or unspoken
ideal. The people with wealth who are most happy and energized
are people who have clarity about their larger purpose
and use their assets in ways that are consistent with
- anonymous author
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