Revised April 2021
For us laypeople, the Buddha praises those who obtain their wealth righteously and then use it in three ways:
- to make themselves happy - to share with others and - to do good deeds.
The Buddha says that this leads to happiness in this lifetime. But for happiness in future rebirths, there are qualities of spiritual wealth that need to be developed. We will look at some of the suttas in the Anguttara Nikaya, the numerical discourses of the Pali Canon, to hear what the Buddha said about wealth and happiness in this lifetime and future lifetimes.
As a baseline, the Buddha asks laypeople to obtain their wealth righteously, then to use it to please themselves and others as well as to be generous and do good deeds. This will serve us well in this lifetime. If we believe his teachings on rebirth, then if we add in the qualities of faith, virtuosity, and wisdom (generosity has already been mentioned), then we are planting seeds for happiness in a future rebirth. As laypeople, we range in our spiritual aspirations from this baseline up to the renunciation of monastic life. Our reality is where we are at this moment on this continuum. Our goal is to be happy, not judgemental about where we are on the Path. Then, on hearing the teachings of the Buddha we may start to see how wealth and worldly pleasures are not adequate to address the suffering inherent in this human existence. We may then be inspired to explore the Noble Eightfold Path. As we start to experience the pleasure/bliss that accompanies the stillness of a meditation practice, the sensual pleasures of the world start to pale in comparison. And many sensual activities we once enjoyed may evolve into a "been there, done that" kind of feeling. When this happens we may feel ready to approach a more renounced existence or even join the monastic order. This can happen slowly over time, gradually evolving, or be a more dramatic shift. It's our personal path. But for now we accept, non-judgementally where we are on this continuum.
Detailed text: AN 5:177
How is wealth obtained righteously? It is by not harming self or others. In this sutta the Buddha tells us that we should not engage in the following five trades:
1. trading in weapons 2. trading in living beings 3. trading in meat 4. trading in intoxicants 5. trading in poisons
AN 8:54 In this sutta, a young man approaches the Buddha and asks this question: "Bhante, we are laymen enjoying sensual pleasures, living at home in a house full of children. We use sandalwood from Kasi; we wear garlands, scents, and unguents; we receive gold and silver. Let the Blessed One teach us the Dhamma in a way that will lead to our welfare and happiness in this present life and in future lives."
The Buddha replied that four things lead to the welfare and happiness of laypeople in this present life: being accomplished in initiative, accomplished in protection, good friendship and balanced living.
Being accomplished in initiative means we are skillful and diligent in our job and able to use sound judgment.
Being accomplished in protection means thinking, "How can I prevent Kings and thieves from taking my wealth, fire from burning it, floods from sweeping it off, and displeasing heirs from taking it?"
Good friendship means associating with people who are accomplished in faith, in virtuous behaviour, generosity and wisdom. We should engage in discussions with these friends and emulate their qualities and behaviour.
Balanced living means knowing our income and expenditures and living within our means. The Buddha encourages us to be neither too extravagant or too frugal. If we have a small income, we mustn't live luxuriously. If we have a large income we shouldn't live sparingly. This is interesting advice....the opposite of the renunciation that he taught his monastics. But a lovely acceptance of all people, wherever they are on the spiritual journey.
The Buddha warns us that our wealth can be dissipated in four ways: - by womanizing - by drunkenness - by gambling - by bad friendships Thus, these should be avoided.
What about future lives? The Buddha lists four things that will lead to our welfare and happiness in future lives. These comprise spiritual wealth:
1. faith 2. virtuous behaviour 3. generosity 4. wisdom
1. Faith refers to faith in the Buddha's enlightenment, in his knowledge of human nature and in him as an unsurpassed teacher. 2. Virtuous behaviour is following the five precepts of non-harming, not taking what is not given, right speech, refraining from sexual misconduct and avoiding alcohol and intoxicants which cause heedlessness. 3. Generosity refers to having a mind free of miserliness, delighting in relinquishment, being devoted to charity and delighting in giving and sharing. 4. Wisdom is recognizing that when longing and greed arise in our mind that they are defilements. With wisdom power we abandon them. The same goes for ill-will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse and for doubt. Wisdom is also discerning the arising and passing away of phenomena.
AN 5:47, AN 7:5 In these two suttas, the Buddha expands the list of spiritual wealth to include moral shame and dread and learning. Moral shame and dread is the human quality that differentiates most people from psychopaths. Psychopaths can take advantage of others or cause harm and have no feeling of regret or compassion. Most people, after acting unskilfully out of greed or anger, experience remorse or guilt. Having this feeling allows us to be more moral, more human and less animal like. Learning refers to learning the teachings of the Buddha....the Dhamma.
AN 4:61, AN 5:41, AN 5:58, AN 10:73 In these suttas the Buddha discusses a list of four things and then a list of ten things that laypeople desire. He then goes on to discuss qualities that lead to the realization of these desires. Lastly he discusses the benefits of our wealth righteously gained and worthy deeds that can be done.
There are four things that are desired/agreeable in the world: 1. May wealth come to me righteously. 2. May fame come to me, my relatives and my teachers. 3. May I have a long life. 4. May I be reborn in a good destination - in a heavenly realm. The four things that lead to gaining these desires are: Accomplishment in faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. These have been discussed above.
And the list of ten things that are wished for: 1. Wealth 2. Beauty 3. Health 4. Virtue 5. Celibacy (I'm not sure why this appears in a list for laypeople. Perhaps commitment to your partner would be more appropriate.) 6. Friends 7. Learning 8. Wisdom 9. Good Qualities 10. Rebirth in the heavens
There are ten things that obstruct us getting what we desire: 1. Laziness and lack of initiative. 2. Not adorning or beautifying ourself. 3. Doing what is unbeneficial for our health. 4. Bad friendships. 5. Non-restraint of the sense faculties. 6. Being deceptive, double-crossing 7. Non-recitation i.e. not learning the teachings on Dhamma (this practice refers to the time before writing teachings down in books was available) 8. Unwillingness to listen and not asking questions. 9. Not applying ourselves and lack of reflection. 10. Wrong practice (Not following the steps of the Noble Eightfold Path which are Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Stillness).
The nutriments to obtain our desires are the opposite of the above list: 1. Diligence and initiative. 2. Adorning and beautifying ourselves. 3. Doing what is beneficial for our health. 4. Good friendships. 5. Restraint of the sense faculties. 6. Sincerity 7. Learning Dhamma 8. Willingness to listen and to ask questions. 9. Applying ourselves and reflecting wisely. 10. Following the Noble Eightfold Path.
Lastly, what are the benefits or worthy deeds that come from obtaining these desires? 1. We make ourselves happy, we make our parents, spouse and children happy, we make our employees happy and we make our friends and companions happy. 2. We make provisions against losses that could arise from fire, floods, political rulers, thieves and displeased heirs. We make ourselves secure against them. 3. We make the five oblations to relatives, guests, ancestors, rulers and deities. This statement was not explained in the commentary except for the oblation to deities....it referred to following the traditional spiritual rituals observed in your household. So I take this to mean, if the Buddha was speaking to someone who was not his follower but the follower of another religious tradition, that he was asking them to continue to respect and follow the practices of their religion. In the same vein, I understand the rest of the sentence to mean that we treat our relatives and guests with respect and respect the rules of our government. If our culture has ancestral worship, then we would follow that tradition. 4. We give to religious persons who refrain from intoxication and heedlessness, who are patient and mild, who are tamed (of the hindrances) and calm and are training for awakening.
This is using our wealth for worthy causes. If our wealth is exhausted due to these causes, we have no regret. If our wealth increases, we have no regret. Either way, we experience no regret.
There are four kinds of happiness that can be achieved by a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasures:
1. The happiness of ownership. 2. The happiness of enjoyment. 3. The happiness of freedom from debt. 4. The happiness of blamelessness.
1. Ownership: When we think, "I have acquired this wealth righteously", we experience happiness and joy. 2. Enjoyment: When we enjoy what our wealth can purchase and we do good deeds we experience happiness and joy. 3. Freedom from debt: When we think, "I have no debts!", we experience happiness and joy. 4. Blamelessness: Due to blameless bodily, verbal and mental actions, we experience happiness and joy. The Buddha sees this fourth type of happiness as greater than the happiness from the other causes.
AN 5:58 In this sutta, the Buddha discusses a quality that will lead to growth, not decline, for those whose wealth was obtained righteously. This quality is compassion from others that is generated by the respect that we give them. The five groups of people that we show respect to are our parents, our spouse, children and employees, our neighbours and those with whom we do business, the protective deities (if this is part of our family tradition) and religious teachers. Feeling the respect that we offer, these people feel compassion for us. The Buddha then expands on this, saying that if we do our duty towards our parents, promote the welfare of our spouse and children, take care of our employees, are wise, charitable and virtuous, act for the good of our relatives, benefit religious teachers (and deities, if this is in one's tradition), give rise to joy and live a righteous life, we will be praised in this life and be reborn in a heavenly realm. So this gives a clearer indication of what he meant by growth....spiritual growth.
In this sutta, the Buddha describes four situations that affect families, after wealth is obtained:
First, why families do not last long after wealth is obtained: 1. We don't seek what is lost. 2. We don't repair what is decrepit. 3. We overindulge in eating and drinking. 4. The people we elect to our government are immoral.
And the opposite: why families last long after obtaining wealth: 1. We seek what is lost. 2. We repair what is decrepit. 3. We are moderate in eating and drinking. 4. We elect virtuous leaders.
In this sutta the Buddha tells us why some businesses end in failure or don't fulfill our expectations while others fulfill or even surpass our expectations. 1. If we ask a religious teacher what he/she needs and then we don't follow through to offer it to them, in our next life, any business we undertake will fail. 2. If we ask and then just partially offer what is needed, then in our next life any business we undertake will not meet our expectations. 3. If we ask and then offer fully what is needed, then in our next life any business we undertake will fulfill our expectations. 4. If we ask and then offer more than was expected, then in our next life, if we are reborn in the human realm, not a heavenly realm, then any business we undertake will surpass our expectations.
AN 10:91 In this sutta the Buddha discusses the ten kinds of persons who enjoy sensual pleasures. He divides us into three categories: - those who seek wealth unrighteously - those who seek wealth both righteously and unrighteously - those who seek wealth righteously The Buddha then divides each of the above groups into three more groups: - those who aren't happy and pleased with their wealth and don't share it with others or do good deeds. - those who are happy and pleased with their wealth but don't share it with others or do good deeds. - those who are happy and pleased with their wealth and do share it with others and do good deeds.
This final group, the Buddha subdivides into those who are tied to their wealth and blindly absorbed by it and those who aren't. The Buddha praises those who obtain their wealth righteously (so group two gets praise for part of their earnings), for those who are happy and pleased with their wealth and for those who share their wealth and do good deeds. The most praiseworthy type of person is the one obtains their wealth righteously, are happy and pleased with their wealth, share it with others, do good deeds and are not tied to their wealth and blindly absorbed by it.