This post was inspired by a recent conversation I had with a relative who asked me for financial advice, plus I was thinking about all the money people spend during the Holidays (Christmas, Hanukah, お正月, etc).
The Buddha was not only a great teacher, but he was also very understanding and pragmatic. The Buddha recognized two groups of disciples: the monastics and the “householders” (lay people). The term “householders” refers to disciples who are still making a living in the mundane, material world. While a monastic makes a vow to renounce possessions and to focus solely on the Buddhist path, a householder has a lot of obligations in the material world and thus can’t renounce possessions and can’t focus on the Buddhist path all the time.
So, the Buddha’s teachings were often tailored for the audience. In many sutras, he offered advice to monastic disciples because they were “full-time” disciples, but he also gave advice to lay people too in some sutras. The Buddhas advice to lay people often involved the Five Precepts, or how to have a happy and harmonious home, but also financial matters.
For example, in the Dighajanu Sutta (AN 8.54), he talks about the importance of spending within your budget:
And what does it mean to maintain one’s livelihood in tune? There is the case where a lay person, knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher, [thinking], ‘Thus will my income exceed my outflow, and my outflow will not exceed my income.’ Just as when a weigher or his apprentice, when holding the scales, knows, ‘It has tipped down so much or has tipped up so much,’ in the same way, the lay person, knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher
This is true even today. A person should keep track of their finances and make sure they don’t spend more than they can afford, but also avoid being a miser. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, but how you spend it.
In fact, the Buddha encourages a husband to spoil his wife a little in the Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31):
“In five ways, young householder, should a wife as the West be ministered to by a husband:
(i) by being courteous to her,
(ii) by not despising her,
(iii) by being faithful to her,
(iv) by handing over authority to her,
(v) by providing her with adornments.
But also, the Buddha praised the importance of hard work, not get-rich-quick schemes as the Dighajanu Sutta explains:
“And what does it mean to be consummate in vigilance? There is the case when a lay person has righteous wealth — righteously gained, coming from his initiative, his striving, his making an effort, gathered by the strength of his arm, earned by his sweat — he manages to protect it through vigilance [with the thought], ‘How shall neither kings nor thieves make off with this property of mine, nor fire burn it, nor water sweep it away, nor hateful heirs make off with it?’ This is called being consummate in vigilance.
In the Adiya Sutta (AN 5.41), the Buddha explains the benefits of maintaining honest wealth:
“Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones — using the wealth earned through his efforts & enterprise, amassed through the strength of his arm, and piled up through the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained — wards off from calamities coming from fire, flood, kings, thieves, or hateful heirs, and keeps himself safe. This is the third benefit that can be obtained from wealth.
But in the same sutra, the Buddha encourages many times to use that wealth to benefit others:
He provides his mother & father with pleasure & satisfaction, and maintains that pleasure rightly. He provides his children, his wife, his slaves, servants, & assistants with pleasure & satisfaction, and maintains that pleasure rightly.
Lastly though, the Buddha also warned followers in Dighajanu Sutta and the Sigalovada Sutta how to destroy one’s wealth:
“What are the six channels for dissipating wealth which he [a noble disciple] does not pursue?
(a) “indulgence in intoxicants which cause infatuation and heedlessness;
(b) sauntering in streets at unseemly hours;
(c) frequenting theatrical shows;
(d) indulgence in gambling which causes heedlessness;
(e) association with evil companions;
(f) the habit of idleness.
So, in short, the Buddha encouraged honest labour1, fiscal responsibility (not using credit), being diligent about one’s wealth, and avoiding a decadent lifestyle that will drain resources.
Maintaining honest wealth and being generous to loved ones will lead to a peaceful and fruitful life.
Namu Amida Butsu
P.S. On a practical note, I highly recommend this book on personal financing. It helped me out a lot about 10 years ago when my wife and I were first dating. I had run up a lot of credit card debt and finally got it under control and paid off. No secret tricks in this book, just good, general advice.
1 In the Dighajanu Sutta above, he described honest labour like so:
There is the case where a lay person, by whatever occupation he makes his living — whether by farming or trading or cattle tending or archery or as a king’s man or by any other craft — is clever and untiring at it, endowed with discrimination in its techniques, enough to arrange and carry it out.
So it wasn’t just working in the fields, but any kind of honest, reputable work.