Financial Advice from the Buddha

Tom Levinson Life with Money

Twenty-five hundred years ago, a middle-aged man – a husband and father – walks miles across the Indian countryside to pay a visit to a teacher with an extraordinary reputation for insight.

Then as now, the Indian landscape was dotted with gurus and spiritual teachers.

But there’s something special about this teacher – his humility, his wisdom – that makes people travel great distances, at great personal risk, for a few minutes of his time.
lost the way
When the man at last arrives and his turn comes, he says (and I’m paraphrasing here):

“Great teacher, I’m just an ordinary guy, married, with a few kids. What can you tell me that will help us be happy in this world and hereafter?”

The teacher, who has come to be known as the Buddha (“he who is awake”), nods. He’s given this question some thought.

“There are four things that are conducive to happiness in this world,” the Buddha says.

“First: find a profession you know well, and in which you can be skilled, efficient, earnest, and energetic.

“Second: save the money you’ve righteously earned through your hard work.

“Third: make and keep good friends who are loyal, thoughtful, intelligent, and open-minded – and who’ll keep you out of trouble.

“And fourth: live within your means, not spending too much or too little, avoiding both miserly hoarding and extravagance” (Rahula, 1959, p. 82-83).

This vignette comes from a slim, highly readable book called What the Buddha Taught, by the late Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, professor, and writer, Walpola Rahula.

If you’re keeping score at home, at least 75 percent of the Buddha’s instructions about finding happiness relate to our financial life. And the percentage is even higher when you consider that one way good friends prove their mettle is by helping us avoid doing extremely dumb stuff — including in the realm of money.

We’re curious: Does it surprise you that the Buddha’s teachings articulated such a clear relationship between good financial decision-making and happiness?

Rahula, W. (1959). What the Buddha Taught. Oneworld Publications.