Everyone thinks about money.
Even a Tibetan monk.
In the New York Times, Arthur C. Brooks excerpts a recent conversation with a Hindu swami named Gnanmunidas, a man who has renounced all of his worldly possessions besides some basic clothing and prayer beads, and who is forbidden to physically touch money.
Said monk is also a graduate of the University of Texas who holds an MBA — but that’s before he traveled to a Hindu seminary in India and emerged with fewer than a dozen possessions to his name.
Brooks asked Gnanmunidas if economic prosperity was a good or bad thing.
In Brooks’ words, here’s what the monk said:
“It’s good,” he replied. “It has saved millions of people in my country from starvation.”
This was not what I expected. “But you own almost nothing,” I pressed. “I was sure you’d say that money is corrupting.” He laughed at my naïveté. “There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money.” The formula for a good life, he explained, is simple: abundance without attachment.
The idea of “abundance without attachment” is one that resonates when you consider that even the richest among us aren’t markedly happier, or that it may be in human nature to regret even the biggest, theoretically most exciting purchases.
Having a lot of money isn’t the problem, according to Gnanmunidas. It’s being desperately unwilling to have less that causes problems.
In Tibetan, the word “attachment” is translated as “do chag,” which literally means “sticky desire.” It signifies a desperate grasping at something, motivated by fear of separation from the object. One can find such attachment in many dysfunctional corners of life, from jealous relationships to paranoia about reputation and professional standing.
In the realm of material things, attachment results in envy and avarice. Getting beyond these snares is critical to life satisfaction.
Easier said than done. But if you’re going to take a stab at it, Brooks suggests three tactics: First, spending the money you have on experiences rather than things, as the happiness of memories tends to outlive the joys of a new car; “steering clear of excessive usefulness,” meaning doing things for their own sake rather than turning tasks into chores; and finally, prioritizing the most meaningful things in your life — in Brooks’ example, faith — over fleeting possessions and status.
Apparently, having money is a good thing — as long as we’re willing to let it go.