What Buddhism Teaches Us About Personal Finance

Ever since visiting southeast Asia last year, I have been intrigued with Buddhism. It is one of the five largest religions in the world, with several different branches, called schools, existing within the religion. The teachings of the Buddha have evolved over time to become a practical guide for living a full and rewarding life. I am not Buddhist nor am I too interested in the religious aspect of it. However, I am interested in how I can live a better life by using the same principles.

The religion is based on ‘four noble truths’ which teach followers a systematic approach to life that enables them to experience a deep level of reality. Emphasis is placed on the importance of rational examination and logical reasoning. The Buddhist lifestyle is one of self discipline, self improvement, motivation, self empowerment and mindfulness. This is exactly how I want to live. All of these principles can also be applied to our own situations, even when it comes to managing our personal finances. Today I want to explore what Buddhism teaches us about personal finance.

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The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and Personal Finance 

  1. Life is suffering. To Buddhists, this means that the world is not perfect and neither are its inhabitants, so therefore we will have to suffer the pain of failure, disappointment and loss. These factors have to be accepted as a normal part of life. 

When applied to personal finances, this first noble truth shows us that we need to be realistic about our money and be prepared to suffer the same disappointments, failures and losses. Financial planning is not an exact science and there will be losses and failures, not to mention disappointment. How we deal with these will determine the success or failure of our financial wellbeing. 

  1. Cause of suffering. Buddhists are taught that the cause of suffering is attachment or the need to have possessions. The pursuit of money, property, fame, popularity etc. is believed to be the cause of all suffering in the world. We set ourselves up for disappointment because these things are transient and can easily be lost. 

The lesson here in regards to our finances is that money, property and wealth can also be lost or can suffer loss of value. The acquisition of possessions is not the best way to become wealthy; these are just ‘things’ which we don’t really need and are not long-lasting.

  1. Cessation of suffering.  Buddhists believe that the cessation of suffering is attainable. In other words, when we have identified why we are suffering, we are capable of stopping our suffering by applying the practical teachings of Buddha. The way to reach ‘Nirvana’, the place where there are no worries, is to remove all worldly desires. 

To alleviate financial suffering, we need to realize that we don’t need so many possessions and we can spend less money on the acquisition of ‘things’. The money we save can then be used for something more lasting, like savings, education, investments etc.

  1. Path to the cessation of suffering. For Buddhists, there is an eight step path that they need to follow to achieve the cessation of suffering. These steps involve eight strategies for self improvement and are divided into categories like wisdom, mental development and ethical conduct. The steps include mindfulness to achieve perfection in such areas as what you say and do, generosity, ethical behavior, effort, patience and meditative concentration. These are ideals that every Buddhist strives to achieve. 

These steps towards self improvement have practical application when we consider our personal finances. We also need to be ethical, patient, generous and watch what we say and do in this important area of our lives. To achieve success with finances we need to educate ourselves so that we can improve the management of our finances.

Buddhism is such a practical religion and its philosophies are certainly applicable to personal finance as well as other areas. Strengthen your financial position by applying the four noble truths to your finances and achieve your own version of ‘Nirvana’ with peace of mind and security.

So, are you going to start managing your finances like a Buddhist ?


Comments

What Buddhism Teaches Us About Personal Finance — 42 Comments

  1. Cool post! The part about things not being perfect resonated with me. I missed a monthly goal in my overall debt payoff plan (though I’m still on track to finish at the same time). I just need to realize that no plan can plan for everything and to accept it. Thanks!

  2. I definitely think people should work towards having financial peace. It is unfortunate that people go through a lifetime feeling apprehensive and ill-equipped regarding their finances, especially given the fact that it affects so many aspects of our lives.

  3. I’ve always been intrigued by Buddhism. Although I was unsure if I could follow the religion entirely, I will definitely be following the financial perspective that Buddhism can teach us. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Interesting approach. I also am fascinated with Buddhism but never studied it closely. It is true though that life can be a path of suffering. It is up to us to attain a way to cease that suffering in our finances, or any other area of life. Someone once said that we purify ourselves through suffering. I believe it is called catharsis.

  5. Nice post Miss T! Really enjoyed this one.

    I hope I’m already a practicing financial Buddhist and if not, trying to work towards it – taking steps to mindfulness regarding more generosity, ethical behavior and patience.

    Will include in my Weekend Reading roundup for sure.

    Mark

  6. Wow, I really love the analogy. And loved learning a little bit more about the religion. I, like Mark, hope I am already living it, but I know there are areas I need to improve and am starting the learning process to achieve my own path of cessation.

  7. I appreciate this perspective, and think we can learn important lessons from diverse beliefs. My first response is not to leap towards faith based financial management ideas, but I would like to tearn more about what you have written about Buddhism.

  8. I’m wondering if the interpretation of the cause of suffering is compatible with pursuing a successful life? The pursuit of money and things to make a “better” life for their family really drives many people. Granted, this revolves around the definition of a successful life, but something just doesn’t quite spur me on given that cause of suffering. My opinion anyway. Great article though, very thought provoking!

      • Miss T., this connects well with another blog post where you mention 10 reasons why we are often “broke.” One of those reasons is shopping to feel better. Many people shop to “reward” themselves, or fill a void within that they either do not realize is there, or they feel it acutely but otherwise feel powerless to fill it (e.g. they feel lonely, have been rejected by others before–but feel things like books–or way worse, cookies or pies– are their true friends).

        Many people also buy extra food or possessions they don’t need because they grew up poor and they believe that having lots of food or other possessions makes them feel rich or wealthy, financially even when it might be breaking their budget–if they even bother to set one up. And then…enter the notion of mindfulness. Being mindful of all that is in one’s life can open the gateways to major healing of any soul wounds. And that is true regardless of whether you practice any spiritual path or not.

        I personally believe that it is not wrong or immoral to have plenty of financial resources to live on, plus a bit extra for some fun times. Of course, this takes planning. As for fame and popularity? Well, I am not so sure it is wrong to enjoy that, too, if that is what comes as a bonus to living with your own personal Right Livelihood (work that enriches your soul as well as the souls of others down the line). BUT…I surmise that pursuing money, fame and popularity FOR ITS OWN SAKE is what causes the suffering. Again, it comes down to incorporating mindful living and putting things in proper perspective in order to create the cessation of that suffering. ;-)

        • Very well said Kat. You could have written the post.

          I agree with you with all of this. No, riches, financial resources, and things are not bad per say as long as they are nurturing to our soul. Where we run into issues is when we find we are pursuing those things because we are competing, want to one up, or feel like we aren’t a good person if we don’t have these things. That is when we need to take a moment and examine ourselves. If we are mindful of ourselves, then we will be very in tune with what we are feeling and why we are doing something. This will make sure that we do things for the right reasons.

  9. I’ve always respected Buddhism, and think that their teachings are admirable for any religion to try to achieve.

    At his point I’m all about balance, and I think what I’m trying to practice is in-line with your Buddhism financial points too. So yes :)

  10. That’s an awesome article, thanks a million. I like Buddhism because it values simplicity, it helps one discover his inner beauty and seek the perfect balance in life. I’ve never thought about how Buddhism principles can be applied to personal finances, but I’ll definitely put them in practice.

  11. Eastern ways of thinking are so different than the Western tradition, but we can learn from both. The Eastern approach does not believe that everything will become perfect if we just apply the correct methods. It is more about appreciating the moment rather than always working towards an unobtainable perfection. Suffering in the western way of thinking can be the way to earn perfection in the future. As you point out, suffering in the eastern way of thinking is normal in life, but turning more away from materialism will minimize suffering. I certainly agree that it’s better to focus on our relationships with others than on how much stuff we can get. Nurturing good relationships brings true riches that are far superior to other riches, in my opinion. Putting our money towards those goals is wise, but I also believe in putting money aside for the future. Being more centered in the moment is a worthy goal as well. The ideal of balance is one worth working on. Thanks for a very thought-provoking post!

  12. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks. Writing this from the Buddhist country of Thailand, I can report that most people here aren’t following these principles in their personal finances either. People are the same all over the world.
    Here is an additional thought taken from Buddhism; Buddha recommended to take the middle way. Apply this to how you save money. Don’t swing between saving extremes; one month a lot and the other month nothing. That is difficult to maintain. Take steady steps. Save money at a rate that you can keep for years. Take the middle way.

  13. This post has really incited me to dig deeply into Buddhism. I like how you associate the four noble truths of Buddhism to personal finance. I would like to reach Nirvana, and I am trying to rid myself of all worldly desires. My main logic is simple, you cannot bring all these to heaven. So it means, basically, for me, living a simple life, devoid of pursuit of material wealth and power.

  14. This is one of the best articles I’ve read recently, Miss T. I think Buddhism teaches how to live well and happily because Buddha himself left his kingdom to find a cure for the suffering that he witnessed among common people.

  15. Principles are great. But only Jesus died for me to remove my sins, nobody else. So I like Jesus as my Saviour and I like to apply Bible financial principles in our life. Thank you

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