MONEY AND SPIRITUALITY: FROM PERSONAL PROFIT AND LOSS TO UNIVERSAL PROSPERITY
“Live long and prosper”
- The Vulcan Salute, Star Trek
I have often been asked to talk about the ‘controversial’ subject of charging money for ‘spiritual teachings’. I don’t see any controversy at all. The controversy seems to come from a misunderstanding of who we really are, and a very narrow and divisive view of ‘spirituality’, and the resulting fear of something that we do not need to be afraid of at all. Let me explain.
Many people who consider themselves to be ‘spiritual’ people consider money to be very ‘unspiritual’ (what a strange division to make!) – somehow dirty, somehow against life, somehow a stain on consciousness. Some people even say that spiritual teachers should never ask for money, and teachings should either be given for free, or by donation, and if a teacher charges he or she is not authentic, or perhaps even a fraud.
Of course, if a teacher does not charge money, deep down they can still desire to collect as many donations as possible, or collect as many students as possible, or collect as much admiration or publicity or popularity or respect as possible – and the image of ‘the selfless, desireless, ego-free teacher who never asks for money’ can be a very profitable image indeed!
So, it all comes down to motivation and intention.
It’s not money that is the problem, it is our desire surrounding money. Money is simply a part of life, a natural movement of life-energy – it is our greed and fears surrounding money that create so much suffering and inequality, for ourselves and everyone else.
When you offer a service or a product – and that could include spiritual teaching, singing, art, therapy, anything – what is your intention? Are you doing it primarily for the money? Are you doing it solely to make a profit for yourself? To amass personal wealth? To promote yourself and your own image? To increase your own security and comfort at any cost? In that case, you will never be truly rich in the deeper sense of the word – that is, in touch with prosperity, the flow of life, the receiving and giving of life energy, without which no human life is possible.
Since humans first gathered, we have been in touch with the circle of life, the flow of life energy. Life gives so much to us, often more than we need, and we eat and drink and live and prosper, and, in gratitude for our good fortune, or simply in awe and wonder of things as they are, we give back to life, and life gives back to us, and the flow of prosperity keeps moving. It is the most natural thing to want to prosper, to be at one with prosperity, for we are not separate from this flow. The moment we forget this inseparability, the flow is blocked and fear begins. Now life becomes about ‘my wealth’ or ‘my profit’, not the prosperity of all.
We shut ourselves off from true prosperity when we desire only our own profit, and we start to fear.
Of course, if profit is our primary motive, if our wealth is built on fear, when we finally do achieve our success and wealth and fame, it all feels so empty – it is not true wealth. We sit in our million dollar mansions, and rot, feeling lonely and left out and maybe more of a failure than ever. And then there is always the possibility of losing our profit and success and apparent security and comfort – and great anxiety can result.
All of this stems from a basic misunderstanding of who we really are. ‘My profit’ and ‘my comfort’ are not really what we long for. What we long for is prosperity in the deepest sense of the word – our inherent inseparability from life and each other, which is the truth of who we really are. Money in itself cannot give us that.
When we are doing what we love, when we are truly connected and allowing life to flow freely through us, when music and art and creativity and inspiration are allowed to move and express in us, when we offer that original and creative expression to others in our community, out of a sense of joy and wonder rather than a drive for profit and the holding up of the image, when we give what life has given us back to the ‘marketplace’ so to speak, the place where others gather, it is possible that others will love what we share, that they will want more of it, that it will inspire or move them or help them or even change their lives – that our prosperity will become their prosperity – for it is all the same prosperity – and that they will feel moved to give back to us in some way. Touched by what we have shared, they may feel the joyous urge to contribute to our prosperity, and this may manifest in the form of giving us money from the fruits of their own prosperity.
Because they know that giving and receiving are all part of the same singular movement of life. Seen in this way, money is only a token of prosperity, a movement of love, you could say.
When Bob Dylan plays his guitar, or Marlon Brando acts by not ‘acting’, or Mozart composes, or Shakespeare gives us his words, or Billy Holliday sings from her heart and deepest human longings, or someone dances or paints or creates in their own unique and unexpected way, and we are inspired and moved and changed and delighted or even deeply challenged, we are often happy to give back to them, to contribute to their prosperity and to the prosperity of all who have been and will be equally touched. We want life to keep flowing, both for ourselves and for all mankind, and our giving of money can simply be an expression of this gratitude.
It goes beyond ‘cost’ and ‘price’ and ‘charge’ and the size of our bank accounts …. and touches something deep and profound in us.
Seen in this way, a good spiritual teacher is simply an artist, a poet, a musician, who uses words and silence instead of a paintbrush or musical instrument – but the intention is still the same – to point back towards the deepest truth of life. The division between ‘spirituality’ and everything else simply melts away. There is only One life, indivisible. Spirituality is art, and art is spirituality. If we see spiritual teachers as artists, giving from prosperity rather than the urge for profit, then we are happy to compensate them for their art. They give us so much, and we give to them, even though what they ‘give’ is intangible and may be seen as ‘nothing’ by the mind. Even though music and art are ‘free”, are artists really “selling water by the riverside” when they move us to tears and change our outlook forever?
If we say “No! I refuse to pay, they should be giving this to me for free!”, this can easily be a movement of shutting ourselves off from prosperity, and even gratitude. Of course it may not be, but it’s something to explore within ourselves.
So, when we are in touch with this universal prosperity, with our inseparability from life, when we are doing what we love and loving what we do, when we are sharing our gifts and talents and skills with others in the human marketplace, when we give our joy and even our pain to others, yes, we can make money. Profit may arise. The sole intention was not to make money – it was to prosper and to add to others’ prosperity – but we ended up making money, as a side-effect of love.
Simply put, we may profit from our intention to add to the prosperity of the world. In this way, making a profit can actually be a beautiful and moving and very innocent thing – we have touched others, and in turn we have been touched. And with our profit, we may then keep the cycle of life going, by giving and sharing and using this profit to further add to the prosperity of the world. When we have more money, we may be able to do more to increase prosperity – not just for ourselves and our immediate families, but for everyone in our town, our city, our country, our continient, and perhaps even the entire world. We could build hospitals and schools, provide medicines to the poor, fund important research, or simply be able to give more products and services away for free to those who have less money than us. Who knows what is possible, when our ‘spiritual’ fear of posessing money ends.
When you understand that hiding underneath a wish to make money can simply be a primal calling to add to the prosperity of the world, you understand that there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, in itself, and your conditioned “spiritual” guilt over making money vanishes. Money is very, very spiritual in its essence – everything is. It’s up to each of us to check our intentions and motivations surrounding money, that’s all.
When our fear around money drops, so does all the controversy, and then perhaps we can all share and even rejoice in each others’ prosperity, rather than becoming imprisoned by jealousy and criticism and mesmerised by false divisions between something called the ‘spiritual’ and something else called the ‘material’.
A true spirituality, a prosperous spirituality that no longer divides “material” and “spiritual”, that finally embraces money and sees the deeper truth in the giving and receiving of it, is a very beautiful and inspiring thing.