Money and Value
Teachings | Life
For many people money defines the way they perceive and understand themselves and their lives. Yet that is only one way to approach life and it may not be the best. Recorded in Los Angeles, December, 2007.





Part 1Download

The problem: money drives the way we understand ourselves. Aim of financial model is to see experience through projection of money; aim of Buddhism is to experience what arises without projection; three bases of relationship: mutual benefit, shared aim, emotional connection; all forms of idealism involve avoidance of some form of suffering; when money is regarded as the problem, something else is being ignored; Questions: What are you asking for? What do you want? What does money symbolize to you?




Section 1

Living Awake Money and Value, Sunday, December 2, 2007. I’ve been asked to do that now for the podcasts because people want the date. Okay, this is a huge topic. In preparing for this I went through about three or four, at least, different ways of approaching this. And I went through about five more during our meditation period here. [Laughter]

How many of you have heard of a condition called—and I want to put that word condition in quotation marks—called Social Anxiety Disorder? Okay. The advertisements, and you’ve probably seen on television, and so forth, around Social Anxiety Disorder is one small instance of how money is driving the way that we think and understand ourselves. Anybody know what Social Anxiety Disorder is? Randye you got a mic? In one word or less.

Randye: How about three words?

Ken: Okay I’ll give you three but I can do it in one. So you go first.

Randye: Fear of interacting.

Ken: Yeah, shyness. Okay. How many of you regard shyness as a disorder? Nobody. Okay. It’s now been labeled as a disorder. What does this mean? It means that if you are shy there is something wrong with you. That’s getting a little uncomfortable. How many of you would describe yourself as shy? [Chuckles] How many of you feel that there is something wrong with you? [Chuckles] Okay, in whose interest is it to label shyness a disorder?

Student: Drug makers.

Ken: Pardon? Well it’s not only drug makers…

Student: Therapists.

Ken: Therapists, okay. I’m not sure whether it’s in DSM-IV. Is it Randye? It is in DSM-IV, okay. DSM is the Diagnostic

Randye:and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Ken: Yeah. It’s the handbook for psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists right? And in DSM-III I think there were about three or four hundred disorders recognized—mental health problems. DSM-IV I think it’s like eight hundred or something like that. Which means that the number of mental disorders has doubled over the course of a couple years, a couple of decades, or decade. And DSM-V is due out in 2012 and is—I very much doubt there will be less than a thousand. So the number of disorders is steadily increasing.

Of course, the number of disorders that there are, the more conditions that can be prescribed for, the more conditions that can be treated. This is in the financial interests. But also, and this is the thing that we don’t pay attention to, is that what is deemed a healthy person is becoming more and more circumscribed. And so you’re having to be—in order to be, regard yourself as a healthy person—you have to be behaving a certain way, and being a certain way, and having a certain kind of attitude to life, etc. And once you take a very close look at the kind of person that the DSM, diagnostic thing, is limiting you to be, I would not be at all surprised if it turned out to be the ideal consumer. [Laughter]

So I just give this as one, [laughter] one small example of how the financial and economic systems operating in our society today are affecting every aspect of our life including how we think about ourselves.

“The aim in Buddhism is to be able to experience what arises without the projection of thought or emotion.” That’s a quotation from my friend Jon Parmenter. I’ll say it again: “The aim in Buddhism is to experience what arises without the projection of thought or emotion.” The aim of the financial system and the way it’s being presented is to see things only through the projection of money. These are quite antithetical. And that basically is why I thought it might be interesting to look at this topic.

We are going to be talking about a number of different things. One of the things we are going to be talking about is a phenomenon called mind killing, which I think is extremely important to be familiar with and aware of, so that you can identify when it is being exercised on you, which it is day and night every time you look at anything, and listen to any news, etc. Because the objective of advertising and financial perspectives is to remove the one quality which makes us human, and the quality which I’ve come to see is largely responsible for the conflict and many of the wars that we have now both within the society and internationally. And that is the complete erosion of what used to be known as an interior life. And this is very much being able to experience things without the projection of thought and emotion.

To quote or to adapt a quotation from a Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi [Niten Doraku], “Buddhism is a way of freedom.” You may not think that the skills and methods that you learn in Buddhism are applicable to daily life, but a true understanding of Buddhism means that you apply these skills and methods in absolutely every area of your life. And it allows you to live life with consummate skill. The purpose of being able to live life that skillfully is the end of suffering. So that gives you some overview of where I’m coming from in this.


Section 2

What I would like you to do right now—and this is one of the reasons I’ve been going through all the different ways we could talk about this topic for the next few hours—is I would like you to take a few minutes and write down between one and three questions that you want to have answered, or want to find answers. I’m not saying I will answer them, but you want to find answers today about money and your relationship with money.

So take a piece of paper and I’m very glad to see most of you brought notebooks and stuff. And if you didn’t, then kindly turn to a neighbor and maybe they will give you a piece of paper. And write down between one and three questions you would like answered. Now part of the reason I’m doing this is we have a huge range of people here today, some of whom are experts in the area of money and value. Some people who are finding their way in life and just negotiating, and all different walks and professions, different phases of life, and so forth. So I want to get a general idea of some of the questions that you have.

So just take a few minutes, and actually, I think we’ll go a step further. Break up into groups of three, with your immediate neighbors. And just take five or ten minutes and talk about what are the two or three questions you would like to find answers to today. And if you are sitting beside someone you know, then move so you are actually engaging people you don’t know.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah. Now is there somebody who has good flip-chart writing skills? Their handwriting is legible? [Chuckle]

Raquel: I can try.

Ken: You can, great. Thank you Raquel.


Section 3

Okay we have the mics ready? There’s one here. Put that one over on this side then. Okay, let’s—I don’t think we’ll have time to get everybody—but let’s get a few people’s questions. Who would like to start? Carol.

Carol: How generous can I be? Oh, sorry. [Forgets to turn on mic.]

Ken: Just a second. It’s on.

Carol: How generous can I be? Or how do I know how generous I can be with money?

Ken: You mean how much generosity you can afford?

Carol: Yeah, without endangering myself, my security, making sure that I have enough to—I’m retired—go to the end of my life, you know, without…and can we ever be sure?

Ken: Okay, anybody else? Molly.

Molly: How do I get it? [Lots of laughter]

Ken: What’s it?

Molly: Money. [Laughter]

Ken: Rob a bank. [Laughter] Darren.

Darren: Jumping off of your original discussion, how does one protect their mind space in quotes, from the incessant intrusion. You don’t have to write all this down. How does one protect their mind space—you could write down—from the incessant intrusion of advertising on things like soda cans, ticket stubs, sides of buildings, buses, emails, etc.? How do you deal with this onslaught, aside from, you know, just not opening your eyes? [Chuckles]

Student: Actually this is a question from our group. It all sort of came down to this one: Does money bring security and how much security is enough? And is it real?

Ken: Okay so, does money bring security? Is security real? Okay, Katherine you had one over here. [Student starts talking.] Just a second.

Katherine: This is our group and we’re all quite similar. Fear, and how do we deal with the fear that immediately arises about not having enough?

Ken: Okay.

Student: How does happiness relate to money?

Ken: Okay. You got both of those? Great. Just one second. Want to give Raquel a chance here. This is very helpful and not completely off topic. You okay?

Raquel: [Unclear]

Ken: Okay, Christina.

Christina: How much money is enough?

Ken: Pat? Do you have a mic?

Pat: How to deal with the belief that you don’t have the ability to create abundance or money? No matter what you do, that you don’t have that ability.

Ken: [Chuckles] Okay, Randye next. Randye and then Colleen, isn’t it? Yeah, where’s the other mic? Chuck you’re hiding it.

Randye: How can I stop making life decisions that are influenced by money?

Ken: Say that again please, Randye.

Randye: How can I stop making my life decisions being so influenced by money?

Ken: Okay.

Randye: Using the influence of money to make the decision itself.

Colleen: How can we come to peace around economic inequality?

Ken: Janet, behind you.

Janet: Does money that I have belong to me, or does it actually belong to the people who have needs around me?

Ken: Your question reminds me of a book I read recently called More Sex is Safer Sex. [Laughter] Now this by an economist who writes a column on Slate. And he likes to throw out some of the very odd results that come from macroeconomics. And this kind of thing is very straightforward for people who know economics, but for those of us who don’t study that, they’re surprising.

Okay, when you dig a piece of gold out of the ground, while it’s in the ground it has zero value. But now you’ve got, you know, say an ounce of gold in it. It’s worth something, what is it $800 an ounce now or something? So where does its value come from? Yeah, it comes from actually decreasing the value of everybody else’s gold, by a fraction. So when you say who does the money belong to it reminded me of that.

Janet: It’s based on, does money really belong to me or to those around me?

Ken: Okay. Rita and then Lynea and then we’ll…

Rita: How do I charge for my services—balancing the wish to benefit people who might not be able to afford them versus the wish to have enough leisure to practice and live, you know, without working myself to death?

[Rita to Raquel: How do I charge for my services…]

Ken: That’s enough, I mean yep, there are all kinds of indications that come in there. Okay.

Lynea: How do I find a balance between earning and not feeling that I need what I earn?

Ken: Elaborate there a bit?

Lynea: If I know that I’m going to earn money or find some way to make money, as I’m doing that, how do I find a way of being that has me cultivating that on the one hand, but not internally feeling like I need what I’m cultivating?

Ken: Okay, I think I understand.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon? And it’s not exactly how much is enough, yeah, it’s not being caught up by the…I mean we have to generate a certain amount of income; but then getting into a thing like, “I absolutely have to have this amount of income.”

Lynea: How do you generate it and just generate it because that’s what you’re doing not because you have to?

Ken: Yeah. Okay, well…Martha did you have one? No? Okay. Okay, last one, Leslie.

Leslie: I’m not sure if this is covered quite, but my question is, how do you not let money play too much of a role in your life when financial planning is in fact necessary?

Ken: Okay, this is along very similar lines to Lynea’s. Yeah, okay.


Section 4

Well, this gives us a pretty broad picture of the kinds of questions that arise. And you notice a lot of them have to do with balancing some sense of ourselves with our approach and our attitude and our relationship with money. It’s almost as if these two things are in conflict in some way.

In Buddhism we talk about refuge. We take refuge in buddha, dharma and sangha: the three jewels. What this means in its deeper sense is that we do not look for security or happiness in anything external. That the only true basis for happiness is to find peace and clarity in experience itself. This is quite profound.

And as some of you have heard me say before, what a lot of people do is try to generate some feeling of peace and clarity and bring this to their experience of life, and maybe it’s financial matters, or marital problems, or family problems, or work challenges, or what have you. But this notion of bringing some kind of peace or clarity to these things never works. It never works. Because you may have the peace and clarity over there, but over here it’s a mess. Pardon?

Student: It’s not portable.

Ken: It is not portable in that sense. But there is another possibility, and this is the one that Buddhism very definitely aims at. It’s to find peace and clarity within whatever you are experiencing. That’s always possible because of the nature of experience. It may be extremely difficult, but it’s possible. And basically what Buddha’s enlightenment or awakening illustrates and demonstrates is the possibility of finding clarity and peace within whatever is arising in experience.


Section 5

Where is the mention of money in this? [Silence] So I want to suggest this as a possible starting point.

Money, in the way that we’ve come to relate to it, is a way of viewing the world. As such it is a projection. And from a Buddhist point of view, our aim is not to eliminate the projection because it provides a helpful way of looking at various circumstances, analyzing situations, as Leslie said. And somebody else has said about retirement: you have X amount of dollars, you need to plan how that amount of money is going to be invested so it’s going to yield a certain return, which hopefully will see you through your expected life. You know, so they’re very useful tools.

The problem isn’t the projection itself, it’s being confused or caught up by projection and seeing it as, and coming to think it is the only way of understanding things. That’s where the problem arises. And just how insidious this is was brought home to me when I read a column by an owner-editor back some years ago, of The Nation.

Now some of you may know The Nation is a progressive-liberal magazine. Doesn’t enjoy a huge circulation, being somewhat out of fashion these days. But this editor was struggling with his magazine. And so he went to Harvard Business School, where he learned that unions are bad. [Chuckle] And all sorts of interesting things like that. I mean things that were just totally contrary to the philosophy and position of The Nation, the magazine.

And he came back from this—which he found quite an interesting experience—and his assistant said, “Well, did you learn anything?” And then he said something which made me feel very sad when I read it. He said, “I learned why I write a note to anybody who cancels their subscription.” And his assistant said, “What?” Well, this person’s practice had been that when anybody canceled his subscription he would write a note asking them why they canceled. It would be a personal note. And the number of people who resubscribed when they received that personal note was very high. It was like eighty percent or something. Because they were very touched and felt a connection with the magazine because here was the owner-editor actually talking with them.

And what he felt he learned from Harvard Business School—maybe he was saying this tongue-in-cheek—is that this made good economic and financial sense, and so that was why he was doing it. But I disagreed. I don’t think that was why he was doing it. I think he genuinely cared about his customers, and the people who were reading the magazine. And this is what I mean about the poison or the distortion which comes when we look at things only in terms of financial. There are a lot of good things that can be decided if you look at things very clearly financially. Then, you’ll make a lot of good decisions, but you’ll be making them on the basis of their potential economic return. Not on their basis of good human values. And the question is, do you use financial notions to drive good business practice or do you use human values to drive good business practice?


Section 6

Now you may say, well, what’s the difference? And I say there’s a huge difference. Some of you are familiar with a framework that I use called the three bases of relationship. The first kind of relationship is one of mutual benefit. The classic example is the buyer-seller. I have five dollars sitting in my pocket, you have a hot dog. And I can’t eat my five dollars, and you can’t use your hot dog to get a new shirt. So I give you the five dollars. I get the benefit of being able to satisfy my hunger, you get something which you can now convert into anything that you want. If the hot dog turns out to be poison, then I don’t get the full value of my five dollars. And I probably don’t do business with you again. If the five dollars I give you turns out to be a counterfeit bill, then you don’t get the value from the exchange, and you probably don’t do business with me again. But if it’s a good hot dog and a good five dollars, then we both benefited mutually. And that’s it. There’s no more to the exchange than that. It’s mutual benefit.

The second basis of relationship is shared aim. That’s where we’re engaged, we’re interacting with each other. We have a relationship because we want to create or do something together. Political action, most non-profits, all the professional relationships, properly speaking; that is, teacher-student, doctor-patient, attorney-client, accountant-client are properly speaking shared aim relationships, where the shared aim is the client, or the patient, or the student’s growth or protection in that particular area. And that works very well as long as nobody has a covert agenda or is trying to control it. It’s a shared aim. You work together and you do what’s necessary for that to happen.

And the third basis for relationship is emotional connection. And this is friendship, partners, marriage, and so forth. It’s the deepest form of relationship.

Student: What’s it called again?

Ken: Emotional connection. Now in a typical marriage you’ll have all three operating. That is, hopefully, there is an emotional connection. There’s definitely a shared aim; the shared aim is to raise a family. And there’s also mutual benefit. In most marriages there’s a mutual benefit. There are economic benefits to both parties.

When a couple breaks up in a divorce, the emotional connection has gone; usually there’s a big mess sorting out the mutual benefit. The shared aim relationship, if there are children, is still there, hopefully. So it’s quite possible for the basis of the relationship to change and shift. And one has to be sensitive to that.

Going back to the example of The Nation that I just gave, my sense is that the owner felt a shared aim with his customer base, and that’s why he was writing. Because when they withdrew their subscription, okay they’re no longer sharing the aim, and he wanted to talk with them about that. It wasn’t a mutual benefit. I mean there may have been things like that, he’s getting money, he’s providing them with interesting material and things like that, but it’s really part of a shared aim.

And so when you reduce a shared aim relationship to a mutual benefit, it is a reduction. It’s not as close or as intimate a relationship. And it’s a devaluing of the relationship. And that’s precisely what happens when everything is viewed in terms of money. We actually devalue the intercourse and interaction which binds and makes society society. And we also undermine emotional connections very powerfully.

People who are very astute about money understand this very well. Quotation from Henry Ford who certainly understood something about money: “It’s a very sad thing when your friend becomes a business partner. It’s a very wonderful thing when your business partner becomes a friend.” He’s saying exactly the same thing. And one emotional connection is just now mutual benefit, and the other, what was just a mutual benefit, actually becomes a friendship. It’s a richer, deeper relationship. Why do I say an emotional connection is a deeper relationship than mutual benefit or even shared aim? Well, how many of you would kill or die for your hot dog vendor? How many of you would kill or die for your spouse? Or your children? Emotional connection can be that deep. Very, very different quality.

Raquel? Mic.


Section 7

Raquel: I am getting caught on something. I’m not sure how to put this. So a few minutes ago, you said, you know, sometimes you do just have to view something in financial terms and it’s beneficial. And I feel like in our system our financial institutions are completely tied into the war-machine and all these things. They’re so interlocked that you can’t really separate out. I mean unless you’re investing—unless your 401(k) is in a socially responsible fund, which you know most of us don’t have that—you know, we’re directly investing in something that contradicts what’s good for humanity. And I feel like when they’re so interconnected, you know, what you were talking about—the hot dog vendor—it’s on a kind of a small, personal level. But when our whole institution and our choices are…

Ken: I understand. We live within a system. And it’s not only our investment. What’s the military percentage of the federal budget now? Is it about fifty percent?

Raquel: It depends what you include but it could be over fifty percent.

Ken: Yeah, I know it’s at least a third but I think it’s closer to fifty now, okay. That means fifty percent of my tax dollars go to things that I have very, very little [chuckle] enthusiasm for, okay. We are in the system, okay?

Raquel: Right you don’t have a choice…you don’t have a choice with your income taxes, but you do have a choice…

Ken: Just, well yes, up to a point. There are only so many investment options, too. I mean one can withhold income tax, you can always say you have a choice there, too. But there are certain consequences to that which most of us were… Now, your question boils down to, what is the best way to change a system? And the focus that I want to look at here is not so much, how we’re going to change the system, but how we become, how we live our own lives individually, with as much awareness as possible, so that we are no longer contributing to the system in what we actually do.

And everybody’s going to have to make individual choices here. I’m not going to be prescribing that you should invest in socially responsible things, because that may be the right choice for certain individuals, it may not be the most influential way for others. But it is only by becoming more aware of how it operates within us. And I’m thinking more in terms of how we view things, and how we think. And start changing that, then anything else is going to change. And you find a way to be viable and possibly even influential within this context. And these are totally non-trivial things.


Section 8

One of the things I do want to say here, because it’s also important. When we reduce everything to money, it allows us to avoid dealing with certain kinds of pain and suffering in the world. And you can see that by the policies of the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, and lots of banks, and so forth. And they say well, it’s financially not feasible to negotiate or be able to do anything in those circumstances.

I want to take that principle much further. Any form of idealism involves avoiding some specific pain or suffering. Any form of idealism. Whether it’s Marxism, capitalism, fundamentalism, Buddhism, in a certain sense. [Chuckle] And when we talk about living without the projection of thought and emotion, it means living without any idealism relating to exactly what we do experience.

And one of the ways I arrived at this—in my work with individuals over the years—not infrequently, people bring financial matters. You know, either how to handle money, or not having enough money, or conflict with their ethics and their way of life, or how they’re earning [money], and so forth.

And what I’ve come to view, and as much personally as in my work with students, is that any time money or the lack of money is regarded as the problem, something else is being ignored. Because when you regard money as a problem, you’ve actually adopted the idealistic system of money. Something else is being ignored, because money is a symbol. It’s a symbol of something. And when one digs down and finds out what that is representing in your life, then all kinds of other possibilities start to open up.

Colleague of mine in the coaching world developed a seminar which she calls Wantology, the study of want. And if you’re interested, I got certified by her to do this. But it boils down to two questions: what am I asking for, and what do I want? They’re not the same.

And, what she put together, was how to put these two questions together. For instance, “How can I get what I want without getting what I ask for?” Opens up all kinds of possibilities. But then there’s the other question…

Student: Ken, can you say that again?

Ken: “How can I get what I want, even if it involves not getting what I ask for?” But then there’s the other question: “How can I get what I am asking for, and not get what I want?” Which happens all the time.


Section 9

Anyway, let’s take a break here, and there was a question I wanted to throw out which came out of this discussion. Yes, we are going to take a 10-minute break, 15-minute break. And the question I want you to consider is, what does money represent or symbolize to me?

Now I’d like you to think about that quite carefully, because you may end up with a list of 25 items. But I’d like you to study that list carefully and boil it down to, say three, maximum, maybe even reduce it even to one. What does money symbolize to me? Or represent to me? Okay, so let’s take a short break.