Near the beginning of the Metta Sutra it says, “Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches” and three lines later it says, “Let one not desire great possessions even for one’s own family.”
I had a conversation recently with a guy I’ve known for a while but don’t see very often. He’s very excited about these folks he’s working with now and thought maybe I could work with them. They are, he said, interested in creating positive change in the world. They’re working on all sorts of green products. They’re interested in people who teach self-improvement and mindfulness. But they’re also very ambitious. They want to improve the world and they want to get rich doing so. They will use their riches for good things, he told me.
Anyhow, he’s giving me this whole pitch about the company and finally he comes to the part where he says, “If you’re not interested in making a lot of money, then this is probably not the company for you!”
At that point I understood that what I was supposed to say was, “Oh yeah! I’m interested in making a lot of money.” Then he could go on with the rest of his pitch.
But I stopped him there and said, “Well, maybe that’s where we part ways. I’m not really very interested in making a lot of money.”
I don’t think he really understood that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to make a lot of money?
Now look. I don’t walk the earth like Caine from Kung Fu with only my robe and my begging bowl. I like my guitars. I like my books and my music collection. I like having my own apartment. I get paid when I run retreats. I get paid for my books. It’s not a lot, but I do not do this stuff for free. I can’t afford to!
I wouldn’t mind making a bit more money. In fact, that’s going to be necessary if I’m to continue living and working in Los Angeles. Right now, the only way I can afford my rent is to keep drawing out of the money I put away when I was working for Tsuburaya Productions. But that’s a finite and dwindling resource. What I take in from book sales and my annual trips to Europe and suchlike (see below) doesn’t cover my current expenses. So I get it. I really do.
When I say I’m not interested in getting rich, it’s not because I’m trying to out-holy everybody else. It’s a matter of common sense. Actually, maybe it’s not so common. But it’s on that level. It’s like understanding that you shouldn’t stick your head in a drill press if you don’t want to get a headache.
I was once at a Zen retreat where one of the teachers – I think maybe it was Tonen O’Connor – said, “There’s no such thing as just a little greed.”
My friend was arguing with me that greed was OK as long as your intention was to use your wealth to do good things, to spread love. Guys like Ekhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra might be kind of cheezeballs, he said, but they’ve helped open a large conversation about mindfulness, about being present in the moment, about peace and positive energy. And isn’t that a great thing? And the fact that Deepak has a thousand pairs of shoes and diamond studded glasses because of his good work, well, what’s wrong with that?
Honestly, I don’t know quite how to express what’s wrong with that, but I can feel it. In any case, I can’t speak for others. I don’t know their minds or their circumstances. But I can speak a little bit for myself.
In order for me to become wealthy doing what I do, I would have to become more famous. But right now, today, I have exactly as much fame as I will ever need. I get recognized now and then in random places. Every once in a while someone stops me on the street or at a bookstore and says, “I’ve read all your books!” It’s nice.
But I wouldn’t want that to happen all the time. Last year I was doing a lecture in Germany and I arrived at the venue about an hour before I was supposed to talk. As is often the case, there was nowhere for me to wait where I was not in full view of everyone who came in. As the audience started to build up, people kept looking over at me. I could feel that, “Is that him?” vibe, that “maybe I should say something to him but I’m scared” sort of weird nervousness. It’s very uncomfortable to be the the center of that. I have a lot of sympathy for zoo animals these days…
If that became the way it was every day of my life, sheesh! I don’t know what I’d do. I fully understand why celebrities buy big mansions with gates and fences around them, and why they don’t hang around with anyone except other celebrities. I’m light-years from that myself, but I can very clearly see how it goes.
So back to my friend and his pitch. After I said some of this he said something like, “Well if you don’t know what you want…” This struck me as both very weird and yet totally expected. The fact is I do know what I want. It’s just that in a world where wealth and fame is the highest object of desire, the idea of someone not wanting that sounds the same as not knowing what you want. If you knew what you wanted you would understand that what you want is wealth and fame.
I really feel like all that stuff about embracing poverty and avoiding greed that the Buddhists talk about isn’t just something that’s supposed to make a person all pure and holy. It’s actually advice on how to live a better life. The more you demand from society in terms of wealth, the more society demands from you. If you don’t deliver, you suffer. Oh you can buy nice things, but you’re hated. You’re a parasite. Or else you become the object of someone else’s greed and envy, and again you are hated.
The big money only comes to those who can play the game, or to those who through fate and karma just happen to land in it. I am neither of those. I’ve seen money make even very well-meaning people crazy. It seems unavoidable.
So yeah, you will start to see me doing a lot of stuff in the next few months intended to raise money for the center we’re starting in Los Angeles, as well as just to generally make it possible for me to live here at all. If it ever spirals into something that makes the really big bucks, well, I’ll worry about that then. Until that happens, though, I’m setting my sights pretty low.
April 3, 2015 Pomona, CA Open Door 2 Yoga
April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT
July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info!
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