Is “Good Greed” Good?

richierichNear 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.”

deepakMy 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.



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170 Responses

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  1. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra February 24, 2015 at 12:36 pm |

    Damn good stuff, Mr. Warner. Very good read.

    I spent the first 23 years of my life “impoverished.” Over the past 7 years, I’ve clawed my way into the “lower-middle class.” Holy fuck has it been a lot of work. Being poor was a lot easier and actually more freeing than owning a house and car payments and student loans and being expected to wake up every morning at the same time and perform your repetitive job duties to the highest of standards every single day regardless of mood or circumstance. Some days I damn well miss being poor. When people say being poor is “hard work” I just think that’s true for those who are ashamed of being poor and/or caught up in some the negative things associated therein (violent lifestyles, drugs, etc.).

    Oh well. I’m not complaining. Just an observation.

    1. Yoshiyahu
      Yoshiyahu February 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm |

      Most poor people DO “wake up every morning at the same time and perform [their] repetitive job duties to the highest of standards every single day regardless of mood or circumstance.”

      You are lucky enough to have a background and circumstance that have allowed you to think of those two things as mutually exclusive, and good for you, but for most poor people, their lives consist of working hard at a job or series of jobs and still not making enough to get out of poverty.

      1. senorchupacabra
        senorchupacabra February 24, 2015 at 2:03 pm |

        My dad did it every morning. The difference between he and most of those in the “middle class” was he wasn’t beholden to the shackles of the American Debt system. Therefore, he could leave a job anytime he wanted without any serious repercussions. If he got bored, frustrated, or was simply laid off, it simply meant we were back to eating beans or spaghetti every night for a few months.

        My observation–you know, from actually being very poor (I never once slept in an actual bed until I got into college)– is that there are two kinds of miserable poor people: Those who find themselves caught up in addictive or violent cycles. And those who feel shameful or somehow less than others because they’re poor. Either way, it’s a fucked up system that puts people in such situations against their will in the first place. Real freedom–as has been said so often it’s a cliche at this point–is of the mind. Only the poor are free, but they’re too brainwashed to understand as much. As Chuang Tzu is said to have said, upon being offered a prestigious and lucrative position within the government, “Leave me alone so that I may wallow in the mud.”

        Having spent more than a decade of my life finger-tipping my way into the middle-class, I can honestly say if I didn’t have a family and responsibilities therein, I’d quite happily regress into the true freedom of poverty. I’d be right back wallowing in the mud, living life on my terms instead of Bank of America’s.

        1. Yoshiyahu
          Yoshiyahu February 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm |

          You say real freedom is in the mind, but then you say only the poor are free, and you can’t have it both ways. But more importantly, being poor isn’t just a question about whether you have a balanced meal for dinner or not. It’s about not having the money to get your sick baby seen by a doctor. Maybe you and your family never got sick or hurt when you were growing up, but over here in MY poor family, it was a recurring problem that caused a lot of stress and anxiety. You could tell parents like mine that they’re really free, and if they just got their head in the right place they’d see that, but they’d probably beat you senseless.

          I call BULLSHIT on your silly fantasy of the nobility of poverty.

          1. senorchupacabra
            senorchupacabra February 24, 2015 at 8:53 pm |


            Game over I guess.

            Fap fap.

    2. Fred
      Fred February 24, 2015 at 1:23 pm |

      I’m poor, but I feed the squirrels and deer. Other people take care of the humans. Some times I feel guilt over that, not caring for all that need care.

  2. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 24, 2015 at 1:31 pm |

    yes, i agree….but should not be interested in not making a lot of money because of what scriptural dogma?

  3. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 24, 2015 at 1:39 pm |

    why set your sights low, just because some dude way back when decided to write a poem and do the “The Buddha said!” as if it was the “It is WRITTEN” holy tv show on Sunday….

    Why do something, like follow scripture, just because it’s accepted as dogma?

    Doesn’t dogma create just as much problems in the world as greed?

  4. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 24, 2015 at 1:45 pm |

    Thanks to the dismantling of Glass-Steagall (under Bill Clinton), and the fraudulent actions of the big banks and the ratings agencies, I have been living the life of poverty since 2008. Not that I was middle-class before that, but I had enough to pay my share of the expenses, and have fun.

    Friends I have had, in need.

    Good luck to you, Brad, with finding your way forward. I am broke today for having supported the crazies in a local marching band with a very small donation (honk if you support Honk), but I will think of you next time I am feeling slightly above total impoverishment.

  5. captainhardshell
    captainhardshell February 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm |

    20th century philosopher John Rawls believed that a certain amount of wealth inequality was morally permissible as long as two conditions were met:

    1) Prestigious, well-compensated professions were open to anyone based on merit, and

    2) The existence of these professions (and their ensuing wealth) benefited all of society in some way, especially the lower classes

    The mixed economies of the Nordic states are frequently cited as examples of Rawls’ ideas, as they combine private markets and individual wealth with high taxes and robust social safety nets. You can still make a lot of cash in these countries–Sweden has several billionaires on the Forbes 400–but past a certain income level, the bulk of your money is redistributed to society in the form of free healthcare, tuition, pensions, and other necessities for both the poor and the middle class.

    Obviously, the United States is considerably less egalitarian than that, but I feel like the Nordic model, even if it might prove difficult to adopt here on an institutional level, is still a great moral standard to hold. It keeps the entrepreneurial drive of capitalism intact, without allowing an unregulated free market to slit the throats of the fallen competitors. You might not get to be the next CEO of Microsoft, but you’ll always get to eat dinner, sleep indoors, and visit the doctor without a medical bankruptcy. And if you happen to claim the throne of success, you get to keep a nice chunk for yourself and use the rest to strengthen society as a whole.

    I believe Joko Beck even said something along the lines of “Trying to make a million dollars is as good a game as any, provided you play it the right way” (paraphrased as heck.) If the U.S. is ever to have a more evolved economic system, I think it needs more sane people capturing the higher incomes, not less. More Bill Gates, less Donald Trumps.

    And I think you’d make a great millionaire Brad! You might have a few more guitars laying around, but you’d probably steer clear of the diamond-encrusted smartphone cases and $5,000 haircuts that Chopra no doubt indulges in.

  6. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 24, 2015 at 2:42 pm |

    The metta sutta– says in Wikipedia that this is a reference to a sutta in the Khuddaka Nikaya, the last of the five nikayas or sermon collections. Here’s an interesting chronology of the books in the Pali Canon , wherein the professor seems to be basically in agreement with A. K. Warder, who writes in “Buddhist India” (pg 202-203):

    “outside the first four agamas there remained a number of texts regarded by all the schools as of inferior importance, either because they were compositions of followers of the Buddha and not the words of the Master himself, or because they were of doubtful authenticity, these were collected in this ‘Minor Tradition’… hence the “Four Agamas” are sometimes spoken of as representing the Sutra”.

    The “Four Agamas” being the first four Nikayas, excluding Khuddaka Nikaya.

    I’m saying that the metta sermon you’ve quoted belongs to the fifth Nikaya, which is considered to be a later composition than the first four (excepting possibly Digha volumes two and three), and very likely was not actually the teaching of Gautama.

    Wikipedia also points to a “metta” sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya, the third of the collections, but this sutta concerns the mind of friendliness, of compassion, of sympathetic joy, and of equanimity in the practice of a monk or nun. Sort of along the lines I’ve described before, where the excellence of the extension of the last three “minds” throughout the world is the heart’s release through the first, second, and third of the arupa jhanas, not really Polonius-style advice such as you have quoted.

    It’s one of the things that rubs me the wrong way about Theravadins these days, that they are happy to talk and sing about metta, I think because the congregation likes it.

  7. Steve
    Steve February 24, 2015 at 2:54 pm |

    Is this an accurate summary?

    “If a person has more money than they should, it’s bad for them and everyone else. I don’t know what that means but I know it when I see it.”

    Because while I don’t think you’re wrong, there is still something wrong with this post. I don’t know what it is, but I feel it.

    I demanded more from society when I had kids. Which is why I’m not as good a buddhist as my friend chad who doesn’t have kids. But it’s not really having more money than I should that makes me an object of envy of others. That was because I had a really nice butt. But when I realized that, I stopped exercising and bought ugly clothes and started eating more french fries. So now I feel I’m a better buddhist than my friend Kate. She has really nice boobs and should really think about a reduction. My doctor is a pretty good buddhist but he definitely knows how to play the game better than the guy I bought all those french fries from. He’s a really good Buddhist.

  8. Zafu
    Zafu February 24, 2015 at 4:34 pm |

    It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to become realized!
    ~Brand Warner

    Oh please! Blatant plagiarism.

    1. justlui
      justlui February 24, 2015 at 6:33 pm |

      Jesus you crack me up with thee posts, zafu.

      er. . . no pun intended.

  9. shade
    shade February 24, 2015 at 6:22 pm |

    This is a perfect opportunity for me to go on a rant. But I’ll try and make it a short rant.

    First off, this notion that it’s okay to pursue wealth so long as one intends to use one’s wealth to “create positive change in the world” (or “spread love”??!!) is repugnant. It implies that virtue is something that can be bought, and the more money you have the more good you can do. No, it’s worse than that. It’s implies that’s it’s impossible to be virtuous without first being rich.

    And second – what kind of “friend” tries to “pitch” you anything? I think the word “friend” and the word “pitch” should be, by definition, mutually exclusive.

    My favorite post so far this year, by the way.

    1. justlui
      justlui February 24, 2015 at 6:32 pm |

      “First off, this notion that it’s okay to pursue wealth so long as one intends to use one’s wealth to “create positive change in the world” (or “spread love”??!!) is repugnant. ”

      I have done some very positive things with money. You can help in so many ways with money if you are willing, it’s truly amazing. What’s repugnant is earning all you can in life and not using any to help create positive change. Money is just a transference of human energy. You can hire a hitman or feed someone.

      1. shade
        shade February 25, 2015 at 6:11 am |

        “Done positive things with money” – like what? Nevermind, that’s a rhetorical question, but to demonstrate what I’m trying to get at, let me use your example of using money to “feed someone.”

        What does that actually amount to? Say a person puts down five dollars to buy a homeless man a hamburger. Did our hypothetical benefactor raise the cow? Did he slaughter the cow? Did he butcher the cow? Did he make or operate the machine that renders the cows flesh into ground beef? Did he drive the truck that transfers the meat from the slaughterhouse to whatever restaurant is hawking these hamburgers? Did he cook the hamburger or stick it in the hamburger bun or add the condiments or wrap the hamburger in a paper wrapper (and I haven’t even touched on all the labor that goes into the bun and the condiments and the wrapper). All he’s done is transfer the hamburger from the hypothetical restaurant to the hypothetical homeless man. Which our hypothetical homeless man could have easily have done himself if money was taken out of the equation.

        But the activity of the benefactor – walking the six blocks or whatever between restaurant and homeless man – counts as “charity” whereas the activity of the farmer and the butcher and the truck driver and the restaurant employees counts as “labor”. For the employees and such it’s all just another days work (possibly a miserable one) whereas the charitable benefactor can plume himself for his “good deed” – so it turns out he’s purchasing something after all.

        1. justlui
          justlui February 25, 2015 at 8:46 am |

          Cool story, bro. We are looking at this one so differently that it’s not worth the text. Think on it. You’ll get there.

  10. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid February 24, 2015 at 7:41 pm |

    “The only test for me is money. How free you are with your money? I don’t mean, “How wasteful you are with your money?” ” – U.G. Krishnamurti”

    Is it okay if you guys Paypal me some money? Lately, I’ve been dying from poverty, so some money for my practice can go a long way, Buddha brethren.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 24, 2015 at 8:10 pm |

    The fatal college fraternity kegger and business degree:

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 24, 2015 at 8:11 pm |

    And wickedly, he broke her tambourine:

  13. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 24, 2015 at 10:21 pm |

    money isn’t real.

    everyone always puts the emphasis on the money.

    no one ever puts the emphasis on the very real, and really impacting, human interaction.

    so while we all may be subject to a deluded form of seeking monetary gain, the understanding that seeking money is seeking delusion, and attempting to at least somewhat disengage from that, is seeking to escape that delusion of money being of greater importance then the human interaction.

  14. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 24, 2015 at 10:35 pm |

    a prime example would be cambodia. there is a huge issue with child prostitution in cambodia. but cambodia being somewhat like any other place on the globe, has a economy based on money(rather then something like barter.)

    it’s quite common for families to utilize a child by engaging in a business arrangement with a pimp, and the child becomes part of the pedophile sex tourism that is rabid in cambodia.

    then the family collects the money, and makes the various purchases necessary.

    what is there to buy? in terms of Dharma, if you say that medicine was needed, how can that be justified? furthermore, how can it be justified that if a person has the medicine, or the ability to create/share that medicine, how can it be justified that that person should put a family through child prostitution, to purchase that medicine?

    in terms of buddhist practice, this a transgression against Reality itself. against proper understanding.

    what money is need to pick an apple from a tree? it may involve work to climb the tree and pick the apple. or collect it off the ground, or whatnot. but the apple was free.

    Dogen says in Zuimonki, that everything anyone has every needed, has already been provided for. were just to stupid to apply our understanding.

    anyone who says that money is civilized, is not very civilized.

    but the enlightenment of one persons meditation, may be immeasurable.

  15. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 24, 2015 at 10:43 pm |

    ppl always talk about a recession? a recession of what? how does a recession of numbers in a stock exchange, inhibit ppl’s ability to find work and progress in life? ppl take the numbers rolling by on the screens as being real. like as if you could eat them or something.

    now if there is heat wave and huge drought, and crops are destroyed. that is recession. when there is a natural disaster and people cannot work, farm, travel, avoid illness…that’s a recession. but in such a recession, a lot of dharma can be cultivated. ppl’s true human nature in times of suffering can really create a better world. they just need to congregate and create a better world. escape delusion and become more human.

    Dharma is true wealth.

  16. Michel
    Michel February 24, 2015 at 11:25 pm |

    Alan Watts observed that money is a unit of measure. He wrote that, in times of recession, the speech of saying “there is no more money” is akin to workers coming to the building site and being told by the foreman “Sorry guys, but we can’t work today: we ran out of inches.”

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 February 25, 2015 at 3:14 am |

      I like that SO much I’ve just stuck it on Facebook. Much obliged, Michel.

  17. Steve
    Steve February 25, 2015 at 2:25 am |

    Thanks Jason farrow! I found those comments interesting and useful.

  18. anon 108
    anon 108 February 25, 2015 at 3:02 am |

    (Nearer the top of the page Jason Farrrow referring, I guess, to the quote from the Metta Sutta that kicks of Brad’s piece, wrote:

    yes, i agree….but should not be interested in not making a lot of money because of what scriptural dogma? …Why do something, like follow scripture, just because it’s accepted as dogma?

    In support of your own arguments, Jason, you’ve just referenced Dogen , Zuimonki, Dharma, and Buddhist practice. Still… Nowhere do I hear Brad saying ‘Do/think this because it is written in the Buddhist holy book.’ He just started a blogpost with a quote and went on discuss what it means to him in the modern world, all of which made sense to me.)

    I’ve lived well below the UK poverty line* since I gave up my last full-time day job in December 1999. I’ve got by pretty well. I’ve learnt some things from living simply – not that I wouldn’t have learnt other things from living lavishly. But I don’t think any kind of greed can be good. Badly wanting things you don’t need, even if you can afford to buy them, is not conducive to contentment…of self and others…generally speaking.

    *£140 per week after housing costs would, for me, be a bloody fortune.

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 February 25, 2015 at 6:49 am |

      I’ll go futher. The more you get the more it costs, in all sorts of ways.

  19. skatemurai
    skatemurai February 25, 2015 at 4:16 am |

    I could read your writings all day! Really looking forward to a new book! And maybe I will change my mind about “donation stuff” 🙂

  20. skatemurai
    skatemurai February 25, 2015 at 4:42 am |

    And what do you think about Charles Bukowski after all? I read your old article from years back and you wrote that you like his poem and that he seems okay, but no more writings about him after that. I like his sayings about 8-5 routine, and how he didn´t like jobs and work and rather live, drink and write. He liked to stay in bed for few days too 🙂 what do you think about 8-5 life and its stereotype?

  21. Fred
    Fred February 25, 2015 at 7:52 am |
  22. Jason
    Jason February 25, 2015 at 8:24 am |

    I instinctively recoil at statements like, “If you’re not interested in making a lot of money, then this is probably not the company for you!” That’s such a lame-ass Amway-esque line of obvious bullshit. It’s that creepy moment when a real life human being that you know and love turns into a mouthpiece for someone else’s marketing strategy. Regardless of the alleged problems being solved or rewards being offered, it’s the same eerie vibe whether you’re dealing with political activists, religious enthusiasts or pyramid scheme reps. Lose weight now, ask me how!

  23. Jason
    Jason February 25, 2015 at 9:05 am |

    Er, no offense to religious enthusiasts per se. I’m not trying to pull a Zafu here. Frankly, I’ve known atheists who are just as likely as any evangelical Christian to slide into a prefabricated ideological sales pitch in mid-conversation.

    1. Zafu
      Zafu February 25, 2015 at 10:42 am |

      Not sure exactly what’s inherently wrong with ideological sales pitches. A sales pitch against child abuse, for instance, doesn’t seem to terribly bady bad awful to me.

      If you’re pointing out hypocrisy, well then, you’s are pull’n a ZAFU baby!

      1. Jason
        Jason February 25, 2015 at 8:49 pm |

        Well, the sales pitch, while icky and irritating, is just the symptom. The ideology is the disease. Like a physical virus, it has no real life of its own, so it needs a living host to reproduce. Over time, any ideology will replace its host’s ability to experience reality directly, creating a sort of undead state wherein the victim filters all experience through the ideological narrative and becomes unable to speak in any terms that don’t exist within that narrative.

        As a trade off, the disease usually provides the host with an Evil Enemy Who Deserves to be Punished, or at the very least, a social outgroup that the ideological adherent can feel smugly superior to. Maybe it’s Jews, maybe it’s Nazis, maybe it’s infidels, maybe it’s “religious people.” In my case, it’s ideologues. Your point here seems to be that if the outgroup is bad enough the illness is justified. There are a few problems with that.

        First off, in my experience anyway, the more indefensible the enemy position is, the more stupid, viscious and narrow-minded the ideological perspective seems to be. People who choose easy targets like, rape or racism or evil, are so often the most screechingly intolerent among us, possibly because, since their enemy is so bad, their aggression always seems justified. I came up in Minneapolis where there were a lot of “anti-racist” skinheads whose motto may as well have been “We’re just as violent, bigoted and intolerent as Nazi skinheads, but it’s ok because it’s for a good cause.”

        Second–and to address your example specifically–check out Kathleen Morris, the attorney who attempted to prosecute twenty-four people as members of a Satanic ritual child abuse club in Jordan, MN in 1984. Depending on which story you believe, she either a.) falsely accused a couple of dozen people of molesting their own children, thus creating the kind of nightmare scenario you may not be able to fully grasp if you aren’t a parent, or b.) actually came across some kind of sex abuse ring and completely fucked up the court case (thus letting them get away) by trying to extend the prosecution further than it really went, engaging in all kinds of questionable ethics along the way because, hey, coercing testamony, intimidating witnesses, fabricating evidence, it’s all ok as long as it’s For The Children. Whichever version you go with, the problem seems to be that her desperate need to force reality to conform to her own conceptual nightmare caused a break from reality, which, in my opinion, is the inevitable trajectory of all ideology, ESPECIALLY one in which The Enemy is super duper evil.

        So that’s how a sales pitch against child abuse can be terribly bady bad awful.

        All that being said–Come on, man. The old “if you disagree with what I’m saying you must be for child abuse” shtick is a well-worn, cliched disingenuous rhetorical strategy. You might as well have ruduced anyone who disagrees with you to Nazi status the way I pretty much did in this very post.

        1. Zafu
          Zafu February 26, 2015 at 7:56 am |

          Is good greed good? Well, it’s probably better than bad greed.

  24. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid February 25, 2015 at 10:01 am |

    Since I’m dying, does anyone want to Paypal me some money?

    jason farrow, since “money isn’t real”, like you’ve said, could you please Paypal me a couple hundred dollars?

    Thanks, I’m not in the mood for sales pitches. I’m direct when I ask for money because I sit in a lot of Shikantaza. But alas, I can no longer continue to sacrifice myself to the practice since I am slowly dying.

  25. earDRUM
    earDRUM February 25, 2015 at 10:13 am |

    It seems to me that greed is a natural part of being human. Greed is simply hunger that has got out of control; It is wanting to eat the whole bag of chips at once instead of a couple of handfuls.
    But maybe our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived by grabbing what food we could get when it presented itself. A store of body fat could get people through a hungry period.
    Critical thinking allows us to make predictions about the future based on past experience. So we know that eating too much crap will make us sluggish and have heart attacks. We know that greed doesn’t make sense in the long run.
    The problem is that we still have our ancestor’s wiring. We still want to get all we can while we can. So we have to try to tame our ancestral desires.

    Regarding having too much money, it’s all relative…
    To a homeless man on a Calcutta street anyone who has money in their pocket is greedy because they aren’t sharing it. Anyone with a car or a computer obviously has more than is required to survive. Lower and middleclass folks might think that Hollywood movie stars are greedy because they have mansions. But how is that different from comparing our situations to those of a homeless man in Calcutta?
    I think that we all have our own ideas about how much is necessary and how much is too much. And I think that we tell ourselves stories in order to justify what we have.

    1. justlui
      justlui February 25, 2015 at 10:18 am |

      Good post

  26. Zafu
    Zafu February 25, 2015 at 11:36 am |

    Regarding having too much money, it’s all relative…
    To a homeless man on a Calcutta street anyone who has money in their pocket is greedy because they aren’t sharing it. Anyone with a car or a computer obviously has more than is required to survive. Lower and middleclass folks might think that Hollywood movie stars are greedy because they have mansions. But how is that different from comparing our situations to those of a homeless man in Calcutta?

    The difference is the amount of resources at our disposal. Worldwide, 1% of the population owns 50% of world wealth. 1% of the population can do way more, in terms of resources, than the lower and middle classes can do.

    The Calcutta man has power over very little. A 1%’er has a great deal of power. But wealth and greed are not the same thing. The Calcutta man may be an extremely greedy individual who simply [and fortunately] has no resources at his disposal. A 1%’er may not be particularly greedy and uses their wealth to better the world. Obviously the latter would be unusual, because the world could be a much better place.

    1. justlui
      justlui February 25, 2015 at 12:50 pm |

      In other words you and earDRUM are saying exactly the same thing.

      1. Zafu
        Zafu February 25, 2015 at 1:14 pm |

        In this day and age I would consider anyone with a big mansion to be greedy, generally speaking, yes. But a 1%’er may not have a big mansion or be a particularly greedy person. They may use their wealth for the betterment of the world.

        A homeless man on a Calcutta street may not be such a simpleton as to think that anyone who has money in their pocket is greedy because they aren’t giving it away. The Calcutta man may actually be much more greedy than the people around him with money in their pockets.

  27. mtto
    mtto February 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm |
  28. Harlan
    Harlan February 25, 2015 at 12:32 pm |

    “Well, maybe that’s where we part ways. I’m not really very interested in making a lot of money.”

    No bridges burnt there. You’re just not very interested really in whole lot of money maybe..

  29. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid February 25, 2015 at 1:39 pm |

    HEY, guys my paypal account is wrong.

    It’s actually …

    jason farrow, since “money isn’t real”, like you’ve said, could you please Paypal me a couple hundred dollars?

    “The only test for me is money. How free you are with your money? I don’t mean, “How wasteful you are with your money?” ” — U.G. Krishnamurti”

    Giving me money isn’t wasteful since you’re helping a sentient being and I am dying from poverty.

    1. Strong Practice
      Strong Practice February 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm |

      Once Brad’s new Zen center gets up and running you should ask to live there. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to let you stay and help out. The irony is that to get it up and running he’s going to have to rely on the donations of so-called wealthy people. Like every zen center in America, funds are generated primarily from neurotic upper class professionals who have more than enough income to donate to things like retreats and building projects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Even the Buddha himself had land donated to him by King what’s-his-name so that his sangha could have a place to reside during the monsoon season. The moral being: let us not judge the greed of others, let us be thankful that there are people who give at all. That is why when monks go on their begging rounds they stop at the slums as well as the mansions. Everyone is equal.

    2. justlui
      justlui February 25, 2015 at 1:51 pm |

      You should sell the computer you are using. I love having a computer, but if I was actually “dying”, man, I’d have to let some things go.

      I have this vision of you, skinny as Gandhi after an 80 day fast, barely able to lift his hands. . . to comment on a blog with this laptop.


  30. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid February 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm |

    Lol, I’m not technically poor, but I am on the edge.

    Then again, a lot of people are on the edge without realizing…

    Also, I may not… be on the edge. I have no fucking clue.

    It’s indeterminate.

        1. SamsaricHelicoid
          SamsaricHelicoid February 25, 2015 at 4:13 pm |

          Religion is the best way to make money.

          I don’t know a single religious man that doesn’t use some donation money for a cup of tea or food.

          Then again one can’t blame them considering how we’ve been domesticated to rely on such a fiction for survival.

          But then again, survival is a fiction too since there is no-one. Life is just a charade over nothing meaningful, nothing gained, nothing lost. This human form, I never grew attached to it…

          “For myself, there is something which makes suicide possible – not even possible but absolutely necessary: it is the vision of the void, the feeling of void which is impossible to bear.”- Robert Bresson

          Our society is founded upon that void, so any practice within it will be crippled. This is why I am sympathetic to Ted Kaczynski’s Anarcho-Primitivism, even though I am not sympathetic of his atrocious inexcusable actions. It is best to move more towards a value-based economy and live self-sustainably or with permaculture…

          Masanobu Fukuoka understood Zen better than most modern teachers because he lived self-sustainably. His One Straw Revolution inspired the founding figures of permaculture, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and within One Straw Revolution you find much wisdom of the Dharmakaya.

          From studying the trends of recent economics, there will be a big economic collapse. Don’t let the increasing GDP fool you: there is more unemployment than ever because most unemployment stats don’t include laid off, retired, underage, or seasonally laid off people. It also doesn’t include those who have given up searching. GDP can go up temporarily during holiday seasonal jobs, due to more people being hired, but it looks like it’s going down in Q2 of 2015 with all these jobs being cut and people laid off left and right.

          The problem is our modernized capitalist countries depend on an inflationary fiat money system that demands exponential growth in all human activity just to maintain the status quo, and this will lead to eventually collapse or an unrecoverable recession. I think a value-based economy tends to be better. This is why stuff like Agenda 22 were made, so the chaos on an impending economic downturn can be controlled.

          Soon everything will collapse and people will die, and you must come to terms with your life. I already have. I look forward to my Sallekhana in the near future. Mankind is a manic breeding species… life is nothing but pain and loss, there is nothing meaningful in it whatsoever. Just the birds chirping on the branch, and how I wish I were them, so I can fly away from the wretchedness of man.

          1. Fred
            Fred February 25, 2015 at 4:24 pm |

            That’s some heavy shit you got there, brother.

          2. justlui
            justlui February 25, 2015 at 5:06 pm |

            Damn dude.

            SH said: “life is nothing but pain and loss, there is nothing meaningful in it whatsoever”

            This is sometimes true.

            Life is happening, it’s awesome, the experience is the meaning!

            This is sometimes true.

            Bro, you should totally do a motorcycle trip across Vietnam before you check out 😉

        2. Shinchan Ohara
          Shinchan Ohara February 25, 2015 at 5:55 pm |

          actually the harley thing’s working for Genpo… no further comment on that one

      1. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara February 25, 2015 at 5:47 pm |

        The ven. bhagwash looks quite underdressed in that one

        1. Shinchan Ohara
          Shinchan Ohara February 25, 2015 at 5:50 pm |

          ^^^ referring to fred’s osho pic … not sure why it ended up down here :/

      2. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara February 25, 2015 at 5:53 pm |

        I call uniform fetishist with delusions

        1. Shinchan Ohara
          Shinchan Ohara February 25, 2015 at 5:54 pm |

          ^^^ referring to lama MR … replies going skew-whiff this evening

  31. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 25, 2015 at 5:55 pm |

    “The evolution of the idea of money is closely associated, for reasons which must be apparent to even the most casual observer, with the development of the notions of sin and guilt. ” -Henry Miller

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 25, 2015 at 6:46 pm |

    Happiness is a warm gun.

  33. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara February 25, 2015 at 8:00 pm |

    Damnit! I just typed an excellent rant, then hit the wrong button and lost it. Not typing it all again. You people have really missed out on the benefit of my laconical drollery this time.

  34. Conrad
    Conrad February 26, 2015 at 1:53 am |

    Capitalism requires the accumulation of capital. It can’t work otherwise, and without it people would starve and be forced into servitude and warlords would rule the country and then we might wish there were a better system out there somewhere if only we could think of one.

    I bet Brad wouldn’t mind at all if some rich dude with too much money dropped it on him. Then he’d praise the guy for putting his money to good use and bettering the world. Let’s see how many donations from rich people he turns down because their money can’t do any good for him and his center. That will be his greatest post ever.

  35. shade
    shade February 26, 2015 at 6:50 am |

    Um, warlords make use of capital too. And many warlords have been funded by business activities based in modern, industrialized capitalist nations. The United States and Europe may not be overrun by warlords but their economies are tied up in those of nations that are overrun by warlords, and their money has literally found it’s way into the coffers of warlords (and been used to buy the arms that warlords use to conduct their homicidal campaigns). In so far as someone participates in an economic system that encourages such activity, they share some of the guilt – even if, unlike the civilians of so many African and Middle Eastern nations, they don’t have to pay the price.

    True, it’s nearly impossible to “opt out” of the system altogether and not starve to death. Even beggars are caught in the web in so far as they accept donations from the rich and people who earn their money in a more legitimate fashion. But I give props to Brad for at least putting some kind of limit on what he’s willing to rake in, and what he’s willing to do in order to gain his daily bread, and keep the walls up on the new center (he’s says he’ll worry about the consequences of making the “really big bucks” if and when that happens… but the fact that he considers it something worth worrying about at all is encouraging.)

  36. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 26, 2015 at 8:52 am |

    In short: Brad wants to make a living, not a killing.

    Brad, you could be killin’ it, like they do in Silicon Valley! Doing good, changing the world! (what, I sound cynical?) All you have to do is pitch the intangible connection between what you believe and practice and the product- just make every third word “Zen” and splice in images of the product and you’re there!

  37. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2015 at 11:01 am |

    Here’s the product; good luck selling it.

  38. Conrad
    Conrad February 26, 2015 at 12:28 pm |

    Warlords are not capitalists, even when they use capital. A warlord economy is not an investment economy. It’s a conquer and serve economy. We live in a strange time when the capitalist economy operates in the same world as the warlord economies, and they can’t help but interact, often to the detriment of the people living in that warlord economy. Plus there’s several other types of economy ongoing and interlapping.

    Assigning guilt I guess is your job, but not mine. An economy which keeps billions of people fed and relatively well off compared to times past must be doing something right. If greed feeds people, then I guess at least some degree of greed actually is good. Don’t know about you, but I tend to take the Middle Way in these things. Nothing to excess, even moderation.

    Again, if Brad really thinks that people who accumulate a lot of money can’t be doing good in the world with it, then he should only accept donations from the poor. Maybe the middle class. But by worldwide standards, our middle class are among the richest in the world. Like I say, if some rich dude offers Brad a big chunk of cash for his center, I would love to see the post where he explains how he turns it down because it couldn’t be doing any good overall.

    In general, I find that spiritually-minded people have tremendous illusions about how money and economies and the real world in general works. Brad is hardly the worst of the lot. And at least he errs on the side of not being an asshole. But he has a lot to learn about what “right livelihood” means. He’s hardly alone in that, of course.

  39. shade
    shade February 26, 2015 at 1:48 pm |

    “An economy which keeps billions of people fed and relatively well off compared to times past must be doing something right.”

    Not if maintaining such a standard of living requires supporting and encouraging “warlord economies” – which, in the United States and Europe, it does. And I don’t believe greed feeds anyone. Or rather – it feeds one group of people by exploiting, starving and killing another. Which is parasitism.

    Yes, that is the reality of the worldwide international economic system in which we live (and it’s nothing new, in my opinion). But not because it’s inevitable; because we have made it that way. The beast lives because we continue to feed it. I don’t think we have to be parasites, but as long as we believe there’s no alternative, the situation is hopeless (by “we” I mean everyone. Humanity).

    Anyway, I do think there is guilt to be assigned, but not by me… or at least I have no right to judge anyone but myself, least of all strangers on the internet. I live in the United States and benefit from the situation as well. But the fact that so many people assume that accumulating wealth is compatible with “doing good” I find dismaying. At least Brad is questioning that assumption, which is a step in the right direction.

    What benefit is it for the capital of the rich to be used to feed starving children if it was the policies of the rich – the very pursuit of riches – that caused those children to starve in the first place? (How the donations of rich people used to fund Zen centers fits into the equation – ah, I’ll let the Buddhists in the room tackle that question. It’s obviously a huge ethical conundrum that’s haunted religious organizations of every stamp since forever. I suppose the salient issue is how the money is collected and to what end it’s used. Is Brad collecting money in order to support the Zen center, or is he supporting the Zen center in order to accumulate money [or fame]? Once he starts engraving the names of “top donors” on a brass plaque outside the meditation hall, then there’s something to worry about. Cause at that point he really would be selling the dharma).

    Now that was a proper rant, I think.

  40. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid February 26, 2015 at 2:10 pm |
    1. Fred
      Fred February 26, 2015 at 6:00 pm |

      In the dream state where we live as illusion, there has to be an economy, the pursuit of goals and rants about exploitation, corruption and greed.

      Without the dreaming of a separate self, how does the cookie crumble.

      1. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara February 26, 2015 at 6:08 pm |

        Without the dreaming of a separate self, there has to be an economy, the pursuit of goals and rants about exploitation, corruption and greed.

      2. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara February 26, 2015 at 6:08 pm |

        Without the dreaming of a separate self:

        there has to be an economy; the pursuit of goals; and rants about exploitation, corruption and greed.

        1. Shinchan Ohara
          Shinchan Ohara February 26, 2015 at 6:14 pm |

          Shit, Brad’s WordPress jikijitsu is out to trip me up the last couple of days. Comment doesn’t show, because ‘it’s a duplicate’. So I change the punctuation, and it works. Two minutes later the original comment pops up.

          Dreaming of a separate self, computers suck. Without the dreaming of a separate self, computers still suck.

          1. Shinchan Ohara
            Shinchan Ohara February 26, 2015 at 6:18 pm |

            Do androids dream of electric selves?

  41. Conrad
    Conrad February 26, 2015 at 7:14 pm |

    I didn’t say that capitalism is doing everything right. But it’s still doing plenty that is right enough to keep 7 billion people pretty well fed (and clothed and housed and employed and so on – not an easy task).

    And yes, greed does its part there. Farmers plant more food not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because there’s a market for it – a capitalist market, created by capital investments that produces – yes, wait for it – a profit! I know, that’s so terrible. But it works to motivate farmers to get off their asses and grow more food. Maybe in some Buddhist paradise people would grow food for pure and noble purposes only, but not even Buddhists live in such a world.

    As for warlords, they exist for all sorts of reasons, most of them not the fault of capitalism, but because of the lack of it. Though colonialism certainly played a part too. What is capitalism supposed to do about that? Not trade or interact with such regions of the world? Like that’s going to anything but make them even more impoverished.

    Now, the simple fact is that accumulating a lot of wealth is how capitalism not only works, but how it does good things like feeding people. It also does plenty of bad things using the same principles, and if you don’t like those bad things, then just regulate them. Capitalism will adapt just fine. But if you take away all that capital, it won’t be able to do anything, either good or bad. And since it does more good than bad, that would be a bad thing.

    You gotta have a sense of perspective and history. Doing good is very relative, and no one is pure. Trying to be pure is itself a bad thing, if it throws out the good because it isn’t purely good. If someone has the desire to make a lot of money, and they feel that comes with an obligation to do some good with that money, that’s a good thing. As long as they didn’t make that money by some atrocious method. People have to be able to channel their desires in at least somewhat beneficial directions, if they can’t renounce them completely. Buddhism and Zen shouldn’t be at war with that.

    Doesn’t mean that friend of Brad’s isn’t an asshole. But even assholes can still do good things. Even great things. Righteousness is a useless emotion.

  42. Michel
    Michel February 27, 2015 at 1:08 am |

    “Oeconomy” means litteraly: “management of the home”.

    By that standard, wild capitalism isn’t even economy, or a very bad one. In the various conflicts that have afflicted humanity, those societies which have won have always been the most cooperative. Of course, one has to accept that what was cooperative at one point isn’t so much at another. But I observe that communism, which was in reality some sort of State capitalism, was adamantly opposed to cooperation, and that Western capitalism only tolerated it.
    Now the various European health systems, despite the fierce attacks that have been staged at them for the past 20 years, are still much more efficient and cost effective than the wild capitalistic American system, which is the most expensive of the Western World. This is only because it is a form of mutualised help system. Entreprise must be free to exercise, but must be restrained otherwise you get a system where our modern Financial capitalism is an OBSTACLE to free entreprise.

  43. Conrad
    Conrad February 27, 2015 at 3:11 am |

    Why on earth would multi-national economic systems be judged by standards of literal “home management”? That simply makes no sense. The world is not each home unto itself, but a relational sphere of millions and even billions of homes. What works for a family can’t possibly be expected to work for the incredible complexity of all those interactions. No command and obey system such as families tend to have could possibly visualize or organize something that huge. That’s why market forces and supply and demand systems tend to work the best overall. Far from perfect or ideal, but better than the other ways of doing things.

    You’re right about the American health care system, but that’s one of those areas of our economy that doesn’t operate by standard free market practices. Combinations of government regulation and industry-wide price-fixing make a mess of it. I tend to agree with the European notion that the health care industry should be operated along the lines of public utilities, since it’s basically a fundamental and universal human need. But I also wouldn’t pretend that it can be designed and regulated to everyone’s satisfaction from some lofty government office. Just a bit better than what is currently in place.

    But that also ignores the main point, which is that capitalism for all its faults still creates more wealth and opportunities than any of the alternatives. Even the European social-welfare system depends on capitalism to create the wealth that is then taxed to finance it. And so even that depends on “greed” among its most motivated business interests. And it also requires the accumulation of capital, in banks, among investors, and among business leaders and innovators, so that wealth is created in the first place. Otherwise, where would these public health systems such as they have in England or Canada get the financing they need to exist? Look at communist countries, current and former, or monarchies, or mercantile economies, or serfdom and slavery, or our warlord economies, and so on. What kind of welfare systems were they even able to provide, given how poorly they generated wealth to finance them? Pretty crappy ones for the most part. I suppose it was comforting to know that huge inequalities weren’t part of the system, but what does that matter in absolute terms?

    It’s not like capitalism is some sort of ideal utopia, but I have a hard time understanding how it is less “spiritual” than the alternatives. It seems to me that it’s actually more spiritual, and even more cooperative when it gets down to it, than the others. It may not be the predilection of Brad or a lot of other people who want to live spiritual lives, but at least it pays the bills and allows people like Brad many luxuries and opportunities to live the kind of spiritual life he wants to live that simply wouldn’t be possible in most other economic systems.

  44. Fred
    Fred February 27, 2015 at 6:47 am |

    you can live a spiritual life anywhere in the dream time

  45. Fred
    Fred February 27, 2015 at 6:57 am |

    as long as there is the contraction in the dream time there will be dreams about an economy, pursuit of goals and rants about inequalities

    1. mb
      mb February 27, 2015 at 9:22 am |

      Oh jeez, The Capital Letters Made It Into The Captions On This Video Clip. Is Nothing Sacred? (Or Is Everything Sacred?)

  46. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 27, 2015 at 9:48 am |

    Fred, thanks for Shinzen Young on the ox-herding pictures.

    He left out all the stuff I go into in “Fuxi’s Poem” and most of my other writing; funny thing how nobody wants to hear about stretch and resile and coming to one’s senses except me! Of course, I only want to hear about it because I have to, and as I’ve said I believe I have some developmental challenges that others may not share.

    Likewise with ‘Da– it’s not about a perfection that we all fail to see clearly, and therefore practices are necessary– it’s about the natural stretch and resile in the fibers of our being, and realizing the mind among the senses in a technical age, to me. I get the Jedi mind trick thing and I believe that no one is immune to it, but I mostly feel like Jabba the Hutt.

    Does seem like there’s a certain rhythm between centralization and de-centralization in our civilization. However, a pyramid scheme is a pyramid scheme, and when I hear anyone talking about making lots of money I am deeply suspicious, as I think Brad was. It’s not really about capitalism versus anything else, it’s about gristers and schills and the wild west.

    The new gold rush is in mobile apps and startups (and maybe herbal supplements and mindfulness?). there’s a certain collateral damage going on, though, especially here in the S. F. Bay Area, reminiscent of the things that went on around the state in ’49 that left a great deal of mercury still flowing down into the bay.

    I’m staying away from smart phones ’cause I like my brains unfried, and I try not to give more information to anybody’s great web thing than I have to. It’s like money, people have to believe in the new web thing for it to work, but in the case of the internet I don’t like to give people that currency. That’s really because I prefer to keep things simple.

    Like Henry Ford, I think one color is fine. Yes, something of a Luddite!

  47. minkfoot
    minkfoot February 27, 2015 at 12:04 pm |

    He lived long enough and prospered better n’ most.

    Lest any be tempted to idolatrize Leonard Nimoy, I respectfully invite them to remember:

  48. Conrad
    Conrad February 27, 2015 at 1:16 pm |

    Mark, I agree about the gristers and the frauds and those operating dubious businesses. And of course the same applies to spiritual and religious pursuits as well, even ignoring their money-making aspects. Thing is, I think it’s better to have the general freedom and competition between all these various spiritual paths and teachings and orgs and practices and communities and so on, than to have some government approved state religion (or maybe a few of them) that everyone has to work within. Look at Zen in Japan. If that was how it worked here, there’s be no room for Brad at all. Or only a very conformist Brad.

    Buyer beware. A free market in religion and spirituality does make for a messy religious culture, and it definitely allows grifters and their like to ply their trade, but it also allows genuine spiritual practice to flower and spread under a thousand different guises and forms and variants. And that I think is a good thing. We don’t have to follow the crap, or practice within sanctioned groups and theologies and traditions. Or we can follow crap if we like, if that’s what we think we need. Better to let it all come out than try to keep a handle on the control knob.

Comments are closed.