How to ride the horse of money instead of it riding you
After comparing your income with expenses, the final step is to find out if you ended the year with an increased or diminished net worth. First make a list of all the“new”assets (savings accounts, new car, etc.) that you acquired during that time. Next, make a list of your“new”debts and obligations. When you subtract these debts from your assets, this shows you how much has been gained or lost during that year.
When we analyze our past financial selves in this degree of detail, we begin to get a multifaceted picture. What sort of patterns of behavior begin to emerge from the numbers? Did we create more debts than savings? What degree of stinginess is revealed? What degree of generosity? How much control did we exercise? Most importantly, were we able to fund the things that mattered most to us?
In order to manage the flow of money in our lives in such a way as to accomplish our goals, we need to create a budget - a plan that can synchronize our best intentions with our available resources. We need to create a hierarchy that harmonizes our vision with our funds.
Trungpa Rinpoche often referred to a set of principles about natural hierarchy, common to many Asian traditions, known as “Heaven, Earth, and Man.” “Heaven” represents our vision, our ideals, and generally all that we hold “above” ourselves. “Earth” represents the practical - the receptive ground that supports and promotes life. “Man” (or humanity) represents the resourcefulness and flexibility that harmonizes the freedom of heaven with the practicality of earth. “Man” also represents the enjoyment that occurs in the environment established by “Heaven” and “Earth.”
When we use these principles as a road map, we can apply them to the task of creating a new budget for ourselves. The “Heaven” of the budget is the most important priorities we’ve selected. First we have to decide on an outlay for our basic needs of food and shelter. As this often requires the lion’s share of our resources, we need to examine what level of comfort and general lifestyle is appropriate to our needs. After deciding on the basics, we realize that while we can’t have everything we want, we may still be able to fund the most important things. For example, we may decide that our long-term goal is to change our employment. This may mean that we allocate enough money for new coursework, and perhaps incur some debts to do this. We might view the practice of generosity and the funding of special causes to be a high, middle or low priority. Planning for a car, a new washing machine, repaying debts, and attending practice retreats are other examples of personal goals. In general, we need to sort through all of our long- and short-term goals and prioritize them accordingly. Having made these selections, we have given ourselves a specific vision, or “Heaven,” that we next need to fund.
The “Earth” aspect of the budget are the disciplines required to balance our expenses and income. The preliminary exercise of reviewing our past spending and earning patterns is the eye-opening groundwork of this process. Once we have a clear view of our financial past and present, we can set up the budget guidelines for who we want to be. These guidelines are the practical tool that puts us in the position of rulership. Armed with a clear view of our resources and a plan for allocating them, we have a saddle and reins to help us gain better control over those events.
The “Man” principle is the aspect of “nowness,” the ability to be flexible, to change in accordance with the situations and coincidences that may occur. “Man” inhabits and enjoys the environment created by “Heaven” and “Earth,” and brings color and life to the landscape.
We may also use these principles to see if our plan has proper balance. If we have too much vision - too many impractical “grand plans” - then we have an overabundance of heaven, and not enough resources to support those plans. If we are too organized - too rigid in our budgeting - then we have too much earth. (If a good sale comes along, we fail to take advantage.) If we’re changing all the time, and never settle down on one basic plan, then we are unable to properly enjoy our resources. There is too much “Man” principle.
Once we have developed a budget that harmonizes these principles of natural order, there remains the difficult task of actually sticking to it. We need to have a personal discipline that“works.”This discipline is not something that is imposed from outside, but arises from our aspiration; from exercising our freedom of choice. If we have made a viable budget that reflects our long- and short-term goals and priorities, the daily disciplines will arise naturally, as a by-product of our vision.
The most powerful tool that can help us with the multitude of problems that occur in our relationship with money is simple truthfulness. We live in a society where wealth is often garnered by those who have mastered the myriad arts of deception and greed. These patterns of creating wealth are so ingrained in our society that, despite our best intentions to be honest and forthcoming, we suffer nonetheless from this inheritance of lies and quasi-truths. These patterns of behavior are typified by the many thoughtless excuses we offer in defense of inefficiency and poor quality. Phrases such as “It’s in the mail,” “Oh, that’s how it comes,” and “I didn’t notice” all contribute to a subconscious acceptance of a system that produces waste and inferior quality.
Reversing these patterns can occur naturally if we have made it our intent to change all of the expedient, “business as usual” approaches. A personal example: My wife and I have been in the apparel manufacturing business for many years. In the early days, we regarded livelihood largely as a means to an end. We wanted to earn enough money to provide us with the freedom to study and practice, and to be good business partners and employers at the same time. Our products and service were above average, but not consistently so. In the past, when we tacitly agreed to let employees tell small white lies about when goods were shipping late, other employees in turn felt they could “ignore” a small quality problem. As a result of these subtle deceptions, whether personal or collective, the quality of our products suffered.
As we matured in our practice and business, we wished to upgrade our business in order to produce a higher-quality line of clothing. To accomplish this, we had to transform the subtle ways we conducted our everyday business. Employees had to be re-trained and instructed to be inquisitive and forthright. By promoting honesty and heightened awareness, we were able to foster greater cooperation and creativity. This enabled us to execute better designs, so that the quality of our clothing and service improved, as did everyone’s commitment to the company.
By being honest with ourselves and others, we will begin to transform our relationship with money. However, we will still be operating with ingrained personal views and reactions that can deceptively undermine our progress. When we are engaged in the everyday activities of livelihood and commerce, we receive constant feedback from the world. In the course of any given week, we experience lots of successes and failures in our endeavors. Everyone has experienced runs of good and bad luck, in which it feels as if everything is “going my way” or, just the opposite, “everything is against me.”
We can use to this feedback either as a basis for furthering habitual confirmation or as a mirror that reflects back to us our own biased views. This is true for both difficulties and successes. How do we react when things go wrong, such as not getting a promotion, losing our job, or being cheated? Often when we experience such difficulties, we have a fixed knee-jerk reaction: we blame others, we ignore the truth, we deny our own roles in the root causes of these events. Likewise, when we experience positive events, we often heap repeated praise on ourselves, which makes us arrogant and proud.
If we have made it our commitment to get to the root of our habitual patterns, we can use these events as an opportunity to reassess our perceptions and initiate some deeper changes. We can replace our personal “for or against” view with an unbiased meditator’s view. Through the practice of meditation we learn to trust in ourselves unconditionally; we learn to “watch,” without keeping a scorecard. By learning to let go of personal biases, we can understand and acknowledge that money is neither for us nor against us. Money can be seen more simply, as a form of energy that comes and goes. Our path then is to join our meditative practice and insight with our everyday situations, to learn to ride this powerful energy, instead of being ridden by it.
This is not a question of having to manage a large flow of money versus a modest one. The challenge lies in meeting the world with spontaneity; to ride whatever situations we find ourselves in, free from stale views and habits. When we are accomplished riders, balanced and composed, others will begin to notice something - a confidence that translates into an enriching presence. Because on a personal basis, we've reversed old patterns of working with money, it is possible to have an influence on others, to create new patterns that circulate wealth for the benefit of society. In the words of Trungpa Rinpoche, we can view money as “mother’s milk” - as an elemental source of nourishment, one that would “dry up” if we tried to hold on to it.
Daniel Naistadt is the founder and CEO of Tiburon, a mail order sportswear firm. A senior Shambhala training teacher, he has taught courses on Buddhism and right livelihood.