You get home after a long day and sit down, exhausted. You deserve a treat and from your bag you take a little box that contains a gourmet chocolate cake. The fork is in your hand, your mouth is open and then you stop. What about your resolution to stop eating chocolate? What about the effect on your waistline? You want to stop and you want to eat it. This is a tough one. So you think again and wonder how this happened? You hadn't intended to buy a cake and anyway, this is an expensive, premium-quality gateau, way beyond your normal budget. But somehow when you walked past the shop you had found yourself inside and the cake was in your bag before you knew what was happening. What to do? In a crisis like this the Buddha can come to your rescue.
The Buddha taught that craving makes the world go round. Look clearly at yourself, he said, and you'll see a great deal of the "unwholesome roots." They are: craving, hatred and ignorance. These are the source of our suffering. Craving is the desire to possess things you like (like chocolate). Aversion is the angry wish to get rid of things that you dislike and delusion is the refusal to learn anything that might threaten you. The pay-off in each case is a sense of security that comes though developing and protecting a sense of our separate identity.
Fortunately that's not the whole story. In all of us there's also a good deal of generosity, love and wisdom, which are the "wholesome roots." Unwholesome roots keep us trapped in narrow self-preoccupation. The wholesome ones are liberating, leading to a broader vision of life. By weakening and transforming the three unwholesome roots and developing the wholesome ones we can move from suffering to creativity.
Take money and by extension, the whole economic dimension of our lives. If you approach money with craving, hatred and delusion, it will drive you blindly and suffering will follow. But what if you could you escape those forces and relate to it with generosity, love and wisdom? That's possible, and doing so is real money mastery. With self-awareness you use money, it doesn't use you. You are responsible, generous and cooperative, using your resources to benefit yourself and others. You are independent: not bothered about status and safe from manipulation. Whether they have a lot or a little, people who have mastered money are self-confident, energetic and creative.
And it's possible to progress in this direction. When you think about it, many of our spending decisions aren't freely arrived at. Advertisers use what they know about our weakness and craving. They offer an image -- a way of looking at the car, or jacket, or pastry they are selling -- that attracts or flatters us. First we buy the image and then we buy the product.
The Buddha analyzed the process like this. Every sense impression is accompanied by feelings that are pleasant, painful, or neutral. We want more pleasant feelings and that's craving. We want unpleasant feelings to go away and that's aversion. We want neutral feelings to be pleasant but don't see how that can be done, so they bewilder us and that's delusion.
Pleasant feelings lead us to crave, grasp, and acquire. But the satisfaction that gives is limited, for no sooner have we satisfied one craving than another situation arises and there's a new craving. You got the jacket, now you need the shoes. You ate the pastry and you need a really good coffee to wash it down. So round and round we blindly go in an unending cycle of consumption. The path of freedom and creativity begins with realizing that craving doesn't just happen for no reason. It's something we do. It arises in the mind because we let it, and we do that because we associate wanting and getting with pleasure. But you can reverse the process. By developing mindfulness -- a deeply pleasing state of heightened awareness of the present moment -- you can simply experience your feelings, without letting them develop into cravings. That's the first step along the road to money mastery.
Try this. Think about a habitual craving you'd like to change, let's say it's the craving for chocolate cake. Once it's on a plate in front of you, things have got tough. But imagine experiencing the pleasant sight of a slice of one without wanting to buy it. Sit mindfully with the pleasant feelings the thought of chocolate produces without going over the edge into craving. Have the pleasure of chocolate without the pain of grasping. Look at pictures in a gallery without wanting to own them, enjoy someone's beautiful apartment without needing it for yourself. Stay right here, right now, in this present moment. Through attending to and enjoying this current moment of experience, craving lessens and that sets you free. Take it from the Buddha; Mindfulness, not chocolate, is the key to liberation.
Kulananda is the co-author of Mindfulness & Money (Broadway Books; 2002) as well as four previous books on Buddhism. He founded Windhorse Trading, a multi-million dollar business run on Buddhist principles. See www.mindfulnessandmoney.com for more info.