Right Bucks: Money and Spirituality

Ken WilberArticle, Ethical, Free, Integral Post, Money, Perspectives, Spiritual, Spirituality, Values, Worldviews 1 Comment

The Dharma is free. No one should charge money for teaching or transmitting Dharma. Dharma that touches money is no dharma at all. Selling the Dharma—there is a root of all evil. The Dharma offered freely and without charge to all who seek it: there is purity, nobility, an honorable disposition.

And so goes the strange antagonism between Dharma and dollars. In dealing with this issue of money and Dharma—or money and spirituality in general—there are at least two very different items that need to be teased apart and addressed separately. The first is the appropriate monetary value of any relational exchange (from medical care to education to goods and services in general); and the second is, should monetary exchange ever be linked to Dharma teaching?

We still see an extraordinary ambivalence, and guilt, and disgust, with the idea that Dharma and money should ever cross paths at all. And this is profoundly muddleheaded. Ken Wilber

To take the last issue, the difficult issue, first. The first great Dharma systems, East and West, all arose, without exception, in the so-called “axial period” (Karl Jaspers), that rather extraordinary period beginning around the 6th century B.C. (plus or minus several centuries), a period that saw the birth of Gautama Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Moses, Plato, Patanjali—a period that would soon give way, over the next few centuries, to include Ashvaghosa, Nagarjuna, Plotinus, Jesus, Philo, Valentinus…. Virtually all of the major tenets of the perennial philosophy were first laid down during this amazing era (in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity….)

And in every one of those cases, without exception, the civilization in which those teachers arose was an agrarian culture.

Cultures (and social structures) can be divided and categorized in many ways. One way is according to the predominant worldview of the culture (archaic, magic, mythic, mental, existential)—which means, the level of consciousness reached by the average or typical individual in those societies (which thus forms the “official view” of reality of that society, i.e., its worldview).

Another is according to the corresponding techno-economic base of the society (foraging, horticultural, agrarian, industrial, informational)—which refers to the basic means of production that the society uses to feed and clothe itself and otherwise manage its basic needs (the five major worldviews are correlated with the five major techno-economic bases: they arose together and were mutually determining).

Foraging means hunting and gathering (most of these societies were prior to the invention of the wheel; average life span about 22.5 years; average maximum size of tribe: 40 people; the deep ecologists’ idea of heaven: all real men could hunt, all real women picked berries). This was the major form of human societies for perhaps a million years….

Horticultural means simple planting (usually done with a hoe or digging stick), which was introduced around 10,000 B.C. Women produced most of the foodstuffs in horticultural societies (even a pregnant women could use a digging stick, and the homesite was right next to the worksite, so women weren’t hampered by mothering; women produced about 80% of the foodstuff in these societies; men, of course, continued to wander off, male bond, and hunt, following the major drives of testosterone: fuck it or kill it). Because of the importance of women in subsistence production, about 1/3 of these societies have all female deities (the “matriarchy,” the “great mother”); about 1/3 have mixed male and female deities. Average life span, about 25 years. Major religious ritual: human sacrifice. (Where the ecomasculinists love foraging societies, the ecofeminists love horticultural societies: their idea of heaven; we love dem old digging sticks).

Agrarian means advanced farming using various forms of animal-drawn plows. Where a digging stick can easily be handled by a pregnant woman, a plow cannot, and those women who attempt to do so suffer significantly higher rates of miscarriage (it is to their Darwinian advantage not to plow). And thus, with the introduction of the plow, a massive, absolutely massive, shift in culture began.

Money, food, sex. The great no-no’s in the purely Ascending, agrarian, male-oriented wisdom traditions.Ken Wilber

First, virtually all of the foodstuffs were now produced solely by men (men didn’t want to do this, and did not “take away” or “oppress” the female work force in order to do so: both men and women decided that heavy plowing was male work; for the men, this certainly was no day at the beach, and was not nearly as much fun as, gosh, big game hunting, which men had largely to give up).

But when men began to be virtually the sole producers of foodstuffs, then—no surprise—the deity figures in these cultures switched from female-oriented to almost exclusively male-oriented. An astonishing 97% of agrarian societies, wherever they appear, have solely male deities (the “patriarchy”). Men began to dominate the public sphere (government, education, religion, politics) and women dominated the private sphere (family, hearth, home; this division is often referred to as male production and female reproduction). Agrarian societies began to arise around 4,000-2,000 B.C., in both East and West, and this was the dominant mode of production until the industrial revolution.

Second, advanced farming created a massive surplus in foodstuffs, and this freed a great number of individuals (males) to pursue tasks other than food-gathering and food-creating (farming technology freed some men from production, but women were still tied to reproduction). This allowed, for the first time in history, a series of highly specialized classes to arise: men that could devote their time, not to subsistence endeavors, but to cultural endeavors: mathematics was invented, writing was invented, and—specialized warfare. The production of a surplus freed men (under the “kill it” part of testosterone) to begin building the first great military Empires, and across the globe, beginning around 3,000 B.C., came the Alexanders and Caesars and Sargons and Kahns: massive Empires that, paradoxically, began unifying disparate and contentious tribes into binding social orders. These mythic-imperial Empires would, with the rise of rationality and industrialization, give way to the modern nation-state.

Third, a class of individuals would be freed to ponder their own existence. And thus, with these great agrarian cultures, came the first sustained contemplative endeavors, endeavors that no longer located Spirit merely in the biosphere “out there” (magical, foraging, hunting and gathering), and not merely in the mythic Heavens “up there” (mythology, horticultural to early agrarian), but rather located Spirit “in here,” through the door of deep subjectivity, the door of interior awareness, the door of contemplation.

And thus arose the great axial sages, whose message everywhere was virtually identical: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.” This was all radically, radically new….

Moreover, this new breakthrough spirituality was all of a particular form, which is best described as “purely Ascending.” That is, the entire manifest world was viewed, basically, as evil. The manifest world is the world of samsara, of suffering, of illusion, of temptation, of evil, of pain. And the primary goal of spiritual realization is thus to find that the Kingdom of Heaven is “not of this world.” Spiritual realization therefore involves the extinction of manifestation (samsara) in the unmanifest, unborn, uncreate (nirvana)—and everything in the manifest world that is tempting, is therefore “sin” (however conceived).

And this meant, without exception, that the great sins were gold (money) and sex (women). Food was often tossed into this unholy trinity, the idea being that if you were really obsessed with or hungry for food, you were hungry for samsara and its suffering.

Money, food, sex. The great no-no’s in the purely Ascending, agrarian, male-oriented wisdom traditions. It is no accident that the Buddha’s second noble truth—the cause of suffering is desire—specifically meant sexual desire; and that meant, of course, women. “Eve” (by whatever her name) was everywhere the great temptress, even the great source, of evil.

Money was no less problematic. Christ driving the money changers from the Temple was probably itself a good idea: but more than that, it was emblematic of the whole Ascending tone of the first great Dharma systems: manifestation is dirty, manifestation is evil, and the Ascending Male simply should not traffic in money, food, sex. It all, uh, robs him of his vital juices and power: the power to get off the wheel, out of the game, and rest in extinction in the unmanifest, uncreate, unborn.

The agrarian societies universally supported the Ascending male, and the wandering monks, yogis, sanyasins, mendicants, were all supported solely by the alms and donations of the faithful. The Dharma was pure; the Dharma was clean; the Dharma would not touch samsara, would not touch (or at least, would not enjoy) money, food, sex (or women).

And above all, the Dharma would not charge money for its dissemination. This would be, in effect, trafficking with the Devil, with Mara, with manifestation.

And thus without exception these early Dharma traditions, East and West, were (and still are) stamped with a disdain of money, of food, of sex, and of women; and the ethics of these agrarian and Ascending systems were all designed, one way or another, to avoid and altogether renounce these evils. (All of which, we may charitably suppose, was pretty much unavoidable under the circumstances of the agrarian social organization.)

And all of which would change dramatically with two rather extraordinary developments. The first was the rise of the Nondual systems (in both East and West), and the second was industrialization (in the West, but with far-reaching global implications).

Nirvana and samsara are not-two; and thus one could never find nirvana by fleeing samsara: this would be like trying to find your front by running away from your back.Ken Wilber

The Nondual revolution, introduced in the West by the brilliant Plotinus and in the East by the remarkable Nagarjuna, had one basic tenet: the manifest world of samsara is not an impediment to Spirit but is rather the perfect expression of Spirit: samsara and nirvana are not-two. Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness.

The revolution brought by Plotinus and Nagarjuna is of the same form: Plotinus lashes into the merely Ascending gnostics (who taught that the manifest realm was evil incarnate) with a devastating critique that said, in effect, since this manifest world is actually the creation and expression of Spirit, then how can you despise this world and say you love Spirit? If you love the parent, how can you hate the children? Plotinus in effect accuses the gnostics and the mere ascenders of a brutal spiritual child abuse. Full spiritual realization is rather to be found in the perfect nondual embrace of this world, not in fleeing this world for the unmanifest.

Which is precisely the devastating attack Nagarjuna unleashes on the Theravadin Buddhists. Their “nirvana,” he points out, is dualistic to the core—nirvana versus samsara, the One versus the Many, the infinite versus the finite, the unmanifest versus the manifest—and this brings not liberation but subtle enslavement. Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika revolution would directly give rise to all forms of Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, various forms of Tantra, and—through its influence on Gaudapa and Shankara—to Vedanta Hinduism: all of this, from Nagarjuna’s thorough-going Nondualism.

The essence of the Nondualistic tradition (in both Plotinus and Nagarjuna) is that the Ascending Paths are correct but extremely partial. In addition to a pure Ascent to Emptiness and the One, there is the perfect Descent of the One into the Many. Not just pure transcendence, but also perfect immanence. The entire manifest world is a perfect Expression of the Radiance of the empty Ground. And the Ascent to the unmanifest, unborn, uncreate One has to be united and integrated with the Descent of the One into the Many.

Thus, the path of Ascent is the Path of Wisdom (which sees that all Form is Empty), and the path of Descent is the path of Compassion (which sees that Emptiness manifests as all Form, which is therefore to be treated with love and compassion). The Ascending Eros of God has to be united with Descending Agape of the Goddess: The union of Wisdom and Compassion, the One and the Many, the Ascending and the Descending: this union was the essence of the Nondual traditions (epitomized most graphically in Tantra, with male and female, eros and agape, ascending wisdom and descending compassion, united in sexual embrace: well now, that was altogether new!)

Consequently, this Nondualistic orientation involved a profound re-evaluation of the “sinful” nature of samsara, and especially, of the “sinful” nature of money, food, sex (and women). What the Ascending Paths took to be primary distractions from Spirit, were now seen as primary and glorious manifestations of Spirit. “This earth and everything on it,” says Plotinus, “becomes a blessed being.”

Nirvana and samsara are not-two; and thus one could never find nirvana by fleeing samsara: this would be like trying to find your front by running away from your back.

The Nondual traditions thus began a counsel, not of renunciation and purification (merely Ascending), but rather of transformation and transmutation: the five poisons are one with the five wisdoms (e.g., one enters anger with Emptiness in order to discover the wisdom of clarity at its base). The defilements, just as they are, are expressions of primordial awareness, and thus are not renounced, but rather are self-liberated, just as they are, into their own primordial Purity. Samsara is no longer the main obstruction to Spirit, it is the perfect display of Spirit’s creative and compassionate activity, and is to be treated as such.

This Nondual path, of course, is open to its own pitfalls (which are legion), but the basic re-orientation is obvious: it is no longer a matter, for example, of sexual abstinence, but of appropriate sexuality as spiritual expression. And no longer woman as evil, but woman as co-equal manifestation of the Divine. And no longer an anti-food stance, or in general, no longer anti-food as religious crusade: even meat, and alcohol, and other “untouchables” were entirely appropriate if entered with empty awareness (and they were ritually used in just that manner, as an indication that all aspects of samsara were an expression of the Divine and thus not to be despised). And, as we will see, this eventually involved, not anti-money, but appropriate money, appropriate bucks (just as anti-food gave way to appropriate food and anti-sex gave way to appropriate sex). The disgust with money was primarily and profoundly a disgust with manifestation, a hatred of samsara, and a desire to not “dirty” oneself with the gross realm: all of which the Nondual orientation would find utterly and profoundly confused.

Now, as much as the Nondual traditions brought a revolution in the relation to samsara (to sex, food, money, body, earth, and women), nonetheless these traditions still arose on an agrarian base, and they remained, in many respects, steeped in the ethics and morals of what still amounted, in many ways, to an old boys club. The decisive revolution for women would occur, not in the East, but in the West, and it would depend not upon a certain idealism, but upon the steam engine.

Industrialization, for all of its horrors and all of its nasty secondary effects, was first and foremost a technological means to secure subsistence not from human muscle working on nature, but from machine power working on nature. As long as agrarian societies demanded physical human labor for subsistence (plowing), those societies inevitably and unavoidably placed a premium on male physical strength and mobility. No known agrarian society has anything even vaguely resembling women’s rights.

(This is a tangential but important and related point; I don’t want it to detract from the main narrative, but let us at least note that, for precisely the same reason, 80% of agrarian societies, wherever they appeared, relied on male slave labor; slavery was assumed to be the normal, natural, ethical way to secure labor for one’s own survival; the early Greek “democracies” don’t even question it, even though one out of three people were in fact slaves; even the American Constitution, written barely in the wake of industrialization and still largely an agrarian document, simply assumes slavery is so natural it doesn’t even have to be mentioned or discussed: does not have to explain that “we the people” does not include slaves or women.)

But within a century of industrialization—which removed the emphasis on male physical strength (and slavery) and replaced it with gender-neutral engines—the women’s movement (and anti-slavery movements) both emerged for the first time in history (on any sort of large scale): these liberation movements were all united by the fact that male physical strength was no longer the prime determinant of cultural power.

Thus, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women was written in 1792; it is the first major feminist treatise anywhere in history. It is not that all of a sudden, women became smart and strong and determined after a million years of oppression, dupedom, and sheepdom: it is that the social structures had evolved, for the first time in history, to a point that physical strength did not overwhelmingly determine power in culture. Within a mere few centuries—a blink in evolutionary time—women had secured legal rights to own property, to vote, and to “be their own persons,” that is, to have a property in their own selves.

(And likewise, Bishop William Wilberforce, in a campaign forged with his lifelong friend, William Pitt, spearheaded a movement that resulted, in 1807, in the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire. In the States, a war fought in part for anti-slavery motives would grind up more men in single battles than were lost in all of Vietnam—48,000 killed in three days at Gettysburg alone; the President at the time would remind the world, in a noble address at that site, and in a mere 253 words, that this battle was fought because the Nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” a proposition scorned by nature and by all societies embedded in it: a proposition scorned by all agrarian societies. Soon “all men” would be expanded to “all humans”—men, women, slaves—and genuine democracies would emerge for the first time in history.)

We will drag the Dharma, kicking and screaming, into the modern and postmodern world only when every single one of those “anti” stances (money, food, sex, body, earth, woman) is attacked simultaneously: they stand or fall together.Ken Wilber

Here, then, was a revolution (and a series of liberation movements) that the still-agrarian East did not participate in—and it certainly did not participate in the woman’s movement and actual female political liberation. And thus, for all the Nondual and Tantric emphasis on the “Feminine” and the “Goddess,” women in those societies were nonetheless still relegated to the private, reproductive sphere (I am not the only one who has marvelled at societies that eulogize the tantric Goddess and the Feminine—such as India, Tibet—and yet still have virtually no women in positions of power or public influence. The point is, this cannot happen on an agrarian base: worship of the “Feminine” remains a bit of lip-service, because the base cannot sustain the otherwise beautiful vision).

To unite East and West at this point in history thus means, more than anything else, to unite the extraordinary breakthrough represented by the Nondual orientation—which values equally Ascending and Descending, Wisdom and Compassion, Emptiness and Form, Eros and Agape, Male and Female, Heaven and Earth—to unite this orientation with a techno-economic base (benign industrial and especially post-industrial), which is the only base that can allow the manifestation of this nondual orientation.

Put simply, it means uniting the Nondual orientation with the postindustrial base. That is, the Nondual orientation with a non-gender-biased base. This would be, in the very best sense, a nondual Tantric outlook not only in vision and theory but in fact and in deed, in actual manifestation.

And all of this means a thorough-going friendliness with money, food, sex, and women, none of which are significantly present in the merely Ascending Paths. (At the same time, we don’t want to go to the other extreme; too many women’s spirituality movements end up being a merely Descending Path, emphasizing nothing but the body and the biosphere and Agape and compassion—without a clue as to real Eros and transcendence and Emptiness—and thus they end up endlessly emoting and parading a personalistic and egoic series of unending feelings, preferably on a full moon night, as if that were liberation).

A thorough-going friendliness with samsara, as the perfect expression of an all-pervading Spirit: this is the Nondual revolution; and to situate it in a techno-economic base that allows it to manifest: this is the great project of postmodernity. This union did not (and could not) happen prior to industrialization; and as we carefully move into the postindustrial, correcting as many as we can of the excesses and harmful side-effects of over-industrialization, then we have the opportunity, for the first time in history, to begin a genuinely Nondual orientation to the world (not just in theory but in fact).

And the trick, of course, then centers, not on a forced abstinence and condescending judgement about money, food, and sex, but on the appropriate and functional use of these relations as an appropriate and functional expression of Emptiness, as an appropriate manifestation of the very Divine.

In this difficult equation, we can err in either of two extremes. The one, of course, is the standard Ascending error: all aspects of samsara are evil and are to be disinfected with disgust (don’t touch!: money, food, sex, earth, body, women). But the other extreme (the merely Descending) is equally alluring: a type of over-indulgence in personal desires and impulses under the guise that “everything is Spirit”—a type of hippie dharma, beat zen, ersatz self-indulgence that confuses egoic whoppee with egoic transcendence.

How individuals (and teachers) decide to handle that delicate equation (integrate both Ascending and Descending in the nondual Heart), I will leave to individuals (that is indeed a whole other topic). My point here is rather that we still see an extraordinary ambivalence, and guilt, and disgust, with the idea that Dharma and money should ever cross paths at all.

And this is profoundly muddleheaded. Granted, if some people cannot afford to attend a Dharma class, then we want to make every effort to make provisions for these individuals. But that is a completely separate issue, and at heart it is not in any way different from any other goods and services: I think most people feel that we ought to make basic medical services available to people regardless of their capacity to pay. Just so, we should make Dharma available to people regardless of capacity to pay.

But that is not what bothers so many people (and so many teachers of Dharma). Rather, they tend to feel that even if people can afford to pay, they shouldn’t have to. That Dharma is “above all that,” that Dharma shouldn’t sully itself with dirty bucks. In other words, that Dharma ought to present itself as thoroughly disgusted with the gross realm. So that Dharma’s “purity” is beyond all that.

But that is pure agrarian, ascending, anti-this-world nonsense. In its claim to purity, it hides a disgust with manifestation. In its claim to freedom, it conceals an enslavement to an other world that touches not the basic realities of existence in this world. In its claim to moral clarity, it hides a moral judgement that samsara is rotten to the core.

Filthy lucre. Touch not the gross realm. With eyes reverted ever upward, let us transcend only: let us not enter, with care and compassion, the relational exchanges that define this world: relations of food, and of sex, and of money.

And let us point, for our ideals, to the agrarian sages that refused monetary exchange (and, indeed, condemned it). We are using the ethical standards appropriate to the agrarian structure for a postmodern world where they don’t even vaguely apply. The entire agrarian structure supported yogis and mendicants with alms and donations—they didn’t have to worry about money, a place to live, how to pay taxes—and it’s very easy to condemn something you are freely given anyway.

All this does, in the postmodern world, is create and enforce a vicious hypocrisy. Since individuals and teachers must raise money in order to survive, but since money is evil, then with guilt-torn conscience let us raise money but call it something else (“free” donations). Let us keep pointing out that Ramana didn’t accept money (he was supported by devotees, of course); the Dalai Lama doesn’t accept money (he just has an entire small country supporting him). And god forbid some teacher should be found driving a BMW: the Devil, no doubt, made him do it.

And worse: the message that goes out from the Dharma is not how to be responsible for appropriate money, but how to avoid that responsibility. The pure Dharma doesn’t touch bucks: therefore pure practitioners shouldn’t care about money. Which means, a good practitioner should be thoroughly, totally, and wildly out of touch with reality.

Nobody likes to see spirituality abused by exorbitant monetary greed and grasping—the Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts (or Rajneesh, etc.) sucking for bucks among the unsuspecting. But the opposite of greedy money is not no money but appropriate money. The Ascending list has to be amended and supplemented: right food, right sex, right bucks.

My own view, in fact, is even personally stronger. I believe that this hippie dharma (filthy lucre) actually cheapens the Dharma. It sends out the message that the Dharma hasn’t a clue as to how to make it in the real world. It sends out the ages-old ascending nonsense that Dharma equals puritanical, dead from the neck down. It sends out the message that Dharma cannot touch money without sullying itself. And that is the cheapest of the cheap.

As I said, I believe that every pragmatic effort should be made to nonetheless make Dharma available to anybody, regardless of ability to pay (I’ll return to this in a moment). But that is entirely different from the stance that says Dharma should never be repaid for its efforts.

In other words, these two issues are entirely separate—making Dharma available to those who can’t afford it, and the notion that Dharma should not be paid at all. The former is commendable, noble, and honorable; the latter is pathetic, retarded, regressive, and obscene. And a Dharma disgusted with the gross domain: That is not free Dharma, that is cheap Dharma, crippled by its incapacity to embrace the gross domain with care and concern and intelligence.

Money is the power of relational exchange in the gross domain. It is the entirely appropriate mode of allowing goods and services to move in the gross realm. And a Dharma that includes (and not despises) the gross domain, is a Dharma that operates with appropriate bucks, and thus a Dharma that moves into the modern and postmodern world, without this insane eulogizing of agrarian, sexist, ascending, puritanical, anti-earth, anti-body, anti-women stance: and believe me, it’s a package deal.

The difficult issue then turns from, not whether Dharma and dollars should ever cross paths (of course they should), but rather, how do we make Dharma available to those who cannot afford it?

And here the question reverts to the much more prosaic and ordinary question of, how do we do this in any domain and with any goods or services? There is absolutely nothing special about the Dharma in this regard. How do we reach equitable exchange in any event?

For example, I earned money in college by tutoring. I couldn’t decide on a fixed price, because some students were incredibly wealthy and some quite poor. So I charged them, per hour, whatever they made an hour (or an equivalent worth; with one physician’s son, I charged what the physician made an hour). This meant I had some who paid $3.75 a hour (minimum wage at the time), and a few who paid around a hundred dollars an hour (which, strangely, they didn’t seem to mind).

At no point did it dawn on me to do this absolutely free as a matter of principle (because that is a stupid principle; and entirely different from doing it for free, or virtually free, for the pragmatic reason that they can’t afford it).

This type of sliding scale, of course, is frequently used in law firms, in medical establishments, in psychotherapy, and in social services, and I personally am very fond of it. Unfortunately it is rather hard to apply to seminars and retreats and similar Dharma events, because the bookworking is so complex, but there may be various areas of Dharma teaching where it might be creatively applied.

Likewise, there are varied types of activities that can be arranged which have a monetary differential. For example, some teachers can give free lectures, open to any and all, and then interested students can sign up for special individual sessions or group retreats, with a monetary charge (this again, can be arranged on a sliding scale or not, depending on circumstances; and scholarships can always be made available for sincere but disadvantaged practitioners, not because the Dharma shouldn’t touch money, but because it makes happy concessions to the less fortunate).

But allegedly “free” Dharma (as a matter of “purity”), which is to say, Dharma on the cheap, sends out the unmistakable message that Dharma is worthless, and that you, too, can become worthless if you practice hard enough. It sends out the message that Dharma assumes no mature responsibility for gross relational exchange, and that you, too, can become totally irresponsible if you apply yourself diligently. It sends out the unmistakable message that “liberation” and “gross incompetence” are identical.

And worst of all, it sets up a pervasive atmosphere of hypocrisy: because gross relational exchange is in fact unavoidable in any case, then money must be raised from other sources and called by other names: a constant kissing up to rich patrons; groveling handouts for a “pure” Dharma that won’t sully itself with filthy lucre; degrading the teachers and the teaching for a “purity” that hides its face in shame from the demands of the real world; turns its back in humilation from the rigors of financial straightforwardness: and calls all this dissembling “free” and “pure.”

There are gifted Dharma teachers who have over 20 years of experience and wisdom—and who by teaching will save their students enormous expense in time and money (and suffering)—and yet they gnash their teeth, put on their hair shirt, and grimace as they ask for 5 dollars to cover expenses.

This is not transcendence, this is pitiful, guilt-ridden puritanism. Emptiness will not relieve you or me or anybody else of the need for appropriate relational exchange in the manifest world. Becoming less attached to money does not simple-mindedly mean having less money: less attached does not mean don’t touch. It means gracefully touch and don’t squeeze to death. It means touch with open hands, it doesn’t mean cut off your hands.

I myself have been poor most of my adult life (I was a dishwasher and busboy and gas-station attendent for most of a decade), until my books started making money (quite late in the game) and then Treya left me a few oil and gas wells in Texas, so now I don’t have to worry too much about money. But my views on this matter were no different then than now: dollars and Dharma are not only not incompatible, monetary exchange is an altogether appropriate, functional manifestation of the Divine in everyday life, just like appropriate food and appropriate sexuality.

And as for the disdainful view—filthy lucre—I guarantee you that, for structural reasons, that view is ineradicably linked to an anti-body, anti-earth, anti-ecological, anti-sex, anti-woman stance: in every way, a package deal (they historically arose together, and they will only fall together: they are linked by hidden structures of relational exchange).

And we will drag the Dharma, kicking and screaming, into the modern and postmodern world only when every single one of those “anti” stances (money, food, sex, body, earth, woman) is attacked simultaneously: they stand or fall together.

It is time to have done with this Dharma on the cheap; time to stop announcing that Dharma is worthless; time to stop implying that a good practitioner hasn’t a dime or a clue; time to cease this spritual child abuse. Time, rather, to enter the manifest realm of appropriate and functional relational exchange—of money, food, sex, body, earth—and find, as Plotinus said, that this earth and all its goods becomes a blessed being, and sanctifies each and every event by touching it with grace, not disinfecting it with disgust.

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.


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