by Wayne Ren-Cheng
With the state of world economies it isn’t a surprise that people are searching for any means to improve their situations. Buddhists are no different. The posting, ‘Money Chant’ on the EDIG website has been very popular lately. Some of the search terms that have found it are: buddhist money chant – vasudhare – buddhist prosperity gospel – buddhism and economics – wealth and buddhism. The trend toward this posting reveals one aspect of human existence that is a root cause of suffering . . . wealth, material and spiritual.
The Awakened One shares practices that will enhance our wealth, material and spiritual. Most notably in the Sigalovada Sutra he teaches how material wealth affects personal relationships. Expanding the teaching from individual effects to the broader karmic consequences he arrived at the core lesson, it isn’t how much wealth one has, it is how one uses that wealth. Wealth should be viewed as a tool, a tool that can be an effective tool when used wisely. Some scholars and teachers say that the Awakened One tells practitioners that enhancing wealth will allow students to pursue their spiritual goals with less distractions.
Enhancing personal monetary wealth will indeed minimize distractions caused by bills due, home repairs needed and family to be provided for. Surplus wealth not needed for the comfort and care of family and friends should be directed toward helping others. This ideal fits firmly in the goal of the Four Ennobling Truths and the realization of personal responsibility for how we live. Some scholars and teachers offer that the Buddha introduced a wealth deity, a traditional Hindu goddess named Vasudhara (Sk., stream of treasure) who, when her name is chanted will bring prosperity and riches to the devotee. This concept is often heard referred to as the Buddhist Prosperity teaching, and offers the “Money Chant” as a path to that prosperity.
The traditional story is written in “The Inquiry of the Layman Sucandra”. A poor layman, Sucandra comes to the Awakened One and asks how he can get large amounts of precious metals and gems so that his large family can be fed. Sucandra says too that any surplus he’ll use for charitable purposes. The Buddha was aware of a Hindu mantra to Vasudhara and he taught Sucandra how to chant it. Assured that following the ritual would result in good fortune and prosperity Sucandra chanted. Soon he was not only chanting the Vasudhara Mantra himself; he had taught it to his neighbors and friends . . . and he began to prosper. Did Vasudhara bring Sucandra more prosperity, or was it due to his own mindful actions?
Here is where more confusion can arise. It is a commonly held belief by Buddhists and non-Buddhists that the Awakened One taught everyone to renounce material things and all pleasures. This was true for the monastic disciples, but was not meant for laypeople. For monks it was all about distraction from spiritual pursuits. Laypeople however had families to support and the Buddha was aware of that. Still, it doesn’t seem logical that the Buddha would have presented the ‘om vasudhare svaha’ mantra (pronounced as OM WA SU DHA REI SWA HA) as a mystical vehicle with which to gain deific intervention. The spiritual paradigm he promoted required a setting-aside of reliance on outside forces and a focus on personal thought and action leading to better choices in societal thought and action. The chant would have been presented as a ritual of intent to relieve suffering rather than raising an expectation that Vasudhare would provide wealth. And not only material wealth. Vasudhare was also said to grant spiritual wealth and abundance of wisdom.
Chanting ‘om vasudhare svaha’ hundreds of times a day will not result in deific intervention but it will keep the practitioner in a constant state of awareness of their need. The level of awareness will be such that opportunities that might have been missed are taken advantage of. Material and spiritual wealth arise from intentional acts, not wishful thinking. The road to material and spiritual abundance is a difficult one, one that only a 4-wheel drive would be able to conquer. The Buddha offered a four-wheeled prosperity in the Cakka Sutta. Prosperity that could only be achieved through individual action and intent.
“There are four wheels, endowed with which human beings develop a four-wheeled prosperity; endowed with which human beings in no long time achieve greatness and abundance in terms of wealth. Which four? Living in a civilized land, associating with people of integrity, directing oneself rightly, and having done merit in the past. These are the four wheels, endowed with which human beings develop a four-wheeled prosperity; endowed with which human beings in no long time achieve greatness and abundance in terms of wealth.
“If you dwell in a civilized place, make friends with the noble ones,
rightly direct yourself, and have made merit in the past,
there will roll to you crops, wealth, status, honor, & happiness.”
Two of the four wheels – ‘rightly direct yourself’ and ‘have made merit in the past’ are powered by thoughts and actions that arise from the foundations of the Eightfold Path and the Three Pure Precepts. The Eightfold Path is about directing yourself in the most productive and encompassing ways. Engaging in appropriate view, intent, speech, livelihood, action, effort, mindfulness and concentration in all aspects of life is certain to improve them, thus increasing both categories of wealth. Merit, in a traditional view is firmly connected with rebirth, merit in the past. Instead let merit be a placeholder for the ideals of the Three Pure Precepts because engaging them causes the arising of meritorious conduct in the self and positive karmic consequences. If you cease to do harm, do only good, and do good for others your material and spiritual wealth is certain to improve.
Mothers often warn their children to choose their friends wisely, that one will be judged by the company they keep. The Buddha offered the same guidance. The friends you choose mirror the life you choose to live. ‘Noble ones’ refers to anyone whose path is toward the alleviation of suffering and the promotion of human flourishing. It doesn’t refer to religious affiliation, race, gender, creed or station in life. It refers to how a person lives their life. Good friends enable you to keep your wheels on the path. You freely offer your wealth to them when they are in need, and they do the same for you.
‘If you dwell in a civilized place, . . .” is the fourth wheel of prosperity in the Cakka Sutra. In the time of the Buddha there were lands thought to be inhabited by savages, or people who acted like savages. The city-states of India saw themselves as civilized, and saw their social and spiritual practices as civilized. Dwelling in a civilized place would have presented someone with more opportunities for wealth. But, was the Buddha speaking of a physical place? Might his reference to ‘civilized place’ be directed more toward the wild lands of an ignorant bodymind? If you dwell in a bodymind that is serene, wise and compassionate you are on a path to wealth.
The final verse of the sutra is a call to the results of individual thought and action. ‘. . . there will roll to you crops, wealth, status, honor, & happiness’ with a slight change of wording. Whether a case of mistranslation or misunderstanding the final verse would be more pragmatically written as, ‘you will roll to crops, wealth, status, honor and happiness’. This removes any expectation of help from a higher power, putting all the strength and possibilities into the hands of the individual . . . you.
Achieving and maintaining a calm, focused, compassionate bodymind, keeping the company of friends who support you, being mindful of intent and actions, and doing good for others are the four-wheels that drive you toward prosperity. Chanting the ‘om vasudhare svaha’ mantra can act as fuel for your journey if it is engaged as a intentional ritual meant to remind you of your goal. Vasudhare can’t give you anything that you aren’t better off finding for yourself.