Compassion and the super-rich

kindness of Buddha

A man walked past me on the beach recently dressed in a plain grey tee-shirt and ordinary looking shorts, only his state of the art new trainers and the X-Men type headset gracing his crown gave him away. I caught a drift of his conversation: “Yeah, the plane can stay there at the airport, we can catch the game, the car can take us back to the airport, and we’ll be back at the hotel no later than midnight.”

compassion and the super richHe is clearly one of the super-rich, in a world where cars seem to drive themselves and whole planes can be left casually lying around waiting for us. Yesterday I read in the paper that the top 5% of the US population buys 37% of the goods. What do you feel when you read statistics like this (and there are plenty of them)? Judging by the press, the Facebook comments I often see, and my own occasional grumpiness about it, I’m guessing sometimes maybe a touch of resentment or irritation? “Bl**** rich people with bonuses got us all into this mess!” An annoyance at society’s inequality and the decline of the middle class? A fear for the future? A burning desire to get involved in politics to put an end to careless rich people gorging on the rest of us? (I think being a politician is possibly the most thankless task of all). Envy arising from insecurity (especially when we ourselves are suffering from the recession)? Dislike? (If you count yourself amongst the super-rich, is there still someone richer, a neighbor perhaps, whom you feel annoyed about sometimes?)

Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day

I decided to write on compassion to celebrate Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day, which is today, September 22nd. You can read a beautiful teaching given on this day in 1991 by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso here. In it, he says:

On this day we should especially remember Buddha’s kindness…. kindness of Buddha

The nature of Buddhadharma is compassion – an unbiased compassion that is not just for human beings but for every living being, including animals.

I often write about developing compassion for animals — today I feel like writing about developing compassion for rich people, who are also “living beings” and still in samsara 🙂

What is samsara?

In samsara, there are six realms, including the demi-god and god realms that outshine the wealth, possessions and glory of the super-rich as a sun outshines a firefly. But all these realms are in samsara and all of them are to be abandoned if we are to find true and lasting happiness.

Buddha called ordinary, suffering life “samsara.” What is samsara? Samsara is the experience of an impure, uncontrolled mind. Our world does not exist from its own side but is projected by our own thoughts. At the moment, due to our delusions and karma, we are projecting a world full of suffering.

This world is characterized by a lack of freedom. At the moment we experience only relative freedom. We are not free in significant ways. For example, are we free from being born, getting sick, growing old, or dying? These happen without any choice, whether we like it or not. At some point, without choice, we have to be separated from everything we love, we have to put up with things we don’t like, and we experience a lack of satisfaction. No one who is truly free would choose to experience pain over happiness.

The different realms of samsara are all dream-like projections of a mind distorted by delusions, in particular self-grasping and self-cherishing. Liberation from samsara, so-called nirvana, or the Pure Land, is a dream-like projection of a pure or non-deluded mind. Samsara is not a place, and when we are aiming to live a pure life free from suffering it is not necessary to go somewhere else to find Milarepa's cavethis. When Milarepa (who lived in Tibet in the 11th century) was asked where his Pure Land was, he pointed to his cave. Samsara is not outside our minds any more than nirvana is. We can remove the samsara from our minds by gaining true mental freedom from our delusions, and then we will naturally be creating and living in a pure world, with blissful experiences.

Compassion for everyone

In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe Kelsang says we also need compassion for everyone in samsara, including those who appear to be better off than us. There is something missing otherwise, and we are in danger of feeling resentful, which undermines our spiritual progress. Of course, some people are rich right now, but that doesn’t mean they are not suffering. It doesn’t in fact mean that they are suffering any less than us. Quite possibly many of them are suffering more. They have all the human sufferings we have – sickness, birth, ageing, rebirth, no satisfaction, etc. And they often have more desire, trying to slake their thirst with yet more salt-water as attachment can never be satiated. He didn’t seem particularly excited, my friend on the beach, just matter of fact, and it struck me that having your own plane soon grows old, just like every other 21st century marvel even many of us hoi poloi have already gotten used to – cars, comfortable bedding, indoor plumbing, traveling through the air, high definition TV, computers, iPhones, etc etc. My great-grandparents would have thought they’d died and gone to heaven if they could have used a fraction of what we now routinely take for granted in our daily lives. Even beings in the god realms may be getting some ideas from Apple.

shit creek of samsara
Better to get out of samsara’s creek altogether!

So, we can do what we can to balance out society and make it fairer; and to preserve our democracy I personally think it behooves us to take some responsibility, at least by voting. However, it is impossible to fix samsara or make it work for any length of time, and having an unbalanced mind about the rich is not going to improve a thing for us or for anyone else. We have to gather all blame into our delusions, not rich bankers. Actually, rich people got their wealth from past giving. If they continue to give, they will also continue to create the causes for future wealth, just like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, and that is something to rejoice in, without feeling insecure. Every time we get annoyed or jealous, we burn merit or good fortune. But every time we rejoice in someone’s qualities or good fortune, we create the cause to have those ourself.samsara is not a zero sum game

There is not set amount of wealth, it is not a zero sum game. Wealth and possessions are a result of good karma or merit, so if we create merit we necessarily create the cause for wealth – it’ll appear from somewhere, even if we are in a desert, as there is no external world that is fixed. In a dream, things just appear due to the ripening of karmic seeds. It is the same in our waking worlds. If we are worried about running out of resources, the Kadampas say the best thing we can do is practice giving to others and offering to holy beings. In one concentrated mandala offering we can create the cause for whole worlds of prosperity and joy!



Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

13 thoughts on “Compassion and the super-rich”

  1. The inner wealth of virtue is far more important for us and others in comparison to external wealth 🙂

  2. HUM…..
    well, this takes me to a place where the title of your blog aimed me.
    thoughts on how, i in the past, held some kind of comparison between what i have,
    and what others have.
    thankfully Buddhist instructions gave me a chance to see from a better perspective.
    then i began to consider, what i have i created, will create, or i am in the middle of creating… so if its less then i hoped, that’s due to me. the continuum of me.
    only the river of my thoughts, actions, and speech will have any effect on what i have.

    and as far as my feelings on how what the super rich are ‘doing to the world’…
    i am more concerned about what they are doing to themselves. their continuum….
    it can become very problem filled….
    and filled with views that give rise to more and more separation….

    So who really suffers?
    the world, the rich, me, you?
    i think anyone who lets themselves react, instead of act.
    for that’s a good sign delusions or negative habits (ego?) are driving the car.
    and since the ego or self centered view, like to put up walls….
    we’d most likely run into a wall in that car ride. Ouch!

    So Compassion for the Super Rich… attainable…
    when you care. about what any of US might create….
    with the endless resources at hand.
    with the endless resources of our mind….
    the creator of all experience.
    since it is mind that acts in relation to all it perceives.

    Did we ever Dare to see our self that RICH? and if we did, do we really think
    that wisdom on how to handle it would just automatically appear?
    Best thing i ever heard, well two best things actually…..
    one from Tony Robbins…”if you can’t give a dime out of a dollar….what makes you think you can give $10.000 out of a $100,000 ?”
    he reminds us of practicing now, where we are…all the minds that we wish to see in this world. Well, if you wish to see it……Be it.

    and Secondly…..from Geshe Kelsang Gystso….in Universal Compassion ~
    he speaks on how we view the wealthy…..
    saying if we think wealth is a problem, or an obstruction to enlightenment, then those practicing giving would actually be obstruction their path to freedom.

    which is important to understand… blew me away to finally read this….
    that its more about how we relate to things. and what we do with what we have.

    on a convention level…..yeah, we all make mistakes,,,,and the more we have invested in it….the more we have at stake.

    so i choose to invest my thoughts…….intentionally.
    Peace, Love, and Harmony

  3. I thought for quite some time that we need to look very closely at our views of the “super wealthy.” As an example, I noticed for years how many people disliked Bill Gates because of his wealth but didn’t show the same distain for Steve Jobs although he was also a member of the super wealthy club…

    I’m especially disturbed by the view that the super wealthy somehow became wealthy by removing wealth from “the rest of us.” Following this same line of thought, the morbidly obese became obese by taking our food. We see the morbidly obese and think about their suffering and how their attachment got them into this mess (perhaps disregarding the potential of underlying medical conditions) but we don’t think they took our food; yet with the wealthy we think they must have taken something from us to become wealthy.

    This is the nature of our maras, our deluded views appear completely justified and valid. When we think of anger, we think of the red-faced demon, ranting and raging, shouting obscenities not of the annoyance that crossed our mind when the radio station cuts off the song we were enjoying to run a commercial. We think of jealousy as the scorned lover taking vengeance on their lost lover not of our “perfectly valid” feelings of injustice when we see someone whose karma has created what appear to be better conditions for them.

    I recently had the opportunity to work in the residence of one of the more affluent families in the area. From my side, they are picky and very difficult to please. Nothing seems to make them happy. Let me say that again… Nothing seems to make them happy. I was working with a crew of people who were doing beautiful work but the color isn’t just right, paint it again; the door handle isn’t right, fix the door and put in a new handle. The color was beautiful as was the door handle. Yes, they are externally wealthy and have a beautiful house, but appear to be much less satisfied and happy than I. I’m making a living from their lack of satisfaction… Who’s really taking advantage of whom?

  4. That WAS a great piece! It was really just what I needed to hear at the moment. I am often consumed with jealous feelings when I meet up with someone like you described, and yet I know for a fact that many wealthy people are far more unhappy than I am. I love your perspectives!

  5. Luna Thank you so much for the posting “Compassion for the Super Rich.” I just returned from a very fancy gathering at the Conservatory Golf and Club House. A wonderful dinner was served, along with drinks and music. Most of the crowd tended to be older and appeared quite wealthy. Dinner converstion centered on police, teachers and other public servants and the “extravagant” retirements they receive. (I’ve heard the same sentiments from the well to do at happy hour get togethers.) The conversation then moved on to the chain e-mail lie about how Obama Care will result in them paying a tax when they sell there homes etc. Politifact calls this “Liar Pants on Fire” that has been cirulating for some time. Driving home I was feeling fed up. So thank you for reminding me to practice compassion for the Rich. In many ways they are truly in need

    Blessings and Love

    Donna Miani

    1. Politics is frustrating because we cannot tame the minds of others until we have tamed our own, as Ven Atisha said, but we really want to! Whatever we label ourselves, e.g. Democrat or Republican, we look at the world differently yet believe that what we see is the truth, and it is hard to shake people’s views because of that. Hence the entrenched partisanship and the need for Dharma 🙂

  6. Wonderful atriclle. Tuesday evening at the Kadampa meditation drop in class in Milford, PA, I purchased “Eight Steps To Happiness”. I cant wait to begin studying these teachings. Thank you!

  7. Like the Shit Creek Paddle Store! Love the article! Thanks for encouraaging us ..

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