What is true wealth?

What is the true measure of wealth? Most cultures today would have us believe that wealth is measured by how many material things we own, but we are taught that you can never have enough, so many of us feel discontented and dissatisfied. The mandate to consume and buy more and more translates into a desire that can all too easily become a bottomless pit.

This simple, powerful story may help us to think differently about money, reconnecting with our source of inner peace and true wealth:

Once there was a wealthy businessman who lived in a penthouse with a breathtaking view of the city. He had a childhood friend who was poor but happy. This friend had a loving wife who adored him and greatly appreciated how hard he worked to provide for the family. The tycoon was a successful businessman and had to spend many evenings away from home socializing and finalizing business deals. He was quite envious of his friend’s simple lifestyle and thought to himself, “What is the point of having all this money if I cannot enjoy it? My friend may be poor, but he is enjoying a wonderful life with his wife. Sometimes I wish my life could be more like his.”

One day, someone told him, “If you want to be more like your friend, just give some of your money to him.” He was tickled with the suggestion and decided to give his poor friend two hundred thousand dollars, a small  fraction of what he had. The poor couple was ecstatic. They thought the money was the best thing that could happen to them. When night fell, they began to worry about how to safeguard their newfound wealth. Should they put it in the drawer? Someone might steal it. How about under the mattress? That did not sound like such a good hiding place, either. Worried about their fortune, they hardly got a wink of sleep that night. After a few days, they began to argue about how best to use the money. The wife wanted to do one thing, while the husband wanted to do something different. Their fights almost destroyed their marriage. Upon reflection, they realized that all their problems had started when they were given the money. They decided to return the  money to their tycoon friend, instead.

This is of course a parable, but there is a valuable lesson here. Money can solve many problems, but it can also create many new ones. Our happiness depends more on our personal integrity and how we feel about ourselves, as well as the quality of our relationships, then on how much money we have in our bank accounts.

We came into this world empty-handed, and we will leave the world the same way. The sutras say, “We cannot take anything with us; only karma shadows us everywhere.” While this may sound obvious, many of us do not necessarily take it to heart.

The Buddha shows us by example a good way to relate to our wealth. He was just as happy with a simple robe as he was with a royal garment. He enjoyed the food that he collected from his alms rounds as much as the food that was offered to him when he was the guest of honor. He could sleep under a tree and yet was equally at ease in a royal palace. The Buddha was always at ease with his circumstances. The distinctions of rich and poor, coarse and fine, or fame and rejection had no bearing on his inner peace; this is true affinity with the material world.

It is one thing to be poor in a monetary sense; it is quite another to be lacking spiritually. All too often we look outside of ourselves in our pursuit of wealth when the greatest wealth of all is right within us. The store of treasure within our hearts and minds is inexhaustible, and it is up to us to mine this internal wealth. If we know how to recognize and apply the treasure within, we are wealthy in the truest sense of the word.


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