Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Love of Money

"Generous Beauty"
- Autumn at the Desert Retreat House -

I have been reading James Riven's frightening new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, in which he documents the rampant greed that has been so widely manifested in the so-called "war on terror" in the United States. Billions and billions of unaccounted dollars have been spent to finance profiteering corporate executives, consulting companies, and secret government-sanctioned  programs that have had little or no effect on controlling terrorist threats, but have certainly helped an already-wealthy, bloated elite to become even wealthier. 

When I think of what those billions of dollars might have done to fund education programs, feed hungry people or fight Ebola, it makes me sad. It also makes me angry.

I've been reflecting on how poisonous greed can be for the health of the human spirit. There is something about money that is very seductive - oftentimes the more money people have, the more they want to accumulate it; and the harder it is to give it away. Money can be a debilitating, addictive drug that enslaves people, locking them inside their own narcissism, cutting them off from intimacy and relationship. 

Interestingly enough if you examine the teachings of Jesus, he has more to say about money than perhaps anything else he ever talks about.  Some may read what he has to say and come to believe that he told his disciples that they were to give away all their money and own nothing.  But actually, if you look more carefully at what he says, he never tells disciples to possess nothing.  Instead he warns them about the perils of wealth, the dangers of abusing and misusing money as a means of self-centered gratification.  In essence he teaches that you can possess money, but beware of greed.

There is a biblical phrase which is often misquoted as "money is the root of all evil." Actually the biblical phrase is:

The 'love' of money is the root of all evil.

If you love your money above all else in life,  you don't own your money, your money owns you - a sure path leading to a dead end.

The other day I came across a story about the legendary John D. Rockefeller Sr. who lived back in the early 1900's. By the time he was 50 years old he was the richest man on earth. He was also well-known for being miserly and it was said that his great wealth had been amassed by his unbridled and unrelenting greed. 

When he was 53 years-old, Rockefeller contracted a strange undiagnosed disease. His massive wealth guaranteed that he could have had anything he ever wanted, and yet he was only able to eat milk and crackers. His body was shrinking and he could not sleep.  He fell into a deep depression and his doctors predicted he would be dead within the year.

Then one night, looking at death in the eye, Mr. Rockefeller had this sudden revelation about the meaning of his life and the real value of his wealth; and he changed the course of the path he was on. He substituted greed and hoarding with generosity and giving. He established the renowned "Rockefeller Foundation," channeling his fortune into hospitals, research, mission work, caring for those in need. His contributions  eventually led to the discovery of penicillin, cures for malaria and tuberculosis.  By transforming his "greed" into "giving," he literally changed the world. 

Instead of living for one more year, John D. Rockefeller Sr. lived to the ripe-old age of 98 and he died a happy man.

A wise old Desert monk once told his young charge:

It's not possessing something that is harmful,
but being attached to it is the cause of suffering.

The Buddha said the same thing, so did Jesus - such great wisdom.   

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