Do You Know How To Use Money?

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua


The Chinese character for “money” consists of one “gold” and two “spears”. There’s a verse that puts it very well:

Two swords fighting over gold—the killing energy is high. People are always getting into trouble because of it. Using it well, one can transcend the Three Realms. Using it badly, one will have a hard time escaping one’s offenses.

The sword is a weapon, and money (in the form of coins) is minted with gold. When two people armed with swords fight over money, all kinds of evil karma such as killing and arson is committed.

You and I contend and fight, and the killing energy reaches up to the sky. Money is unreal, yet people go crazy about it. Not only do people love money, ghosts also love it. People think up every possible scheme to get money. Ghosts don’t work, so they can’t earn money. But they have their ways to generate wealth—by getting people to burn paper money for them. In fact, ghosts don’t need money. Burning paper money is a superstitious practice. It just wastes money, turning real money into ashes. It’s extremely stupid.

In Asia, there’s a custom where people burn a lot of paper money when they are still alive, thinking that it goes into their bank account in the underworld, so that after they die, they will become rich ghosts. Perhaps they want to use the money to bribe King Yama into reducing their offenses. However, King Yama is a pitiless judge who metes out fair sentences and doesn’t accept bribes. It would be fruitless to try to bribe him.

If people think that money can make the gods listen and can make everything happen, just like the saying, “Money can make ghosts push the millstone,” they are totally mistaken. After such people die, they will surely fall into the hells. Why? Because while alive, they are surely doing many things that go against their conscience. So in order to save themselves from suffering after death, they burn large amounts of paper money. They are preparing to give red envelopes to the corrupt officials so they will be let off easy. They are just cheating themselves by thinking this way. How ridiculous!

Money makes people so muddled that they do all sorts of foolish things; it causes relatives to become estranged, to fight with each other, and to regard each other as strangers or even as enemies. How terrible this is! That’s why cultivators should uphold the precept of not handling money and thereby avoid these problems. This precept prohibits touching money with one’s hands. Then one is a true disciple of the Buddha, one who is able to observe the Buddha’s rules and uphold the pure precepts. Not only do one’s hands not touch money, one’s mind doesn’t even think about money. One regards money as unclean (there are germs on the bills) and inauspicious, and casts out the very thought of it.

In order to serve as a field in which living beings can plant blessings, cultivators in the Sangha accept offerings. However, they may not exploit affinities or be greedy for the offerings. They should expediently accord with the conditions and not seek anything. Why are left-home people unable to accomplish the Way? It’s because they can’t leap over the two hurdles of money and sex. Money deludes people and sex makes them muddled. These two stumbling blocks hinder people in their cultivation, causing them to flounder in confusion, unable to pull themselves out, so that they drift along helplessly.

Anyone who upholds the precept against handling money should watch out and be especially cautious. You should not touch money with your hands or think about it in your mind. You shouldn’t pretend to hold this precept, yet still be greedy for offerings. If you have such thoughts, correct them immediately! Don’t deliberately commit offenses. People who follow the “five improper kinds of livelihood” are not true disciples of the Buddha; they are “parasites on the lion,” depending on the Buddha for clothing and food. In general, as long as you have opportunistic thoughts and are greedy for money, you don’t qualify as a disciple of the Buddha.

People get into all kinds of trouble because of money. However, if people know how to use money to do meritorious works—founding schools, building hospitals, or doing other things that are beneficial to oneself as well as the society at large—they can transcend the Three Realms, escape the suffering of the wheel of birth and death, and attain the true bliss of Nirvana. For those who don’t know how to use it well, money will only cause them to create offenses and do things that harm heaven and destroy principles. They won’t be able to escape the Three Realms, and will fall into the hells instead. It is said, “Money, sex, fame, food, and sleep are the five roots of the hells.” Take heed! Be very careful not to make any mistakes in cause and effect. The law of cause and effect never fails. It’s a timeless and invariable law. If you make mistakes in cause and effect, you’re bound to receive the retribution.

A talk given on June 4, 1981.