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May 21
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Money on the Path

Using the principles of Shambhala to uplift our finances

by Joanne Martin Braun

Money can be a challenging topic in our lives. It can be even more challenging if we relate to it as if money and livelihood are somehow outside of our spiritual practice. But the Shambhala teachings are meant to inform all parts of our daily lives, from the profound to the practical. And indeed they can be extremely helpful in showing us how to relax and bring wisdom into our finances.

Money and Richness

Our world presents an environment that confuses the essential richness of our lives with money. In most modern cultures one only needs to pick up a newspaper, tune into social media, or look at advertising to recognize that money and material wealth are held as the highest value. This is quite sad, as putting money in this high place results in enormous fear, aggression, and the feeling that there is never enough. Our personal financial lives can often reflect this larger confusion in the form of anxiety, overwhelm, self-judgment, and difficult relationships.

A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that anxiety related to money was the leading cause of stress in America. Perhaps surprisingly, this was true at all levels of income.  While someone with a lower income might be stressed about putting food on the table, someone with a higher income was often stressed about managing their money or not keeping up with the expectations of those around them.

Green energy

It doesn’t have to be that way. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche has pointed out in The Heart of the Buddha that money is actually a neutral conveyance that we have created to assess an ever-changing value of goods and services between people. But then we heap all kinds of emotions and self identity onto this thing that we have created, often mistaking our income for our essential worthiness as a human being.

However, we can shift our relationship with money to seeing it simply as a tool or nurturing principle. It is still a very powerful energy, but when it is in the place of servant rather than master we can work with it more clearly. We can use this “green energy” to nurture what is most important in our lives, no matter what our level of income.

Four Dignities: Tiger, Lion, Garuda, Dragon

Over the past 15 years or so I have been leading classes and workshops around money on the spiritual path. In these we have been exploring how the path of the four Dignities – Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon – can help enlighten how we work with flow of money in our life.  For those not familiar with these “dignities” you can read more about them in Sakyong Mipham’s book Ruling Your World.

Money and the Four Dignities

We might find challenges around money in any of the places that it flows though our lives – our income, spending, giving, planning, or relating to others. Starting with the mindfulness, kindness, and vision of the Tiger, we can begin to relax. By bringing a non-judging attention to our money we find that we continually have choices. We often make choices that weaken our finances and overall well being. But by paying attention we might see that there is always workable ground for relating with these challenges, whatever they might be.

As we become more mindful in our daily interaction with money we can see how much our thoughts, emotions, and self-identity influence our experience and our practical actions. Our habitual thoughts about money can distract us from our intelligence and heart, but are not any more solid than any other thoughts we might find in meditation. When we work with recognizing, acknowledging, and letting go of these, we step into fresh possibilities.

This relaxation lets us develop further the qualities of the Lion: trust, generosity, and care for others. Working with the discipline of money management brings strength and further vision, as we become freer to utilize our resources in service of what is most important. And we can engage difficult relationships beyond the habitual patters of negative emotions that it are so easy to get caught up in.


The teachings of Garuda help us recognize the role of hope and fear, and we can see that money is not going to either save or condemn us. Unhooking our self-identity from our income and lifestyle at this level is not particularly easy, but is very worthwhile. By doing so we have more space to develop clear intentions and cultivate greater income (if that is what we wish) while letting go of attachment and self-judgment. We begin to see the possibilities of much bigger vision and creativity. With the principles of the Dragon, we join that vision and creativity with the flow of money through our lives. We see how using that creativity in service to our world enhances richness, rather than diminishing it.

Money and Enlightened Society

For an enlightened society we need to develop our wisdom and actions around green energy. The more we practice in this way, the more we affect the world around us. Do we approach money from a base of self-identity and fear, or from a gentle confidence that we can work with it in an uplifted way? My own experience is that it is often a mix of the two. Yet knowing the principles of the path forward leads us in the direction of health and wisdom.

Shastri Joanne Martin Braun, Ph.D.  does coaching on cultivating financial well being, along with teaching meditation in healthcare and businesses settings. Shastri Braun will be teaching an online course this fall through Shambhala Online, planned to start on September 15th. You can also contact Joanne through her website at financialwellbeingcenter.com.

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1 response to “ Money on the Path ”
  1. Paula Mosman
    May 26, 2017

    For those of us living in poverty, money is not what causes anxiety nd stress. It is fear of losing our shelter, our health care, healthy food, access to the dharma. Money is what our society and our sangha require from us in order or us to have access to these things, while at the same time making sure we don’t have money. [Editor’s note: this refers in part to the low pay and low job security of many work situations within the sangha.]

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