If we judge our self-worth in terms of our material possessions, just as if we eat to fill a spiritual hunger, we’ll never consume enough. Some of that hunger, of course, comes from the modern capitalist consumerist society that is both a cause and an effect of our need to satiate ourselves. But in the end, does your attitude towards money generate good karma or bad?
This society is based on two principles: First, that we’re all consumers and we must never feel we have enough goods because then we’ll not buy more; secondly, that the products we buy must be obsolete or out-of-date as soon as possible so we’re obligated in some way to buy the newer version.
We can never escape the dissatisfactions of the consumerist society; it depends on us feeling inadequate and unfulfilled.
Buddhism has no intrinsic problem with the getting or spending of money. What is important in Buddhism is our attachment to things and not the things themselves. This is a function of the awareness that everything is interconnected, and that all matter is codependent and co-arising (in other words, there is nothing that pre-originated everything else). Thus money possesses a neutral energy that, depending on the intention of the person who has it, can be used to generate good karma or bad.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s this. Throughout the course of our life, we’ll have appetites we’ll never satisfy, desires that will never be sated and needs that will never be met. Even when we’re satisfied, it’s in our natures to desire more.
Accumulating wealth may protect you from the day when there are no fish to provide you with food, or the river becomes polluted, or you’re too old to fish, for example. In that regard, the fisherman would be making a sound economic decision to protect himself against the future if he accumulated the boats. But the fisherman values his life differently. For him, the experience of the moment is more valuable than the inevitabilities of the future. He recognizes that life’s limits also mean that if we spend our lives always planning ahead and buying more stuff, we’ll forget to actually live our lives and take pleasure in what we have.