The Buddha on debt

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“Thus, monks, poverty is suffering in the world for one who partakes of sensuality. Getting into debt is suffering in the world for one who partakes of sensuality. Interest payment is suffering in the world for one who partakes of sensuality. Being served notice is suffering in the world for one who partakes of sensuality. Being hounded is suffering in the world for one who partakes of sensuality. Bondage is suffering in the world for one who partakes of sensuality.

“In the same way, monks, whoever has no conviction with regard to skillful mental qualities, no sense of conscience with regard to skillful mental qualities, no sense of concern with regard to skillful mental qualities, no persistence with regard to skillful mental qualities, no discernment with regard to skillful mental qualities is, in the discipline of a noble one, said to be poor, destitute, & penniless.

“He — poor, destitute, & penniless, having no conviction with regard to skillful mental qualities, no sense of conscience… no sense of concern… no persistence… no discernment with regard to skillful mental qualities — engages in misconduct by way of the body, misconduct by way of speech, misconduct by way of the mind. For him, I tell you, this is getting into debt.

-Gotama Buddha (a section of the Ina Sutta)

If the Buddha wasn’t telling it like it is, he wasn’t saying anything…

But, “no conviction… no sense of conscience… no sense of concern… no persistence… no discernment with regard to skillful mental qualities.” Is that the skillful way of calling someone an idiot? It hit a bit harder than just being one who partakes of sensual pleasure!

If I look at what’s kept the balance of my card fluctuating this year, fancy restaurants and expensive tea would be the conspicuous culprits. I did spend a lot of money moving around all over the province, but if we’d only eaten simply, I just might have paid it already. (Oh, and there is that 47″ LCD TV I bought for Christmas, but that wasn’t about sensual pleasure, right? Or, er… oops!)

Although he doesn’t go into deep specifics of the of the suffering caused by debt, he does list the chain of circumstances it is a part of; poverty, debt, interest payment, being served notice, being hounded, and bondage. Most of us may know already what these stresses feel like, not much different than burning alive. Once the end of that chain is reached, the continuing direction isn’t very good; crime, violence, perhaps suicide…

“He — poor, destitute, & penniless, having engaged in misconduct by way of the body, misconduct by way of speech, & misconduct by way of the mind — on the break-up of the body, after death, is bound by the bond of hell or the bond of the animal womb. And I can imagine no one other bond so tormenting, so painful, so obstructive to the unexcelled rest from bondage, as the bond of hell or the bond of the animal womb.”

Fortunately, the chain of my debt ends at being served notice, but unfortunately for my mom, since I’m in Korea, she’s the one who gets the mail. I think it gives her more stress emailing me my balance each month than it does me sending most of my money home. I try not to get stress from it, but when I think of the heart-breaking amount that I pay in fees and interest, I should be a little more stressed, well, at least mindful!

The Buddha always examined both sides of the coin. The Ina Sutta ends with a description of the peace one is left with when focus is shifted away from sensual pleasure, to the middle way;

“But one with confidence, living at home, making gifts of his belongings, righteously-gained, wins both goals: advantage in the here-&-now, & happiness in the world beyond. The liberality of this householder piles up merit.

Now, anyone with conviction firmly established in the discipline of a noble one — with a sense of conscience, a sense of concern, discerning & restrained by virtue — is, in the discipline of a noble one, said to be living in ease.

Gaining a pleasure not of the flesh, he determines on equanimity: abandoning the five hindrances — persistence constantly aroused — entering the jhanas: unified, mindful, & wise.

Knowing this as it actually is in the total ending of all fetters, through everywhere not-clinging, his mind is rightly released.

In him, Such, rightly released, there is the knowledge, in the total ending of the fetters of becoming: ‘My release is unshakable.’

That is the highest knowledge that, the happiness unexcelled. Sorrowless, dustless, at rest, that is release from debt.

“Making gifts of his belongings, righteously-gained, wins both goals: advantage in the here-&-now, & happiness in the world beyond.”

I’m especially struck by this line. How different from chasing sensual desires!

4 responses »

  1. Great post, Joseph! (After seeing your last post about “16 tons” I’d wondered whether you were feeling the end-of-the-month pinch! ^-^)

    Two of my favorite quotes about debt comes from the Bible:
    ‘The borrower is slave to the lender”
    “He who cosigns for another is stupid”!!

    It’s interesting to read what the Buddha says about the costs of partaking in sensuality. Of course there are more costs than just the finacial aspect, but I was a starving grad student until I decided to leave for Korea and become a monk. I stopped going out on dates and going out on Saturday nights with friends (bars mostly), and suddenly I had tons of money!

    • I wish the youth of today could learn something from this post!! I met a young man in Germany who told me how he had lived a very simple and humble life as a student in US of A and then today he has enough to build a hospital for the needy in India!! Wish we had more of this clan…

  2. Debt can also just be due to cost of living such as losing employment … If there are no places to go to live for free then you are left with little options but to live off credit. Doesn’t necessarily mean you lived a life of extravagance. I’m assuming rent controlled housing didn’t exist in Buddha’s day. You have to make a lot if money just to live these days… Although if there was a Buddhist monastery in my area I would have joined long ago as I am miserable in this materialistic monetary controlled world.

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