Free Chapter: The Tao of Abundance
"The more you learn what to do with yourself, and the more you do for others, the more you will enjoy the abundant life."
—WILLIAM J. H. BOETCKER
Before I say anything about what this book is, I want to begin by saying something about what it is not. This is a not a "get rich quick" or "think your way to riches" book. You will not be admonished to "think like a millionaire," "dress for success," or "climb the corporate ladder." You will find no advice in this book on managing your investment portfolio or planning for your retirement. There are more than enough books of this kind already. In this book, the emphasis will be on a deeper experience of abundance than can be realized by the mere accumulation of goods or by amassing an impressive balance sheet.
To be sure, many readers will find that applying the eight principles contained in this book will, in time, bring greater material abundance into their lives. Certainly, applying these principles will assist you in opening to receive the creative ideas from which all wealth ultimately springs. Yet this increased material abundance will come not from struggling to attain it as a goal in itself, but rather as a natural by-product of experiencing a deeper state of psychological abundance. The new feeling of abundance that you enjoy within will come to be reflected in all aspects of your outer life, including your finances. Yet even if you make not one dime more, or even a few less, but come to earn your money in a way that truly reflects your nature and expresses who you are, your experience of abundance will be enhanced. Indeed, some may find that a truer experience of abundance requires that they relinquish their attachment to social status or excessive material consumption.
Real abundance is about so much more than money. A "healthy bottom line" does not equate with a healthy and abundant state of mind. Evidence of the psychological and spiritual poverty of the rich and famous fills our newspapers, magazines, tabloids, and television programs and hardly needs repeating here. Suffice to say that many who own great stockpiles of material possessions, and who are, to all outer appearances, extremely wealthy individuals, do not enjoy real abundance. They are never content with what they have, and live in fear of losing it. Clearly, real abundance must be something more than having a lot of money and things. But then how do we approach it?
The fundamental premise of this book is that the universe is you and is for you. If you put yourself in accord with the way of the universe, it will take care of you abundantly. To experience this abundance, there is nothing you need do first. It is not necessary for you to earn one more dollar, get a better job, buy a new home or car, or go back to school. All that is required is that you become aware of the inner process through which you create an experience of lack and struggle in your life, and refrain from doing it. Feelings of abundance and gratitude are natural to the human being; they do not need to be added or put on. We have only to become aware of how we are resisting and inhibiting this natural state.
Throughout this book, you will be asked to accept responsibility for creating your own experience of abundance or lack. Of course, no individual operates in a vacuum. It would be absurd to deny the impact that the values and organization of the broader society have on us as individuals. In an effort to secure the ever-expanding productivity and consumption upon which its "health" depends, modern commercial culture vigorously promotes a "lack consciousness." We buy things we don't need (or even want), because we have become convinced that we will be somehow lacking or inferior without them. We do work we don't want to do, because we have become convinced that there is a scarcity of good jobs and that we can't create our own work. Thus, even while we amass more and more stuff, the feeling of abundance keeps eluding us. In addition to the role that the values of the broader society have in promoting a psychology of lack within the individual, the current organization of society poses institutional barriers to his or her creative development and financial independence.
Nevertheless, ultimate responsibility for the individual's experience lies with the individual, not with the culture into which he or she has been born. Awareness of the broader social dynamics that promote a consciousness of lack, as well as the inner ego drives that bind us to them, empowers us to break, once and for all, the chains of psychological poverty and lack. This book will address the root causes of the psychology of lack, and how these can be overcome.
Ultimately, the system is the ego. Freeing ourselves from the dominance and control of this system will be our primary concern. What we see reflected in the broader social and economic systemalienation, attachment, struggle, resentment, craving for approval, competitive hostility, pride, greed, and chaosoriginate within the ego. We are the system, or, as J. Krishnamurti put it, long before the popular song: "We are the world." This book will contrast the way of the Tao with the way of the ego. The way of the ego necessarily produces a psychology of lackone that cannot be overcome, regardless of the quantity of money or goods we accumulate. Alternatively, the way of the Tao naturally yields a feeling of abundance, regardless of how great or meager our accumulation of money and goods may be. Though he was often without money, and at times even food, William Blake's poetry exudes abundance. As he put it:
I have mental joys and mental health,
Mental friends and mental wealth,
I've a wife that I love and that loves me;
I've all but riches bodily.
This is not to say that we should reject material wealth or shun the blessings that come with it. With money, much good can be done and much unnecessary suffering avoided or eliminated. Moreover, in the culture we live in today, time is money and money is power. It takes time to appreciate and enjoy life and all of its simple beauties. It takes time to stop and listen to the voice of our true selves. It takes time to develop our gifts and talents. It takes time to learn and grow. It takes time to develop and nurture meaningful relationships. And in making time for all of these, money is a great help.
Money can also give us a measure of freedom from the control of others and in this respect is more important today than ever. Throughout most of human history, one did not need money to live, that is, for the basic necessities of life. For one unable or unwilling to fit into society's mold, there was always the option of retreating to some remote place and subsisting on the landan option that isn't really feasible today.
The Taoist values freedom and preserving the dignity of the human spirit, and in this respect, would not object to Humphrey Bogart's assertion that "the only point in making money is, you can tell some big shot where to go." The idea here is not to express (or harbor) hostility toward others but to affirm and follow your own path, free from intimidation or the control of others. The big shot might be a boss for whom you do soul-draining, monotonous workor a landlord or mortgage-holding bank, whom you must pay for the privilege of a little peace and quiet. In as much as money is an important factor in determining the time we have to enjoy life and the power and freedom we have in it, the pursuit of money is a worthy goal. On the other hand, if we are looking to money to fulfill or satisfy us, we are sure to be disappointed.
In lacking money, we too often think a lack of money is our only problem. Money can give us the time to appreciate the simple things in life more fully, but not the spirit of innocence and wonder necessary to do so. Money can give us the time to develop our gifts and talents, but not the courage and discipline to do so. Money can give us the power to make a difference in the lives of others, but not the desire to do so. Money can give us the time to develop and nurture our relationships, but not the love and caring necessary to do so. Money can just as easily make us more jaded, escapist, selfish, and lonely. In short, money can help to free or enslave us, depending on why we want it and what we do with it. In this respect, nothing has changed in the two thousand years since Horace wrote, "Riches either serve or govern the possessor."
Money is a relatively simple issue. There are only two important questions: (1) How much do you need? (2) What is it going to cost you to get it? It is keeping these two questions in mind that gives us a true sense of money's relationship to abundance. If we have less than what we need, or if what we have is costing us too muchin either case, our experience of abundance will be incomplete. As things stand in the modern world, you need money to eat, sleep, dress, work, play, relate, heal, move about, and keep the government off your back. In what style you choose to do each of these will determine how much money you need, that is, your lifestyle. Remember in choosing your style that it comes with a price tag. How much money it costs is not the issue, but how much the money costs you is of critical importance. Keep in mind:
- Money should not cost you your soul.
- Money should not cost you your relationships.
- Money should not cost you your dignity.
- Money should not cost you your health.
- Money should not cost you your intelligence.
- Money should not cost you your joy.
When it comes to determining how much you need, there are two important catagories to keep in mind. First, there are the material things you need to keep body and soul together. Second are the areas of "need" related to social status and position. With both, you have a great deal of discretion. The ancient Taoist masters were keenly aware of the cost of money and were particularly skeptical of the cost of attaining social status and position. In the Lieh Tzu, Yang Chu says:
[People] realize happiness is not simply having their material needs met. Thus, society has set up a system of rewards that go beyond material goods. These include titles, social recognition, status, and political power, all wrapped up in a package called self-fulfillment. Attracted by these prizes and goaded on by social pressure, people spend their short lives tiring mind and body to chase after these goals. Perhaps this gives them the feeling that they have achieved something in their lives, but in reality they have sacrificed a lot in life. They can no longer see, hear, act, feel, or think from their hearts. Everything they do is dictated by whether it can get them social gains. In the end, they've spent their lives following other people's demands and never lived a life of their own. How different is this from the life of a prisoner or slave? . . .
In the short time we are here, we should listen to our own voices and follow our own hearts. Why not be free and live your own life? Why follow other people's rules and live to please others?
Why, indeed? In a recent study, 48 percent of the male corporate executives surveyed admitted that they felt their lives were empty and meaningless. When one considers the cultural taboos against such an admission, the figure is surprisingly high and leads one to conclude that the real number must be higher still. Yet these are the ones who have the money and status so many others desperately crave. Napoleon Hill, who wrote the classic "success" book Think and Grow Rich, learned the hard way that true riches can never be equated to dollars and cents. In a later work entitled Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind, he described how his own obsession with money and material success had indeed made him rich but had cost him his peace of mind, health, relationships, and ultimately, even his financial fortune. He acknowledged the spiritual dimension of true and lasting prosperity and determined that in reacquiring wealth, he would keep money in its proper place as but one of the many abundances of life.
Many think they'd be happy if they had enough money to give up working altogether. Yet this is often only a reaction to the drudgery of working day after day at things they find meaningless or even absurd. In response to my previous books Zen and the Art of Making a Living and How to Find the Work You Love, I receive many communications from people about their experience of work. One day, I received a phone call from a man halfway around the world who, at forty-five, had never worked a day in his life. As a beneficiary of a sizable inheritance, he was free of the need to earn his daily bread. Yet he was not a happy man. Indeed, he was deeply troubled by the fact that so much of his life had gone by without his having expressed his own talents or made a difference in the lives of others. Like good health, spiritual growth, and nourishing relationships, meaningful work is one of the abundances of life, that we neglect at our peril. It is this kind of wholistic approach to abundance that I will be taking throughout this book.
To begin with, it's worthwhile to ask whether the world we live in is one of natural abundance or scarcity. The way we answer this question depends in large part on how we define wealth. Traditionally, economists have defined wealth in terms of scarcity. In fact, economics itself is defined as "a science concerned with choosing among alternatives involving scarce resources." The first economists viewed land as the basis of wealth. While land provides sustenance and often an abundance of food to exchange for other items, there is a definite limit to the amount of land available for cultivation. Next came the mercantilists, who viewed gold and silver as the basis of wealth. Gold and silver are valuable because they are scarce. This conception of wealth spurred the colonial expansion of European nations, resulting in what remains to this day worldwide cultural and economic dominance by the West. Later economists viewed labor as the basis of wealth. Early industrial development required vast numbers of "cheap" laborers. Generally, the more people one employed, the richer he became. Yet there is a finite number of workers and a finite number of hours each can work. All of these definitions of "wealth" (land, gold, and labor) then are based on limited, that is, scarce resources. Now, to state the obvious, if wealth is based on owning scarce resources, a relative few can be considered wealthy.
The noted architect, inventor, and futurist Buckminster Fuller begins with a fundamentally different definition of wealth. For Fuller, wealth equals physical energy (as matter or radiation) plus "metaphysical know-what and know-how." This conception of wealth as "all energy available to planet earth and ever-growing-human-knowledge" makes us all, as Fuller puts it, "billionaires." This is so since physical energy, as we know from physics, is always in some way conserved and since the application of knowledge brings ever greater knowledge. From Fuller's conception, then, the basis of wealth is virtually infinite. We live in an abundant world.
After many years of compiling and evaluating data on global resources and technologies, Fuller concluded that "humanity can carry on handsomely and adequately when advantaged of only its daily energy income from the Sun-gravity system." In other words, there is enough for everyone to live comfortably without exhausting the earth's natural resources. (I haven't space here to examine the research on which Fuller based his conclusions, though I encourage interested readers to investigate his findings.) While their approach was naturalistic and intuitive, not empirical and methodical, the Taoists arrived at essentially the same conclusion: We live in an abundant world. Their assertion that "if all things are allowed to fulfill their natures, all will be happy" assumes a natural state of abundanceone that comes from being at one with the process that is the universe.
If we live in an abundant world, if we are all, as Buckminster Fuller puts it, billionaires, why do we see so many examples of scarcity and lack? Beyond issues of economic and political control and the distribution of wealth, most people believe in and operate from a psychology of scarcity and lack. The psychology of lack relies upon wide acceptance of the belief in physical scarcity. To be sure, there are powerful interests that have a stake in promoting and perpetuating this view. As Fuller puts it, "With their game of making money with money, the money-makers and their economists continue to exploit the general political and religious world's assumptions that a fundamental inadequacy of human life support exists around our planet." People who believe in lack are more likely to become lackeys for those who would manipulate them for their own purposes.
Whether or not we accept Fuller's findings, or even his definition of wealth, the important point here is to recognize that the way we define wealth has a great deal to do with our individual and collective experience of abundance or lack. Moreover, each us can benefit from challenging the assumption that we live in a world of scarcity and lack. On a more immediate level, we each might ask ourselves, if we don't already live in abundance. Certainly, on a material level, most of us enjoy an abundance unprecedented in human history. Think about all you have and enjoy. First and foremost, you have your life. I'm willing to guess that you have enough to eat, ample clothing, and a place to sleep, out of the elements. Beyond the basics, the average middle-class person in the developed world has a higher standard of living than the kings and queens of earlier eras enjoyed. We have running water and indoor toilets; we have central heat and air conditioning, and refrigeration. We eat exotic foods from all over the world. In the dead of winter in New York city, one can enjoy bananas and other tropical foods, something even Queen Elizabeth I would have been unable to do. In addition, we have means of communication and transportation that would have seemed fantastic even a century ago. Through most of their time on this planet, the life expectancy of homo sapiens was about forty years. Today, a good many will live twice that long.
Regardless of the facts of abundance on an individual or planetary level, for many, a feeling of lack persists. To be sure, the psychological factor is critical in determining our experience of abundance or lack. Even hardheaded economists recognize the psychological component to wealth creation and valuation. When economists use terms such as "consumer confidence" or "investor confidence," they are recognizing the importance of the psychological dimension in economic life. In the fluctuations of the stock markets or in the individual valuation of a particular company, psychological factors often play a significant role. The perception of, or belief in, the strength or weakness of a given market or company may override the "economic fundamentals" in the determination of value. Even the paper money we usebacked as it is by absolutely nothingdepends on our collective belief in it. If believing in the reality of planetary and individual abundance is an act of faith, it is certainly no less an act of faith than believing in the real value of the paper money we use everyday.
Because the psychological dimension is so important to our experience of abundance, this book will address it at length. The Taoist principles examined here will provide powerful keys to embracing and integrating a psychology of abundance. In the first two chapters, a groundwork will be laid for overcoming the sense of alienation and separation that are the underpinnings of a psychology of lack. Again, for most of us, the feeling of lack is not a result of a lack of things or material stuff. It is a sense of struggle and a lack of ease; a lack of energy; a feeling of powerlessness and blocked expression; a lack of harmony and connection in relationship; a lack of time to be, grow, and relate; and a lack of opportunity to fully appreciate and celebrate the beauty in lifethat give a sense of deficiency to our existence. Each of these "lacks" will be considered respectively in chapters 3-8, both in terms of understanding their causes, and in terms of practical suggestions for creating greater abundance in each of these areas. The exercises at the end of the book will help you to integrate and apply the information you encounter in the text.
The Eight Principles of Abundant Living: The dynamics of the psychology of lack go like this: Simultaneous to the formation of the individual ego there arises a profound sense of lack, a feeling of separation from everything else in life. This sense of separation brings a feeling of contraction and a sense of incompleteness, which we try to mitigate through mental, physical, and emotional attachments. The perceived need to defend and expand our attachments, in turn, creates a feeling of struggle. Struggle brings resentment, ingratitude, and withholding, which rob us of joy and keep the energy from flowing freely in our lives. This leads us away from the path of our inborn destinies. Instead of following our own paths, we crave the approval and attention of others. This craving for approval, in turn, produces competitive hostility and envy. Envy, in turn, provokes greed, which agitates our minds and sends us on the mad chase that today we call the "rat race." In the process, we lose the ability to appreciate the simple enjoyments that come with leisure. Ultimately, this leads to a sense of chaos and confusion that obfuscates our innate intelligence and robs us of our capacity to appreciate the beauty in life.
On the other hand, a psychology of abundance flows naturally from the Tao, the way of life. Moving from the unity of the Tao, from the experience of oneness with all of life, we receive the natural abundance of the universe with ease in a spirit of gratitude and joy. Thus, the energy flows freely in our lives, and we fulfill our innate destinies. Recognizing the innate power and dignity of all of life, we live in harmony with it and its natural cycles. Respecting our humanity above any outer goal or reward, we cultivate the sense of leisure and peace necessary to appreciate the beauty and order inherent in life, and thus, allow it to express itself through us in all we do. (For more on the eight principles and their counterpoints, see the highlights at the end of this introductory chapter.)
In addition to the inner or psychological dimension, The Tao of Abundance will address some of the social and economic factors that contribute to an individual and collective experience of lack, and offer suggestions for how we can mitigate these effects in our own lives. This book purports to apply ancient wisdom to modern times, and in this, the modern times are as important as the ancient wisdom. I have no interest in spouting spiritual platitudes divorced from the social and economic context in which we live today. Rather, I will attempt to apply ancient, really, universal, principles to the situation we find ourselves in at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The classical Taoists were keen social observers. Lao Tzu, in particular, often had harsh words for those individuals and systems that oppress people or lead them away from their true natures and thus from the fulfillment of their inborn destinies. In the spirit of this tradition, I will address social and economic factors that contribute to a mass psychology of lack, as well as institutional barriers that limit the natural creative development of individuals.
You may reject the values of the broader society; you may even be actively working to transform them. Still, you needn't make your own experience of abundance contingent on that change. To view the economic system as an enemy that must be overcome before you can prosper and be happy is to put yourself in a position of powerlessness, frustration, and resentment. While there is a place for collective action, in this book, the emphasis will be on what we as individuals can do to enhance our own experience of wealth and well-being within the system as it now exists. By becoming living examples of genuine abundance in our own lives, we participate in the transformation of the broader culture. While no individual can single-handedly change the global economic system, each of us can transform our own experience of abundance. Where once we saw lack, debt, and conflict, we can begin to see gifts, opportunities, and mutual support. We can each, in our own way, challenge the widespread belief that we live in a world of lack.
By now, you're probably getting the idea that what I mean by the "Tao of Abundance" is something altogether different from the Dow Jones version of abundance. The Tao of Abundance is more wholistic in its scope, addressing the entire issue of quality of life, and not simply financial goals. It assumes an innate order in life, one that we as individuals realize as we fulfill our inborn destinies. It further assumes that the world we live in, the world we grow out of, is an abundant one.
Now, if in fact, we live in an abundant world, there are three primary tasks for us on the journey to a life of total abundance. The first task is to recognize the inner and outer forces that conspire to make us believe in scarcity and thus to feel lack. Awareness of these factors will help us to overcome their influence over us. The second task is to cultivate a spirit of abundance in our lives, celebrating the gift of life with joy and thanksgiving. As we focus in our thoughts and actions on things that bring a feeling a connection with all life, we begin to move with the flow of the Tao. In this way, we allow blessings to come to us as a part of the "overflow" of an abundant spiritnot as things we crave and struggle for from a sense of lack or desperation. To come from lack can only bring lack, even when we get what we think we need. On the other hand, when we come from the spirit of abundance, we attract ever greater abundance.
Finally, as we move in the world from the spirit of abundance, we become a liberating and empowering force in the lives of those we interact with. We help them see, not by preaching, but by example, that we all live in an abundant world and that they as well can free themselves from lack consciousness. Together, we can unite in a spirit of abundance and create new patterns of community and social organization, new lifestyles, and new ways of relating, based on cooperation rather than competition. As envy, greed, and competition flow from lack, so do compassion, service, and cooperation flow from a spirit of abundance. It is this spirit of abundance that will be our guide as we embark on the journey to creating total abundance in our lives.
The principles of abundance are stated in English. The corresponding Chinese term is often not, nor is it intended to be, a direct translation of the principle as expressed in English. Rather, the Chinese terms give the essence or active ingredient of the principle. For example, when I use yin/yang in correspondence with the harmony of abundance, I do not mean that yin/yang literally translates as "harmony." Rather, I mean that an awareness and understanding of yin/yang dynamics will help us to find greater harmony in our own lives.
Recognizing the unity of all things starts you on the path to true abundance.
Learning to receive opens the door to your greatest good.
Following the path of least resistance brings success with ease.
Circulating the energy in your life strengthens health, deepens relationships, and generates wealth.
Honoring your innate dignity and actualizing your inborn abilities is the road to authentic power.
Balancing yin and yang eliminates stress and brings peace of mind.
Taking time to be, to grow, and to nurture your relationships gives you the strength to persevere.
Achieving your destiny is a matter of trusting and embracing the organic pattern of your life.
Copyright © 1999 by Laurence G. Boldt
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt from The Tao of Abundance may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.