March 4, 2012

Is Money Humanity’s Greatest Invention?

Photo: Keith Ramsey

Is Money Humanity’s Greatest Invention?

I recently read the book Mindfulness and Money: The Buddhist Path to Abundance. The headline on the introduction page immediately caught my eye. It said:

“No money, no spiritual life! Money is humanity’s greatest invention.”

This stopped me in my tracks. Before reading this quote, I thought I’d heard just about every quip about money. Obviously, this got my attention.

The authors Kulanada and Dominic Houlder consider money to be “almost a magical invention.”
They further state, “Without money, there would be no civilization.” (Okay, now I was hooked).

 Without money, they claim, we would have to do everything for ourselves. Grow our own food, make our own clothes, etc. They write, “At first this way of life may seem romantic, pure, and even spiritual, but we wouldn’t feel that way for long.” Many of us would soon starve to death and the hardy folks who survived would “spend all their time foraging, working, sweating, aching–all just to scratch out an existence.”

    Mankind discovered a long time ago that we are interconnected and if we want to enjoy any leisure time, we need a specialization that we can offer others.

At first, this specialization took the form of a barter system, but it had its limits. Bartering only works if two people are in the same place at the same time and have exactly what the other needs. For example, let’s say I need medicine, and you need a gallon of gasoline–but I can only offer you a shirt, and you can only offer me a loaf of bread; we can’t make an exchange.

So this inefficient system was replaced by the creation of professions that offered specialized goods and services.  Money evolved as the most efficient way of compensating one another.

The authors of the book also wrote that “money is a triumph of mind over the material world. The man-made miracle of money can enhance life, stretching our imagination and opening up new, inspiring possibilities.”

Certainly, money allows us to live in ways that were unimaginable to people centuries ago.  In fact, we live better, more comfortably, and longer than royalty did back then.

Money has allowed for significant lifestyle advances such as health and longevity. It also gives us ample leisure time–time to practice yoga, the religion of our choice, or to enjoy our favorite art medium.

Sure, hunter gatherers had religion and art, but how many people of that time actually saw the cave paintings at Lascaux ? Beyond their own inhabitants, I’m guessing very few.

Money acts as a medium of exchange and is our standard of measurement. But it is complex.   Like a double-edged sword, it can represent opportunity as well as be used wisely or recklessly.

   Some argue, like our two authors, that without money we would not have advanced civilization, spirituality or enlightenment.

There’s a popular story of three servants who were each given ten talents (money) by their master.

All of the servants eventually returned the talents, but two of the servants figured out how to create opportunity with them, and the master was pleased.  Look at money not only as a measure of self-worth, but also as a medium for opportunity.

Editor: Brianna Bemel


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