How Much Income is Enough?

In Japan many businessmen set their financial goal in life to be somewhere near “a hundred thousand dollars as their annual income.” But we often hear stories that even if some poeple achieve that goal, it doesn’t bring so much joy as they had expected.

People with more income are stressed out by work. And they might be inclined to have dinner at a fancy restaurant or buy more fashionable clothes. And they end up using more money.

A doctor that I know says joining doctors’ get-togethers is costly. It seems that only increasing the money we earn is no guarantee for our happiness. Could it be that happiness lies somewhere else? Let’s read one story from Unshakable Spirit.

A young man once worked for a wealthy merchant. He was extremely bright and talented, and the merchant thought highly of him. One day the merchant summoned the lad and said, “You have a knack for business. Here are one hundred gold coins. I want you to use them as capital for whatever business you like, and return them to me tenfold.”

Overjoyed, the youth set out to do as he’d been told. Instead of starting a big venture that might only fail, he decided to build up a small business and earn a slow but steady profit. He bought paper scraps, made them into tissues, and sold them for a small amount. In three years he had earned three hundred gold coins, and in five years, a thousand.

He went back to his employer and reported, “I increased the gold you gave me tenfold. Here it is.” His boss was impressed. “I knew you had talent, but this is amazing! Now go out and do the same thing again.”

Several years later, the younger man returned with ten thousand gold coins, as promised.

His boss praised him again and instructed him to increase his capital tenfold once more, which he did in only three years’ time. Still unsatisfied, the master told him to come back with a million gold coins.

This time the younger man drew himself up and replied, “Turning one hundred thousand gold coins into a million is far easier than turning a hundred into ten thousand. But however much money one has, it is never enough. Human desire knows no bounds. I do not wish to be a slave to limitless desire. Gold serves no purpose when we are dead.”

And so he firmly rejected his master’s wishes and became a Buddhist monk. One day a man paid a call on an older man who lived alone and was gravely ill.

“You are really sick, my friend,” he said.

“Why don’t you go into the hospital?”

“I can’t afford it,” came the answer.

“You own land, don’t you? Why not sell some of it and use the proceeds to pay for your treatment?” His friend’s eyes opened wide in astonishment.

“Heavens no! Why would I do a thing like that?”

“Well, because you’re sick.”

“Yes, but you never know what may happen down the road. I’m saving that land for an emergency.”

“This is an emergency!” insisted the old man, but to no avail.

One week later he received word of his friend’s passing. I peer Into the depths of the abyss Where I must fall— Ah, how unfathomable, the pit of my desires.

(Unshakable Spirit, “I Do Not Wish to Be a Slave to Riches”)

Satoshi’s Book Club, Satoshi Hasegawa

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #27 | 2013, How Much Income is Enough?

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