The Soul of Money: Living a Committed Life
Thank you so much. I am deeply, deeply honored and grateful to be here and to receive this award. I have the utmost respect for the Goi Peace Foundation and I want to also say I have a great, profound and abiding love for Japan.
I’ve been a “pro-activist” all of my life—an activist for, not-against. I called myself a “pro-activist” because I’m inspired by a vision. I’m not afraid of addressing what’s blocking that vision, but my primary gaze is not on what’s wrong or what to be against, but rather my primary vision is standing FOR a thriving, just and sustainable way of life—the ultimate fulfillment and the prosperity of the human family.
I’ve been blessed my whole life to be engaged in commitments that are larger than my own life. And the gift of committing to something larger than your life is that your life becomes an instrument of something greater than your own desires. Your life becomes in service and surrendered to something larger than your wants or even your needs. That gift, that blessing, has shaped a life that I never could have planned.
The great teachers that I’ve had are not necessarily the people who walk in the halls of power or the people who are in the academic community, though I have enormous respect for all of those people. My teachers have been the people that I used to call “poor,” people living in hunger and poverty. But once I had the privilege and the opportunity to work side by side with people in Ethiopia or Tanzania or Bangladesh or India, the people that I used to call “poor” became my heroes, my heroines, my teachers—the people who shaped my life.
I realized that when we call people “poor”, we demean them and ourselves. There is nothing poor about them. They are intelligent, they are creative, and they are innovative. They have to be in order to survive. They exhibit more courage to live through one day than many of us will need in a lifetime. Who they really are, are whole and complete people, living in the conditions of poverty. What is poor is their circumstances, not them.
When we label people by their circumstances, we mistake their circumstances for them and we don’t see the beauty, the treasure, the brilliance, the wholeness, and the completeness of the human being living in those circumstances.
I never call people “poor” any longer, because I know it’s their circumstances that are poor, not them. In fact, those circumstances often create a special spiritual strength—like our two essay winners—who gave beautiful examples of harsh, difficult circumstances that forced them to rely on their inner riches rather than their outer riches. So the people I used to call “poor” are some of the strongest, most intelligent, most inspiring teachers in this world. And I’m deeply grateful to them for their gifts and teachings to me.
I also learned a lot from people I used to call “rich,” and that label has the same difficulty. When we label people by their financial circumstances, they start to think they are their trust fund, or they are their stock price, or they are their possessions. It demeans them and those of us who would call them that. What’s rich, and often excessive, are their circumstances, but they are whole and complete people like you and I, living in the ebb and flow—and sometimes tyranny—of excessive financial circumstances.
So I began to see how powerfully these labels confuse us and separate us. They block us from truly seeing who’s over there—who is actually living in those circumstances. And it is in the context of being both a philanthropist and a fundraiser that I looked for people living in the circumstances of wealth, because that’s what a fundraiser does. And in the context of working to eradicate world hunger, I spent time with people I used to call “poor.” Through all of these experiences and from all of these teachers, I learned a lot about money.
I learned that most of us—not all of us, but most of us—have gotten confused about money. What it’s for, why it’s here, and how it can be of service. As a global culture we have assigned money so much importance, so much power, so much meaning, that we’ve given it more meaning than human life. And we know that’s not true. We all know money does not have more meaning than human life. We know that money is not more important than our relationships with one another. We all know that money is not more important or more meaningful than the natural world. Yet our behavior would say something quite different.
We will cut off a relationship, an important relationship, even with a mother or father, or sister, or brother because of money. We will cut down a rainforest for money, making money more important than the natural world. We will not speak to an ex-husband or an ex-wife for years over a money issue, which says money is more important than that relationship, and perhaps more important than the person we raised our children with.
And people will kill for money. People will actually make a “killing” rather than a “living”. By making a “killing, I mean doing something we know is ultimately harmful to someone or some part of the natural world and if the rewards are great enough, we know that society will look the other way.
So we live in a money culture that does not honor the true value of life. It is difficult for all of us, whether we live in circumstances of poverty or circumstances of excessive wealth—or somewhere in between—to have a centered, healthy relationship with money. We all live in the culture that lost its way with money.
As a fundraiser, as an activist, as someone who has committed my life to transformation, I have learned that one of the greatest sources of suffering in people’s lives is their relationship with money. There is tremendous suffering in people’s lives around money. Most people, maybe not the people in this beautiful auditorium, but most people feel upset and wrong in their relationship with money pretty much all the time.
I’ve worked with some of our global billionaire families as a counselor and as a coach, and they too, even with massive financial resources, feel guilty in their relationship with money. They too feel wrong somehow in their relationship with money. Even our wealthiest families have issues around money. Children often feel abandoned in the name of money and there is also often rampant addiction in many wealthy families. There is an extra high rate of divorce and often very hurtful conflicts over money. So money does not solve these things and in some cases, exacerbates or amplifies the deep-seated problems in a family.
So in this work of being a global “pro-activist” working to end world hunger, a philanthropist and a fundraiser, I had the incredible opportunity to be engaged with people and money in ways that opened my eyes and gave me the opportunity to help people heal their troubled relationships with money and relieve their suffering.
In the mid-nineties a very powerful and mystical event led me in a new direction that gave me a whole new set of insights about money.
I received a series of visions that I can now describe as a “call.” That call came from a very remote tribe in the Amazon rainforest, right on the equator in the small country of Ecuador. This was a call for contact, from a remote indigenous tribe, the Achuar people,and it created a whole new chapter in my life. It took me from my work in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, countries like Ghana, Senegal, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Nepal, India, where I had put my life, my love and my attention on ending world hunger, to the other side of the planet, to South America, to meet with the Achuar, the Shuar, the Shiwiar, the Zapara, and Kichwa people deep in the Amazon rainforest.
That created an opportunity for me to learn from a whole new set of teachers, indigenous people, who didn’t even understand that there was a thing called “money”. Here they were, ancient tribes, living as they have for ten thousand years, prosperous, healthy, with everything they needed right there in the rainforest, in total harmony with the natural world. These people didn’t even know money existed.
The Achuar leaders had made the incredibly wise decision to reach out and create contact with people they could trust– knowing that ultimately they would need to deal with the outside world. And so one of the first things we knew they needed to understand was the modern world’s insanity and obsession with money. We knew that without understanding that, they could be destroyed.
We began to explain to them that they lived in a country called Ecuador with a government that with constantly looking to find out how to have the financial resources to feed its people, educate them, build roads, and create a society that was successful in the modern world.
We also knew that they would have to deal with the government’s obsession with getting into the rainforest and creating revenue by drilling for massive reserves of oil that lay under the Amazon rainforest. So in order to support them in their intention to preserve their forests, not only for themselves but for the future of life, we needed to educate them about the modern world’s obsession for oil in service of the modern world’s obsession for money.
I remember the early days of introducing them to the concept of money. They said to us, “You can’t eat it, you can’t hunt for it, why would anyone want it?” Money made no sense to them. Introducing the Achuar to the world of money was an opportunity for me to re-see money myself. In the modern world, it’s such a given and it’s such a huge part of our consciousness that to deal with people who had no relationship with it was very, very enlightening. So these indigenous people became the next group of teachers for me in my relationship with money.
Out of all of these experiences, I wrote a book called The Soul of Money, which is the name of our forum tonight. Now, I think we all know that money doesn’t have a soul. So when I say the “soul of money”, what am I talking about? What I am talking about is our soul. Money doesn’t have soul, but we do. And we can give soul to money and have money be in service of the highest good, or we can ignore our soul, or some people would say in English, “sell our soul” for money.
To really begin exploring our relationship with money at this very, very pivotal time in human history—when the global warming and environmental crisis, social justice crisis, inequality crisis, and what I will call the spiritual crisis are in such a huge state of emergency—examining our relationship with money might be a key lever or dial that may get at some of the great issues of our time.
As a culture, we’ve forgotten that the “economy”, which we bow to with such reverence, and are nearly enslaved by, is a subset of the “ecology”. Without the ecological services of the world, there is no economy. Yet, we’ve put the ecological services of the world at the feet and at the mercy of the economy. It’s backwards, and it’s gotten us into terrible trouble. It’s also something we can actually feel in our soul. There’s a spiritual awareness, whether we acknowledge it or not, of the fact that we are actually destroying the very source of life for money.
We are actually taking more resources than the earth can regenerate and are stealing from future generations. We all know that deep in our soul and you might say that the spiritual crisis that we see in my country, the United States—that I’ve been told is also part of what is going on here in Japan and the other parts of the world—you might say that the spiritual crisis has its root in our somehow knowing that the way we are living is inconsistent with our own humanity. And until we actually live within our “ecological means”, I say that the economic crisis will continue to haunt us. We’re living off an “ecological” credit card we can never pay back. We know deep in our hearts that we are in ecological debt and it haunts us all.
I also have learned a great deal about money from teachers that you and I both know. Mother Teresa was one of my greatest teachers. We don’t think of Mother Teresa and money in the same sentence, but she was one heck of a fund-raiser. If Mother Teresa asked you for money, you did not say “no”! I learned great lessons about fundraising from Mother Teresa. Most people are surprised to hear that, but Mother Teresa knew that money was invented originally by human beings way back, 4500 years, ago to ensure and facilitate the equitable distribution of goods and services. She knew money was originally invented to ensure that we all have what we need. That was the original purpose of money, and that’s how she used it.
That’s how the Goi Peace Foundation uses money. I am sure that is how many of you use money. I think it is really important to address our dysfunctional relationship with money and to put money in the background and our commitment to one another in the foreground—to put money in service of life and love rather than in service of destruction and fear.
There is a beautiful man named Brother David Steindl-Rast. He is a Benedictine monk and has been a monk for 60 years and he’s taught me a lot about gratefulness. Brother David is the living icon of gratefulness in the world today. He’s written about gratefulness, he lives gratefulness, he has almost no possessions, and he is one of the happiest people you’re ever going to meet. And one of the things he teaches is that no matter what is going on with you, whether it’s a tragedy, or a disaster, or a breakdown, or a breakup, if you focus on what you are grateful for, everything transforms. Our young 10-year-old speaker tonight, Udayan, looked at that disaster in Nepal and looked then at what he was grateful for. In that experience of gratefulness he found his soul.
Brother David also taught me that the “open hand” is the posture of the hand that gives, and the “open hand” is also the posture of a hand that receives? it is the same posture. It’s when our fingers start to curl and grasp that we begin the formation of the fist, and that is the source of all violence. It’s a beautiful metaphor if you think about it. When we start to grasp, when we start to hold on, when we start to want, when we start to take, to grab, we begin the formation of the fist, which is the beginning of violence.
The Goi Peace Foundation and the Fuji Declaration is the open hand, the hand gives, and the hand receives. The Goi Peace Foundation and the Fuji Declaration is about the divine spark that holds our hands and our hearts open to the world.
It’s when we share, it’s when we collaborate, it’s when we are grateful, it’s when we are in service, that true prosperity belongs to us. Then money can be in service of that goodness. Prosperity actually doesn’t come from accumulation. It comes from sharing. We all know this but the culture we live in teaches something very different.
It’s my absolute honor to be a fund-raiser. I consider it a very, very high, act of service to ask people for money for the things I believe in. Because I know that all of us want to facilitate the re-allocation of the world’s financial resources away from fear, away from war, away from overconsumption, away from the destruction of the environment, and reallocate those resources towards love.
We all want to withdraw resources away from death, destruction, depletion, and reallocate those same resources to life, the preservation of life, the sustainability of the our natural world, the health and well-being of our communities, the health and well-being of one another, and the health and well-being of all children of all species for all time.
Once again, I am deeply grateful to receive this extraordinary award. The Goi Peace Foundation, in recognizing a fund-raiser, has made a very wise decision. This award acknowledges giving soul to money. It acknowledges the courage to reallocate or to help others reallocate resources away from overconsumption, away from depletion of resources, away from what we fear, to what we love and to improving the quality of life.
This award is an acknowledgment of philanthropy. It empowers all of us to realize that the word ‘philanthropist’ means, “love of humankind” and that each and every one of us is a lover of humankind, a lover of life, and a natural philanthropist. It acknowledges that money can be allocated in service of that love.
Money is the currency of our society, it’s a powerful current, and I invite all of us to use this currency, this current, to carry our love into the world.
Thank you. God bless you.