Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dharma Economics

"While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. Buddhism is the Middle Way and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence.

For the modern economist [and consumer] this is very difficult to understand. He is used to measuring the "standard of living" by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is "better off" than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. "

--E.F. Shumacher, Small Is Beautiful

I admit that my recipe for economic "success" is quite different than the advice you'll get from most.

Bookstores are filled with books about making money and getting rich. But they all come with certain basic philosophical assumptions-- mainly that MORE money is always better and the key to "success" is to be rich.

Even books that I recommend, such as The 4-Hour Workweek or Your Portable Empire, have an underlying philosophy of "getting rich". All of these writers are firmly centered in mainstream capitalist thinking.

My philosophy is essentially that of a Buddhist economist. While others speak of "success" and "wealth", my concern is liberation. And when I speak of liberation, I mean financial liberation, physical liberation, emotional liberation, mental liberation,.. and ultimately spiritual liberation. However, at this time in my life, I'm only qualified to give advice about financial and physical liberation (and somewhat on emotional and mental :)

Its important to understand the profound difference between seeking wealth and seeking liberation. Mainstream financial advice is always focused on more, more, more.

However, my starting point is always less, less, less. Simplicity is the core of my approach to financial liberation. Learn to need less, and you automatically become freer. Learn to need a smaller and cheaper living space. Learn to need a smaller and cheaper car... or better yet, a motorcycle,... or still better, no vehicle at all. Learn to need fewer gadgets. Learn to need fewer and less expensive clothes.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. This is the core of my "method". Before you worry about building a micro-business, before you worry about debt elimination, before you worry about working fewer hours or making more money-- Simplify every aspect of your life--- persistently, continuously, relentlessly. Pare away all that is unnecessary, distracting, and fashionable. Go to work on your cravings.

This is the basis for liberation. Without doing this, you'll always be a slave... no matter how much money you have-- because you'll always need more.... and thus will always remain a slave to work and economics.

On the other hand, if you simplify drastically-- you'll find that financial liberation is much easier than you thought. You'll find that you can work much less and live much more. You'll find that escaping your job and boss (part-time or permanently) is much easier than you thought. You'll find that eliminating debt is much easier than you thought.

You'll find that you are much less stressed about money. You'll find that you have many more options in life. You'll find it easier to save, easier to travel, easier to do those things you always put off doing.

Simplicity is the starting point, the center, the foundation, and the ending point. It is the key to your financial (and physical, and emotional) liberation.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


"Follow Your Bliss"
--Joseph Campbell

Let's be honest.

Most of us love quotes like the one above. We've all read great words about "following our bliss" or "following our genius" (Thoreau).... and we've nodded our heads. We love the words of Emerson, Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, and other free spirits. We love the IDEA that following our bliss will bring happiness, prosperity, freedom, fun, etc...

But let's be honest. At a deeper level, we don't really believe it can happen to us. At a deeper level, we have been programmed much more strongly by our mainstream culture. That culture tells us "You must work hard", "Follow the rules", "Success, Happiness, & Bliss require hard work", "Be practical".

Be honest. No matter how much you profess to be an idealist, or a romantic, or an artist, or a free-spirit... you have these cultural messages deep inside and they have a strong effect on you. They have a strong effect on all of us. And so, when we read Thoreau or J. Campbell, there is an unconscious reaction that thinks, "this really isn't possible... its a great and beautiful idea... but its not possible practically".

That unconscious programming is THE barrier... THE thing which keeps us enslaved. We are enslaved to jobs, to "hard work", to "being practical" not through force, but through mind control. I know that sounds sinister, and in fact, the effects are indeed sinister and heart-breaking.

For years, I fought with these beliefs. My chosen route was to first prove to myself that Thoreau was right- that I could live extremely simply... and that by doing so life would not be a hardship... but would in fact be easier.

That's why I lived in my car, and then a van. And through direct experience I learned that Thoreau's words were not only beautiful... but EXTREMELY practical.

That set the stage for all that has followed. The old programming lost much of its power. I began to BELIEVE. I thought, "damn, if this is true, maybe its also true that prosperity, freedom, and happiness will come NOT from hard work... but by following my bliss".

So I took off to Thailand, one of my favorite places in the world. I started teaching English.. something I liked doing in the past. But this time, I decided I'd do it only my way.. that Id only teach in a way that was fun and thrilling to me (and my students)... consequences be damned.

Which led to two results: 1) I developed a very unique, energetic, and enthusiastic teaching sytle. 2) I was fired from my job.

I came back to SF, and got another job... at a place that afforded me more freedom. And I started recording my lessons and selling them. For YEARS I had thought of making my own micro-business.. but I didnt. Why not? Because of the old programming. Because of thoughts like, "Im bad at business", "Ill have to work hard to succeed, and I don't want to be a slave to my own business", "Having a business means I only care about money".... etc.

But it was different this time because I was doing something blissful-- recording fun, loud, enthusiastic, and somewhat strange English lessons. I finally asked myself, "why should my boss get most of the money for MY work, my energy, and my creativity?"

From there, in fits and starts, it grew.... and I quit my job. The amazing thing-- its MUCH easier than working. SO much easier than working a job. My micro-business feels like a "past-time" (to use Thoreau's words). It feels like a fun hobby, not a "serious business".

So whats the point of all this babbling? The point is, I finally realize that Thoreau, Campbell, Watts, and others were NOT dreamy romantics. Their words are sober and practical.

Following your bliss does produce prosperity, freedom, etc. The only caveat is that you must do it with all your faith and enthusiasm. You must work on all those cultural programs and dismantle them.

Ive found the best way to dismantle them is through direct empirical experimentation with my life. Direct experience. Try simplicity and see what happens. Try following your bliss, and see what happens. At first, do it as a temporary experiment. Then experiment again. Eventually, make it your lifestyle!

When you do this, you will indeed find that life proceeds effortlessly. What was once difficult becomes easy. Everything begins to flow.