Saturday, October 11, 2008

the right uses of riches

No sooner had I begun reflecting on different religions' grappling with "the right use of riches" than Oglethorpe Museum of Art announced the arrival from the Rubin Museum of Art of a few works depicting Tibet's "wealth-creating deities," which have heretofore been omitted from exhibitions emphasizing the Buddhist tradition of detachment and renunciation.

"In the Himalayan tradition of Tantric Buddhism, there is a class of deities dedicated to granting and guarding wealth. This divine category appears contradictory, coming from a belief system that is identified with nonattachment to material well-being. Nonetheless, it is justified by the belief that wealth can provide freedom from the cares of human life that divert us from finding a path to liberation from suffering. In the hands of one who seeks enlightenment, wealth may become an instrument of compassion and a means to achieve spiritual goals."

There are more secular traditions that have asserted similar things with regard to any goal whatsoever; I recall one hardscrabble thinker who asserted that the familiar saying "Money is the root of all evil" should be modified to "The lack of money is the root of many ills."

The more general maxim is that when you're up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember you came to drain the swamp.

And the traditions are down on grasping in general; but that is another story, and another genre of artwork.


Anonymous said...

I recall the saying as, "radix malorum est cupiditas," that is, the love of money is the root of evil. But would money exist without the love for it?

Certainly, love exists without the money for it, but "romance without finance is a nuisance."

littlejoke said...

There is a distinction between the love of money and the love of the lovely things it allows its possessor to enjoy (except in the case of numismatists, who like philatelists are actually just a special case of lovers of design and functional art).

Envy, covetousness, and all those ten-commandment-y kind of things show that the natural human tendency to want what we have not got or to want more than we can actually use of what we have already got entered into the discourse of civilization as soon as there was discourse and civilization.

I suppose some would say it all goes back to how chimpanzees can't cooperate long enough to hunt effectively, whereas bonobos figured out on some pre-verbal level that if everybody whacks together at the critter, everybody will get some of the payoff, and a fair share because otherwise the group would already be at one another's throats. Some would say that.

Jon Ciliberto said...

Looking forward to seeing it.