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Buddhism and Money: The Repression of Emptiness Today

By David Loy Buddhist Ethics and Modern Society No. 31 (1991) pp. 297297-312

The modern world is so materialistic that we sometimes joke about the religion of

"moneytheism." But the joke is on us: for more and more people, the value-system of

money is supplanting traditional religions, as part of a profound secular conversion we only dimly understand. I think that Buddhism (with some help from the psychoanalytic concept of repression) can explain this historical transformation and show us how to overcome it.

(as Freud thought), nor even death (as existential psychologists think), but the intuition that the ego-self does not exist, that our self consciousness is a mental construction. Here, the repressed intuition "returns to consciousness in distorted form" as the world: such as power, fame, and of course money.

The Buddhist doctrine of no-self implies that our fundamental repression is not sex

symbolic ways we compulsively try to ground ourselves and make ourselves real in the To present a Buddhist critique of the money-complex, and the Buddhist solution, this

paper is divided into two parts. The first part summarizes the existential-psychoanalytic understanding of the human condition and modifies that by bringing in the fundamental insight of anatma, the denial of ego-self. The Buddhist critique of the ego-self not only gives us a different perspective on repression, it also suggests a different way of resolving the problem of repression. The second part applies the conclusions to

understand the psychological and spiritual role of money for modern secular humanity,

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demonstrating how the money complex amounts to a demonic religion - demonic because it cannot absolve our sense of lack. The Repression of Emptiness When Samuel Johnson was asked, "I wonder what pleasure men can take in making pain of being a man." [1]

beasts of themselves?" he answered: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the

Dr. Johnson's reply points to why we anaesthetize ourselves with alcohol, television, and so money other physical and mental addictions. (As Dr. Johnson also knew, the and psychology have finally caught up with his insight: existentialism highlights the grade neurosis we call normality, back to anxiety. But why is it painful just to be a carry the analysis one step further. alternative to not getting rid of that pain is often depression.) Today, Western philosophy anguish of the human condition, and psychoanalysis traces neurosis, including the lowhuman being? What causes our anguish and anxiety? This is where Buddhism can

The concept is basically simple: when something (usually a thought or a feeling) makes me uncomfortable and I do not want to cope with it consciously, I may choose to ignore or "forget" it. This clears the way for me to concentrate on something else, but at a price: part of my psychic energy must be spent resisting what has been repressed, to

Freud emphasized that repression is the key discovery underlying all psychoanalysis.

keep it out of consciousness, so there is persistent tension. Even worse, what has been repressed usually returns to consciousness, by being transformed into a symptom that is symbolic (because that symptom re-presents the repressed phenomenon in distorted to be symptoms of repressed sexuality, and therefore concluded that sexual repression is our primal repression. As with many of us, however, his attention gradually shifted from sexuality to death as he got older. More recent existential psychologists, such as have shifted the focus from sexual dynamics to the fundamental issues of life and

form). Freud understood the histerias and phobias of his middle-class Viennese patients

analysts Rollo May and Irvin Yalom and scholars Norman O. Brown and Ernest Becker,

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" For Becker this is le 14 décembre 2013 3 / 21 . It places a trembling animal at the mercy of the entire cosmos and the problem of the meaning of it. Most animals have such fears programmed into them as instincts. if we can come to experience the world differently.. groundlessness and meaninglessness. "everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to obliviousness with social games. He literally drives himself into a blind According to Becker. because it can qualify us for a special destiny. too. According to most existential psychoanalysts. but we fashion our fears out of the ways we perceive the world. And why do we need a of humanity's unique ability to symbolize is that it reveals our fate that much more special destiny? Because the alternative is literally too much to contemplate.death.. for without them the e can only be "full and open psychosis". because they provide an automatic response to situations. freedom and responsibility. [2] world to be essentially a theater for heroism. and might someone experience deny and overcome his grotesque fate. and therefore make possible a more fruitful dialogue between Buddhism and psychoanalysis." Thus the bite in Pascal's aphorism: "Human beings are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. self-confident activity impossible." Even our character-traits are an example of this. it must be repressed for us to function with any degree of psychological comfort.concerns that are just as central to Buddhism. personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of his situation that they are forms of madness. automatic. to see the world as it really is "devastating and terrifying" "it makes routine." But why do we want to be heroes? William James observed that our "common instinct for reality . psychological tricks. we might be able to fashion our fears differently. secure. Although fear of death is necessary for self-preservation. Or is it the opposite: do the world differently if they were brave enough to face the thing we avoid most? our fears cause us to perceive the world the way we do. our primary repression is not sexuality.. has always held the Natural narcissism and our need for self-esteem mean that each of us needs to feel we are of special value. Heroism is how we justify that need to count more than anyone or anything else. [3] suggesting that. These sedimented habits are a necessary protection. The irony clearly.. but death.

that one has a unique and self-fashioned identity. It reflects the self-conscious animal's bafflement at having emerged from nature. helpless and afraid. protective madness. and these defenses allow us to feel a Thus. Psychoanalysis reveals the high price of denying this truth about the human condition. "what we might call the costs of pretending not to be mad. of meaningfulness. his fear of losing his support. as Freud realized. but not by sleeping with mother. of standing alone. that one really does live and act as a willful and free individual. in which we repress the grim truth about the human condition. the early experience of the child becomes an attempt "to deny the anxiety of basic sense of self-worth.. attempt to become one's own father.. especially hate and death-wishes directed toward parents that alternate with fears the existentialists put it. Those who have difficulty playing this game are the ones we call mentally ill.literally true: what we regard as normality is our collective. is the guilt of being itself. They allow us to feel in control of life and death." [4] his emergence. at sticking out too much without knowing of losing them. All of us are on." [6] Such "pure" guilt has nothing to do with feared punishment for secret wishes. Schizophrenics are suffering from the truth. of power. Freud traced guilt back to early ambivalent feelings of the This implies a different way of understanding such key Freudian concepts as guilt child. It is the worm in the heart of the human condition. rather. at not being able to place himself securely in an eternal meaning system.. as what for. Existential psychoanalysis sees the problem as far more basic: "Guilt. that we are somebody. apparently an inescapable consequence of self-consciousness itself." This leads to what Becker calls "the great scientific simplification of psychoanalysis": This despair is avoided by building defenses. the major sin is the sin of being born. as Samuel Beckett put it. [5] driven to be supported in a self-forgetful way. Why? To become one's own father is to become what Nagarjuna described as self- This transforms Freud's Oedipal complex into an Oedipal project: the never-ending le 14 décembre 2013 4 / 21 . of the kind of lie we have fashioned to live securely and serenely. ignorant of what energies we really draw and the Oedipal complex.

" as the Buddha called them) that it If so. To be one's own father is to be one's own origin. The problem arises because this conditioned. But to real-ize itself is to objectify itself . a self-sufficient Cartesian ego. after all. then. consciousness is more like the surface of the cannot grasp because it is a manifestation of them. the Oedipal project actually derives from our intuition that selfconsciousness is construct. consciousness wants to ground itself. The result is a delusive sense of self always not something obviously "self-existing" but a fiction. Rather than being selfsufficient. for the idea of "the return of the repressed" distorted into a symptom shows us how to link this basic yet hopeless le 14 décembre 2013 5 / 21 . The child wants to conquer death by becoming the creator Buddhist terms. or something ("I may not be Mom. what am I part of?" This becomes. as what that means to the child's dawning realization of separation: "But if I am not part of Mom. and therefore unstable. to make itself real. It is the quest to deny one's groundlessness by becoming one's own ground: the ground (socially conditioned and approved but nonetheless illusory) of being an independent person. In obliteration and contingency. always includes the anxious about its own groundlessness. we could say that the Oedipal project is the attempt of the developing sense of self to become autonomous. but I am this!") . fear of losing whatever one is attached to. more rather to create it . except by identifying with generally: what am I? who am I? A need is generated to discover one's own ground. which (alas!) it always tries to escape. From a Buddhist perspective.existing . as its inescapable psychoanalytic concept of repression becomes helpful. shadow. a sense of lack. what is called the Oedipal complex is due to the discovery of the child that it is not part of mother. The problem is not so much that Dad has first claim on Mom. Becker calls the Oedipal project a flight from and sustainer of its own life.meaning to grasp itself. The ego-self is this continuing attempt to objectify oneself by grasping oneself. since an object is that-which-is-grasped.a futile project never to be fulfilled. ungrounded because it is a mental sea: dependent on unknown depths ("conditions. of course.which.and exposed as an impossibility. something we can no more do than a hand can grasp itself. It is here that the The consequence of this is that the sense of self always has.

by putting an end to the sense of self. When we do not understand what is actually motivating us . A better example for most intellectuals is the craving to be famous. and so we must shrink from being fully alive." It can be manifested in many different for s.we end up being compulsive. because it into fear of something. these symptoms shield them from the tragic contradictions at the heart of the human situation: death.because what we think we want is only a symptom of something else (here. which will be discussed later.. which illustrates perhaps the main way we try to make ourselves real: through the eyes of others. however.) In its "purer" forms lack appears as guilt or anxiety that is almost unbearable. (If we can persuade enough others that we exist. but it is life itself that awakens it." Such a Buddhist analysis implies that no true "mental health" can be found. is that (for example) no amount of come to agree with the great insight of existentialism: anxiety is fundamental to the self. The anguish and despair neurotics complain of are not the result of their symptoms but their cause. The tragedy of these objectifications. "driven. because then we know what to do: we have ways to defend ourselves against the feared thing. We experience this deep sense of lack as the feeling that "there is something wrong with me. but it has it is not the cause of our unhappiness. except in an enlightenment that puts an end to the sense of lack that "shadows" the sense of self. guilt... but its effect." [7] I do not know if psychoanalysis is coming close to the same realization. "The ultimate problem is not guilt This suggests a new perspective on the sense of guilt that seems to bedevil our lives: le 14 décembre 2013 6 / 21 . and we can react to that felling in many different ways. not something we have but something we are. our desire to become real) . "The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation. gnaws at the very core of one's being. For that reason we are eager to objectify anxiety fame can ever be enough if it is not really fame you want.project with the symbolic ways we try to overcome our sense of lack by making ourselves real in the world. One of the most popular is the money complex. meaninglessness.

as being alive. Rather. Then genuine life cannot be opposed to death but must embrace both life and death. in order to organize a life of nonenjoyment. Then deathterror is not something the ego has. To be self- because it is dualistic. Is the dilemma of life-confrontingmore like an unconscious. as long as we crave immortality. ourselves? According to Buddhism. and is brave enough to "let go" of enough to die. and could be abolished by an ego strong that suspects it is a fiction. that also implies it is the act by which the ego constitutes itself. or is this also something constructed and projected. but if the denial of death is the way the ego affirms itself as being conscious is to be conscious of oneself. so it is something we have learned. If fear of death rebounds as fear of life. The irony here is that the death-terror that is the ego actually defends only itself.but the incapacity to live. Everything outside is what the le 14 décembre 2013 7 / 21 . to grasp oneself." [8] This shifts the essential issue autonomy of selfconsciousness is a delusion that can never quite shake off its shadowinadequacy somehow. but that organizations [Freud's anal. a delusive construction." [9] An ego strong enough to die: in Buddhist terms this is a sense of self itself. The great irony is that. deeply repressed game that each of us is playing with Anxiety about death is our reaction to becoming aware of ourselves and our death an objective fact we just see. magnifies life" (Rilke). oral and genital stages of ego-development] were perhaps constructed by the ego in its flight from death." it will need to rationalize that sense of enjoy life. "Whoever rightly understands and celebrates death. The illusion of guilt is necessary for an animal that cannot from what we have done to why we feel bad. at the same time dead. if the feeling that "something is wrong with me. they become two sides of the same coin. it is what the ego is. From the Buddhist perspective. a possibility Brown is sympathetic to: "since anxiety is the ego's incapacity to accept death. the sexual Most psychoanalysts have decided that it is not possible to end anxiety. we are conclusion does not necessarily follow. inevitable fate. what follows is that ending death anxiety would require ending the ego-self as usually experienced. life-against-death is a delusive way of thinking alive.

but there remains something else that cannot die." where "neither this world nor the other. for that is what makes everything else the outside." [12] That "all things are perfectly resolved in the Unborn" was "When you dwell in the Unborn itself. Anatma is the "middle way" between the extremes of eternalism (the self If the ego is mentally constituted by this dualistic way of thinking. "emptiness. nor sense-objects are to be found. and." The laconic Heart Sutra explains that all things are sunya because they are "not created. a disciple of the sixth Ch'an patriarch." [11] says: "Since i abruptly realized the unborn. not increasing and not decreasing. The most important term in Mahayana is sunyata. nor coming." unborn. the ego should be survives death) and annihilationism (the self is destroyed at death). because it was never born. there is no life without and death in order to affirm one and deny the other. but what is inside? Fear is the inside. The evaporation of t is dualistic way of thinking reveals what is prior to it. the two most famous descriptions of Nirvana both refer to "the "unproduced. In this case. That is precisely the claim of Buddhism: the sense of self can disappear. neither death nor birth. I have had no reason for joy or sorrow at the great realization and the central teaching of the Japanese Zen master Bankei : The "Song of Enlightenment" of Yung-chia." [10] Similar claims are common in Mahayana. which has many names. any honor or disgrace. our tragedy lies in the paradox le 14 décembre 2013 8 / 21 . Buddhism resolves the problem of life-and-death by deconstructing it.ungrounded ego is terrified of. the most common being "the unborn. We discriminate between such opposites as life that the two opposed terms are interdependent." The Unborn is the Buddha-mind." and the adjectives most often used to explain sunyata are "unborn. going or standing." "uncreated" and In the Pali canon. not annihilated. which is beyond living and dying. you're dwelling at the very well head of Buddhas and patriarchs. not impure and not pure. [13] For Buddhism. able to die without physical death. the dualism between life and death is only one instance of the more general problem with dualistic thinking.

you should not think so. If we can realize that there is no delineated ego-self that is alive now. If the ego-self is not a thing but a continual process of consciousness trying to grab hold of itself and experience "of" the Unborn is the final shipwreck of that project. in the the world (in psychoanalytic terms) and our main hope of making ourselves real (in Buddhist terms). feeling and acting . common people. the (when) the Tathagata speaks of an ego.' Subhuti. It is no coincidence that the Prajnaparamita sutras of The Buddha: "Subhuti. a being and a life. The ego-self that has been trying to make itself real by identifying with one thing or another in the objective world collapses. while leaving our anguish some conceptual understanding. you die. if the ego is really a construct .unmediated resolved at its source. "Die before course. yet it can evaporate. [14] Tathagata would hold (the concept of) an ego. mutually-reinforcing sense that those cease to recur. a personality. leads to self-paralysis ." as the Sufis put it. although common called. what do you think? You should not say that the Tathagata has this thought: 'I should liberate living beings. This means our problem is not death but life-and-death. The problem is objectify itself . there is in reality no ego.death and . people think so.there is no death without life. Why? Because there are really no living beings for the Tathagata to liberate.which. then there is no reason to fear death. since it can never do so. Subhuti. Insofar as these constitute our basic defense against le 14 décembre 2013 9 / 21 . It means giving up my most the ego-self forecloses on its greatest anxiety by letting go and dying now. not Mahayana also repeatedly emphasize that there are no sentient beings. they should be able to un-create or deconstruct it. In term of life-versus-death. Of ways of thinking. Since our minds have created this dualism. so that when you come to die you will not have to die.it cannot really die. but (expediently) If there is no one who has life. the Tathagata says common people are not. If there were.what we are more likely to overlook . Subhuti. The examples above refer to a different way of experiencing. is not a devious intellectual trick to solve the problem logically. the problem of life-and-death is solved. this letting-go is not going to be easy.composed of automatized. This as deep as before.

'" Then even the desire for immortality is reduced to a symptom. for even they are symptoms that represent something else. then does such ego-death implies that death is not our deepest fear. the usual (but distorted) way at we become aware of this repressed spiritual thirst. victory in the form I seek it cannot satisfy me if I really want something else. and that is possible if the core of my own egoconsciousness is not self-existing but hollow. because groundless: If consciousness is not "inside. which in the nondualist terms of Mahayana means realizing that my mind is actually one with -. As with other symbolic (because repressed) games. really solve our problem? Yes. our existence would eventually become a burden. to stand naked and exposed.nothing other than -. what anguish would accumulate! Mere immortality would become unbearable as soon as I no longer craved it.cherished ways of thinking about myself (notice the reflexivity).the actuality of an projects to make myself real. Death too becomes reduced to a symbol. is ceaseless life really the solution? Many have suspected that. not This implies that our ultimate hunger is ontological: it can be satisfied by nothing less le 14 décembre 2013 10 / 21 . for hat terror is preferable to facing one's lack of being now: death-fear at are not) right now. unless we discovered a meaning system to place it in. so we avoid facing what we are (or existence that never ended . because the Buddhist analysis of the "empty" ego-self deepest hope. like "the immortal" in Borges' story of the same title. As much as we may fear death. and the desire to become immortal is not our something. a cosmology wherein we had both a home and a role. than becoming real. No wonder it is called the Great Death. which are what I think I am. As the interminable succession of centuries undermined all my futile One way to approach this is to consider whether immortality . They symbolize the desire of the sense of self to become a real self.could really satisfy us. to transform its anguished lack of being into genuine being. Even the terror of death represses This cannot save the body from aging and deteriorating. least allows us to project the problem into the future.the whole universe." there is no outside.

which I suspect is our most troublesome game. unless something is now. The speculations of theologians and metaphysicians are only the most abstract form of this game. [15] felt to be lacking now? Obviously. there is nothing to fear because "the most horrible of all evils. that can lead to the discovery of what is prior to the polarization between them. opposing each other. for when we exist. tragic aspects of existence that we cannot cope with and so project as the Shadow of Life. the source of Like the matter and anti-matter particles of quantum physics.only representing the feared failure of this reality project. because the bifurcation between being and nonbeing (or reality versus nothingness. and our most Then what is the main point? According to "Buddhist psychoanalytics. etc. is nothing to us. Epicurus stoically asserted that present. death. immortality loses its compulsion as the way to resolve not the main point. existence versus emptiness. The tension between them is the core of existential anguish. and whether or not we survive physical death becomes. Many have found this unpersuasive. and they disappear together by collapsing back into each other - le 14 décembre 2013 11 / 21 . death is not we shall not be around to notice (what) we are missing. we are afraid of losing something then that we have Why do we need to project ourselves indefinitely into the future. lack. Miss this rule by a hair and you are off by a thousand miles" (Yung-chia again). answering it with variations on the theme that.) is not obvious and natural but mentally constructed. a separation that has to be maintained." our most troublesome repression is not life repressing death but the sense of self repressing its suspected nothingness. non-being is not non being. "Being is not being. negative." A more Buddhist formulation is that. but also serving as a catch-all for all the ugly. if nothing is lacking now. at least intimate duality is not life-versus-death but being-versus-nonbeing. then we are not. if life is not something we have but something we are. Instead of identifying with being the Buddhist approach is to conflate their duality by not rejecting nonbeing. Again we see why a sense of lack is the shadow of the sense of self. but when death is present. if not irrelevant. they arise together. our sense of lack.

but really nothingness. When consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail. which is experienced as a letting-go and falling into the void. what? have avoided in this instance. and discover that I am everything or. is to yield to the side that we afraid of. the solution is to become nothing. in Luther's words. Letting go of myself and merging with that nothingness leads to something else. "the God of this world. They do not know that the Void is not really void. it must start from the hypothesis that the money complex has the essential structure of religion . Religious faith should provide not a bulwark against such nothingness. that I can be anything.. but the courage to let oneself fall into it. fearing to fall through the the realm of the real Dharma" (Huang-po). Enlightenment or liberation occurs when the usuallyresult of consciousness attempting to reflect back upon itself to grasp itself. If it is nothingness we are The way to end that bifurcation. the "visible God". The psychoanalytic theory of money must start by establishing le 14 décembre 2013 12 / 21 . for that is the perspective of a groundless sense of self haunted by the fear of losing its grip on itself. Meditation is learning to forget the self by becoming absorbed in one's meditation-object (mantra. If the sense of self is a is an exercise in de-reflection." "Men are afraid to forget their minds. [16] What we fear as nothingness is not Void with nothing to stay their fall. the negation of the proposition that money is. meditation automatic reflexivity of consciousness ceases. I become nothing. like any other dualism. etc. if you will.. to forget oneself and let go. the common origin both of what I experience as nothingness and of what I experience as myself." [18] religion. the demonic." [17] The Money Complex If there is to be a psychoanalysis of money. in Shakespeare's words.).which leaves not the nothingness we so dread (for that is one of the two terms) but.or. more precisely.

an ironic reversal takes place between means and ends. ride in it or sleep under Money is the "purest" symbol. when we relate it to the sense of self's sense of lack. consequently. Yet it has more value than anything else because it is value. but the one is not alive to concrete happiness. objectify itself) by grasping the spiritual in this world. that is. because the money complex is who is no longer capable of happiness in concrete sets one's whole heart on money. the demonic results from the sense of self trying to make itself real (that is. This can be done only unconsciously. In Buddhist terms. desirable in itself. The difficulty is not with money as a convenient medium of exchange. everything is degraded into a mere means to that worthless end.that is. Schopenhauer notes that money is human happiness in abstracto.the contemporary original sin.but at accumulating pieces of paper. whose festering keeps us from being able fully to enjoy that bird-song (just this). all else is devalued to maximize merely symbolic ends. how could this not happen? the desired thing .the genuine elements of our life . The psychological it.motivated by our religious need to redeem ourselves (fill our sense of lack). how le 14 décembre 2013 13 / 21 . It second half is true: to the extent one becomes preoccupied with symbolic happiness. We end up rejoicing not at a worthwhile job well done. We all sense what is wrong with this. is questionable whether there is really such a thing as happiness in abstraction. How such madness could occur be comes apparent fetishized into that pure symbol. but it is helpful to make it explicit: to the extent that life becomes focused around the desire for money. but with the "money complex" that arises when money become lack. or hearing a bird-song . our most important symbol is money. because our desires have been or meeting a friend. and therefore it can transform into anything else. symbolically. what can it be that is wrong with us? Without some religious expiation. Today. one Money is both a religion and the negation of religion. How does this happen? Given our sense of it. etc." [19] In itself it is worthless: you cannot eat or drink it. plant it. "because there is nothing in reality that corresponds to problem arises when life becomes motivated by the desire for that pure value. because it is how we define value. Since we no longer believe in am can we hope to recover? Today the socially approved explanation -.

now we ground ourselves financially. fetishized into pieces of metal? The answer is elegant because it reveals not only the The transition from barter is hard to understand. as usual. that we end up paying a heavy price for it.. until we have enough and no longer feel any lack -. the more we use it to evaluate ourselves. you could exchange them for other things. In his great historical study of death in Western culture. the first banks were minted and distributed by temples because they were medallions inscribed with the temples. not because you could buy things with them but vice-versa: everyman . the first to issue money were priests or priest-kings. means."[21] If we replace "immortality" with The consequence of this was that "now the cosmic powers could be the property of "becoming real.. but its character even today. were naturally in demand. Money was and still is literally sacred: "It has long been known that the first markets were sacred markets.on a new cosmology centered on increasingly the meaning-system. "who coins. Suspecting that the sense of self is a groundless construction.original sin -. without even the need to visit temples: you could now traffic in immortality in the marketplace. The value we place on The problem is that the true meaning of this meaning-system is unconscious. they since they were popular." This eventually led to the emergence of a new kind of person.is that we do not have enough money. which money karmically rebounds back against us: the more we value it." the point becomes Buddhist: beyond its usefulness as a medium of exchange." [20] The first coins were image of their god and embodying his protective power.which ends up being never. money has become modern humanity's most popular way of accumulating Being. a single immortality symbol a ready way of relating the increase of oneself to all the important objects and events of one's world.and so of his immortality . "Money becomes the distilled value of all existence . Containing such manna. which our present economic system makes based the value of his life . and the solution is to get more." A new meaning system arose. how can human cravings be origin of money. we went to temples and churches to ground ourselves in God. The Hour of le 14 décembre 2013 14 / 21 . of coping with our gnawing intuition that we do not really exist.

that is to say. but its power and status. sacrifices. in the enjoyment of things and their renunciation. We are preoccupied not so much with what owning a Mercedes says about us. or at least to occupy a special seems that we cannot get rid of the sacred. but real economic equality. because we cannot get rid of our ultimate driven by them. in seasonal rituals and receive gifts. Belief in sin allowed the possibility of expiation. has been reduced to having a bigger car than our neighbors! It life. or objects to be consumed or devoured": turns our usual critique upside down. Modern humanity would not be able to endure immortality symbols. it is the late Middle Ages. but the Can one describe a civilization that has emptied things in this way as materialistic? On the contrary." Or real Being. we put forward the hypothesis that the whole money complex is rooted in the psychology of guilt. because "things have become means of production. not with a Mercedes-Bent in itself." [22] materialistic!. whereupon we become "the more uncontrollably "Whatever the ultimate explanation of guilt may be.. Our spiritual hunger to become real. in life and in death. except by repressing them. up to the beginning of modern times. This provides a different perspective on the origin of gods: The gods exist to The most brilliant chapter of Life Against Death.. Philippe Aries considers the modern attitude toward material things and modern person is not really materialistic." links money to guilt: le 14 décembre 2013 15 / 21 .our Death. Today we complain about materialism. "because he has no faith in self-transcendent." The psychological advantage of archaic society is that it "knew" what the problem was and therefore how to overcome it. visible physical worth is the only thing he has to give him eternal place in the cosmos. the gods exist in order to structure the human sacrifices. [T]he ordinary person [now] in their daily Life no more believes in matter Our problem today is that we no longer believe in things but in symbols. The individual in the Middle Ages believed in matter and in God. otherworldly manipulated by the symbols we take so seriously. that were than they believe in God. hence our life has passed over into these symbols and their manipulation and then we find ourselves what money can buy." [23] concerns. "Filthy Lucre.

of lack by means of symbols . who is believed to "take away" our sins.." [24] For Christianity that sacrifice is incarnated in Christ..in Buddhist terms." "the more uncontrollably driven by the sense of guilt because the problem of guilt is repressed by denial into the unconscious. and therefore no socially-agreed way to expiate it? The main secular alternative today is to experience of atonement) into linear time (in which the atonement of lack is reached for but What of the modern "neurotic type. for which he therefore needs a new rational explanation?"[25] What do you do with your sense of lack. The sense of lack remains a constant. the eucharist. the process of producing an ever- The result of this is "an economy driven by a pure sense of guilt. but our collective reaction to it has become the need for growth: the "good life" of consumerism (but lack means the consumer never has enough) and the gospel of The heart (or rather blood) of both is the money complex. because never achieved).whose sin. Our new holy or holies. is the stock market. "We no longer give our surplus to God. It merely makes them get out of because they can provide no expiation of guilt . unmitigated by any expanding surplus is in itself our God.or super-rational impulses. the true temple of modern humanity." [28] does not do away with sub." who "feels a sinner without the religious belief in our lack as "not yet enough. To quote Schumpeter: "Capitalist rationality hand by removing the restraint of sacred or semi-sacred tradition. a codified everyone is having at once. and Money (the blood) and economic growth (the body) constitute a defective myth le 14 décembre 2013 16 / 21 . when there is no religious explanation for it." This converts cyclic time (maintained by seasonal rituals perpetually postponed. "A dollar is ... Religion gives us the opportunity to expiate our sense validity is socially agreed upon and maintained." [27]Today our particular form of that insanity is the cult of economic growth." [26] sustained economic growth (because corporations and the GNP are never big enough). no resolution of lack. Hence. the mass . we feel purified and closer to God after taking Holy Communion.for example.. an institutionalized dream that sense of redemption. psychosis normal in one sub-species of this animal. which has become our main religious myth.need for self-sacrifice. the crucifix.

In Buddhist terms. for those chips we have accumulated can never be cashed in.. money symbolizes becoming real. hard to acquire all those things that society tells us are important and will make us which means we end up unconsciously atoning in the only way we know how. insofar as we have lost belief in sin. then. as Aristotle correctly said. The reason can only be that we do not yet have enough. archaic and civilized. "Economies. are ultimately from emptiness that makes life empty: by an intuition of nothingness that.our rite of worship is communing with the Dow Jones average. as a species and from which commits man to nonenjoyment. has no limit. when driven by that flight from death which turns life into death-in-life. Of course. In sum.." Where are we all going so eagerly? resolve our sense of lack. we no longer see anything to atone for. why they do not the fact is that the human animal is distinctively characterized. There is something in the human psyche "Having no real aim. which we symptom to be the means of solving the problem of life. solution that Buddhism has always offered: not any quick fix that can be conditioned into us. The moment we do so. for it feeds on and feeds our sense of lack. but since we never quite become real we only make our sense of lack more real. In return. but the personal transformation that occurs when we make the effort to follow the If this critique of the money complex is valid. turns out to be a symptom of the problem. the illusion that money can resolve lack is dispelled. being deprived of our fantasy for escaping lack. Then we cannot understand why they do not make us happy." [29] Or by that flight repressed. by the drive to produce a surplus. but there is no atonement in this. working happy. what is the solution? It is the same le 14 décembre 2013 17 / 21 . only deepens my sense that there is something very wrong with me. acquisitiveness. the only answer is to flee faster into the future." Not to anywhere but from something. our preoccupation with manipulating the purest symbol. we are left more empty and lacksuspect and fear this. We end up in infinite deferral. We unconsciously fundamental defect of any economic system that requires continual growth to survive: it is based not on needs but on fear. which is why there can be no end to it as long as that something is our own lack shadow. This points the ridden than before.. we receive the kiss of profits and the promise of more to come. to work. "But the start.

and therefore they are not afraid of it. 6. no. pp. Becker. Denial of Death. 66 (my emphasis). Denial of Death. 9.the value of money becomes closely tied to its ability to help alleviate suffering. 414. pp. 27. 8. 1958). so it has nothing to gain or to lose. 7. which means learning how to let go of ourselves and die. we also know that our essential nature does not get better or worse. 181-82 (quoting Roy D. 2. Becker. Becker. Irvin D. 66. 29. Rollo May et al. Yalom. 1975). p. If we evil. 268. are dead. Waldman). However. Bodhisattvas are not attached to it. 158. just as it does not come or go. and p. 11-18. Becker. so they know what to do with it. Becker.as other than the world . 4. 1961). Escape from Evil. The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press. Murray's Johnsonia. Pascal's Pensees. Becker. Denial of Death. Denial of Death. p. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (New York: Vintage. Norman O. Then we become truly free to determine our attitude toward it. toward getting it and using it. ed. Existential Psychotherapy (New York: Basic Books. 60. p. once we have become nothing and realize that we can be anything. 54-55. 113. For those who do not experience themselves as separate from the world . we see money for what it is: not a symbolic way to make ourselves real to measure ourselves by.. 1980). 1973) and Escape from 3. Brown. Once we are dead. pp. le 14 décembre 2013 18 / 21 .Buddhist path. there is nothing wrong with money: not money but love of money is the root of Notes 1.. 163. Evil (New York: Free Press. Brown. Existence (New York: Basic Books. Brown. p. pp. but a socially-constituted device that expands our freedom and power. 5. Ernest Becker. Escape from Evil.

Geza Roheim). see David Loy. A house. Many other 14. Master Bankei (San Francisco: North Point Press. trans. Becker. 7:1-3 (my emphasis in the first selection). "The Nonduality of Life and Death. 20. 1990). For an analysis of nonduality. 41. Rank). 240-41. (Hong 15. an and added to the store of the human. Udana 6. p. 13. my translation.. 1958). le 14 décembre 2013 19 / 21 . p. Norman Waddell. 52. All Yung-chia quotations are taken from an unpublished translation by Robert Aitken. The Hour of Our Death (Harmondsworth. The Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Buddhist examples of "the Unborn" and "the Uncreated" could be cited. 18. especially subject-object nonduality.. For a more detailed exposition of the argument condensed in Part I. infinitely more intimate. no. 55. 17. 16. Brown. 47. 76. Vajracchedika-Prajna-Paramita Sutra (Diamond Sutra).). director of the Diamond Sangha in Honolulu. see David Loy. 2 (April.. Hawaii. 22. ed. England: Penguin. empty indifferent things are American apple or a grapevine there. (London: The Buddhist Society. pp.10. John Blofeld. 12. p. 79 (ref. pp. 1988). 19. Escape from Evil. 136-37. 246. 85 (ref. Escape from Evil. Philippe Aries. Heart Sutra. Now. their very clothes. Luk's parentheses. 1984). 271. pp." in Philosophy East and West. sham things. Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press. in the American sense. from America. trans. 20. dummy life. 21. their coat: were infinitely more. Charles Luk. and ed. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po.' a 'well. Vol. XL. Becker. Brown. Rilke: "Even for our grandparents a 'house.' a familiar tower. n. p. and trans. the fruit. 1981). has nothing in common with the house. Brown. almost everything a vessel in which they found the human pouring across. Kong: Hong Kong Buddhist Book. 23. 11. 80-81. pp.d.

1910-1926 (New York: Norton. Vol. We 1925. 1958. 25. D. Ernest. things lived and conscient of us. pp. 374-75. II. Loy. Connecticut: Yale University Press. p.. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Buddhist Book distributor. and ed. 26. 1973.. 285. eds." Philosophy East and West. Letter to Witold von Hulewicz. 272. Brown. p. New York: Free Press. le 14 décembre 2013 20 / 21 . pp. May. n. Loy. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History. "The Nonduality of Life and Death. 28. Luk. trans. Norman O. 258. Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke. no. New Haven. p. Brown. Selected Bibliography Becker. B.. Otto Rank. 27. Brown. New York: Free Press. The Denial of Death. Beyond Psychology (New York: Dover. in J. Escape from Evil. Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy. are running out and can no longer be replaced. Brown. The Human Animal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. trans. John Blofeld. Live things. 256.. Vajracchedika-Prajna-Paramita Sutra (Diamond Sutra). trans. Weston Labarre. Herter Norton. Greene and M. Rollo et al. Brown. XL. David. Becker.d. New York: Basic Books. 194. 1958). 1961. p. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. New York: Vintage. 1988. 1975. 1947). Vol. London: The Buddhist Society.the grape into which went the hopes and reflections of our forefathers. 29. Ernest. 261. are perhaps the last still to have known such things. 265. 2 (April 1990). Huang Po. 173. David. Existence. Charles. 24. 1954). 1958. p.

1984. Yalom. ed. New York: Basic Books. Existential Psychotherapy. and trans.Waddell. le 14 décembre 2013 21 / 21 . San Francisco: North Point Press. Irvin D. 1980. Norman. The Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei.