The Karma of cash

First, a quote from monk Gyelse Togme’s book The 37-fold Practice of a Bodhissatva, which I stumbled across a mountain-top Buddhist monastery – evidently untouched by tourism – in Qinghai last January:

When encountering objects which please us, / To view them like rainbows in summertime, / Not ultimately real, however beautiful they  appear, / And to give up grasping and attachment is the practice of a Bodhissatva.

Now, a photo I took in Yunnan’s all-too touched by tourism Shangri La monastery over my summer holidays, of a business minded monk reading a novel on his break in his shiny new trainers:

… And a money minded kid by Tagong monastery, Sichuan (beginning to feel the tourist touch, but not half as bad as Shangri La), who asks me for money in payment for me taking his photo:

This at the request of his mum who then crooned at me to take her picture too. These people are not Bodhissatvas but they are without doubt practicing Buddhists. Object away to my pick-and-choose photos. My point is only that as much spiritual dignity is lost in the touristisation of Tibet and material benefit is gained.

I would say Gyelse Togme is spinning in his grave, but he’s been reincarnated, right? Errr … anyway, Gyelse Togme – animal, human, ghost or god that he now is – is probably spinning.


  1. “Hwa Yuan”, or alms, is very prevelant in buddhism. You are destined to cross path, it should be his pleasure to let you take photo, and your pleasure to give something in return.

    But you are right, money has become the most popular medium of alms.

  2. p.s. I like your blog

  3. And I’m sure I could post Jesus’ words followed by two pictures of American megachurches with their expensive suits, making the same point. No, I don’t think there’s a difference between money-making and spiritual dignity in the West and the East – nor do I think the latter necessarily follows from the former. But it can.

  4. Jesus told his followers the ideal way to get to heaven was to give up all your possessions and do good work for the poor. So is there a difference between capitalization and the loss of spiritual dignity in Tibet vs America or Europe?

    I get your point, I’m just saying at the base of it there’s not that much difference spiritually between Buddhism or any other major world religion (dogma aside). Many practicing Buddhists I know eat meat, like many Christians I know lie and swear.

    I’m pretty bummed on how commercial Zhongdian/Shangri La is as well, but also I wonder if my desire for an ‘authentic’ experience outweighs the desire for Tibetans to make some extra money off of me. I really have no answer, except that I like visiting places and am pretty broke.

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