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Are lives of people who have, by birth or design, large amounts of money, worth more to the Buddha, than the poor?

I don't actually know enough about the history of Buddhism to answer that question!

6 Answers 6

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OP: Are lives of people who have, by birth or design, large amounts of money, worth more to the Buddha, than the poor?

Definitely no.

Listen to the story of Sunita the Outcaste below, who came from a very poor and socially disadvantaged background, but was accepted by the Buddha into the monastic order. In ancient India, the outcaste or untouchable was of the lowest caste, while the brahmin (the priestly class) was the highest caste.

Ven. Sunita followed the teachings of the Buddha and became an Arahant (a fully enlightened one). The Buddha said that he became a true brahmin.

This means that the ones who are fervently seeking enlightenment and the ones who have attained enlightenment are worth more to the Buddha than anyone else.

In a lowly family I was born,
poor, with next to no food.
My work was degrading:
I gathered the spoiled,
the withered flowers from shrines
and threw them away.

People found me disgusting,
despised me, disparaged me.
Lowering my heart,
I showed reverence to many.

Then I saw the One Self-awakened,
arrayed with a squadron of monks,
the Great Hero, entering the city,
supreme, of the Magadhans.

Throwing down my carrying pole,
I approached him to do reverence.
He — the supreme man — stood still
out of sympathy
just for me.

After paying homage
to the feet of the teacher,
I stood to one side
& requested the Going Forth from him,
supreme among all living beings.

The compassionate Teacher,
sympathetic to all the world, said:
"Come, monk."
That was my formal Acceptance.

Alone, I stayed in the wilds,
untiring,
I followed the Teacher's words,
just as he, the Conqueror, had taught me.

In the first watch of the night,
I recollected previous lives;
in the middle watch,
purified the divine eye;
in the last,
burst the mass of darkness.

Then, as night was ending
& the sun returning,
Indra & Brahma came to pay homage to me,
hands palm-to-palm at their hearts:

"Homage to you, O thoroughbred of men,
Homage to you, O man supreme,
whose fermentations are ended.
You, dear sir, are worthy of offerings."

Seeing me, arrayed with a squadron of devas,
the Teacher smiled & said:
"Through austerity, celibacy,
restraint, & self-control:
That's how one is a brahman.
He is a brahman supreme."
Thag 12.2

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Which is more likely: a poor man who has no attachments to his poverty or a rich man who has no attachments to his riches?

Worthiness is an evaluation; an evaluation is a comparison; a comparison demands the existence of a reified self. Someone who has awakened sees the falseness of the reified self, thus makes no comparisons, thus makes no evaluations, thus is unconcerned with worthiness.

Rich people have more free time to sit around contemplating and practicing than poor people. Rich people also have a greater burden of ego-identification: each thing they own, each mark of status and privilege, each step up the social ladder is another fetter binding them to a fabricated self. Most likely they need more time to contemplate and practice to make the same progress as the poor. It all comes out in the wash, as they say...

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Four things are helpful.

DN34:1.5.2: What four things are helpful?
DN34:1.5.3: Four situations:
DN34:1.5.4: living in a suitable region, relying on good people, being rightly resolved in oneself, and past merit.

Therefore, if one lives in a bad neighborhood, is surrounded by bad friends, is uncertain, or has a bad reputation, then one should take action to live in a safer neighborhood with trustworthy friends acting decisively for the benefit of one and all.

The Buddha himself talks about wealth in terms of qualities as opposed to money.

DN34:1.8.3: Seven kinds of wealth of noble ones:
DN34:1.8.4: the wealth of faith, ethical conduct, conscience, prudence, learning, generosity, and wisdom.

Lastly, one understands that character matters, not conventional wealth, caste or titles:

AN2.9:1.1: “These two bright things, mendicants, protect the world.
AN2.9:1.2: What two?
AN2.9:1.3: Conscience and prudence.
AN2.9:1.4: If these two bright things did not protect the world, there would be no recognition of the status of mother, aunts, or wives and partners of teachers and respected people.
AN2.9:1.5: The world would become promiscuous, like goats and sheep, chickens and pigs, and dogs and jackals.
AN2.9:1.6: But because the two bright things protect the world, there is recognition of the status of mother, aunts, and wives and partners of teachers and respected people.”

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As I understand, the Buddha's teachings seemed to favour those who had gone forth from the lay life into the homeless life, regardless of what background they came from. There's a simile about this regarding a farmer's fields where the crops are growing in one field but not another, and that one should attend to the already growing crops first. I guess his disciples were the already growing crops, and everyone else were barely growing if I understand it correctly. However, the Buddha travelled and encountered a wide variety of people from all walks of life, including rich and poor, and gave teachings suitable to their understanding.

EDIT: I wasn't able to locate the simile I mentioned. I tried searching the index of similes at access to insight, but it yielded nothing. I know it's there somewhere. In any case, I think ruben2020 is most accurate in answering your question.

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Good householder,

Naturally the Sublime Buddha more often taught the rich, and more seldom the poor. Don't forget that poverty is often mainly caused by a significant tendency of being incapable of overcoming the hindrances.

Yet, of course it's possible for a person to change his or her current social state, even toward the Dhamma. There is no need to get rich first, but use effort for the smarter track.

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    Buddha most often taught monks who don't use money
    – user8527
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 11:25
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    I think the answer implies that Buddha taught mostly the most capable, those who are rich in ability to overcome hindrances. Took me a while to process
    – user8527
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 11:53
  • @Letsbuddhism Yes, it's incredibly insightful that very often, lay people who are stuck in hardcore poverty are assailed by the five hindrances more than the middle and upper class, hence they are also not seeking Nirvana. They can neither improve their social status, nor become enlightened, due to a lack of capability. Also, if you are always hungry, you will not have the motivation to think about dependent origination and so on.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 12:49
  • It would be helpful to provide some sort of reference for this. There are many who are not poor or not rich, but comfortable.
    – user17652
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 19:01
  • Maybe 5-10%, good householder, if even,talks are given to low social status, poor, good householder. There are traded lists and stats around, but really not worthwhile to put time and effort into it. May one just observe ones neighborhood, if not reading some Suttas and look toward status and capability to listen to higher.
    – user21656
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 13:28
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All other things being equal then the rich person is the foremost.

Otherwise are qualities like beauty, power & influence, wisdom or health better than wealth? Is spiritual & intellectual wealth more worth than material?

I think The Buddha would approve of the saying 'pretty is as pretty does' and that it is likewise with wealth 'the rich is as the rich does'.

Health is the foremost gain. Contentment is the foremost wealth. Trust the foremost kinship. Extinguishment - the foremost happiness. - Dhp 204

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