Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Flow of Money

--by David Korten (Jun 07, 2011)

In a modern society in which most everything essential to a secure and happy life seems to depend on money, the flow of money takes on great significance. Where money flows there are jobs; where it doesn’t flow there are no jobs. Where it flows there is food, shelter, health care, and education. In a modern society, where it doesn’t flow there is starvation, homelessness, disease, and illiteracy. When shared it builds community. When not shared it creates isolation.

We have heard that money is the root of all evil. Evil is that which is destructive of life. So follow the money and you will see the source and consequences of the evil that threatens the viability of human societies and the biosphere.
Money however, is only evil when it becomes our master and confines us to lives of isolation. We can eliminate its evil dimension by restructuring the institutions of money to make money our servant—to serve the community of life rather than to destroy it.
This great work begins with some basic questions. What is money? Where does money come from? Who decides who gets it and for what purpose? Who decides who will make these decisions? What is the outcome?
The answers to these questions open a window into the importance of the structure of the institutional system that creates and allocates money. That structure determines where money flows, what it does -- and ultimately whether the society prospers or self-destructs.
Money is a human creation. It is nothing but a number. Most of it is simply accounting entries in computer files. It has no existence, reality, or value outside the human mind. It is extraordinary that we, a supposedly intelligent species that prides itself on creating a great civilization based on popular democratic self-rule, allow money, a system of accounting entries, to rule our lives.
Has it ever struck you how absurd it is that as a society we have so much work that needs doing and at the same time, so many unemployed people who would love to be doing productive work? [...]
Our common future depends on creating a democratically accountable money system that operates as our servant, not our master.
--David Korten, in a talk at Green Festival

Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

Previous Reflections:

On Jun 4, 2011 PK wrote:

 I feel the key word is "flow" more than money. Money by itself does not do anything -- except when it is exchanged for something that we value or others value. In other words, value of money is experienced only when there is flow of money.

Lack of money, as many of us know, drives people to get it. But once you have sufficient amount - that amount varies from person to person -- it does not motivate us or drive us. Money demotivates us more than motivates us -- do you agree?

Interestingly, in Indian mythology, Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is considered to be "chanchala lakshmi' -- which means she is fickle and flows quickly from one person to another. In addition, money is only one form of wealth. Land, resources, health, relationships, power are all considered to be elements of wealth. Prosperity -- does money and wealth allow us to prosper? If not, it is not desirable, according to Hindu mythology.

I agree with Korten -- when money operates as our servant, we feel prosperous and when it is our master, then we feel grief, greed, anger and lust.

Does knowing this help? Probably not. But acting on it and finding ways to make money flow -- give because you don't have any control on what you receive -- will certainly help. Any takers?

On Jun 4, 2011 Rajesh wrote:

A most interesting topic and something that's been on my mind for a while. Developing a healthy relationship with money seems to be one of the key factors for living a sane and healthy life. As the author rightly mentions, lot of things essential to a secure life seems to depend on money. So it cannot be shooed away and the "art of living" has to involve a contemplation on what is money and its role in right living. Understanding this relationship with money seems to be a process of unfolding and goes hand in hand with understanding psychological security, the notion of permanency (and transience) and fear. So seems that its not an isolated issue but very much a part of understanding our overall conditioning and thought patterns. I am also discovering that insecurity has layers (like other psychological constructs) and while there is apparent freedom from money's grip at the surfacial layers, one is still very much money's servant at these deeper layers of insecurity. in the context of understanding ones relationship with money, Jiddu Krishnamurti's comment that "all learning is in relationship" seems especially appropriate.

On Jun 5, 2011 Conrad wrote:


Thank you Somik for the opportunity to respond. My first impression is that when each of us is our own master, living with and among other masters, we will create a democratically accountable money system that operates as our servant and not our master.  The Buddha, Gandhi, Jesus, and others such as  Francis of Assisi have shown us a way.  Francis of Assisi said, it is better to console rather than be consoled; to love rather than be loved; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born. When each moment we realize, with William Penn, that "we are passing by this way but once, and any good, therefore, that we may do, or any kindness that we may show, to any human being, let us do it now.  Let us not defer nor neglect it for we shall not pass this way again." Occasionally getting ripped off by some person or organization may not be bad since our intention is to take the risk of helping someone who is in need.  
Martin Seligman's new book, "Flourish," shows us how to flow and flourish with much or little money.  Warm and kind regards to all.

On Jun 5, 2011 Ricky wrote:

An interesting concept related to this question of money can be offered in three Sanskrit (the ancient language of yoga) words:  avidya, abhinivesa, and aparigraha.  Avidya-not knowing, abhinivesa-fear of death, and aparigraha-non grasping.  Avidya, not knowing, or ‘ignorance’ of who we really are tends to cause suffering and grasping onto everything, constricting our thinking, our movements, our emotions, our freedom.  It is in this state we experience abhinivesa-fear of death.  We cling tightly to desire and identity, and the amount of money we can get or use or flaunt, or hoard.  We are never quite sure there is enough.  We are afraid.  Many of us in western culture have it great; can find the next meal, can care for our loved ones in some way when illness strikes, have a roof over our heads.  However, the need for money and all the ‘luxury’ it can buy also separates us, isolates us, forces us to lock our doors, work at a job that is unfulfilling because it pays well, turn the other way when we see someone in need.  Fear.  Always fear.  Not the way I would like to live.  When we are deeply connected to our spiritual self, we know how magnificent we really are and how we came to be here and what our purpose is, the sharing of our gifts.  When we are liberated from clinging to what happens next and begin to move through this life one mindful inhale after the other, we get to apply and live aparigraha-non grasping, non possessiveness.  We let go of abhinivesa, our fear of death, little by little.  We let go of our fear of not having enough.  We let go of identity of status, and focus on relationships with others, our environment, and those beings we share this space with.  This is what my relationship to money has become.  I see possibilities at every turn on how to share it.  I love the quote by St. Augustine; “Determine what God has given you, and take from it what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” 

On Jun 6, 2011 xiaoshan wrote:

Money or not, choose to live a fear free and meaningful life, we can.

On Jun 7, 2011 Audrey wrote:

 Your words capture my thoughts and feelings on this topic in such an eloquent way!  I couldn't agree more!  Thank you!

On Jun 7, 2011 Kinjal wrote:

Great article. Thanks to the positive influence of CFers and KKers, a lot of us have already seen how little a role money plays in governing our lives to spread kindness and happiness. There is always enough to go around. The fact that KK - Berkeley has not had a single Sunday shutdown goes to show the correct usage of money to enrich our lives by making money serve the community along with our service. At the same time, we need to understand that in the modern world, money does talk, but that does not mean money rules. Thanks for sharing the wonderful passage.

On Jun 7, 2011 Anjali wrote:

I had a very inspiring encounter yesterday with a young engineer who works at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), who shared something that ties into this reflection. He had taken off from work to learn how to spin khadi at the Gandhi Ashram. When I asked him why, he explained that one day it occurred to him that he works long hours to earn money, which he then trades in to ensure his survival. His responsibities for sustaining himself ended with transactions and money management, but  he was in no way an active part of feeding, housing or clothing himself. This realization has inspired him to walk to work and to start spinning so he can attempt to make his own clothing. His reasoning was lucid and simple.

There is such humility and wisdom in meeting our needs with our own hands, and this process in itself diminishes the power of money, simply making it a tool of barter that enables us to live, do and be.  


On Jun 9, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

Some clips from our engaging conversation around relationship to money ...

On Jun 12, 2011 will wrote:

watch "the american dream" animated movie and it will give you some insight into this issue!

On Jun 13, 2011 Ganoba wrote:

We have a very special relationship with our environment. The sooner we realize it, the better it is for all of us.

Life as we know it came into being because of the environment. Having given birth to it, it has nurtured and supported it and provided the play ground for its evolution. It continues to do so in spite of the ravages caused to it by the modern man.

The environment in our living experience appears in five principle forms, namely the earth, water, air, space and energy. These five individually and in conjunction with the others takes on millions of forms. For example, earth appears as dust, sand, boulders, hills and mountains; water appears as vapour, moisture, rain, streams, brooks, rivers, ponds, lakes, oceans, snow, glaciers etc.; energy appears as heat, light, sound, electricity, magnetism and so forth. Air is a subtle element and hence we can only experience it in its various forms and moods.  Space is very subtle and so we sense it when it is missing or crowded out. Together they create this wonderful universe.

Similarly life has taken on zillions of forms; the amphibians, the reptiles, the worms, the bacteria, the birds and beasts, the trees, the creepers, the bushes the algae and so forth.

Because of our reductionist ways of thinking and perception, we do not see that our environment is an integrated whole. We also do not see the oneness of life. We have cut it up into meaningless and lifeless shreds. We have also missed the wonderful relationship between life and the environment. Many people, particularly the primitive ones, see the environment as the mother, playmate, lover or companion. They respect and love it, at times even worship it.

Modern man sees it as a wild beast to be tamed, domesticated, mastered and then enslaved.

The environment, taken as a whole, is our primary resource for living, play and evolution. When we break it up it loses life and meaning. That is what has happened with money. It is not part of the natural environment. It is a creation of man. Progressively it has become more virtual and artificial. Money does not fulfill any of our needs, either of sustenance or evolution. But we have come to believe this myth. We are living with many other myths. One most pernicious one is the existence of the individual independent of the environment.

Let us identify all these modern day myths and drop them. Then we can live truly as human beings playing our rightful role in the natural scheme of things.

On Aug 29, 2011 trish thompson wrote:

I'm feeling tremendous gratitude for the gift of David Korten and his work, as well as for those who shared their wisdom through their comments.

On Aug 29, 2011 A.S.Antonisamy wrote:

 It is rare to find people like David Korten to focus the attention to the root cause of all evils. We need also concrete proposals to eradicate the evil. There is a concrete model of FAMCO(Family development cooperative thrift and credit society.)  for Self Help Groups with a potential of mobilising money to serve the people instead of dominating people.

In order to create a democratically accountable money system that operates as our servant, not our master promote cooperative system of money transaction with necessary education and training through practise.

The education system itself promotes more competitive education and prepares people for making individual profits by running competitive companies.

If the education system gives priority to cooperative education and promote cooperative institutions money can become a servant instead of master or even a monster.

The year 2012 is declared as the international year of cooperatives.This is the right time for all the educational institutions and NGOs to promote democratically owned and managed cooperative thrift and credit societies .

On Aug 29, 2011 Fr.A.S.Antonisamy wrote:

Like Flow of money Circulation of money can be compared with the cirulation of blood. If the blood clots in the brain the body is paralysed.So also if the money is blocked without circulation the whole society will be paralysed.

On Aug 29, 2011 Nurul Islam wrote:

Thought provocking essay; I am agreed with david ideas. It is time to restructure our global economy, social system assuring aqually distribution the welth and justice for all people.

This is the time to reorganize all the human related systems that will be fit for tomorrow's one human-family.

Thanks Davit for his pioneering initiative and bringing awareness through his scientific and scholarly writing and speeches.

On Aug 30, 2011 Brenda wrote:

David Korten is a visionary thinker and articulate communicator.  

Synthesizing the essential elements from Chapter 15, "A Speech that One Day I Hope to Hear From Our President", of his book "AGENDA for a NEW ECONOMY" - and putting it to music, played by people from all over the country...might help to rocket our New Economy forward and set the old one (aka: Wall Street and 'too big to fail") on fire, relegating it to ashes. 

Wouldn't that be a great start? 

On Oct 6, 2011 Yamil Sarabia wrote: