Featured Articles

Daily Connect: America is NOT Broke - Understanding Poverty Mentality

(follow Ethan on Facebook or Twitter)

America is NOT Broke, despite the radical austerity measures and cutbacks being proposed across the country. We are wealthy. This was the message shared when Michael Moore spoke to the tens of thousands of protestors in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend. To be honest, Moore usually strikes me as snarky and angry, but this is one of his best speeches.

It is amazing to me that we are at the point where 400 individuals control as much wealth as the lower 155 million people in the country. It seems, that at least in some places, finally, the question is being raised of how much one individual needs to be happy. How much is enough for happiness? If just raising the mere question "how much is enough?" is socialist, then Buddha was socialist, because limitless generosity was the very cornerstone of his path of ethical realization. I believe we should each question our own accummulation daily. Why not?

At the same time, the Buddhist path to personal wealth does not lie in blame, it lies in seeing how we misperceive and underestimate our own resources. Habitually, it seems, humans are geared to look at our wealth not in terms of what resources we have, but what we lack. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche described this mental tendency as poverty mentality.

According to the teachings of tantra, the inherent state of sentient beings is one of resourcefulness and richness. According to the Shambhala teachings, if we just learned to appreciate the multimedia experience known as our ordinary sense perceptions, we'd have more bling than Lady Gaga, and the debit card could stay in our wallet the whole time. So why do we feel so damn poor all the time? What struck me the most about Moore's speech is how he implicit uses the theme of poverty mentality to drive home his point. My question is this - can we find reasonable solutions to wealth distribution that acknowledge both systemic factors AND the need for personal responsibility for one's karmic state? A system where one individual is allowed to control as much wealth as 400,000 others combined does not strike me as meeting this balance. Call me Che, I guess. I stand with the Wisconsin 14.

Here's Trungpa Rinpoche on poverty mentality, and below is Moore's Speech in Madison. Do yourself a favor and check it out. From one not-so-big-fan of Moore, it's pretty motivating.

"You might feel inadequate because you have a sick father and a crazy mother and you have to take care of them, or because you have a distorted life and money problems... A lot of these situations could be regarded as expressions of your own timidity and cowardice. They could all be regarded as expression of your poverty mentality...You should also begin to build up confidence and joy in your own richness... Even if you are abandoned in the middle of the desert and you want a pillow, you can find a piece of rock with moss on it that is quite comfortable to put your head on."

-Chogyam Trungpa

Vote for this article to appear in the Recommended list.


I would find Moore's message

I would find Moore's message A LOT more motivating if his answers didn't boil down to forcefully taking stuff from someone else. That's the difference between what he and Chogyam Trungpa are saying.

To me there seems to be a huge rise in an entitlement mentality, along with a envy/hatred for the rich. Scary stuff.

Louis CK sums it all up:


BTW, local, state, and federal government are broke. It's ok to admit it.

an inexhaustive google search

leads me to believe that it's used most often by motivational speakers, Christians, and people discussing conditions in Africa. It's often attributed to Zig Ziglar, a motivational speaker since 1970, who explained the concept as people "wanting what others have and focusing on what they themselves do not have rather than what they do have."


I'm in complete agreement

great post, ethan. and thanks for the video. I was thinking about poverty mentality this weekend after seeing a movie about Wavy Gravy, "Saint Misbehaving," and how much we all have to share when we're not afraid of not having enough. I believe he even used the phrase "poverty mentality" in the film -- he's a student of Thich Naht Hahn and friend of Ram Dass etc .

I'm not sure what the root of

I'm not sure what the root of the English phrase poverty mentality is. I know Trungpa Rinpoche discussed it, but I'm not sure if he was borrowing from another source. Anyone know the origin of the phrase?

Site developed by the IDP and Genalo Designs.