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For the curious minds, several museums in the United States offer year-round tutelage on currency in the form of notes and coins as well as virtual cash. This is normally done in a bid to educate people on what is popularly referred to as the psychology of money. Two main lessons achieved through this process include; the power of peoples choices on the economy over time and the consequences of peoples decisions on the quality of life. One such museum that has interesting exhibits on money is the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. I was able to virtually visit and tour the money museum whereby I came upon the Harry Truman’s coin collection.
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Accordingly, I came to the conclusion that the Harry Truman’s coin collection is the most interesting exhibit in the museum. The collection is seemingly inclusive of over five hundred pieces of historic coins during each presidential administration as produced by the United States mint. The coins, which were initially preserved at the Harry Truman library and museum, were loaned to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City to facilitate access and viewership by a larger audience. The story of how the Truman’s collection came to be is an interest. Since time immemorial, coin collection has always existed with collectors aiming to secure coins among other forms of minted legal tender that had minted errors, were in circulation for a brief period and were historically significant pieces. The currency had to possess either one of the three characteristics in order to secure a place of honor in a collectors display. However, the value of the coin is determined by its grade, which is done by third parties such as NGC or PCGS that determine the currency’s authenticity and grade (Case, 2009). This characterization implies that people have always placed a high value on currency and it subsequently influenced ways in which they behaved or perceived themselves or others around them. Those who were lucky enough to possess a certain type of any form of a minted tender were regarded as the affluent in the society and were privy to certain events and treatment in the society. In fact, research indicates that in the medieval age coins were specifically catalogued and collected by either state treasuries or scholars as they were regarded as prized items and could only be handled by a trusted few in the society. Later on, the few individuals that were able to collect coins, amassed exotic, old, or dedicatory pieces as a manageable and affordable form of art. People like Emperor Augustus exhibited coins for viewership by courtiers and friends during festivities and special occasions. As the psychology of money dictates, money influences people’s perceptions and thoughts on money and value placed on possession of certain. Such is evident in the case of Emperor Augustus as mentioned above.
In 1940, John Stack and John Synder, Truman’s Secretary of Treasury, decided to come up with a new collection that would later be referred to as the Harry S. Truman coin collection. Done in honor of all the Presidents, the assembly featured one coin of each denomination that was issued during the named President’s reign. For George Washington, they produced a large cent, Half cent, dime, Half dime, Quarter, Silver dollar, Half dollar, Eagle, Half eagle, and Quarter eagle. Every president was represented in a similar manner, and if during one’s presidency a new denomination was introduced, then it featured in the collection bearing the president’s name. Stacked in display boards in order of value, each display board varies slightly from the other, and it contains the name of the presidents, display of denomination during his reign, and years in office. To date, a high value is placed on the coins, and only the affluent enough can afford a single coin as they are highly prized. In fact, history records that after the coins were first launched, thieves broke in and stole the entire collection from the Truman Library and Museum. However, the Stack family with the help of donors was able to rebuild the collection two years later.
Today, we see people who are actively engaged in the collection of the coins including the denominations from Truman’s collection. This urgent need to be in possession of the coins reaffirms the notion that money and wealth are addictive. Psychologists have precisely identified this as a compulsive behavior that is characterized as process or behavior addiction (Argyle & Furnham, 2013). Apparently, engaging in certain activities that are classified as process addiction causes a release of chemicals such as dopamine, which creates a certain high that is closely compared to the kind of high derived from taking drugs. While individuals who exhibit this behavior do not abuse chemical substances, they display a compulsive behavior that elicits a good feeling, for instance, from receiving rare forms of money. Nonetheless, it remains that society has largely contributed to this behavior owing to the high value placed on rare collectors’ items such as the Truman collection. This similarly explains the reason why many are fascinated by the collection, and till date, thousands flock the museum in an attempt to view Truman’s collection.
I would propose the exhibition of a Buddhist artifact, precisely, one of the curved images of bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas refer to individuals who took up courses that were steered to the acquisition of a Buddhist lifestyle and teachings culminating in one becoming a Buddha. In the course of their journey to becoming Buddha and attaining enlightenment, bodhisattvas relinquished their material possession never to reclaim them. On becoming a Buddha, one was required to uphold the life style only possessing materials that met the individual’s minimum and basic requirements (Czerkawski, 2002). In truth, Buddhists were of the opinion that attaining enlightenment was of greater value than material possessions. In fact, history records that a majority of the Buddha’s who joined monkhood hailed from well-off backgrounds but sought contentment in teachings of the faith rather than on material wealth. Further, Buddhas took up this lifestyle in order to set an example for followers of the faith who were required to adopt a similar mindset.
Numerous scholars argue that Buddhism is not the premier source of wisdom since Buddhist teachings contend that money is not the path to happiness as it is temporary. Unlike the current economies which advocate for individualism in matters pertaining to money and wealth acquisition, the Buddhist faith advocates for the contrary arguing that money is the sources of human vices. Evidently, Buddhists are in support of a non-materialistic lifestyle where people place more importance on values such as contentment. To many, it might appear that the Buddha way of thinking is detrimental. In their defense, however, Buddhists are of the opinion that in spite of their teachings individuals’ basic needs need to be met for an individual to live a comfortable life. In this regard, a comfortable life is inclusive of having contentment and avoiding worry especially on matters pertaining to financial progression and affairs. Buddhist content that when one is constantly worried about finances, the person might not only result to committing crime but also one cannot have peace which is key for holistic progression in their view. The sutta, Buddhist teachings, state that poverty is suffering and they do not advocate for poverty either as it is not only regarded as the leading source of social problems such as lying, killing, and stealing but also it deprives people of the opportunity to practice generosity.
Similarly, the teaching shuns gambling and debt arguing that the two traits illicit feelings of greed which are contrary to the sutta (Harvey, 2012). In the contemporary world, however, these two traits are evident especially among the affluent. Many a times we find that money encourages individuals to participate in vices such as gambling that sadly culminate in debt. In such instance, individuals find themselves in debt in a bid to support the vice or offset debts incurred during play. In cases where there is no debt, greed is apparent as enthusiast seem to develop the compulsive behavior, which is a process addiction, failure to they turn into depression. Naturally, these will be detrimental to the person’s mental and physical health. Evidently, this information supports the sutta.
Even though Buddhist teachings affirm that one has to work to earn a living, the individual is required to do so within the confines of the faith’s ethics in order to guarantee progress. In this regard, the ethics cover a range of issues including appropriate expenditure, the right of livelihood, justice of economic distribution, economic ethics for rulers, and attitude towards wealth. A close examination of these aspects reveals that the faith advocates for detachment from material possession and wealth as well as reduction of indulgent in sensual pleasures which are evident among people with money. In truth, these elements are contrary to the current society, where money is perceived as the root of evil as it is seen to encourage immorality and indulgence in world pleasures among those in possession of money. However, it might be claimed that certain behaviors and addictions are prevalent among the affluent for the reason that they are costly, hence, only they can afford to indulge in such.
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The question that arises in this case, however, is whether or not the accumulation of wealth is reproached or approved by the Buddhist seeing as the faith somewhat holds contradictory views on wealth and poverty. According to Harvey (2012), the faith does not condemn accumulation of wealth rather the point of contention is one ways which wealth is used. To this effect, the sutta states that if wealth is rightfully obtained and used without causing harm to others, then its acquisition is approved. In relations to the aspects of the Buddhist ethics, the rightful use and accumulation of wealth is referred to as right livelihood. On the contrary, wrong livelihood would include acts of violence such as killing and stealing, trading in arms, selling of harmful substances such as cocaine and use of deceit and fraudulent activities in the accrual of wealth and its use.
On a subtle note, it is right to conclude that the exhibition of a Buddhist artifact such as the sculpted image of a bodhisattva would provoke people to have a renewed mindset on wealth, its acquisition, and use. This will be achieved by providing detailed information the bodhisattva lifestyle and the Buddha teachings.
- Argyle, M., & Furnham, A. (2013). The psychology of money. Routledge.
- Case, Donald O. “Serial collecting as leisure, and coin collecting in particular.” Library Trends 57.4 (2009): 729-752.
- Czerkawski, C. J. (2002). Why Can Economists Benefit from the Teachings of the Bodhisattva?.
- Harvey, P. (2012). An introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, history and practices. Cambridge University Press.
- Homren, W. (2010). The story of the Truman library collection. Coinbooks.org.