Ep 15: Abundance vs Scarcity Mindset from a Buddhist Lens (Ft Daylon Soh)

Ep 15: Abundance vs Scarcity Mindset from a Buddhist Lens (Ft Daylon Soh)

Daylon  00:00

When you’re jealous, it means you come from a place of lack. If you think, “I don’t have enough love, I don’t have enough wealth or I don’t have enough fame,” you need to have this mindset whereby, okay, you’re detached from the outcome of whatever it is, but then you’re still pursuing it. And you have to accept the fact that other people also deserve love, wealth and fame and all these beautiful things and successful things in life. And you’re okay with it, Knowing that if you keep sharing your gifts with the world, you’ll be able to find a way to kind of receive it, provided that you don’t block yourself from receiving it.

Kai Xin  00:40

Hey, friends, this is Kai Xin and you’re listening to the Handful Of Leaves Podcast where we bring you practical Buddha’s wisdom for a happier life. Is an abundance mindset, just another fad out of a self-help textbook? The mindset of abundance is typically associated with getting rich and attracting wealth, and it can seem pretty materialistic and driven by desires of wanting more, or that’s what I thought. But after speaking to Daylon, I realised that that couldn’t be further away from the truth.

Kai Xin  01:18

In this episode, Cheryl and I chat with Daylon to uncover what an abundance mindset is, and what it isn’t. This mindset embodies kindness, generosity, and sympathetic joy, which is very much aligned with the Buddha’s values. Daylon shared many personal stories that really put into perspective how we can practise the mindset of abundance in real life. Stay till the end, to hear his story about how he got out of a depressive period in his life when he felt stuck and only had $10 left in his bank account.  We also explored how we can find opportunities and rise up even when we don’t feel enough, or don’t have enough, or sometimes, even just not believe we deserve more. Cheryl literally had a mindset shift during the recording, turning her from a skeptic to a believer.  Now let’s dive right in!

Kai Xin  02:14

 Hello, good to see you. Daylon. Hi. Hello. Today we’re going to talk about the topic of abundance. But before we get into that, can you just give our audience a quick introduction of yourself?

Daylon  02:28

I’m Daylon, I run an education company called Curious Core, and we specialise in helping mid-career professionals to transition into the future of user experience design and product management. We also do corporate training for companies like GIC as well as Maxis in the same view as well, we call them tech light skills. My interest is in education as well as in gaming, and I sometimes find myself reading that’s why we call our company curious core because I really very much enjoy the process of learning and growing. And that’s what our company is about.

Kai Xin  03:14

Nice, that makes two of us. And I think three of us. All of us are curious people. And we are going to have a lot of curious questions today because you were the one who suggested the topic of abundance. Could you share a little bit more about why this topic? And how has it shaped you to become who you are today?

Daylon  03:32

Yeah, I think this topic is really important in many hidden ways because when I help mid-career professionals to transition, we realise that it’s not just about their technical skills, it’s also about their self-confidence, and beliefs, whether they believe that they have embraced this new identity and whether they believe that they can make it in terms of that transition, and a lot of them do not have that belief, right, and they don’t actually see it. I do realise that mindset becomes a limiting factor in the transition process.

Daylon  04:14

In business, as well as in professional careers, we also see that cascading as well. When you have a business owner who does not believe that they deserve the success that they have or deserve the wealth that they have, then they will almost most easily lose that wealth as well without that mindset of abundance. Or they will gain it in a very difficult way. Whereby it’s very, very painful, you know, they break a lot of relationships as they are kind of gaining it. So I think is this such an important topic because it has changed and shaped my thinking and my life in so many ways, whereby I hope all listeners today will be able to leave the audio conversation with Insights and the ability to gain what they want in life with ease and grace.

Cheryl  05:05

To help us get a little bit more understanding of where we are right now, whether we have the abundance mindset, and how has it shown up in your life, we will be using a couple of icebreaker questions for all of us here to just see and you know, use as a ruler and see where we are. So the first question for all of us here: Do you constantly find yourself focusing on what you don’t have, instead of what you have?

Kai Xin  05:33

I used to always focus on what I don’t have, I guess living in a very competitive society. It starts from school, and like, why are my friends getting ahead of me? And why do I study so hard, but I still can’t get an A grade? So it feels very effortful and tiring. Over the years, with the help of Buddhist teachings, I have learnt to control what I can and don’t control what I can’t. And I think just shifting to the cup half full rather than empty philosophy. It’s been a journey. How about you Daylon?

Daylon  06:04

Yeah, I think that’s great. Because I also do tend to focus a lot on what I don’t have, especially when I’m younger, like I will see like, “Oh, my friend has this computer that can play all the computer games. And it’s like, all upgraded, and they have like the latest PlayStation.”  I’ll compare that I don’t have the latest PlayStation and I also want to get the latest PlayStation. So it becomes like trying to acquire a lot of material possession. And even after acquiring it, sometimes I realised Oh, actually, it just feels joyful for a while. And after that, I don’t feel as good anymore. So these days, I try not to focus on what don’t have, I try to focus on what I have and be appreciative of it.

Cheryl  06:51

Yeah, I think that makes it, something common for the three of us. I also used to have this feeling of like, and it’s pervasive, it’s everywhere. From comparing who has more friends, you know, when you’re in secondary school and seeing the size of your cliques to now you know, what projects you’re doing at work, who has the coolest project? So I think what really changed for me was during COVID, where there’s literally very, very few things that we could control. And that was when I was forced to start thinking, What can we really control and what we can’t, and from there, help us to be a little bit saner as well and, and find some happiness.

Daylon  07:29

If you only focus on what you don’t have, you will never feel enough. Without that feeling of being enough, you always feel like there’s a sense of lack. And since we’re talking about an abundance mindset here, right? If you’re always and constantly in a state whereby you feel like you’re lacking, then if I put you in a country that has multiple opportunities and resources and wonderful infrastructure, you will still complain, you will still feel like there’s a lot of things that’s not enough. And I think that’s Singapore, by the way, right? Kind of known as a country full of complainers.

Kai Xin  08:11

Yeah, I totally agree. And I think it also can dull our minds, it becomes so depressing. Like, that’s the only thing that we are thinking about, and it’s not very constructive, isn’t it? So just now we talk a lot about comparing these external aspects of our life, but it does manifest internally as feeling not good enough. And I do observe it is the core of a lot of problems. That sense of not being good enough. And perhaps today we can learn from you how to get past it.

Daylon  08:40

Sure, I’m sure we can learn from each other as well.

Cheryl  08:42

I just to link it a bit as well. Do you guys feel like you’re not good enough, like personally and how to evolve?

Daylon  08:52

I thought I didn’t have this problem. Initially, I thought  I was always like, quite good at what I’m doing. And professionally as person, I’ve seen myself growing professionally as well like doing better than most of my peers quite early in my 20s. So I always thought like, hey, actually, I don’t feel inferior to other people in any way. But then I realised that there was still that thinking in other aspects of my life that I wasn’t really aware of. And this was made apparent to me when I went for coaching sessions. I engaged a life coach, and I realised that I had this sense of lack or the sense of like, not loving myself enough. So I think one thing that the coach suggested to me is like, maybe you can put in your calendar every day to remind yourself that I am enough. So that’s what I did.

Kai Xin  10:00

I have had a similar experience. Also, I learned this from going through a therapy course and coincidentally, the advice was also to remind yourself that you’re good enough, but not on a calendar on a mirror so that you see every day, and with your reflection.

Kai Xin  10:17

 I was just reflecting on the question. And I feel like I picked up this sense of lack in primary school, especially because I was a bench player. So I played basketball but was always a bench player. And I think just you know, those silly mistakes make me overly apologetic, as I felt a need to compensate. And it just gets worse. Moving to secondary school, being roped into the basketball team again, and becoming a recreational or team player instead, so, I think I always feel not as good because everyone is like, a lot better, or I felt very average. I didn’t realise until I went through like the therapy course that this is the underlying problem. And it shows up in little things. Like when people were to praise me, I would deflect the praise, and not really receive them with grace, or acknowledge that, yeah, there are some parts of me that are good. So I guess I’m still learning how to shift that perception.

Cheryl  11:21

I really love what both of you are sharing. And I find a lot of similarities. I think I used to get a lot of sense of superiority. When I was doing sports, that was all throughout my primary school, I was training badminton, and pretty decent in it. But when I moved to Singapore, around 15, or 16, I moved into a very elite school called Methodist Girls School, where basically my classmates had parents who were in government, top lawyers with like, 30 Ferraris or something. And then that was when the whole sense of inferiority came up. I was like, Oh, my God, I am so poor, I have no idea what YouTube is, all the cool stuff that generally people who are richer, were buying at that time. All I had was 2nd generation phones and things like that. So then that sense of superiority turned into a sense of inferiority. And somehow, it got stuck very deeply, because I was bullied as well. So that inferiority, combined with a sense of, you know, being ostracised, hit really deep and permeated all the way to adulthood as well. I think through Buddhism and time, I realise that it’s not about feeling good or bad enough, you’re just like that due to causes and conditions and accepting that and still finding room to improve every day. It’s an attitude that is helpful, to me, at this point.

Daylon  12:37

Yeah. So I think like the first icebreaker question you asked, it connects to the feeling of lack, right, which is related to the topic we’re covering today. And then the other question you mentioned is about how much you love yourself, how much you care about yourself, and how much you find yourself worthy. And both of these questions connect very nicely to what we’re talking about today, which is abundance.

Kai Xin  13:03

Yeah. And maybe you can share a little bit about the difference between feeling a sense of lack, or some people will call it scarcity and feeling a sense of abundance, like, how do you know which one? Which side of the coin are you’re at?

Daylon  13:17

I think a simple way to understand the difference between a scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset is whether it is conditional. A lot of times when we talk about scarcity is very conditional, whereas abundance is more unconditional. For example, if you have this scarcity mindset, which is usually passed down from generation to generation, such as, “if I work hard, I will earn more money. ” It sounds like good advice. But actually, if you dig deeper into it, it means that for any money that you earn, you will always have to work hard for it. You will never get money easily. And it sounds very weird, right when I say maybe you can get money easily. Because it doesn’t mean it has to be illegal, or through any nefarious means. But it’s true. There are actually people who have great business ideas, and they earn money actually very easily. So connecting working hard to earning money, I wouldn’t say it’s the most abundant mindset. In fact, I will classify it as a more scarcity mindset because it’s conditional in that sense. With an abundant mindset on the opposite end, whereby if I am sharing my talents and adding value to the world, I’m being paid in multiples. So this is not conditional, right? This is like if I am someone who has talents and everyone has talents that they are sharing with the world. They will be able to be rewarded in multiples in this case. So, one, you have this feeling of restriction, I must work very hard, depending on how much energy I can give. So if I work very hard, then I get the money, then that other is like a feeling of expansion whereby, oh, okay, I’m really going to receive it because of my gifts and my talents. And I have abundant gifts, and I have abundant talents that I’m able to express in this world. So it’s a very different mindset shift.

Kai Xin  15:29

Could you elaborate a little bit more about the unconditional part? So you’ve explained the conditional pay, maybe some examples?

Daylon  15:38

So like what I mentioned earlier, like, if we tie something to a condition, then it becomes very (transactional)- if I do this, then I will get this. Whereas if I’m naturally in an abundant mindset, there are no conditions in the abundant mindset. It is more of a fact whereby it has already happened, or it is happening, or it’s about to happen. And it’s a feeling of expansion, whereby, you know, the pie is not smaller, because we have to divide it, but the pie gets bigger, and everyone has more share of the pie. So this is like, very, quite different in this in this sense.

Kai Xin  16:21

How do you think that would show up in a day-to-day setting? Because I can also understand that some people might have this cognitive dissonance, okay, if it’s already there, then what do I work for?

Daylon  16:37

So you still have to work for it. Like, I’m not saying that you don’t have to put in the energy, right, you don’t have to set an intention. Those are definitely still important. But the idea of an abundance mindset is to make sure that you don’t block yourself, and you don’t cause any friction, whereby you can receive opportunities where you’re able to allow your gifts to express themselves fully and then receive the opportunities.

Daylon  17:06

 Just like what you said earlier Kaixin, you mentioned when someone praises you, you will reject the praise like is nothing, right? You were trying to write off the praise. So that itself is somewhat of a scarcity mindset whereby you are not receiving the gift that is being given to you, which is praise. You do that often enough, you start believing that you’re not worthy, right? You do that often enough that people stop telling you that you’re good, right? But if you say and you accept the praise with grace, you say, “Oh, thank you so much. I think you did well over there as well, thank you so much. You know this is not my only effort. This is also like me trying to, I’m really trying my best over here.” If you receive it with grace, it also gives people the opportunity that acknowledgement that says it’s okay to praise Kaixin, right, it’s okay to tell her that she’s good. Rather than a signal to the person, like, “Please don’t praise me ever again, because I don’t deserve it.”

Kai Xin  18:14

I think there needs to be a little bit of clarification here because it’s a fine line between the intention when praise is received, and then you have the humility to acknowledge it, and still let other people also take the credit and not just have it for yourself, versus thinking that you don’t even deserve it. So yeah, I think it’s for listeners to look inwards to see what is the mental energy and mental state. Going back to what you were saying that the energy or the state is very expansive. I think people can feel that radiation, rather than be limited by the resources that they have on hand. That is, thanks for bringing back that example.

Cheryl  18:55

I’m just very curious, is this an either-or case, right? You either have an abundance mindset, or you have a scarcity mindset, or is it a situation where both can coexist and you can succeed as well?

Daylon  19:07

Um, I haven’t actually seen it being situational. I think generally if someone has a scarcity, mindset, their actions, their behaviour, and the things they say their thoughts tend to be more on the side of scarcity, tend to be more restrictive. Either this restrictiveness could come from self-imposed, restrictedness or actual constraints in the situation. Yeah, so I haven’t seen a hybrid or in-between, it’s either you have it or you don’t have it. Maybe there is a chance whereby someone is still trying to correct it right. So maybe they catch themselves like okay, like this scarcity mindset is not really fully abandoned, let me correct myself a little bit. So once you’re on the other side, right, I think you tend to think, oh, what can I do to collaborate with this person? What can I do to ensure a win-win partnership? What can I do to, you know, accept this love with grace?

Cheryl  20:20

Because when you see no limits, you’re constantly finding opportunities, by scarcity, all you see are boundaries, and you’re just stuck and trying to try to find the best space for yourself within the limited constraints.

Daylon  20:32

Yeah, absolutely. I think there are so many self imposed limits that we put on ourselves. And some of it could be conscious, and some of it could be unconscious. We learned a lot about these conditions from our parents. So if they believe that, you have to have a good job, and then you’ll be successful in life, or you can only be a doctor or lawyer, then you’ll be successful in life, then we tend to follow that narrative. Because since young, they’ve been telling us that don’t go and be a road sweeper, you know, don’t lie, or you must study hard. Or if you don’t study hard, you will be a road sweeper, you will be a pilot, that kind of thing.

Cheryl  21:19

And I think it’s way more than just coming from parents, it’s actually our cultural conditioning, and especially the competitiveness of society as well. I remember in high school, or just generally studying, when you have notes, you have the best answer or you have a website that has good resources, you kind of want to hide it from everybody else, and make sure nobody else does better than you.

Daylon  21:40

That is scarcity because you believe that if you help others to win, you can’t win. And I think it’s also like how the school system is designed. It’s about force ranking the first, second and third.  There is no, like everyone does well, where everyone gets a distinction or anything like that. And even when I was teaching at the Polytechnic, they will force a bell curve to rate the students. So you can never have more than, say, 20% of people getting ‘A’ in a class, even though they might be doing well as well.  But because of the forced bell curve, you can’t tell everyone, he actually did very well. So I think this is what we call a zero-sum game – for me to win, you have to lose. And actually, that’s not how the world operates. The world doesn’t necessarily operate in zero-sum conditions.

Cheryl  22:40

Is having an abundance mindset, the same as chasing for abundance, which means, you know, like, wanting more, wanting the next opportunity, wanting the next property? And if so, wouldn’t an abundance mindset be an unhealthy mindset? Because it seems like there’ll be no end to the meet the chase?

Daylon  23:01

Yeah, I think that’s such a wonderful question. I believe both of you would probably be more well-versed in Buddhism than I do. But I think in Buddhism, we speak about this idea of desire and attachment. Because we are attached to the outcome, or we have a certain expectation of something, therefore, there will be that disappointment. And having that desire and attachment is actually like a bottomless pit. This is true, I agree. Like if you constantly have that is kind of like never enough. And there’s that constant pursuit of, of material possession. I think if you want more love, wealth and fame, I do believe that you can’t hate or be jealous of others, who have love, wealth and fame. Because when you’re kind of like jealous, it means as you come from that place of lack. If you think, I don’t have enough love, I don’t have enough wealth, or I don’t have enough fame.

Daylon  24:00

 I think (one should be) holding on to the idea that in life, I could potentially lose all of these material things and be okay with it as well, and be open to receiving more of it so that I can use it as a force of good. What I’m trying to say is that you need to have this mindset whereby, okay, you’re detached from the outcome of whatever it is, but then you’re still pursuing it. And you have to accept the fact that okay, other people also deserve love, wealth and fame and all these beautiful things and successful things in life. And you’re okay with it. Knowing that if you keep working with it, if you keep sharing your gifts with the world, you’ll be able to find a way to kind of receive it provided that you don’t block yourself from receiving it.

Kai Xin  24:52

So it does sound to me like it is a misconception to say an abundance mindset means we always have to be chasing. It’s actually because you are content with what you already have, there is no more greed right, or wanting, which is the bottomless pit like you’ve mentioned. And yeah, it ties very nicely to Buddhism. In fact, if we already enjoy what we have, then we also grow, because it can be very unhealthy if we see other people as enemies, and then we don’t necessarily feed our virtue of generosity or grow our own wisdom of even like renunciation. It’s not just about, you know, giving material wealth, but it’s also the mindstate, am I less stingy, when it comes to interacting with other people or even, you know, sharing materials? Do I want other people to be successful? There’s also another concept called sympathetic joy means when you see other people succeed, you actually feel happy for them. And I think that is an abundance mindset in itself, where there’s nothing to lose, and you’re happy, not at the expense of others, vice-versa.

Daylon  26:01

Yeah, I definitely believe in what you just mentioned in the later part. I think a lot of why we feel like we don’t want to give or we tend to be a bit more protective of our own resources and what we have is maybe because of that ego, and it’s back to conditioning again. So I think it’s very important to understand that control is an illusion, and the need for control comes from our ego, to manage things and to plan things our way. But the truth and the reality is, life doesn’t go our way. Life actually has its own plans, and it’s how we kind of surf together with what life gives. The water analogy is kind of like a wave, right? You have to kind of move along with it. It’s kind of like having this dance together with life. And you can’t actually control how the outcomes.

Kai Xin  27:04

I’m wondering because we keep mentioning that our society is quite competitive. How realistic would it be for us to cultivate this quality? You have been in multiple MNCs before? I’m pretty sure it’s quite competitive, sometimes even political, how has this abundance mindset helped you? And then how can you inspire our listeners to say, hey, actually, it’s possible?

Daylon  27:29

I think it’s always easy for me to say, hey, looking, looking back and saying, oh, okay, after going through all these things, is actually pretty easy. But that’s also not the truth. I think it’s, it’s a practice, just like mindfulness. You have to be consciously practising mindfulness,  Mindful eating, mindful, walking, you know, or even meditation. So all these things are like a muscle. The same thing comes to an abundance mindset as well, you must treat it as a muscle that you need, to practice. You need to kind of think, Oh, if I’m reflecting in my journal, Or if I’m reflecting on the interaction I had with someone, is that actually the best interaction I can have?  Is that is that interaction with kind intention, right, is that an interaction with an abundant mindset? And just really asking yourself and challenging yourself? So the short answer is, it’s not easy, Because it’s so easy to default, to shrink your world, so easy to be protective of yourself. Very, very easy, very, very difficult to feel a sense of expansion.

Daylon  28:47

Because when you expand, there’s always that risk, you’re taking opportunities or taking risks. So I don’t blame people, when they want to protect themselves, they want to do the same things that they used to do, they want to defer to what they are familiar with. So it’s important to actually practice, to stretch yourself to be mindful of the quality of your interaction. And as you do that, over time, you will realise that this muscle gets stronger. And as this muscle gets stronger, it becomes easier for you to just show up, be present and be abundant in terms of that mindset. And if you get into any conflict of is anyone around you tries to drag you into a conflict, you’ll feel like you don’t even want to go to the conflict because you’re in this state whereby, wow, this is just like, I’m, I’m just so expansive. I’m so joyful and joyfully abundant, and  I don’t even want to be bothered by this small issue. It’s like if someone knocked on my shoulder, I don’t even want to be like bothered, I don’t even want to change my state because someone knocked on my shoulder, I don’t want to be like, thinking about that. I don’t want to like get too particular I buy my friend lunch, you know, or dinner, and then my friend didn’t buy back lunch.

Cheryl  30:16

And you write in a little notebook.

Daylon  30:21

I don’t even want to think about that, because I want to be in this state of abundance, because I believe that, you know, like, this is for good. Whatever happens, happens, and it’s fine. And everyone is, you know, trying their best in their life and doing what they can. So you have this mindset of abundance, and it then has sort of a cascading effect, to how you feel compassionate towards the rest of the world and your interactions with other people as well.

Daylon  30:51

Your goal is not to become Mother Teresa,  it’s not like you to become a saint, the goal for you is to get stronger in this muscle of abundance. And as you get stronger, you’ll start to see more results in your life, you start to feel that your quality of interactions with people is better, and you start to feel like when someone offers you an opportunity, you won’t start to doubt, hey, is this person trying to, you know, cheat me or something like that? You don’t start to think about the negative stuff. But I also say, with this caution,  it doesn’t mean you throw your critical thinking mind and your logical mind window, we still need to actually retain that. Because that is how we function as human beings with higher-order thinking. So being abundant doesn’t mean that you destroy your logic and your critical thinking like out the window, and you don’t check and stuff like that.

Cheryl  31:48

I really like what you’re sharing. I think what stood out to me, as I was listening to you was really on the idea of understanding the kind intentions (we can have) and also reflecting on the quality of interactions that we’re having with the people around us everyday. And I was just tying it back to you know, even this podcast, even chatting to you, I would say probably a scarcity mindset, when it shows up, it will be one where you know, as a podcaster, I will be thinking “how can I look the best? How can I appear the smartest in the room?” Then, when we’re thinking about (having an) abundance mindset, it changes the whole dynamic? How can I offer everyone here a space to share to add value to this conversation? And I think that will really shift the conversation into something that is so much more relaxed and much more wholesome as well.

Daylon  32:47

I love that. And I think that’s an important distinction around me versus we. If you live in this idea of a me centred universe, it’s all about me, it’s very ego-driven.  Whereas you live in a we-centred universe, you stop focusing on yourself too much, because I think that feeling of entitlement, that feeling of being a complainer, It’s that feeling of, “oh, I’m a victim, I’m, I deserve better.” Those are actually not very healthy mindsets, I would say.

Kai Xin  33:21

And I’m also just reflecting on our conversation and how we’ve got connected Daylon. Many years ago,  we we caught up, and then I remember, many meals, we talked just very casually, not really expecting anything in return from that connection. And many years later, you know, helping each other in our career-referring businesses, I thought there was just something really beautiful.  When I asked whether it’s realistic, I think it’s in the sense that, perhaps some people might think, people might take advantage of us if we are overly generous, or we have this mindset. And we don’t stand for ourselves. But I don’t think it’s true. In fact, when we collaborate, we synergize, we have more resources to share and to create better things than as we are alone. So I thought that was really beautiful, real life example.

Daylon  34:11

Yeah, I know. It’s definitely I mean, theory, it sounds very nice. And I know it’s very difficult to put it into practice. But like I say, No, it’s about little stretches,  Like this, shifting your mindset bit by bit, you know,  what’s the next level, I can take this to. If, let’s say for example, let’s go back to the example my my friend didn’t buy me dinner.  Instead of just mulling over it and getting upset with your friend that didn’t buy you dinner back, what’s the next best intention that you can bring to it? Maybe you can think about oh, you know, like maybe my friend is busy, or maybe like you might be actually dealing with something in their business and all that. So now you’re introducing compassion. Now you’re introducing empathy, that’s a really stretch really?

Kai Xin  35:01

Yeah, I fully agree. And, again, it’s a lot more healthy. I just wanted to read this quote that I found from an article talking about abundance. So it says, our inner abundance radiates a sense of worth value and ease of having something to give the world and enjoying doing so. So it’s very unconditional, we’re just there to give, not expecting anything in return. And then Jack Kornfield, which is the author, later went on to say, without abundance, we can be in the midst of riches and feel like a hungry ghost.

Kai Xin  35:38

I found that to be so powerful is like what you said at the very beginning, we are living in very well-developed countries, and we have a lot of resources, but yet it is always that sense of not-enoughness. And yeah, I just thought, there are so many different ways that it manifests in our lives. I’m also thinking to bring it further in terms of how we can keep this actionable, you know, day-to-day practice, perhaps I can start first having some thoughts and ideas, drawing reference from the Buddha, you know, when he was trying to seek the truth, if he worked to have that limiting belief, and to just stop at the teacher who taught him whatever he could, and then he has already kind of been on the level of the greatest teacher back then.  And if he had that scarcity mindset, he would have stopped and said, Okay, I’ve hit a roadblock. That’s it. I such as ended, but because he believed in something more, and he has this abundance mindset, I believe, he then went to uncharted territory and paved his way to enlightenment, and the future generations, like us, have so much to benefit because of his perseverance. So I think the abundance mindset manifests itself in a form of generosity, perseverance, and a lot of, you know, just the act of sharing and being in the moment, I am wondering, how does it manifest for you in day-to-day life?

Daylon  37:10

I think I should also share a personal story to help, so it doesn’t feel like I’m preaching to everyone over here.  I actually have been in situations where I feel a great sense of scarcity. These are situations whereby I am almost in a state of depression. There was once when I was 24, and this was me starting my first business. I had $10 in my bank account, and it just reflected back to me that I will not have enough for lunch tomorrow. That was how bad it was. And it served as a constant reminder that, okay, I should really, really not just be more prudent in how I spend my resources. But also, what happened after that was that I managed to get a client to pay earlier. From that, I was able to kind of get back from that downfall itself. Another situation where I almost fell into a depression, was when I chose to quit. After I quit, I couldn’t find a high-paying job. Because I couldn’t find a high-paying job and still had rent obligations, I still had sort of this lifestyle to maintain, I just fell into this state of depression, whereby I live in such a great environment.  I was renting a condominium in Marina Bay.  I just was really, really not happy with my life at that point in time. I had a great career, but I choose to give it up because it didn’t align with me. And I know it’s not my path from that sort of lack state. I really felt a great sense of lack, but thankfully, what I did in order to force myself out of that state was to do two things.

Daylon  39:07

Number one was questioning some of the things that I had beliefs about. And the question was, hey, do I believe this is going to be a state, this state of a thing is going to last for the rest of my life?  I didn’t believe it. I believe I have some sense of control over my life, and I believe I have some sense of control over my life, so there’s something I can do about it. And actually, with those two beliefs, I was able to kind of manage myself out of that depressed, depression episode. And another thing I did was to force myself to give to charity at that point in time because I felt so much lack at that point that I really felt like I need to do something counterintuitive. Intuitively I felt, I need to do something so I just forced myself. I gave to charity and by doing so, even though I don’t seem to have enough, it helped me get back that and cultivate that sense of actually I do have enough, I’m able to give. And if I look at it, I am resourceful. I have the means and the ability to actually find the necessary resources to give back. And it’s just a matter of time away, reverse this situation. So the mindset of giving, I believe, is like the practice,  It’s like, something that you do consistently and constantly. And now I put all my charity giving, like on the auto deduction, it really just forces me to and remind myself that I, I always have enough to give to others. As I am receiving success, wealth, opportunities, and love, I always have enough to give back to society always have enough to give to others. So that then becomes a sort of like a practice in this case.

Kai Xin  41:00

 It’s so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your story. And I suppose if materially, there really isn’t enough to give, we still can give words of kindness, words of affirmation, encouragement.

Daylon  41:13

or even a smile. Like, even if we don’t have anything in the world, the least we can do is to give a smile.

Kai Xin  41:20

Yeah, that’s so true. And a smile can really change people’s life or even save lives. So I guess this very nicely sums up the episode where we talk about the abundance mindset to how it shows up in different aspects of our lives and giving it’s a very big part of it. And sometimes when we compare ourselves with the scarcity mindset, it says a lot on the conditional, Very material things, even when it comes to giving ultimate like, oh, do I materially have enough things to give? But I think through the conversation, I realised there’s so much more. And it’s all about bits and pieces step by step. Of course, it’s not a leap, we give away every single thing and let people step over us. But it’s really, more realistically, how do we look for opportunities and not block ourselves from them because of our limiting beliefs? And how do we constantly pave the way to uncharted territories? Yeah, so that’s, that’s really beautiful.

Daylon  42:21

I think great questions are gifts as well, someone wants to tell me the quality of questions we ask in life, determines the quality of our life. So I’ll leave every listener with a question. And I hope there’s something you think about. So with regard to an abundance mindset, my question is, where do you prefer to spend your energy? And in which state do you want to fill your days?

Daylon  42:51

 Because if you prefer to spend your energy thinking about things that constrain you and limit you, and you prefer to be in a state whereby you feel trapped, then that is the energy and the state of your life, and it does spill over to the rest of the aspects of your life. So I always say that if you want to hold greater wealth and greater success, you do need to have a bigger cup to receive it. And this mindset is essentially having a bigger cup.

Kai Xin  43:21

Very nice. Thank you so much for leaving us with that question. And I hope all listeners would carry on daddy’s having a bigger cup to fill. Thank you.

Daylon  43:33

Thank you. Thank you so much, David. You’re very welcome. And thanks for the opportunity to share.

Kai Xin  43:39

I hope you find this episode useful. And you’re able to distinguish between what is a scarcity mindset and what is an abundance mindset. And catch yourself in your day-to-day interaction whenever discussing the mindset pops up. And I hope you can gradually allow yourself to receive with grace and also to be more generous and to rejoice in other people’s success and make this world a much better place. Till the next episode. I wish you stay happy and wise.


More about Daylon Soh 

Daylon is a corporate executive turned education entrepreneur who runs a training institute, based in Singapore & Malaysia, focused on helping professionals and businesses grow their careers and business with User Experience (UX) Design and Product Management.

Daylon is a Buddhist by faith and has been a pescatarian since 2016.

More about Daylon and his work: 

https://curiouscore.com/

https://sg.linkedin.com/in/daylonsoh

Special thanks to our sponsors of this episode: 

Alvin Chan, Tan Jia Yee, Siau Yan Chen, Tan Key Seng, Ven You Guang, Soh hwee hoon, Baey yuling.

Financial Broker turned Buddhist Nun: Lessons from my chat with Sayalay Sujata 

Financial Broker turned Buddhist Nun: Lessons from my chat with Sayalay Sujata 

Editor’s note: In conversation with Sayalay Sujata, a financial broker turned Buddhist Nun. Cheryl shares her learnings and insights from her chat!

TLDR: The chase, the corporate life, where can we find happiness? Sayalay Sujata, a Buddhist Nun, shares more about her journey and that you need not become a monastic to experience contentment in life!

The chase of travel, wine, food, and luxury

Sayalay grew up in a family where material wealth was not abundant, and she thought pursuing and owning material wealth will help to fill that lack and bring her happiness in life. And thus, the endless pursuit for the 5Cs’( this was in the 80s, 90s) began. 

She worked hard in the banking industry and was living the “material dream.” With a high-paying job,  her luxurious lifestyle was enviable to many looking from the outside –  travelling, wine and dine, expensive exotic food were the norms. 

However, as she filled her life with material pleasures, somewhere deep down, she was still unable to deny the sense of emptiness within her, and she was stuck in the state of, ‘having everything, yet not feeling happy.’ 

The shine of chasing material wealth for happiness started to wear off a little. 

Happiness found in the quiet

With a stroke of right luck and good timing, she went for her first seven-day meditation retreat without much expectations. 

She followed the teacher’s instructions, and on the fifth day, she experienced a short but profound moment of peace, calm and joy in her heart. And she found the answer right then and there to her question: “Where can happiness be found?”

That was the start of her Dhamma journey which eventually led her down the path of taking up the robes of a monastic.

Her story taught me that thinking that happiness comes from outside – either from another person or some activities or achievement in our life, can cause us a lot of disappointment. 

Perhaps happiness is not out there, nor in the next moment, but right here and now. We complicate happiness by adding on terms and sometimes impossible conditions – after getting a pay rise, after $X million, after the next social media post. 

This perspective narrows the definition of happiness to become outcome-specific, as it is conditional upon getting what we want. By extension, when things don’t go the way we want, life becomes miserable.

Stopping the scrolling and grounding our attention

  In Sayalay’s journey, it seems that the answer to happiness is to stop the pursuit. It was when she disconnected from the world and come into the present moment with no expectations, that she found happiness.  Simply pause, and connect to our present moment – through the five senses. It was when she interacted with her experiences of the world through what she sees, hears, touch, taste, feel, that she was able to feel a deep sense of peace. 

Maybe when you are next on the MRT, stop scrolling and just take a gentle in and out breath and ground your attention back to your physical body.  It helps brings us back to the here and now, to take in where we are on our journey (pun intended), and for the possible first time, experience the abundance that we already have in our lives. 

Happiness is simple, happiness does not ask for much and we can awake to that by remembering to be present in the here and now. 

After 20 years as a nun, what is the path?

The conversation with Sayalay also took a deeper turn as she reflected on her 20 years as a monastic. We discussed the idea of renunciation

Traditionally, most people will think that ordination (to become a monk or nun)  is the only path for someone who chooses to practice Buddhism seriously. 

But after walking through the whole journey herself, she realized that ordination is not the only path we need to walk towards to find true peace and happiness. 

To find true peace and happiness, the answer lies in getting to know ourselves better. Reflecting on the ups and downs in our life can bring clarity to what contributes to a happier life, and on the flip side, what perpetuates our stress and restlessness. 

This helps us to focus on the important areas in our lives, and relinquish the conditions for suffering.  No matter what outfit you come packaged in, be it a monastic or lay person, “Theravadan”, “Mahayanan” or “Tibetan”, she reminds me that mental relinquishment is much more important than physical relinquishment and if done right, you can experience a sense of peace and grounding. 

For example, relinquishing your bad habits and selfish thought patterns yields more happiness than clinging to the identity of “being a Buddhist,” and engaging in endless debates on which is the “best” Buddhist tradition

Escaping the judging mind 

Often, I get caught in the packaging rather than the contents – and project my expectations and ideals rather than focus on the heart of the teachings. 

For example, when observing rituals or chanting ceremonies that I’m unfamiliar with, I notice that my mind jumps into the “judging mode” and I wear a sceptical lens. 

Rather than appreciating the peaceful practice,  my mind compares the experience and immediately labels it as “good” or “bad”. 

Sayalay’s timely sharing on looking at what’s important, not just the packaging taught me to open my heart and invite curiosity into whatever I experience in the present moment, and more importantly, to take the opportunity to reflect on whether judging others contribute to my happiness. 

If it doesn’t add to long-term happiness in my life, then use the experience as a lesson in “relinquishment” of my views. 

Despite being a monastic for 20 years, Sayalay has a very humble presence that makes her easy to talk to and for me to open up to. I have learnt a lot from Sayalay’s inspiring journey and found many relatable aspects of her life that I experience in my own life. It reminded me that everyone is on their journey searching for meaning and true happiness in their lives, and the least we can do is to try to encourage each other on the wholesome path of seeking.  


Wise steps: 

  • Finding pockets of time during your commute, to know what’s going on in the moment to breathe and just be with your breath
  • Whenever we are caught up in a critical mind, to pause our judgments and ask, does judging others make us happy?
Death: The one thing probably no one talks about on Vesak. Why?

Death: The one thing probably no one talks about on Vesak. Why?

Editor’s note: 

What do people celebrate on Vesak Day — the Buddha’s birth and enlightenment? Little is talked about his death. Does ‘death’ have to be seen as taboo when celebrating his birthday? 

TLDR: Reflecting and contemplating death can place our daily life experiences into perspective. It can give us a greater sense of purpose and makes us better, not bitter. It also prepares me for peace and acceptance when I arrive at my last breath. 

Choi! Choi![1] my friend exclaimed while flailing her hands at me as if shooing a bunch of mosquitoes away. Her response is a common expression we hear when we breach death, a taboo subject. So what if I’ve brought up death in our conversation?

I recall several elderly relatives avoided attending funerals of their kin as they genuinely believe they bring bad luck – and death – closer to us!

Many find death a sensitive topic and prefer to veil it from their perception when possible, hoping that somehow postpones its eventuality. The avoidance of this topic may stoke an undercurrent of anxiety and fear. Some would rather “be positive” and “look on the bright side of life” than dwell on the sombre thought of life-ending. 

“When it comes, it’ll come,” we say. Death seems acceptable now because underlying that thought, a sense of invincibility churns on: that energy, health and life are with us. That death is “something that will surely come, but probably not just yet”. 

The certainty of living on, of course, may not be the case. 

Fragility in the face of pandemics

The Covid-19 pandemic shed light on the fragility of human health. We hear of sickness and death taking place in our vicinity (friends or family), ringing the risk (and fears) of death in our hearts and minds. 

Times like these remind us that ageing, sickness and death are always around the corner. We can train ourselves to be acutely aware of their imminence, despite accompanying unpleasant emotions. 

How can we overcome the anxiety and fear associated with death? According to American psychologist  George Kelly, we can alter our aversion to death by building familiarity with it. It is about intentionally – more importantly, peacefully – exposing ourselves to this uncomfortable subject with daily, time-bound reflections and actions. 

Those who stick with this practice are likened by the Buddha to thoroughbred horses: easily trained and spurred into action with urgency. 

A more fulfilling life

The Buddha has long ‘left us’ after his pari-nibbana; have we ‘left’ his teachings behind? There are several benefits that we can derive from his experience of ‘passing away’:

1.  Acceptance is easier when death comes to us or those close to us.

When I was in Ubon Ratchathani, Northeastern Thailand, for a short stint, I witnessed a rural Thai funeral ritual that baffled me.

A young child was lifted into the coffin, and following tradition retrieved an object from the deceased’s head with their mouth!  

Thais I saw were acquainted with death from a very young age, unflinching in their face-to-face interactions with a dead body. However, I observed that some ethnic Chinese would turn their backs toward the coffin as it is being lifted onto a hearse. Alas, this aversion to death!

Unsurprisingly, Thais I have met in these villages tend to be more spiritually inclined. They have a more positive outlook and go about their days with few complaints.

 When speaking to the elderly womenfolk, they talk about pain in their legs with such a light-hearted demeanour: “It’s part of life, isn’t it?” 

“It’s part of ageing”, they laughed. 

Some of us would have been fraught with annoyance, and scour the land for the best physicians to remove their pain. Like Kisa Gotami who pleaded with the Buddha to remove the suffering that came from her son’s death, she ultimately realised the futility of her quest lay in her misunderstanding of the true nature of the human condition. 

Whatever arises, passes away. 

Thus, by acquainting ourselves with the nature of life and death, we are mentally prepared when it happens to us or those close to us. A calm and collected acknowledgement of the situation settles our hearts, allaying panic, shock and despair. “Indeed, death has arrived”, we will reflect, just as we have been reflecting everyday.

2.  We focus on things that really matter.

Contemplating death helps us focus on the essentials. We are not as easily swept away by our fleeting youth (doing foolish things because we are young), health (sleeping late), or life (thinking that “next year I will…”). 

Indulgences can take the form of an intoxicant. We can lose clarity of what matters in life, by pursuing fast cars, fashion bags, eating late oily suppers, and planning 10 years ahead as if life is certain.

So what did Buddha propose we do?

Spend our youth, energy and time on (1) accumulating wealth, and (2) living in accordance to Dhamma.   

Accumulating wealth

As a means of surviving the mundane world, building wealth can be broken down into several parts including (1) being diligent in our education to acquire necessary skills, (2) further education to apply critical thinking, collaborating with others and other such soft skills, and (3) building our careers to earn a living.  

We can avoid squandering away our wealth by avoiding constant drunkenness, refraining from roaming the streets at unseemly hours that expose us to theft, habitual partying, compulsive gambling, foolish companions and laziness

Living the virtuous life

My spiritual practice revolves around the cultivation of skillful habits of the body, speech and mind. I have found that splurging my youth on chasing illusory sensuality tends to be unfulfilling. I would rather spend my energetic days, building my resolve and strength to overcome challenges and build positive habits.

Considering how precious rebirth as a human is (the probability of being born as a human being is extremely small in Buddhist cosmology), I seize every moment as an opportunity to grow wholesomeness and skillfulness.

3. We don’t take things for granted

If today were my last day, what would I say to my family and friends? Take every opportunity to express gratitude and appreciation. Resolve conflicts. 

Ask for forgiveness as soon as you can. Avoid saying or doing anything to others that we would later regret.  

Having no regrets or remorse is one of the greatest treasures that we can acquire. As the Buddha described, “one without regret need not wish ‘may I have joy, may joy arise in me’. It is natural that joy arises in one without regret”.

A deep quiet sense of joy that is solid and unperturbed by the vicissitudes of life.

At the end of a busy day, I dedicate time to settle my mind and pay my respects to the important figures guiding my life:

Buddhaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to the Buddha.

Dhammaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to the Dhamma.

Sanghaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to the Sangha.

Achariyanaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to my teachers.

Mata-pitunaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to my parents, both in this life and in the past.

As I  bow low to these important figures in our lives, I reflect on the day that I have spent. If I have spent the day usefully, filling it with goodness, I can go to sleep with a deep sense of ease.  

Vesak, Death, and beyond

Every year when we celebrate our birthday, an anniversary or an important event like Wesak Day, we have the opportunity to reflect on his passing.

We can ponder “As death approaches us day by day, why do we not water the seeds of spiritual growth in our hearts?” This phrase helps to stir urgency for me to focus on what is crucial and discard what is not.

By bringing death closer to us, may we all live a more purposeful and meaningful life.

[1] A Cantonese expression to ward off bad fortune, a coarser resemblance of the expression “touch wood”.


Wise Steps:

  • Find a mantra to anchor you in the present (it need not be death related but something that clears procrastination.)
  • When I witness the death/funeral of strangers, I can remind myself of the spiritual urgency of living a life with purpose.
Ep 5:  Redefining wealth from a Buddhist perspective (Ft Seow Kek Wee)

Ep 5: Redefining wealth from a Buddhist perspective (Ft Seow Kek Wee)

Kai Xin  00:07

Money is the root of all evil. Growing up in an Asian family this belief was planted in my mind since I was very little TV dramas we portray fights among family members over inheritance, business partners falling out because of money disputes, or crimes committed due to greed. Individuals losing their friends, after gaining massive amount of wealth and the list just goes on.  Money almost feels like a bad word. I was taught to be content with the little I have because more money seems to bring more trouble and that money can buy happiness. However, is that really the case? What if there is a way to be financially wealthy, yet spiritually happy? 

Hi, I’m Kai Xin, your host for this episode and you’re listening to the Handful Of Leaves podcast where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life.  The path to happiness isn’t a smooth one, we’ll definitely meet with setbacks and challenges around work, relationships, mental well being and so many more. In this podcast, we discuss these realities of life and explore how we can bring the Dhamma closer to home so that we can navigate the complexities of life just a little better. Besides this podcast, we also share resources and insights on our Instagram, Facebook and telegram channel. Subscribe if you haven’t already done so. 

In this episode, I have the honour to speak with Seow Kek Wee, commonly referred to as the Grey Rhino. Kek Wee is the Head of Investment Research of Unicorn Financial Solutions, advising and managing assets in excess of $0.5 billion. If you’re interested in leading a happy life with money as the fuel these episode is for you. There are so many mind shifting moments that really got me thinking about my relationship with money. I also appreciate the practical insights on how I can grow my wealth without compromising my happiness.  Enjoy this episode. Let’s begin. 

Hi, Kek Wee, good to have you.

Kek wee  02:15

Nice meeting you, Kai Xin.

Kai Xin  02:16

I understand that you’re the head of investment research at Unicorn Financial, and you’re helping millions of dollars of money. Must be quite stressful, isn’t it? How do you stumble upon this role?

Kek wee  02:31

I’ve been with Unicorn Financial Solutions, or at least in this current team for 16 years now. This is my 16th Year. I used to be an audit manager with Price Waterhouse Coopers. What actually got me started was with myself. I learned the value of money, probably at a young age. So the moment I started work, or even before that, I took part time work, so that I can save. And the moment I started working, I just didn’t want to have money problems. And then I started to do my own financial planning. I started to invest, although at the start, I  wasn’t successful, after I learnt from Warren Buffett from his book, I think it (investing) went quite well. 

And you know, one of my main thing about work, the real work in my life is really satisfaction and fulfilment that is beyond the money. I’ve always been thinking to myself, you know, if one day I do need to work for money, what would I do?  And as I became successful, managing my own money, I started to share with people quite naturally. And I see they started to action, actually got me quite excited. You know, when I’m able to help people in this area, there’s a sense of fulfilment. But I didn’t know that was such a profession last time. So, then I just thought like, well, if one day I can be financially independent, I’ll just do this for people out of goodwill.  By the end of 2006, I realised that actually I can do it as a profession, and I started to help people plan for their finance, and their investments. And over time, I think my skills in asset management got better, and I think the organisation needs this specialisation and leadership in this area. So I kind of just transit into this role of managing the whole, all of our clients, a few 1000s clients’ wealth. So that’s how I transit into my current role.

Kai Xin  04:38

That’s very interesting. I’m wondering, what got you into feeling excited? Like why do you feel excited about managing wealth? Because you’re practising Buddhists, right? And I think sometimes people have the misconception that Buddhists is all about letting go. We don’t really have to plan so much or accumulate wealth. So, what keeps you excited?

Kek wee  05:02

At first was nothing to Buddhism. I just thought that. Well, I see people have been problems over money. I like a quarrel over money. Not enough money. So I thought that, well, if I can get this problem out of my life early, that’d be great. Hence, I started to be studying into it, researching how I can be doing it for myself. Then I got started.  There was one incident, I was sharing with one of my junior college friends. I told him what I was doing, and he said,  ‘that’s very good, but I don’t know how to invest’.  So, he passed me $30,000, and out of goodwill,  I helped him to invest it. I understand this is not quite allowed. And then, two years later, 2006, I met him again, is getting married. And he looked quite worried. And I said, ‘you’re getting married, why you look so worried?’.  He said, ‘With marriage, there are a lot of things, a lot of outflow. I need to plan for my wedding band, my wedding banquet, my honeymoon, my HDB unit, my renovation. I looked at my bank account and I don’t have enough money.’.  And then I told him, he’s got this money with me at a time it has grown to just slightly below $50,000. So I said, ‘If you want, I can write you a cheque the next meeting.’.   So I wrote him a cheque. I saw his eyes lit up. It is a sigh of relief for him. So at that moment, I thought that if I can benefit people with what has benefited to me, it’s going to magnify my whole fulfilment: to be able to serve people, in addition to serving myself. Hence, from that point onwards, I found my answer. If one day, I do not need to work for money, this is what I’ll do. I help people to discover and to take care of their own money, so that one day they don’t have to worry over it. And then they can lead their life well, because of that, eventually and quite inevitably. So I came into what I’m doing today.

Kai Xin  07:16

What I’m hearing is that you’re saying money can solve a lot of problems. And I think some people might also think money can be the source of many problems. What are your thoughts about that?

Kek wee  07:29

I always think if money has a voice, now, I think he’s going to protect protect his innocence. So you know, it’s not me who’s causing you all the problem, you are causing the problem and making it making me the scapegoat. So I really think our life problems come from our wrong view, or in Buddhism, we call it our ignorance. And of course, you know, sometimes we pin it on money, that money is the cause of it. But money isn’t; it seems to accentuate our problem or accentuate those evil because it’s like a tool.  

I saw this advertisement, an education advertisement. The advertisement shows a boss bullying this person. Then, this person, made a wish, ‘I’m going to upgrade myself. And one day, I’m going to be above you. And I’m going to terrorise you back.’. Of course, he doesn’t become a bad person, the moment when he becomes his boss’s boss. But he became that bad person, when he have that thought that one day, he is going to get better than his boss, and he is going to oppress him back. So I think, you know, a lot of these problems do not come from the money, but because of our view towards it.

Kai Xin  08:34

What would you say is a right view, or right way to view money?

Kek wee  08:40

Well, I think a lot of people think being rich, is that main aim and they end up being the slave of money. So they start to do foolish things. For example, like they work hard to earn money they don’t have in order to impress the people that they don’t like. Or they start to risk money that they need, in a hope to get money that they don’t need. 

There is this interview of Warren Buffett, Warren Buffett is the sixth richest man on earth, a very successful investor. His net worth is about $110 billion. He shared a story of the metaphorical gun. So the interviewer asked him, ‘Warren, if I were to put a gun here on the left and a billion on the right. So this gun got six chamber, only one bullet. If you take up this gun and pull against our temple, if you’re not dead, this $1 billion is yours. Warren, would you do it?’.  Warren Buffett said, ‘I won’t’.  ‘Say well, what if I changed his gun to 100 chamber still only one bullet, will you do it? The risk is much lower.’  Warren buffett said no, and said, ‘you can stop trying. You can put 1000 chamber, a million chamber with 1 bullet, I still won’t take up the gun and pull against my head for the $1 billion.’  And the reporter asked why.  He said, ‘you look at me. You know I’m already at this age. (Now he is about 90 years old). I have $110 billion. What is the use of this additional 1 billion to me? I probably won’t ever use it. But no matter how low the risk if I think that this gun and pull against my head, there is a chance that I will be dead. Why will I take a risk for something that I don’t need?’

I say most people won’t think this way. If you give him enough odds with a billion on the table, no matter how rich he is, whether he’s gonna need it, he’s going take the gun and pull against his head.  So people lose track of money. Their eyes are on the money, but they forgot what is money for. The thing is when money is not the main thing, it should be there as the byproduct, byproduct of our service.  Because in ancient times, you know what, actually, if you take a look what is money, ancient times? Money is a substitute for barter trade. But in the old times, I would work hard to grow my crops, you would work hard to grow your crops. And because I want to have a variety, I would exchange part of my crops with you. And money subsequently evolved as a medium of exchange. Hence, money is actually an exchange of service. 

So, I believe the Right view to money, to wealth is, in fact, to be happily serving with kindness, to solve other people’s problems, be a solution to other people’s problems, and money will come. And it’s actually very in line also in the Buddhist view, because I was listening to a talk from Ajahn Brahm. He said that one of the key rules for both monastic and laypeople is kindness. And I think service is an expression of kindness. Because if I were to say that I’m very kind to you and I love you but I choose to do nothing for you, then I can’t express it. It’s just all in my thoughts.  So, I think service is an expression of that kindness. And money is a consequence of that service. So then, if I choose to focus, not on the money, but I choose to focus on being kind, and expressing the kindness through service to others, and also to myself, then that’s where money becomes incidental, is no longer an aim when it comes by itself. So, that is what I think about money.

Kai Xin  11:59

Theoretically, I think it sounds really nice that money is a byproduct, and we can just be kind and money, which has automatically appear in our bank account. But I also know people who are not very deliberate with the way they plan their finances. So, they can be very charitable, and they always give and give and give. And they give to a point that it compromised their own well being. How do you reconcile that with what you’ve just said?

Kek wee  12:28

So, I think there needs to be a wisdom to that. I think that’s actually incremented stage to do this. Example, when you go to the aeroplane, and they would always show you the emergency landing. When the the oxygen tank comes down, what does it show? Do you put on the mask for your child first, or do you put on  the mask for yourself?

Kai Xin  12:50

For myself.

Kek wee  12:51

For yourself right? Because when you put on the mask for yourself, you’re safe, you have the peace of mind, then you can look at helping others. And it’s going to be done more effectively as well. So, I think there needs to be a certain wisdom towards the use of money. So, when the money comes in, I think I need to be saving that money. And it’s not that every cent goes out, come in, you know, go out to help people. And worst still, even borrowing money to help people.  Hence, firstly, we need to get ourselves stable, then we can help people effectively.

Because we talk about the four types of people. 

There’s the first type of people: they don’t help others, you don’t help themselves. These are the very selfish people. They have got no use in this world because they are so selfish. 

The second type will help themselves, but they are not willing to help others. So such people, they can survive, but they won’t live very well. And the world won’t benefit because of them. 

And the third type is to help others but they don’t help themselves. Such people can can’t people for very long. 

And the fourth type of people is where they help themselves and help others. That’s where they can really help people for a long, long period. And they themselves will be very settled. 

So I think this applies the same for money management. After we work hard, we serve other people, then money should come in righteously. With that, to be saving up. Then, from survival state to a state of comfort, then to a state of where I feel that I have enough for myself. And I don’t think there’s a need to fill up my life as I earn more money.

So I always have this believe that how I live my life, and how much money I make is independent. As I get richer, it doesn’t mean I need to change from a kopitiam coffee to a Starbucks coffee. If I like Starbucks, I can drink Starbucks. If I love kopitiam coffee, I don’t have to purposely go drink Starbucks just because I’m wealthier.  And then I keep my life the same. I enjoy my same work, and I enjoy serving myself. Serving myself actually means keep upgrading myself, learning spiritual teachings, learning to have better relationships with people. It’s not indulgence, just in case I transmit the wrong idea.  So serve myself, serve other people. Then, with the access after I have enough for the life that I want, which, for me is to lead a simple life, if there is access, I would have the freedom to help other people. And to help other people also requires wisdom.

Because I think it’s something quite logical.  A story that’s often told, there’s a gambler who wants to keep borrowing money from you, and you keep lending him, you’re not really helping this person. So we can be very generous, but we are not doing very wise, doesn’t mean if I’ve got money, I can anyhow splurge to help people, I need to be a good steward of money. I need to know when to be giving, when not to be giving, to have the best effect.

Kai Xin  15:52

You mentioned that we first need to save ourselves before we can save others, talking about saving ourselves in finance, it’s about also how we save money and not to spend too much and to splurge. But sometimes it can get a little bit stressful, like I download a financial tracker, that every meal, I would key in the money and then I get very uptight with the way I spend, then that causes a lot of problems, also, because I might get calculative. So maybe I don’t enjoy as much time with my friends, when we have a proper meal, it might be a little bit costly and in my mind, I just like calculating, say I shouldn’t be here. And it’s not very wholesome also. But then on another hand, you mentioned, if I originally like the kopitiam coffee, then I upgrade to a Starbucks coffee, then do I need to do that? But that’s also what we see isn’t it? As people get more wealthy, their lifestyle  kind of change, and their expenses would also increase. But is that wrong?  Then, how do you draw the line between being too stressful over money and being too free and say money is mine, I deserve this. Otherwise, if I die, I’m not going to be able to spend it? How do you balance these two?

Kek wee  17:10

Firstly, okay, I’m gonna share my own life for maybe that is a bit practical and realistic. So the thing is about, I think, to love my life, as it is.  Actually money and life are so intertwined. It’s almost impossible to just talked about money, and not talk about life. Some people talk about, oh, I want to save more and more money. So actually, I did this planning for a client before he came to me. He’s a polytechnic lecturer earning about $9,000 a month. That was 20 years ago, and he couldn’t save any money. So he asked me, why is it like that? And I asked him about his life, what is his lifestyle, so I prescribe certain change to his lifestyle. For example, instead of going drinking with friends every day, maybe change it to three times a week, or moderation. And then enjoy other things such as having a cup of coffee with a friend instead of going to a pub.  At the start he said it is a bit tough. There’s a change of lifestyle. But surprisingly, a year later, I asked him, he said, ‘actually, I find that I do not need to check my expense anymore. Every month, I just spend as I like, and I can save the amount that I want to save.’.  So, it’s not about forcing ourselves to scrimp and save. It’s impossible. It requires a change, and to enjoy a new kind of lifestyle.

I wouldn’t say we have to shed the things that we love to do, but rather it is to adopt and enjoy a new kind of lifestyle. And it’s not just lifestyle, I think it’s everything in my life.  Maybe I can start with work, then with relationship. I enjoy my work a lot, you know, because I see it as a form of serving, serving people. Because I manage now about half a billion. And I’m very grateful, my company gave me this opportunity. And I know that this half a billion represents many people’s hard earn money. And if I can take care of it, well, I feel very fulfilled, and also it is also making my colleagues’ job easier, because they are the one who are going to face the client.  Because of that, I continue to enjoy in progressing myself. I would listen to the financial news, I would upgrade myself, I would talk to people who are in this field, who are better than me. I learn from them, so I can do a good job. Sometimes I may make some mistakes. And of course, we have other people to help me ringfence. Make sure mistakes don’t get too fatal, but I don’t beat myself over it. When I make some minor mistakes, I learn from it. I don’t beat myself over it, I continue to enjoy what I do. And then I start to also impart my skills to my team and help their life get better. I enjoy this whole process.

And I enjoy associating with friends whom I like. In the Dhamma, the Buddha said one of the most important things, is having the right association.  And sometimes, having this right association, also learning how to get along well with them, with people closest to me: my wife, my parents, my colleagues. And if I can cultivate great relationship, as I say, you know, having a $1.30 Kopi-C in a Kopitiam far surpasses having a $20 cup of coffee in Ritz Carlton with someone that I don’t like.  If I can enjoy my work, learning on my work, enjoy the relationship with people that matters to me, I find very little need to spend money.

And because I enjoy this simple pleasure, I don’t need to spend a lot, and I get even better happiness out of it.  And because of that, I continue to do my work well, I serve people well, when I do that, actually money comes to me. I don’t go out there and search for it. And when it comes, I don’t deny that. For example, because in my role is quite a performance based. My income is coming from a part of the company’s profit. And I get to allocate how much I should be getting, of course with other people and with my superiors’ approval. I don’t shortchange myself. If I think I’ve done well, and I should be getting this reward, I allocate that to myself.  Ajahn Brahm said this previously as well. He said that a lot of people deny compliments. ‘Oh, you are very good. You’ve done so much for us.’. A lot of people like to deny that. ‘No, no, no, I’ve not done much. You know, it’s all other people’s credit.’.  Ajahn Brahm said that if you think you have really done that, just accept the compliment, don’t always push it away. Example: If I’ve really put a lot of effort, I’ve created value, I should allocate a fair amount for myself. I don’t shortchange, I don’t deny myself in the area.  So, when I serve, I get the money. When I love my work, I love my relationship, I take great happiness and pleasure in simple things, which don’t cost a lot.  Sometimes, well, if I say my friends wants to go to a nice place. And because I earn much because of I serve people, I spend little because I just spend so much hour at work already because I love my work, I really don’t have much time even it’s just to spend outside. And hence I have lots of surplus. And when that’s needed, well sometimes people think that today, I think I want to go to a nice place. I have no problem. 

Maybe let’s talk about an example. I was with my wife after lunch to buy a cake. And the cake was not very cheap. One small piece is about $4. So I bought three pieces. In the past, actually somehow to think – wow, $4 is a little expensive. Maybe we can just go NTUC, you can get more for less. But because overtime, I do what I’ve shared with you,  I just pay for it without even thinking much. So, I shared my wife that sometimes just having that resource, give us that choice. I don’t have to think about whether I can afford or should I go somewhere. I just pay for it. And hence, it gives me that you can say a peace of mind.  I don’t have to worry if I buy this cake will I have enough for my dinner later. So, I think that is the purpose of money. It is just a resource. And I don’t have to use it up in my whole life. If after I’m dead, there’s still let’s say a couple of millions or a few million left over, so be it. I don’t have to expand my life. I don’t have to eat at Hotel every day, because I worked so hard for my money, I feel a need to utilise every cent before I die, otherwise, it’d be a waste.   I just I just enjoy my life, as it is. Enjoy the simple pleasure, which doesn’t cost much. And incidentally, we don’t have to plan very much, a lot get left behind every month. That’s my experience.

Kai Xin  23:35

It’s like the real question isn’t so much about how can we save money or how can we accumulate wealth. But more of why are we doing that for?  And if we can turn the question around to say, what is it about my life that I want to enjoy, and how can money be the resource to help me enjoy it, then it would not just make us feel more fulfilled, even if we have less. And if we have more than it’s a bonus, and don’t shortchange ourselves as well.  I personally think that this is quite a mindset shift. Because sometimes we are too caught up with money to say, ‘Okay, everyone seems to be doing the nine to five job or they’re striving to accumulate wealth and to invest’. And sometimes greed gets in the way. And you see like the market is very volatile, and then you get very emotional, or maybe you see a good opportunity, then you want get rich fast and you jump on it. But it creates a lot of stress. If we just identify that hey actually wants all this for? It’s about happiness, and I want it to be more sustainable, then we can pull ourselves back a little bit and like Warren Buffett’s said, assess the situation to say, is it really worthwhile? Maybe not.

Kek wee  24:44

Maybe I put it as a four step process. We can talk about how do we go about thinking about money. So I think the first two, I kind of shared.  The first one is really money is an exchange for service. You can be doing the same thing, but just a thought is different. I give an example. Instead of thinking how am I going to climb the corporate ladder, which is ‘me’ focus.  ‘I want to climb the corporate ladder, because I want to get the title, I want to get more money.’. And that comes with a lot of stress, which means I may need to do some things which are not so right.  I might have to step on other people. Or I can be thinking, well, I want to serve the organisation better. So I better upgrade myself. Then I see, this is what’s lacking in the organisation, I’ll upgrade myself to fill that role that is needed by the organisation. So that the organisation can in turn serve customers better.  I see a need of my colleagues, I want to upgrade myself to help my colleague, so it’s not to compete with them. Then, if I can be a start of this culture, I can also influence the whole organisation culture. So you could be doing the same thing, but with a drastically different mindset. And it brings a very different emotion and feeling. Instead of competing, instead of being very self-centric, thinking a lot of gain and loss, it becomes very that of serving. That I put myself smaller, I’m here to serve what the organisation needs. 

In fact, it’s about self. The less of self, the less suffering you have. And that is the basic principle of the Dharma, that I’m willing to be serving people, and then learning things along the way, how people solve problems. And naturally relationships get better. If I help all my colleagues, rather than compete with them, then I will have a better relationship with them. And worst comes to worst, if it is a toxic place, then maybe I have to leave also. I’m not saying that it’s not an option.  But I do what I can first, I can shift my mindset, and I serve. And I believe, you know, if I’m in a right place, and if I serve, I would be a solution to other people’s problem, Bosses should recognise that. And if the boss is blind, and maybe I really need to leave. But because I am a boss, I am in a such a role myself, such people are very hard to find. I can say maybe unfortunately, in a more self-centric world, we are today, people who are giving, people who thinks for other people, people who are willing to do more for the greater good, is very hard to come by. If I choose to do things with this mindset, actually, I can do more. Others are happier, I’m happier. It’s a win-win situation.

Kai Xin  26:40

Before you go into step two, three, and four, I’m just wondering whether the exchange for service has to be strategic as well. Say, sometimes we can be serving and be very giving in an organisation, can we also have the intention of serving while wanting to get a promotion or get a bigger paycheck? Of course, not at the expense of other people’s happiness. And can we also be more strategic as to whether we are in the right position to serve based on our skill set and our competencies and our strengths?

Kek wee  27:59

I really think it’s fine. I mean, it’s sometimes about communicating. I think go back to the points, like, you know, like Ajahn Brahm said about, there is no need to deny compliments to myself. I think it is perfectly alright. If I’ve done this for the organisation, I think it is perfectly alright to say that this is what I’ve contributed. And then if others, you know, let’s say the management wants to assign a reward for me, I should accept it. There’s no need to deny it. And if it comes lesser (than what we want), I think there’s no need to be too hard about it. I believe if we just continue doing the right thing, then the the right thing will come upon us.

Kai Xin  28:38

I do feel like it’s a little bit idealistic, because sometimes people might not be very proactive in asking. For example, asking for a promotion or negotiating for pay because they are too selfless. I guess also, maybe it’s a lack of confidence, or like, oh, I don’t deserve it. And people can get taken advantage of in an organisation. Perhaps somebody who is contributing less, just have more guts to ask for it, then what would you say to that? Because it cannot just be okay, sit back, and if it comes, it comes that if it doesn’t come, it’s okay.

Kek wee  29:13

So I think the firstly, it is the communication. Because sometimes, let’s say the management or my superior don’t recognise, it’s not because they don’t want to recognise. It might be because they don’t know that I’m doing all these things. And worst still, sometimes people think, I do so much for you and you don’t recognise.  Why should they recognise? You don’t even tell them. And you expect them to know that you’re contributing all these things. And they may not even know the effort, the hardwork behind all these things. So, I think for the first thing to do is to be willing to communicate – We’ve done this project, I’ve done all these things. And this comes with a relationship. I think about a win-win relationship with my boss. And this makes the communication easier, and this will make it easier for him to see what I’m doing. 

So, I think that personal and professional relationship at work cannot be separated. Because if we only choose to do my work very well, very professional, but I have got no personal relationship with my boss, there is a very good chance that he’s not going to see what I’m doing. I mean, he’s got a lot of things on his table, I believe, as we get more senior. So I cannot expect, I cannot demand that he knows what I’m doing. I think it’s to have a personal relationship. Sometimes it is over coffee.  It might not even be telling him/her what I’m doing. It is just to learn from him: ‘This what I’m doing, how can I do it even better, that I’m supporting you in this.’. 

And then, as I said, we want to see the other way, over time does this person reciprocate? I think we’ve got to give time. If the first few months, the person don’t reciprocate, I think it’s too unreasonable to expect of the other person. But after a year or two, and it is quite evident, this person is just taking me for granted, or worst still,  exploiting me, then I think it is to make the option to leave. So, that’s why I said that is definitely an option. To find a good fit, to find someone who can recognise my talents, my contribution.  Maybe I just put it as I shared, maybe summarise it. 

So first, I think is to serve, to learn, and then to communicate through a personal relationship. And then after that, over a reasonable time to assess for myself, is this place where we want to be winning together? Are we mutually appreciating one another? Or is it an exploitative relationship. And if it’s exploitative relationship, firstly, the company usually won’t survive for very long, because all the good people will leave. And then, it is really about finding a place where we want to build the future together. So I always see myself together with the company. I’m not away from the company, so I help build the company. And hence, so I’m doing things WITH my boss, not FOR my boss.

Kai Xin  31:59

With, not for. Very important.

Kek wee  32:01

I have observe it personally, myself, such people are just so hard to come up with, so hard to find, and if the boss still don’t want to recognise someone like that, then the boss I think, is quite blind. I think the person should leave.

Kai Xin  32:21

I think it’s to have that wisdom to recognise, and a lot of heading a win-win situation. So tell me more about step two, three, and four.

Kek wee  32:30

So the second part is really about serving happily. So actually, my happiness should be now it’s not in the future. That means I am enjoying what I’m doing now. It’s not that I’m sacrificing now for a happier future. I’m already happy where I am. And because I’m happy where I am, the byproduct is, I don’t have to spend a lot of money to find my happiness or pleasure. Because I’m already happy, I’m happy.  And we tend to already invest a lot of time in areas that we are happy, right?

If I love my work, I guess you as well, I see that you’re someone who also love your work a lot, love contributing through your work. Actually by itself, our work is our hobby. I mean, we love it a lot, and we will keep researching, and learning. And that itself is happiness already. And if better still, I can have great relationship to cultivating with my loved ones and my colleagues, actually, really, this is called a Simple Life. A simple life is not about doing nothing. It’s about actually doing all these things right now: by being present. That means building my life right now, not somewhere in the future. Then, I will enjoy my life now. And it is also my personal experience, I have little need, and sometimes also little time to be spending money.   So in my life, I see that I do not need to go to a nice holiday, I don’t need to go to a nice restaurant to make me happy. Very low cost things are able to make me happy. And the byproduct is that we can save. 

And then the third one is, of course to invest. But of course if a person has managed to save up a lot, you can also don’t invest. I mean, if you have a billion dollar and you don’t invest, that’s fine because you’re not going to use them up a whole lifetime.  But I think for most people to invest the money is being practical. Just minimally to make sure your money doesn’t get eroded by inflation.

And secondly, it is also because I am happy where I am, I am not eager to get out from where I am, why are people impatient and why do people fail in investing? Because they want to get rich quick, because they can’t stand low returns, they want to have high exciting returns. And why is that? Because they’re trying to get out of something which is the current state. So they think that when they have their money, their current state will change. That’s the purpose, right? When I think I have money, my current state will change because I’m suffering now.  And they want to get money quickly. A lot of times the risk comes with it and the failure comes with it. But if I’m not in a hurry to get out of anywhere, I’m happy where I am I can allow myself to be very patient investing with just a 3-5% return. But to some people seems very little.  But it is okay if I’m already enjoying what I’m doing. I just let my money compound slowly, taking very little risk. And that’s, I think successful investing. 

At this point, let me share this. There was this conversation between Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos, I guess most people know who he is. He is the founder of Amazon. So one day, Warren Buffett was sharing his way of investing with Jeff Bezos. And after sharing, Jeff Bezos asked is that it? What you’re sharing seems very simple. Why aren’t more people following what you’re doing?  So he said that most people don’t like making money slowly, making money slowly doesn’t mean make very little money, otherwise he wouldn’t be where he is. But it means he’s willing to be patient to let his money take the time to do the work it’s supposed to do.  In Chinese, we don’t 拔苗助长. We can then afford to take very little risk for reasonable return, unhurriedly. So even with the big up and down with the market, I don’t get so disturbed as well. Because I’m happy doing this even for my whole lifetime, and I don’t need this money now. And hence, I can let the money grow at its own pace. Even if it goes up and down, it doesn’t bother me that much. That’s why I said successful investment, and the right way to lead our life comes together. 

  1. So I talk about serving, so that we can get income. 
  2. We talk about saving part of the income and naturally by just enjoying and be happy with what we are doing. 
  3. And thirdly, by investing right. Again, by being patient: because I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere.  And then with these things are done, I think most people should be reasonably wealthy in my view, as a byproduct. Not because I’m clamouring for it, but it just go by itself in the background. 
  4. And then lastly, is stewardship. What do I do with all this money?  

And I think there’s a research that shows that for men, successful men, who are very driven, let’s say by 45, they want to be a successful business, and by 45 they build a successful business, and then they sold their business for huge handsome profit. And if they have no other purpose in life, most of them after they get this windfall, what usually happens? The first thing, you indulge in material things: buy flashy cars, buy properties. And then sometimes I heard from people this car, they don’t even use it, they don’t drive on the road. They just park it in their house. And this is in the research, they say that because the metal can’t talk, these man would start to look for a woman outside of their own marriage, and to find excitement. And that cause the downfall of their marriage.  And after that, they want to seek challenge. Because they are bored and these people are driven, they make their money early, and that’s when they go to the Casino. And sometimes they lose all the money away.  So I think that’s about self indulgence, where I build wealth for myself. And then that is one outcome. The other outcome is that they keep expanding their life, feel the money they have, because they think, ‘now, I’m a multi-millionaire. Hundreds of millions. I can’t be living a life like that, right? I can’t be having coffee, eating porridge, living in a HDB unit, so they start to fantasise – I need to eat seafood everyday, I need to only drink coffee from a hotel. I need to go for this, this, this holiday. Actually, they screw up their life, because they made too much money.

I’m going to share two examples with you. First one, you’ve probably experienced also. Buffets – especially my younger days. I pay money to go buffet to torture myself. At most I paid $20 And I stuffed myself to the fullest. I feel terrible coming out from that restaurant.

The second one is a friend. So I met him once. He’s 30+ years old, early 30s. And so he shared with me right where he’s working I asked if this is his first job. He said, Yeah, I just graduated. And I asked if he studied PhD until 30+ years old? He said, “No, I just studied PhD.” If you don’t mind, then can I ask, why do you graduate only at 30 plus. So he said, I got too good a score in my junior college. And, because he got too good a score, the subject he really loved to study, and to do, is too easy to get in. So he didn’t choose the subjects he loves to do, they end up choosing the most difficult subject to get in. So that because he got such good score, he doesn’t want to waste his score. He just did something he didn’t like, just so as to not waste the score instead of doing something he liked.  After he finished studying, he still realised that what he loves to study and do, is still what his former interest is. After graduation, he went back and studied what he love, and wasted a good three, four years. So again, he was trying to maximise his marks to study something he doesn’t like, and then wasting a few years. That’s the same for money, some people want to maximise the use of money, and end up altering their life to their own unhappiness.

Kai Xin  40:06

When you were sharing about the research, interestingly enough, there is actually a sutta called Parabhava Sutta: Downfall, when the Buddha talks about the same exact consequences, where a person who is a gambler and squander all that he earns, this is the cause of one’s downfall. Or that they’re not contented with one’s wife, and then you know, start looking for others, this is the cause for the downfall.

Kek wee  40:30

You know, the Dharma is really the truth. But it’s how to then apply it in our actual lives. There’s the stewardship, then how to then make money be very fulfilling. I can just live my life, independent of how much money I have. If I love to live in HDB, then I can continue to live here. I don’t need to upgrade my house, then that’s where we’ve got more money, then this excess wealth that I have, that I don’t need, then that’s where, you know, I can look at doing really purposeful and useful thing. Like see, like, what Bill Gates is doing. I mean, he built Microsoft, now doing full time philanthropic work, hoping to be solutions to some of the problems in this world. I think that’s where money can bring us fulfilment and happiness, where we have the right view towards it, and use it properly, not to self indulge. So I think that’s the four parts about money.

Kai Xin  41:24

 And I believe you’re you told me you’re living in HDB right.

Kek wee  41:28

Yeah, I really plan to live here for the rest of my life.

Kai Xin  41:32

So I believe you’re also like, probably a million, I think more than a millionaire. And yeah, I think that kind of like contentment and fulfilment. It’s so important. I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the stewardship part, do you mind elaborating on how people would be a steward of their wealth?

Kek wee  41:52

Stewardship means I’m taking care of it. It’s not mine. It’s really not mine. I mean, we walk into this Earth with nothing, we will leave this world with nothing. I just care take whatever, few decades I have on this Earth. And money is one of the items that I can take. So if I have these thoughts about money, then firstly, I wouldn’t be just chasing this money, because I’m just temporarily taking care of it, but neither will I be negligent. And then it’s also my goal, to make this money productive. When these come to my hand, I don’t allow it to be depreciated in value, at least I do my best to keep it safe and safe against inflation as well. And then that’s where it’s not mine, I’m safe keeping it and then I need to learn the right purpose of it?

Let me share an example, I had this friend that was very kind hearted. And then one of his friends, of course, who knew his soft spot, and started to share a lot of stories about himself. So my friend really sympathised with his hardships. And then, one day, he wanted to borrow money. So to solve some of these problems that he has. And my friend, being very soft hearted, kind hearted, lent him money, up to a point he wanted to borrow money to lend his friend. That was where I woke up as well, and I asked him, actually how much have you been lending to this friend? He said half a million? And you want to borrow more money to lend this friend? Because he really needs help? Have you ever checked any of these things that he said? Is it true or not? He said, he never checked, because it just sounds so true.  I’m not obstructing him from doing something good but at least go and check out some of the things that he said. As some things can be verifiable, you can call the hospital, you can call the MP. And with the first check only, he found out that it was a scam. Now, of course, he got very upset being used by a friend. So I shared with him. I said, you know, you have a very giving heart, which is great. But we still need to use our money wisely. We want to help people we need to use it wisely. To really be able to help will require allocating the money wisely. That’s stewardship – taking care of this money. So I need to be using it wisely. Compassion has to come with wisdom. It’s not just compassion.

Kai Xin:

Totally agree. I got scammed so many times until I learned the hard way.

Kek Wee:

So it’s always to verify and yeah, I think whether the money that you give to somebody, they can take care of it as well. Very important to assess. And the best is given to people who can further propagate Dhamma. But I think that’s also I guess it’s in the Dhamma as well, right? Where if we serve people, let’s say like the Sangha who live very well, through them we can probably get much much more benefit to people, rather than giving the same food to someone who only is caring about himself. So by giving someone who has a big heart to do a lot of things for more people, then the same contribution is going to benefit for many more people.

Kai Xin  45:05

We agree. And can we backtrack a little bit to what you said about Warren Buffett, he mentioned, or you mentioned growing money slowly is not the same as growing little money? Can you share a little bit on that?

Kai Xin  45:21

I think the patient comes with knowledge as well. You’re knowledgeable, you make an informed decision. Even if the market is volatile for a short while, you would naturally feel certain about the long term result, because you already did your homework. And I was just thinking about  when people talk about wealth accumulation, they are a little bit afraid to dabble into investment, because of a lot of unknowns. And personally, I’ll just use like, say, my family members, parents, for example, very traditional. So you kind of exchange time for money with hard labour one hour , X dollars. And investment seems like a concept that comes with a lot of risk. And just wondering for people who wants to start investing, because that’s one of the four steps that you’ve mentioned. How can they do so wisely? Where should they begin?

Kek Wee 50:37

So, the risk is always the investor, never the investment. I see so many failing in investment, but yet Warren Buffet can do so well. I can say the same for my own experience. My first two years was absolute disaster. And subsequently, I was doing pretty well. It’s not that the market has suddenly changed. It’s just that, you know, I have learnt the the right way of doing things. In fact, actually, when I first started investing, my parents was very, very against, because they have kind of speculated in the Malaysian Clob issues, they were alot of Singaporeans speculating in Malaysian shares in the 1990s. So they were burnt there also. So when they know I was buying stock, they were very concerned. And my mom was trying to persuade me out of it. So I have to have two sides. One is my mom’s, one is Warren Buffett. And Warren Buffett’s say about investing is so rational and low risk. I mean, well, you are just a shareholder of a company. And as a shareholder of a company that you use the product more and more, then you should be really certain about a company. That’s at least the first step, and then it’s about getting yourself more and more knowledgeable. And then you’ll be able to decipher what is suitable, what’s good, what’s not good. So the first thing to do to make investment less risky, is first learning how to invest. So it’s not too follow hearsay, but to really learn from the foundation. Of course granted, not many people will be interested. Some people just look at the amount of work needed, look at the financial statements. And it can totally turn off as it is hundreds of pages. So I think failing which, there’s two other ways.

One is index investing, which is mainly just investing very broadly. And then just just leave it there for a long period. That over time has proven, it will do well. However, people could still be very emotionally disturbed, because volatility can be large, especially when a person just started and happen that the market has a big downturn. And then you start to determine is this correct or not. But sometimes, you may also be good to really have some professional who has been through, you know, cycles, to be able to partner this person. Yeah. Such that it’s different right to have a different person who give you the assurance and someone that you trust, versus to have no one to lean on, and only listen to stories, to listen to hearsay, to only watch the TV, the news, investment is the same, but it’s about the emotion. Yeah, if you’ve someone you trust, who can do that with you. And he’s doing the same thing as what you’re doing and can be successful for a long period, then he helps a person emotionally easier to get through all this volatility. In essence, either you DIY, to get competent him or herself to know what this thing really is. A it’s what stocks really is or get someone to help them, I feel these are the two ways to do it. And then really invest time getting to know it. Don’t be in a rush to invest money, put money, especially when you see people are making a lot of money. I really think the most important is to take the time to really figure out what is suitable for yourself to learn about it. That’s where risk can be very much reduced.

Kai Xin  54:07

To add to that, I think it’s very important to also only invest what you’re ready to lose in the short term, right and not just put all your eggs in one basket? Because I know some people they do that.Yeah, thanks a lot, Kek Wee. It’s been a really insightful chat. And I know you are also running classes. Where can people find more or to learn from you in terms of investing?

Kek wee  54:33

Oh, yeah. So actually, it was about two years ago, that we started this online investment class that’s based on the curriculum by the Institute of Banking and Finance. So based on the curriculum, I just set up a class so that people can sign up to learn about basic value investing, if they really want to consider the DIY path. If you are interested to want to learn about investing, you can go to the GreyRhino.sg and there you can find the online investment class. You can read about it and sign up if you want. I also do a fortnightly video can go YouTube and also search the grey Rhino Singapore. There you should be able to come to the videos that I that I share about the current market and company analysis. Hopefully that can help you if you’re keen to get started on investing. All right.

Kai Xin  55:25

Thanks a lot, Kek Wee. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks Kai Xin. Thanks, listeners for tuning in. I hope you got as much value as I did. Please share with us what is your biggest takeaway you can do so via our telegram channel or wherever you are listening to this podcast. Also, it will be very helpful if you can give us a five star review because it will help us to reach more people. We release an episode bi weekly on either a Wednesday or a Friday. So hit the subscribe button to stay updated. And if you found this episode to be useful, do share with your circle of friends. As usual, the links to the resources are in the show notes. And in our next episode. In celebration of the upcoming Wesak day. We will be featuring some Buddhists musicians from Singapore as well as Malaysia. In case you’re wondering, What is Buddhist music? No, they are not chants they are proper music with lyrics with really good melodies as well. And in the episode you would get to hear the journey of the music producer, the singers the bands and how music actually helps them in the spiritual practice and keep them and others inspired to walk the path. Here’s a snippet of a song called Kataññuta by Buddysings! from Malaysia.

56:46

(song)

Kai Xin  57:07

there’s so many things we can be grateful for. I will see you in the next episode. Meanwhile, stay happy and wise.


About the guest speaker – Seow Kek Wee

As a veteran investor of more than 20 years, Kek Wee is the Head of Investment Research of Unicorn Financial Solutions Pte Ltd, advising and managing assets in excess of $0.5 Billion.


More about Seow Kek Wee & his work: 

https://thegreyrhino.sg/

Investment Classes

The Grey Rhino YouTube page


Useful resources: 

Parabhava Sutta

The Warren Buffett Way

7 Secrets to Investing Like Warren Buffett

Special thanks to Tan Key Seng, Lynn Leng, Alvin Chan for sponsoring the podcast!

Squid Game! 3 Dhamma Takeaways

Squid Game! 3 Dhamma Takeaways

Beyond all the violence and nail-biting scenes of Squid Game, the show taught me some Dhamma lessons while I was watching it. Here are my 3 Dhamma takeaways!

One barely escapes Squid Game, both in the show and on social media.

A browse through social media will show scores of Squid Game memes, advertisements, and analyses on it.

Since its Netflix’s release, Squid Game has become the #1 show in over 90 countries. For the uninitiated, Squid Game depicts a story of people who are heavily financially in debt. They compete for 45.6 billion won (~52 million SGD) by taking part in six Korean kids’ games. However, if participants lose any of the games, they risk losing their lives. Intense.

Here are 3 Dhamma takeaways that you may have missed!

SPOILER WARNING! Jump to ‘Wise Steps’ if you do not wish to get these small spoilers!

Life is Impermanent and rarely linear

Sang-woo is the childhood friend of Squid Game’s main character (Gi-hun). A naturally bright student who enrolled in one of the top universities (as Gi-hun constantly reminds every contestant), Sang-woo gets a job as an investment banker, an occupation held in high regard in modern society. 

Sang-woo (Smart guy), Gi Hun (Smart guy bestie),
Saebyeok (fellow contestant)
Photo Credits: Netflix

Sang-woo’s character reveals the power of Anicca (Pali for “Impermanence” in Buddhism). The show highlights his decline from success to states of sorrow and anger.

What’s crazy about watching Sang-woo is that you can see yourself or even close friends in him.

Sang-woo reminds you of that one friend who is a perfect scholar. The one who studies hard. The one who gets into a top university and has a great job. I shudder at the thought of knowing the number of potential ‘Sang-woos’ in my life.

For these perceptibly fortunate folks, life seems like an upward trajectory, where the only thing permanent is their success. 

Alas, the eight worldly winds, as taught by the Buddha do not spare Sang-woo from impermanence. Just like any of us.

Sang-woo’s greed and giddiness with success lead him to steal money from clients and bet it on the stock market. In desperation, he uses his mother’s little shop as financial collateral. This act of deceit spirals Sang-woo into further run-ins with the law.

Once Sang-woo joins the game, we see his transformation accelerate.

He evolves from a calm, caring man into a brutal opportunist.

In his final act of transformation, he shockingly betrays a kind-hearted contestant. This makes you lose all support for Sang-woo to win the game.

Sang-woo’s decline reminded me that life is hardly linear. Life is rarely set in stone with change as the only constant. As we look towards ‘change’ in terms of happier emotional states or ‘even better’ material possessions, we must remember that change is a double-edged sword.

A state can change for better or worse —  we cannot be sure.

A balanced mind unshaken by the eight worldly winds will bring the greatest peace and clarity in times of trouble and happiness. Otherwise, we may be unprepared for the red and green lights that lie await us.

Red light, Green light. Staying Present

The first game that contestants play is the Red Light, Green Light game. Contestants have to cross the finishing line within five minutes. They can only move when the doll signals a ‘Green Light’. If the contestants move when it is a red light (which can happen suddenly), they lose (die).

The contestants stay still as the doll shows ‘Red Light’.
Those who move are eliminated.
Credits: Netflix

From watching all that running, my Dhamma takeaway was that everyone has their own pace in life. 

Those who know their pace and stay present win the game (mostly). The person who hastily runs towards the line, despite the red light, faces elimination. Those frozen with fear also lose the game. In essence: move too slow or too fast? You lose.

Knowing your own pace and ability to pause is crucial in winning the game and the game of life.

Reflecting deeper, some contestants do try their best at the game but still lose. This part reminded me of the times when we did our best to follow the ‘rules of life’ such as working hard or eating healthily to live a good long life. We may think we have it sorted, the green and red lights of our lives. 

However, life is uncertain. Our hard work turns into a missed promotion. Our healthy lifestyle can still result in early-stage cancer.

Reflecting thus, the game was a reminder that there is sometimes no visible order to the world. No ‘order’ to the way we want it to be. It is better to stay present and treasure life as we never know when we will face a sudden ‘red light’ in our lives.

The three forms of intoxicants (youth, health, and life) make us think the green light will go on and on and on. We must remind ourselves not only to constantly go at our pace but also to not get kidnapped by a false sense of security that we know it all. 

Once we win the game at our own pace, would we know the difference between happiness and excitement?

The Doll that decides the green and red light.
Photo Credits: Netflix

Happiness vs Excitement

What happens when you have all the material wealth you ever wanted? What happens next?

These questions form quite a bizarre future for us to grapple with, especially in the workforce where we work towards the idea of financial freedom. What’s next?

The show replies to this existential question through the character of ‘The Host’.

The Host created the Squid Game, an annual game hosted across different countries, where contestants compete for prize money that grows with elimination by death. 

What could drive The Host to commit such a sadistic act?

The Host was in the financial industry and accumulated a lot of wealth. He reached a point where his life had no more excitement.

“Do you know what is the common ground between someone without money and having too much money? Life is just not fun! If you have too much money you can buy, eat and drink as much as you want, but at some point it gets boring. “ – The Host

The Host highlighted that even when he was extremely wealthy, he and his associates (the VIPs) could not find joy in living anymore. Hence, they created the game to get a different level of excitement (from watching people kill one another). This excitement was something they could never get in the material world.

The VIPs (The Host’s associates) who fly in to watch the game
Photo Credits: Netflix

The Host confused excitement for happiness — this was another key Dhamma lesson that I took away. I wondered how many times I made the same mistake of taking both as identical. 

While going on a Youtube binge can be exciting, I rarely find myself in a happy state after the binge. A question of ‘What now?’ ensues. Happiness is not found. Rather, I find eye bags and regrets on the following day.

So what exactly is the difference?

Excitement relies on external stimuli to drive a temporary surge of positive feelings. Happiness comes from one’s own internal world. Happiness is not reliant on external conditions for its creation or sustenance.

Not knowing the difference, The Host was unable to see the simple joy of loved ones or to grasp the idea of ‘enough’. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness at this character’s view of the world: a world without kindness and only bleak self-interest.

How could The Host have done better? 

The Buddha mentions that there are four types of happiness that can be enjoyed by laypeople.

Namely, they are the happiness of ownership, using wealth, debtlessness, and blamelessness. 

Regarding wealth, Buddha says ‘It’s when a gentleman uses his legitimate wealth and makes merit with it. When he reflects on this, he’s filled with pleasure and happiness.’ 

The idea of making merit (beneficial acts towards oneself and others) and of reflecting is crucial for happiness. Think of the last time we gave our money to a person or cause in need, did you notice a smile in your heart? It is such moments of reflection that can be painfully lost if we become jaded with the material world around us.

By learning about Buddha’s four types of happiness, we can make better choices and avoid being taken hostage by the allure of excitement.

Closing Thoughts

Squid Game was a fulfilling series with many moments when you paused either in fear or in shock.

It forced the viewer to think about what kind of person you would be if you were in that situation. 

We reflected on the impermanence of our conditions and how we can be ‘indebted’ to them if we were not careful like Sang-woo. We also learnt to go at our own pace in life, walking the Middle Path even when others are going at extreme ends. Lastly, we were forced to ask ourselves: what is the true difference between excitement and happiness in life. Which matters more?

One barely escapes Squid Game, both in the show and on social media. Can we also escape the pitfalls of life that Buddha warns us about?


Wise Steps:

  • Reminding ourselves that life is full of change keeps us on our toes to never take situations and relationships as permanent
  • Stay present and learn to let go of grudges because death comes unexpectedly. In this life, whether tomorrow is our green or red light…nobody knows
  • Recognise the differences between happiness and excitement. The wise know what brings inner joy with little reliance on external conditions

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