“I haven’t used money since 1978” is the usual response I make when asked about the Buddhist monastic lifestyle. It invariable brings a moment’s pause in the conversation, if not a wide-eyed dropping of jaws. It’s a very different way to live, never owning or even handling money of any kind, and describing it usually brings forth such questions as: ‘How can one possibly live that way, especially in the modern world?’ And ‘How could such a lifestyle be of relevance to the global population and the well-being of the world?’
At the very start of the Buddha’s teaching career, about 2,600 years ago, he established the practice of mendicancy for himself and his monastic disciples, the Sangha. This means that the small proportion of his followers who wished to commit to a celibate renunciant life-style, in order to focus fully on meditation and spiritual disciplines, made a commitment to rely completely on the generosity of the much larger community of householder disciples for all their material needs – food, clothing, shelter and medicines.
The members of the Sangha, then and now, are prohibited from ever owning or using money. It is a deliberate assumption of material dependency; one that is formed in order to create a symbiotic relationship whereby both dimensions of the community, monastic and lay, and consequently the whole society, are enriched.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, A Currency of Well-being, (pdf) p. 4.