Has anyone heard of bitcoin? I first heard of it in a conversation with the Honolulu temple’s accountant. Bitcoin sounded a little crazy at the time, but its recognition has since grown. Bitcoin is a form of currency, specifically cryptocurrency, created by an unknown programmer or group of programmers under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, and released in 2009 as an open-source software. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority or banks. Transactions take place directly between users, and are verified collectively by the network, recorded in a public ledger called the blockchain. Bitcoin can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services. Today, in many countries, bitcoin is legal tender. Some sources claim that over 100,000 merchants and vendors have accepted payments in bitcoin since 2015.

    What is difficult for many to grasp about this currency is that not one country can claim its nascency. Thus, with bitcoin as a common currency, there is no oversight, or any way that a country can juggle its supply of bitcoin to control its economy. Essentially, bitcoin’s existence depends entirely on the unimpeded operation of the internet. In this way, bitcoin may appear tenuous because there is nothing concrete that you can actually weigh in your hands, such as can be done with actual coins. Despite the seemingly revolutionary nature of bitcoin, it retains much of the principles of the gold standard that the U.S. implemented until 1971. The reasoning behind the gold standard was that the worth of gold was generally stable, such that we could use that as a standard, to limit the supply of U.S. dollars out in the market to the amount of gold that the U.S. actually owns and stores in its federal vaults. Gold, then is something concrete, that would be of real value guaranteeing the paper money that we normally use. Bitcoin is no different in that, like gold, it is scarce, durable, transferable, divisible, recognizable, and fungible. The number of bitcoins allowed to exist is limited, so it can be considered scarce. Bitcoins are durable as far as bitcoins exist on ledgers, and are owned by someone or some entity. Bitcoins are far more transferable than gold in that it can be sent from one address to another in seconds. One bitcoin is made up of 100,000,000 satoshis, thus they are divisible. Like gold, bitcoins are recognizable in that they are impossible to counterfeit. Finally, bitcoins are fungible, such that they can be easily substituted for another.

    That bitcoin is similar to gold should make some people feel more comfortable about it. Yet, the fact is that even our present monetary system is not backed by any specific asset or commodity. It is legal tender by fiat, meaning that that it is backed only by the “full faith and credit of the U.S. government”. What that means is that our paper money has value only because our government says that it does. Our present currency that we normally use is no more legal tender than bitcoin. The only difference is that more people have faith in regular money than in bitcoin.

    Much in our daily lives require that we believe something exists or is true. We are accustomed to believe that money has value. This is because we make purchases with money. As consumers, we purchase things or services every day. Every day, technically, because most of us have meals three times a day. If we do not make our own meals, we can go out to a restaurant and purchase our meals there. So, we have a strong belief or confidence in the value of money because we use it often and it brings us practical benefits.

    If it is easy to have faith that currency has value, it should be just as easy to develop faith in the Buddha. If we practiced on a regular basis and could see and feel the good that it brings, it would strengthen our faith in the Buddha. Just from our attendance here today, it is possible to find many good things that each and every one of us has gained, that would not have been possible had we not attended. From practicing together, we gain such things as camaraderie, mutual assurance, and new ideas. The development of faith is a matter of thinking about the Buddha and his teachings, and practicing them in our daily lives on a regular basis. We find it easy to believe in the value of paper money because we use it often. But, it should be equally if not more valuable to us to have faith in the gravity and truth of the Buddha and his teachings. We can build our faith by thinking of the Buddha and his teachings at least once a day.

(Eisei Ikenaga)