By Suma Varughese
How does one reconcile spirituality with money in the kaliyug? there is no single right answer, discovers life positive. it all depends on where you are at.
If you think a single rupee is insignificant then you develop a wrong and wasteful habit of losing Money Suresh Padmanabhan
People with wealth consciousness settle only for the best. This is also called the principle of highest first. Go first class all the way and the universe will respond by giving you the best Deepak Chopra
The universe exists only to fulfil our dreams and desires. It has no other purpose. If it is unlimited abundance we want, we will get it Vikas Malkani
Money, next to sex, is probably one of the most contentious issues in the seeker’s life. Is it okay to have money or to pursue it? Should one renounce it and live on sackcloth and ashes? Do money and spirituality go together as New Age prophets assert? If so, where do you draw the line of conspicuous consumption? Where does all this leave environmental issues? And world poverty?
The more the questions, the more the answers. Everyone has their solutions to the problem and many a New Age guru has coasted his way to easy street by writing books on the subject.
When we confront a subject on which responses are mixed and varied, creating strong viewpoints and rousing passions, it is a sure sign that the subject is complex, multi-layered and demands deep and dispassionate inquiry. Money is just such a juicy subject, promising us a long and circuitous chase before yielding up its secrets.
So where do we start? At the beginning perhaps, of our tortured relationship with money. All, or most of us, have an uneasy equation with it.
Our attitude towards money reflects our attitude towards life. Money is an exchange system between ourselves—our goods, services, skills and creativity, self-expression—and what we need from the world—approval, admiration, status, lifestyle, goods, services. Therefore, our attitude towards money is intimately tied up with our sense of self-worth and self-belief, our sense of security, our value system and our worldview.
Many of us draw our cues from the scientific understanding of the universe which portrays it as a random and fragmentary phenomenon, of which we are an insignificant part. Alienated and alone, we must fend for ourselves as best as we can, fighting the rest of the universe for our share of the pie. Such a belief system creates huge insecurity and fear, generating a scarcity-ridden mentality.
The spirit of scarcity
Writes Eknath Easwaran in his commentary on the Isha Upanishad in his book, The Upanishads, “Our economic thought operates, as social historian Ivan Illich put it, ‘under a paradigm of scarcity.’ The fundamental assumption is that there is not enough to go around; so we are doomed to fight one another (and an unwilling nature) for material, human, natural resources; each person or group for itself.”
This attitude percolates to our personal relationship with money. The objects of desire seem infinite and the resources so little. I know of a retired college professor who is relatively well-off but still frets about her money situation and denies herself many little luxuries such as a good holiday or a meal in a fine restaurant, because she fears that she may run out of cash in her old age.
Nor is this the only perversion that insecurity and poor self-worth drives us to. There is the opposite response, which is to spend money without control and limits. This malaise is spreading rapidly in today’s consumerist society which forces people to be identified with the things money can buy. Ashok Mathur (name changed), an advertising executive, shares this horrific tale. A big spender, he was drawn to credit cards for their ease of transaction and the credit facilities. Before he knew it, he had four cards and was heavily overdrawn on each. Unable to pay the amount due and facing arrest or worse any time, Mathur went through agony until he gathered the courage to meet his creditors, confess the sorry truth and work out a repayment plan. He stuck to it doggedly, but his moment of liberation arrived, he says, when he took a scissors and cut up three of his cards, retaining the last only for emergencies. Spendthrifts get a high out of spending, of buying things they don’t need but covet. No amount of money is sufficient for their needs, for their real void is within and things are a way of filling it up. Like the scarcity-ridden, spendthrifts too are driven in their response to money and do not act in freedom.
Then there are compulsive philanthropists who give to feel good about themselves or to rule others. Another issue common to many is fear of money or a reluctance to face it. Writes Suresh Padmanabhan, who conducts workshops on money and has written a book called I Love Money, “Being lazy, not learning about the money world, being disorganised, never having proper accounts, not being bothered about money, escaping from the problems and making excuses are all things which will surely take you away from the money world.”
Many of us are also guilty of disrespecting money. Writes Padmanabhan, “If you think a single rupee is insignificant then you develop a wrong and wasteful habit of losing money. Do not be surprised if you lose an entire fortune by this irresponsible way of handling money. Valuing every single rupee… has everything to do with us being aware, being methodical and in control.” Padmanabhan also speaks of many negative concepts concerning money that blocks our rational and positive attitude to it. For instance, that money is the root of all evil. He writes, “The misconception is that if money comes in, then it would be natural to lose precious things like friends, sleep and finally our “higher” self. This fear stops us from aspiring for wealth. We thus end up blocking the flow of money into our lives.” His recommendation: “Learn the art of spending money wisely and consciously… One should not hate, fear or feel guilty while spending. The purpose of money is to circulate and the more it circulates the more you become prosperous.” If this advice rings like a New Age truism, it is not without reason. The New Age creed that abundance is our birthright stems from a concern for our cramped and compulsive relationship with money.
We could therefore refer to the New Age stance as level ll. It is a step up from the earlier approach and to that extent positive and corrective. What are the tenets of this belief? One is that we create our worlds through our belief system and therefore it is as easy to create a belief system of abundance as it was to create our earlier scarcity-ridden world. Writes Deepak Chopra in his book, Creating Affluence, “E also stands for the principle that expectancy determines outcome. So always expect the best and you’ll see that the outcome is spontaneously contained in the expectation.”
The New Age gurus advise you to change your belief system through affirmations, intentions and creative visualisation. Chopra, for instance, gives a four-step plan to strengthen the flow of money in our lives. Step one: You slip into the gap between thoughts. The gap is the window, the corridor, the transformational vortex through which the personal psyche communicates with the cosmic psyche. Step two: You have a clear intention of a clear goal in the gap. Step three: You detach yourslf from outcome, because chasing the outcome or getting attached to it entails coming out of the gap. Step four: You let the universe handle the details. For Chopra, the way to enter the gap is through meditation.
The second tenet therefore is that we live in a responsive universe which is amenable to suggestions and requests from us. The universe cares for us and it is a positive place to be in. Writes Vikas Malkani in his book, The Yoga of Wealth, “We use this science to create whatever we want because the universe exists only to fulfil our dreams and desires. It has no other purpose. If it is unlimited abundance we want, we will get it.”
The third is that the universe is naturally abundant. The conclusion arriving from such premises is reassuring and positive. Free from our earlier belief in an uncaring and fragmentary universe we just happen to be a part of, we nestle safely in its arms, assured that we are loved and valued. This knowledge is enough to get rid of insecurity and subsequent scarcity mentality. We become aware that we matter and the seed of faith in a higher power is born. A columnist for the Yoga International journal reveals that her children had once fought disgracefully over an apple pie. To reassure them that there was plenty and that there was never a need to fight, she bought them each an apple pie. According to her, the kids were far less grasping after that.
Moving from the scarcity mentality to that of abundance is a bit like glimpsing heaven. The fear and anxiety drain off and one experiences freedom and expansion. Instead of denying yourself the things you have long coveted, you buy them, confident that you deserve them and that the universe will provide. Writes Deepak Chopra in Creating Affluence, “People with wealth consciousness settle only for the best. This is also called the principle of highest first. Go first class all the way and the universe will respond by giving you the best.”
Free of fear, you can chart out a rational plan for your life, budgeting holidays, big purchases etc, at a time when the price is right. Says businesswoman Leena Thakkar, “I ensure that I get value for money. For instance, I may travel by air but I plan long enough to avail of apex fares.”
Spirituality and money
And yet New Age thinking on money has its own limitations. Such thinkers adamantly assert that money and spirituality go together and it is negative and restrictive to think that the two cannot be reconciled.
Writes Vikas Malkani, “The de-linking of spirituality and abundance is detrimental to the concept of spirituality, which encourages wholeness and totality… It makes us believe that if we want to walk the path to awareness, we have to give up all the pleasures, wealth and abundance of this world.” Says Osho, unabashed advocate of the pleasure principle, “Mahavira renounced money, Buddha renounced money. I am against it – I am far more in favour of a man like Janaka who lived like an emperor and yet became enlightened.”
Whatever be the truth of the matter, there is no arguing against the fact that the New Age thinkers simplify matters and that living in abundance creates complexities that they have not addressed. For instance, once plugged into the abundance cycle, what determines our level of expenditure? Or are we meant to spend more and more as the money keeps coming in? In that case, what about the cost to the environment, and one’s own control over desires?
All sages, gurus and realised people are united in their assertion that enlightenment can only be obtained by the overcoming of all desires, because desires emanate from the ego and ties us to the phenomenal world. Therefore, transcending the ego is an essential part of the process.
Says Katha Upanishad, “When all desires that surge in the heart are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.”
Therefore, continuing to feed our desires would be most inimical with spiritual progress. Says Swami Vivekananda, “Renunciation is the background of all religious thought wherever it be, and you will always find that as this idea of renunciation lessens, the more will the senses creep into the field of religion, and spirituality will decrease in the same ratio.”
New Age thinkers counter this argument by affirming that detachment is internal, not external, and once one is no longer identified with objects of desire, no harm can come to us. In that case, why pursue these objects? Why buy books on creating affluence and wealth? The pundits are ignoring the crucial paradox that no one who has transcended desires would hanker after wealth. If wealth came to them, they would be graceful about it; if it did not, they would be graceful without it. Wealth would be incidental, not essential.
The complexities of abundance
Says Deepa Kodikal, a spiritual adept who has written A Journey Within the Self, a diary of her spiritual experiences, “Life is full of ups and downs. If there is loss of wealth, we should be able to accept it with equanamity. If wealth comes, we should be able to enjoy it. There is no reason to shun money but one should enjoy it with balance, self-control and without wrong usage like supporting vices.”
Says Swami Brahamvidananda, a Vedanta teacher based in Mumbai, “The more spiritual you become, the less emotional dependence you have on money and what it buys. Ultimately, it becomes just a tool.”
New Age thinkers frequently overlook the importance of the means of acquiring money. In the Indian scriptures, four aspects are considered important to human existence: dharma or righteous action, artha, the pursuit of wealth, kama, the pleasure principle and finally moksha, liberation. Artha and kama are sandwiched between dharma and moksha to indicate that they must be pursued with due regard for ethical norms and keeping the goal of liberation in mind.
Therefore, the creation of wealth must be hinged around ethical practices, what in Buddhism would be called Right Livelihood. Says Kodikal, “You should follow dharmic ways in making wealth by ethical behaviour, not expecting anything, letting go of outcome and being honest to others and to yourself.”
New Age thinkers also ignore the truth that wealth is meant to be an offshoot of what you do and not an object of it. If you are focused on doing something you love and will therefore excel at, money will naturally follow. However, taking up a livelihood based on its potential for earning, may not guarantee satisfaction, happiness or spiritual progress. Ashok Banker gave up a lucrative profession in advertising to pursue his first love, fiction. The initial years were rough, but when he came up with his trilogy based on the Ramayana, he achieved both critical and popular success.
In the same vein, rather than spirituality and money being yoked together, it is truer to say that money follows spirituality. Remember Christ’s admonition, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you.”
A single-minded pursuit of spirituality will yield rich dividends which include freedom from self-limitations, a purified and heightened sense of purpose, razor-sharp focus and concentration, all of which are bound to take one a long way in one’s chosen profession.
In a penetrating article on the relationship between spirituality and money on the website www.circlesoflight.com, someone called Ashok Selvarajah makes a telling point. He says, “Whatever we focus our minds upon, for good or bad, always expands. This is one of the fundamental laws of life…making a lot of money is hard and takes a tremendous level of concentrated focus. It also requires a commitment that is primarily external— devoted to the outer material world.
“Herein lies the apparent conflict. The truth is that powerful spiritual development also requires a tremendous level of focus and commitment. It is not a part-time activity, either. Moreover, the focus is primarily internal.”
This, says Selverajah, is the main reason masters advise aspirants to focus on spirituality. His recommendation: Make spirituality the prime focus and let the money follow. Secondly, ensure that the balance between effort for spiritual growth and effort to make money is never tilted in the latter’s favour.
He adds, “It is possible to be financially abundant whilst following a spiritual path. However, it is difficult—much more than personal development gurus would have you believe.”
So seductive is the New Age correlation of spirituality and money that millions have adopted it as their credo, without questioning it deeply. Usually, it is an excuse to pursue money with the same zeal as before, only this time with a halo on. Workshop leaders charge exorbitantly on the strength of this argument, as did Reiki masters once.
The right balance
Yet, if the money appears as an offshoot of an ethically practised profession, and if the practitioner is balanced and rational in his approach to money, most would agree that they are in an ideal place. Leading lives of quiet prosperity, such people flourish in their own way, giving liberally to charity, pursuing harmless ways of enjoyment, controlling rather than being controlled by wealth. Says Deepa Kodikal, “I am basically a follower of Krishna. I am not a renunciate. I enjoy life with the right attitude. One can follow whatever life has to offer, enjoy it and advance in spirituality.”
Leena Thakkar recalls having accountability drilled into her as a child. “My mother would keep accounts and would even follow up on an expenditure of five paisa. We were supposed to tell her how we spent every paisa.”
The early training has given her a strong sense of responsibility in handling money. “As far as my personal budget is concerned, I go so far and no more. With the household budget, I do not compromise on quality but I keep strict control over quantity. Having servants in the house, it is necessary to keep an account of everything I store, like soap, for instance. If there is some misuse, I check and ask them.” She refuses to be controlled by desire. “If there is anything I become too attached to, like tea, I give it up.” She also gives 10 per cent of her income to charity.
Such people are instruments of goodness in society and their measured, controlled use of wealth is worthy of emulation.
Most seekers would stop here and good luck to them.
However, there is a miniscule minority which is compelled to take the issue further. For them there is one more level, level lll.
They arrive at this level when increasing awareness opens up for them the inter-relatedness of the universe. They become aware that the environment cannot bear the burden of our consumerist society and that it is necessary to tread very lightly on it. They also become aware that the problem of poverty is related to the existence of wealth. Poverty exists because wealth exists and therefore the wealthy man must take on the responsibility of reducing poverty.
As seekers, their increasing love of and faith in God makes them aware that everything belongs to God and not to them. This is the truth pronounced in the Isha Upanishad many centuries ago, and is echoed in the Psalms as well, when the singer declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
Having come to this conclusion, one is moved to “renounce and enjoy” in the words of the Isha. Explains Eknath Easwaran, “When we become aware of consciousness, divine love, or call it what we will, sustaining us, we can stop belabouring the material world for satisfactions which, in fact, it has no power to give us. When this happens, when we discover Augustine’s principle that “it is better to need less that to have more”, then for all intents and purposes the phenomenal world (which too has to come from consciousness) is, as the next two words of the Invocation convey, “full” or infinite.
In the Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda writes about an encounter between an Indian yogi, Dandemis, and an emissary of Alexander. The emissary told the yogi that Alexander wished to see him in his palace and would reward him richly for his presence but would chop off his head if he refused. With great dignity, the yogi replied that he neither coveted gold nor feared death and he would not go to Alexander. If Alexander wanted to meet him, he must come to him. His freedom from desire gave him the courage to snub the most powerful of emperors.
Mahatma Gandhi based his entire economic philosophy on the Isha injunction to renounce and enjoy. He writes, “We are either ignorant or negligent of the divine law by virtue of which man has been given only his divine bread and no more, with the result that there arise inequalities with all the misery attendant upon them. The rich have a superfluous store of things which they do not need and which are, therefore, neglected and wasted; while millions starve and are frozen to death for want of them. If each retained possession only of what he needed, no one would be in want and all would live in contentment.”
For the level lll seeker, it is unacceptable to live in prosperity while millions are roiling in poverty. It is unacceptable to pursue a lifestyle not focussed on the larger good, which also includes environmental concerns.
Gandhi had a simple way of ascertaining whether his lifestyle was sustainable. He writes, “The golden rule… is resolutely to refuse to have what millions cannot. This ability to refuse will not descend upon us all of a sudden. The first thing is to cultivate the mental attitude that will not have possessions or facilities denied to millions, and the next immediate thing is to re-arrange our lives as fast as possible in accordance with that mentality.”
For the wealthy, he suggested the trusteeship concept, which means to operate from the idea that one keeps the wealth in trust for society, and uses it as little as possible for personal needs.
These are lofty goals requiring a high level of austerity and sacrifice, but the level lll seeker knows that only this is consistent with the highest reaches of spirituality. For the call to spirituality is also a call to simplify one’s life. As one crests physical, psychological and emotional needs, one understands how little one needs to live, and one progressively simplifies one’s life. As the outer life get barer and more rarefied, the inner life becomes richer and deeper, enabling the seeker to draw pleasure out of the smallest thing, such as looking at a rose, walking in the grass, enjoying the shade of a tree and eating a fruit. The seeker draws deep upon his every resource, maximising his capacity for enjoyment and therefore is free of the need for the grosser pleasures that the rest of us get our highs from.
Like the level ll seeker, he continues to operate from abundance, but this abundance is drawn from his inner plenitude and is not based on external sources. Focussed as he is on the larger good he cannot consider spending money unnecessarily on himself when others are so much more in need of it. There is no sense of sacrifice or deprivation, for the seeker is focused on the moment and his joy is drawn from the joy of his fellow human beings.
Compressing themselves and their needs to the very utmost, such people lead lives of renunciation and service, while thanking God with each breath for their capacity to do so. Such were the great prophets and sages of our world. Writes Gandhi, “Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Nanak, Kabir, Shankara, Dayanand, Ramakrishna were men who exercised an immense influence over and moulded the character of thousands of men. The world is the richer for their having lived in it. And they were all men who deliberately embraced poverty as their lot.”
When the seeker is able to join hands with such worthy role models and adopt their ideals as his own, then he is able to articulate his final understanding of the relationship between money and spirituality. True freedom, he perceives, is not in having an abundance of money but in not needing any.
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