The Ultimate wealth - Is material wealth an obstacle on the spiritual path?

 There are three fundamental questions concerning wealth.

The first question is, how much wealth is enough?

For a critical element of our society, including many of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, there seems to be no limit today on what enough entails. How much you want is your decision alone. It is not anyone's prerogative to tell you how much is enough. I would rather trust your intelligence to guide you in setting your own milestones. That is the whole idea when I say discover your own truth. If you are getting a kick out of what you do, and it is bringing wealth as a result, you do not have to stop doing it just because you are getting wealthy. In other words, if you are working for wealth, you will be forever working. If, however, you are working on what you care about, you never really work a day in your life. If you are happy wherever you are in your life, you must be doing something right. Trust yourself.

buddha statue meditating

Wisdom as Wealth

This leads to the second question, is not wisdom the ultimate truth?

 The very notion of ultimate wealth is fallacious, for, what is ultimate is relative to the subject, object, and circumstances. Truth is relative. When you are battling poverty, money is the ultimate wealth. When you are sick, immunity is the ultimate wealth. If you are lonely, love is the wealth you need. The nature of the wealth you require depends on the challenges you are facing. Without a doubt, wisdom and contentment will help, but let us face it: if you are starving, it is food alone that will appease your hunger. Just look at the amount of religion and wisdom we have in our country. Has it lifted the country out of poverty? Material wealth is also incredibly important to human progress. Think of it any which way. Krishna would not have asked Arjuna to fight on, and the Vedas would not have put artha, economic progress, in the four endeavours of human existence, had there been a substitute. Any so-called spiritual person who preaches austerity is a hypocrite. Contentment, yes. Balance, all right. Minimalism, fine. Frugality, your choice. Austerities, maybe for a brief period to train yourself. Poverty, but no. There is nothing glamorous about poverty, and certainly nothing that warrants celebrating it. In my own case, people often ask, why did I renounce my material wealth? Well, wealth was neither my consideration, nor did I look upon it as a hurdle. I did not think that a decent bank balance was an impediment, or that a lack of it was somehow an indicator of my spiritual despair or growth. For what I needed to do, I felt I had to walk away from everyone and everything. That is what I did. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And even for a moment, I do not regret it. It helped me put things in perspective and gave me inexplicable strength. We would never know how fettered we are, until we sever our ties with the objects of attachments. Those objects, however, are not good or bad on their own. If a child cries for a toy, it does not mean that the toy is bad. Wealth is an enabler, a catalyst, even a validation of your wisdom. Granted that the beauty of the wealth of wisdom is that it belongs to you forever. No one will ever be jealous of you just because you are wise. Nassim Taleb, the famous US-based essayist, once said, “They will envy you for your success, your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status – but rarely for your wisdom.” But that does not mean that 'wisdom' is the ultimate wealth under all circumstances. Philosophically it may be; practically, though, not quite.

Aim of Human Life

This leads to the third question, Is not self-realisation the goal of human life?

We hear it all the time: self-realisation or god-realisation is the goal of human life. It has come to mean all kinds of things to different people, with each one restating their truth according to their understanding and how it suits them. We all twist the truth to heighten its appeal. What do these terms even mean? That, we now understand we are not just the body or the mind, but beyond. Does this set us free? If so, what happens thereafter? We no longer have to eat, sleep, or survive? Disregard health, hygiene, and taste? George Gurdjieff, the Russian philosopher and mystic, says the following in his book, Meetings With Remarkable Men: “My father had a very simple, clear and quite definite view on the aim of human life. He told me many times in my youth that the fundamental striving of every man should be to create for himself an inner freedom towards life and to prepare for himself a happy old age. He considered that the indispensability and imperative necessity of this aim in life was so obvious that it ought to be understandable to everyone”.

three happy monk statues in the garden meditating

Whether it is intellectual or material wealth, what matters is not how much you have, but where and how you are using it. It matters not how hard you are working for the wealth you seek, but what you are sacrificing in its pursuit. There is something inherently disturbing about thinking of wealth as obscene.

For, such a perspective not only limits our understanding of one of the most important (and powerful) criteria of human progress, but also deprives us of the opportunity for closer diagnosis of the one thing that has been the undercurrent of all political, territorial, and religious conflicts since time immemorial.

What makes your wealth spiritual is not the absolute nature of it – dollars or intelligence – but the course of action you choose to acquire, save, spend, or divest it

-        By Om Swami 


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