Money: A Spiritual Perspective

posted Oct 21, 2012, 5:23 AM by Interfaith WS

            Having recently left a Trappist monastery where he lived for three years, Victor was trying to adjust to secular life. “I can’t find a job,” he said, “not because I’m not capable. It’s that my vow of poverty hangs over my head. Looking down on wealth and worldly success got ingrained in me. I don’t know how to get it out.”

            Darshani: Many ex-monastics share your problem. Nor does one have to be a monastic to get this message. In the Bible it is written that it is harder for a rich man to get to God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And who hasn’t heard that money is the root of all evil.

            I would like to share with you two meditation practices that might help you. Do you still meditate?

            V. Sure. I would never drop that.

            D. While you were in the monastery, what method did you use to root out attachments?

            V. I offered them to God. Then I meditated on their uselessness or their harmful effects.

            D. Clinging to poverty on a conscious or subconscious level is also an attachment. Many of us get attached to a life-style of poverty just as much as others get attached to wealth. To root out this attachment, meditate on the fact that the Lord has taken you out of the monastery and placed you in the world. Offer to him your attachment to poverty. Then meditate on the counterproductive effects of poverty in your new role.

            This Eastern tale might clarify the point. King Janaka possessed great stores of wealth and rule a huge kingdom, despite the fact that he was a realized soul. One day a wandering monk knocked on his door and asked the king to take a walk with him. King Janaka agreed. The king carried nothing. The monk carried his water bowl, the traditional symbol of a life of poverty. After they walked a short distance, the monk turned to the king. “If you want to realize God,” he said, “you must renounce your gold, palace, dancing girls, court musicians, and your entire kingdom.”        

            “Fine,” said King Janaka. “I’ll do it.”

            The monk looked surprised. “When?” he asked.

            “Right now,” said the king.

            The monk was stunned. In silence they walked on. Suddenly a cheeky youngster ran out of the forest, grabbed the monk’s water bowl, and ran away. The monk threw up his arms and shouted obscenities that the king had never heard before. King Janaka burst out laughing. “You have only a water bowl,” he said. “Yet you are more attached to your life-style and your bowl than I am to my entire kingdom.”

            In themselves, poverty and wealth are neither evil nor good. Our minds imbue them with qualities that do not inhere in them. Like a spider getting caught in the web it spins, we get locked in the prisons that our minds create. To escape, you have to erase the old tapes that your mind still plays, and update them to accord with your current reality.

            Sri Aurobindo’s view of money makes a good replacement tape. He says that money is a symbol of universal force: “When spiritual people renounce wealth, they leave the power in the hands of hostile forces. To reconquer it for the Divine to whom it belongs and use it divinely for the divine purpose is the way of this yoga.” He advises us neither to shrink from the power of money nor to become its slave. We are to regard ourselves as trustees of money, to use it selflessly and scrupulously, to offer it to the Divine Mother for her purposes and not for our own or for those of others.

            Deep meditation on these new values should root out your attachment to poverty by freeing you from an ascetic withdrawal. It should also free you from getting bound by a sense of want if poverty continues, and by the desire for more if wealth comes along.

            V. How long should the transformation take?

            D. That depends on the degree and intensity of your commitment to change.

            V. Why should change be so hard?

            D. We are all on stage reading a script. Most of us identify intimately with the role we are given. That makes it hard to play the next role, especially when the script is very different. Shakespeare spilled the beans when he said that all the world is a stage. The bean he did not spill is that God alone is the actor.