Place Of Wealth In Indian Culture-Scriptural Evidences and Comparisons

by Ashutosh Gupta - Mar 26, 2016 04:59 PM +05:30 IST
Place Of Wealth In Indian Culture-Scriptural Evidences and
Comparisons

At a bank counter.
Snapshot
  • While the scholars from the field of ‘Western Indology’ routinely blame our Dhārmik traditions for poverty in India, the reality is that the explanations of our Dharma takes full account of materialism.

    Not just the scarcity of money, but abundance of money can also destroy Dharma. This is India’s unique point of view.

    If we want to build our nation for a new era, then its inspiration must be taken from our own philosophy of life alone.

    Having classified different human tendencies in four broad categories, their fulfillment alone was said to be goal of individual. These four goals  are: Dharma, Artha, Kāma and Mokṣa . These four are complementary to each other.

Hindu Scriptures on Wealth

While the scholars from the field of ‘Western Indology’ routinely blame our Dhārmik traditions for poverty in India, the reality is that the explanations of our Dharma takes full account of materialism.

Materialism and spirituality are not mutually contradictory or separate thoughts. Spirituality is a way of looking at life, through which we examine all the questions of life. If spirituality can correctly explain the world then there is no reason that through it we can’t find practical solutions to the problems of the world. Lets look at some of the most common prayers that most Hindus would know. One such common prayer to the divine is:

Place Of Wealth In Indian Culture-Scriptural Evidences and
Comparisons

The Divine is seen in wealth in this most common prayer. Lets look at another very common prayer, particularly in North India, called Hanumān Cālīsā. The opening para is:

Place Of Wealth In Indian Culture-Scriptural Evidences and
Comparisons

Again, the very result of describing the glory of the Lord is all the four fruits. So Hinduism sees divine in everything (including wealth) and Hindus worship divine seeking, among other things - wealth.

Spiritual and material upliftment is considered the goal, not just material upliftment.  Our Dhārmik scriptures do not put material wealth at lower pedestal . They both have a place in human growth, and are linked in a profound manner. Lets discuss what our Dhārmik scriptures say about the relation between Dharma and Artha.

Dharmasya Mūlam Arthaḥ

“Dharmasya Mūlam Arthaḥ” meaning “Money is the root of Dharma”. India has not only contemplated on material world, but also on the wealth and economy. The great economist Cāṇakya said that-

Sukhasya Mūlam Dharmaḥ. Dharmasya Mūlam Arthaḥ. i.e. Happiness is rooted in Dharma, and Dharma is rooted in money. Without money Dharma is not stable.

Here we have a broad definition of Dharma, it is not the narrow and modern confusing meaning, which equates Dharma to religion, or religious opinion.

Dharma is the essence of that fundamental thought rooted in a governing and value system which can uphold the society, which can assist in the upliftment in the material and spiritual world, which can help in the determination of those deeds that become duties of man, and through which man can holistically develop oneself while contributing in the growth of the entire society.

That Dharma can not sustain in absence of money. It is said that once the great sage Viśhwāmitra was so unbearably hungry that at night he stole a half-eaten piece of meat from a cremator’s dog and in doing so broke many codes of Dharma.

However, learned people justified it by calling it  ‘Emergency Dharma’. If in the absence of money such emergency sustains, then this Emergency Dharma, i.e. theft, will take place of Dharma. And if this emergency is universal, or a majority of society has such emergency they will carry out their Emergency Dharma by stealing from each other. But if there is so much scarcity, what will people steal? In those circumstances the society will just collapse.

The Charm of Money

Not just the scarcity of money, but abundance of money can also destroy Dharma. This is India’s unique point of view. The West did not ponder about the effects of wealth.

When money breeds attachment in itself or in the pleasures obtained through it, then it is called charm of money. The one who is obsessed with money, forgets everything about the country, Dharma and the joy of life. Through his indolence in this way, an overindulged man becomes the cause of destruction for himself and the society.

In the first type of effect he becomes the target as the means of wealth are lost. In the second, by not being a means to righteous financial conduct, he becomes a means to fleshly pleasures. Since fleshly desires have no limits, on one hand such a man will always have scarcity of money, and on the other hand his inaction will reduce his capacity to make money.

While wealth is considered important, time and again, saints and scholars have warned against running blindly after money. For the sake of brevity, let me just quote one of the many Hindu scholars and saints Śankarācārya. In verse 2 of Bhaja Govindam he says:

Place Of Wealth In Indian Culture-Scriptural Evidences and
Comparisons

When ‘money’ alone becomes the measure of every action of society and of the status of men, there also it is charm of money. In such a society ‘ all the qualities are dependent on the glitter of gold.’

A society where honor, respect, political rights and the status in society are only for the rich, there people are addicted to money. When everyone in the society is addicted to money then every task will need more and more money. The charm of money will reduce the wealth in everyone’s life.

Standards of Life

The process of setting up an appropriate system, which can remove the scarcity and the charm of money, is called “extending wealth” . It is important to set up the standards of society ensuring that everything can not be bought with money. Certainly this goal can not be achieved through the economy alone.

The soldier fighting for the country doesn’t put his life on the line in hope of money. Greed for money can lead to treason, not patriotism. A teacher cannot put a price on the gift of education. When police asks for money in returns for its service of defending the weak, then either the weak will not be defended, or the weak will use his mind to figure out ways for paying the price of defending himself.

It is impossible to put a price tag on the physical or mental work, whether it is used for producing tangible products or for services. And even that money doesn’t have fixed value. Although work and wages both are closely related in the field of economics, yet practically it is neither easy nor useful to fix their universally acceptable and attractive pricing formula. The reality is that both are valued by different standards.

The pride of work is not because of the resulting wage, but because of its righteousness. Similarly the wage given to a man is not a reciprocation of the work done by him, but an arrangement for his livelihood. For this reason only action and result, both are kept separate in Śrīmad Bhagvad Gītā. Work is to be done for social preservation and in the form of devotion to God.  Lord Krishna says in the 8th chapter:

Place Of Wealth In Indian Culture-Scriptural Evidences and
Comparisons

O Arjuna! Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give away as charity, whatever you practice as austerity, O Kaunteya, do it as an offering to me.

The Lord himself has taken the onus of responsibility of such devotees. In the same chapter He says:

Place Of Wealth In Indian Culture-Scriptural Evidences and
Comparisons

According to the aforementioned principle described in Gītā, the inspiration of action can not be an uncontrolled action and profit mentality. These assumptions of the West do not match with the Indian philosophy of life. It is not suffice to say that there is a big gap between our vision and our deeds.

In reality even today most people in the society are engaged in their business or job with a sense of duty only. As much further we move away from this sense, that much complicated our problems become. If we want to build our nation for a new era, then its inspiration must be taken from our own philosophy of life alone.

The Limits of Western Hypotheses

The general hypotheses, based on which the Western economics has presented its analysis, is lopsided and incomplete. Its hypotheses are:

1. National economics is mainly individual centric, and doesn’t have a separate social dimension.

2. The uninterrupted and unlimited competition, of individuals, alone is the natural and safe regulator of the social life.

3. The regulations imposed by the state and traditions infringe upon all natural freedoms.

Aforementioned hypotheses are far removed from the truth. Today the existence and necessity of the national economy can not be denied. If the nation has an inherent unit, and that is a living body — different from a mere set of individuals, then that should be expressed in every sphere of life, with all its distinctions.

Even if we put a blind eye to all these distinctions, even then today every nation is determining its economic relations with every other nation based on a different unit. Many organizations of the United Nations and different international conventions are its examples.

We can not make the uninterrupted and unlimited competition of individuals as the regulator of the social life, and not even its safeguard. This hypothesis of economics essentially proposes the Law of the Fish where bigger fish eats the smaller fish. We have never approved of this law to be righteous.

Even the West has reacted to it. But in order to kill competition, they have adopted the path of destruction of one group by another, through vicious competition among groups. The idea of competition can be there not only in financial domain, but in other fields as well. Therefore the competition doesn’t end by destroying groups.

The competing groups born in a new form to rule by the Law of the Fish. The only way out of that is the regulation of the entire life based on Dharma. The third hypothesis is although fundamentally true, but in a society limits are needed on certain freedoms of man.

Unlimited freedom is only a figment of imagination. Yes, to the extent the limitation is external, that much it will be painful. Education and upbringing, vision and idealism practically teach self-control to a man. The traditional fix wage of harvesting although does not follow the Western economics’ rule of supply and demand.

Need for a Holistic Viewpoint

All the rules of the Western economics work on the assumption of an ‘Economic man’. Such an economic man is nowhere to be found in real life. The well known 19th century British economist John Stuart Mill  himself stated-

Presumably there are no practical questions which can be resolved from just within economic considerations. Many economic questions have important political and moral perspective which can not be ignored.

At any given point, human behavior is decided by many attractive–repulsive values of life. Experts of many fields analyze the same exact behavior from their own perspective. They work with an imaginary assumption with other fields considered non-existent. But there is always a big gap between their imaginary world and practical world. Even if their principles are right, they are of limited use. For this reason only, India doesn’t have a fragmented thinking of an individual, rather one with completeness.

Having classified different human tendencies in four broad categories, their fulfillment alone was said to be goal of individual. These four goals  are: Dharma, Artha, Kāma and Mokṣa . These four are complementary to each other. The work which facilitates achieving these is considered noble. A man who ignores any one of these will bear pain and suffering. It would not be right to consider either one of these to be better, or the basis of the other.

Although Moksha is called as the ultimate goal, as after achieving that nothing remains to be achieved. However, without Dharma, Artha, and Kaama it is not possible to achieve Moksha. In reality these four are inter-dependent. Just as the life-force is strengthened through food, it is functional life-force alone that gives power to digest food, in a similar way prosperity and desires are realize through Dharma, and Dharma is realized through prosperity and desires.

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