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pursuit of wealth

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Thu Jul 01 1999 - 11:46:28 PDT

Dear Bhaktas,

A question has been on my mind lately:
to what degree is the pursuit of wealth
compatible with the principles of our
religion?

A simple, knee-jerk answer would be that 
wealth should be pursued to the extent that
one needs it to sustain oneself and one's
family. We are repeatedly taught that materialism
leads only to misery and nothing higher.  It seems, 
however, that this is is too simplistic an answer 
to a complex question.

Our ideals are people such Nammalvar, Desika, 
and other early acharyas, who completely eschewed 
building their personal fortunes in favor of 
spiritual pursuits. There are many other
real-world examples, even outside our sampradAya,
such as Sankaracharya.

However, today, we are faced with situations where
it seems as if a significant amount of wealth is
needed to care for oneself and one's family. Health
care is expensive, college is expensive, food is
expensive, travel to India is expensive, books are
expensive -- where does it end?

Modern day scholars such as Uttamur Viraraghavachariar
and Kanchi P.B. Annangarachariar dedicated their life
to traditional learning, so it seems that such a detached
life is possible. But is it really? Both of these 
scholars depended on very wealthy disciples and sponsors
to continue their pursuits. Clearly, someone here is
building wealth, and such wealth is "useful".

I find it hard to pursue wealth, even a little bit, and
at the same time concentrate on detaching myself from
material desires. From all sides, we are encouraged 
to pursue money. It's not just the West that encourages
this, but countless "traditional" forces in India as
well.  The poor man is rarely respected as much as the
rich man, even among hyper-religious circles. Grandparents,
parents, and friends, Indian or otherwise, counsel us
to make lots of money to live a so-called "comfortable"
life.  Famous swamis such as the Ahobila and Vaanamaamalai
jeeyars are heavily dependent on rich disciples for their
activities.  

Here's the bottom line question: is a detached, unmaterialistic
life religiously necessary? Is it possible? If so, how does one
go about it? To what extent should one pursue wealth, if one
is truly desirous of liberation?
 
I invite thoughtful responses from all members, including
those outside the sampradAya.

Mani