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Disenchantment with Wealth

Date: Wed Jul 21 1999 - 15:47:30 PDT

I tried to stay out of it.... Honestly, I did...:-)

Every organism responds to stimuli from its environment.
Many generations before us, a poor srivaishnava walking back home with an 
empty bowl after "shaastrappadi" holding it out for 'a single day's needs', 
and watching his mother, wife and children die slow painful deaths, made 
decisions that changed our community forever. Just recently, Anitha Ratnam 
wrote about the poor priest who continues his temple obligations in utter 
poverty. Everywhere one sees the rich man respected and the poor man 
insulted and full of worry. Even if one does not seek the fawning of 
sycophants, one does want the relative peace of being able to fulfill one's 
own obligations without hugging hardship to one's heart. (One positive thing 
we could do is to help those who continue our traditions thru 
contributions). As Sarojini Naidu said of Gandhiji, "Do you know how many 
people work hard to make sure that Bapu can stay poor?". In the absense of 
that support system or network, that whole way of life can only remain a 
beautiful concept, a's fast receding even from the few corners in 
which it persisted... How is a poor body, 'educated' to take its place in 
the current milieu, going to fight the tides to bring back the 'good old 
days'? Is it possible? Let's face facts.

Professing disenchantment with wealth adds to one's punyam.
Few things can be less attractive than 'pious' statements about 'simple 
living, high thinking' from the rich. Far too many of us have taken our 
scriptures/Acharyas to mean that we must continue to express 
disinterest/guilt while continuing on the path to greater comfort. As a 
child I watched the first generation of Indians who found themselves in the 
Gulf. Everyday they would talk about how 'all this' meant little to them, 
and how they would gladly return 'home' next  year. (They're all good 
people. I'm sure they truly meant what they said at that minute). I watched 
them say this for 15 years. Most are still there and their children have 
settled in the U.S.

Our religious institutions too seek material wealth to be able to continue 
We praise H.H. Sri Andavan SwamigaL (please excuse my ignorance if I have 
not given the proper reference to someone I'm not even worthy of mentioning, 
surely) for building the 'tallest Gopuram in Asia'. If Srivaishnavas had all 
stayed mendicants, with no current kings like Krishnadevaraya, it might have 
become an even more enormous task than it was....
(I'm not suggesting that because once in a while we contribute to such 
efforts, we can claim that that's the reason for our collection of wealth. 
It's just that if even in one's temple, what one can do materially for it 
has influence, what motivation will a reasonable person have to shun 
wealth?) By the way, I have a pet peeve. I think no plaque in a temple 
should carry anything but the Lord's name. I wish every plaque that says 
"donated by X" would read "Narayanayethi samarpayaami"..

Lack of wealth or disinclination towards wealth in itself is a virtue.
Sudama was 'poor' until Bhagawan made him rich. ViBheeshaNa gave up 
everything to run to Him and the Lord did not expect him to become less of a 
bhaktha when he placed the crown of lanka on his head. Draupadhi was a 
woman. Hanuman was a 'monkey'. There must be a lesson in there somewhere. I 
don't think PerumaL is pleased to know how many millions bellyache over the 
$s they 'own' (Be careful of the things you think you own, for they own you 
much more than you own them). How many hours are spent thinking/worrying 
about the $s (oh, is it too much for my spiritual good? Too little for some 
artificial financial goal I set for myself? Oh should all these other people 
own so much?) Is it worth thinking about? Should either gaining or losing it 
be the main (or even secondary) goal? It doesn't count, I think.

My best lesson in all this came from an 'unlikely source'. My Arab Muslim 
ex-boss in Kuwait. He had about 60 million dinars (1dinar=$3?) when the 
Kuwait stock market crashed. One day he had properties in London and the 
French Riviera, the next day he was in serious debt. While other sheikhs 
were caught leaving town with suitcases filled with diamonds, he came to 
work. He told his employees he may not be able to pay that month, but he 
'would see what he could do'. All were free to look elsewhere. Nobody left. 
I was a 21-yr-old fool, and all I could offer was a quote from the 'Sound of 
Music'. I left it on his table when he was out. That evening he called me. 
He had come back to the office to call his creditors to apologize when he 
saw my note - "When the Lord closes the door, somewhere He opens a window". 
'I was just reading it', he said, 'and the window opened'. His creditors had 
called just then to say that they were willing to sign a note saying they 
had full faith in him and were willing to take whatever he could give and 
then wait. They would not go to court. I told him that obviously one 
accumulates many things besides wealth....reputation being one of the 

This incident was to me a great answer to this whole issue that seems to 
worry us with that push and pull between what 'society' calls for and what 
the 'siddhantam' calls for. That day I saw a fine example of how one could 
live "thaamarai ilaiyil thaNNeer pol" (staying unattached enough as a drop 
of water on a lotus-leaf). Neither pride when rich nor fear on 'personal 
loss' exercised any hold over this man. The future would take care of 
itself. His calm thoughts had been for his employees and his creditors. (By 
the way, his chauffeur (and friend) was an Indian named 'Gopal', and a dozen 
times a day the boss would be calling "gopal, gopal" which probably helped 
him get that good sense.) Whether right or wrong, I became convinced that 
it's not how much occupies your purse, but how much it occupies your 
thoughts, emotions and sense of self (whether thru greed, constant counting, 
pride, fear or guilt, dependence on it or what seems common, derision of 
others for what they 'own', don't own or want to own) that determines how 
free you are to pursue peaceful meditation.

"ViDhyaa dhadhaathi Vinayam,
Vinayaath yaathi paathrathaam
Paathrathvaath dhanam aapnothi
Dhanaath dharmam, thathaha sukham"

Viji Raghunathan