How Much Before It Is Too Much?
In the Gospel of Matthew, a rich young man asks Jesus what actions bring eternal life. First Jesus advises the man to obey the commandments. When the man responds that he already observes them, Jesus adds: If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the rich man heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The Masters are not making a judgment by saying that the materially rich people cannot return to God. We are simply encouraged to reduce the importance of monetary wealth in our lives, if we want to surrender our true self to the Lord. When we rely on our money, we think of it as our greatest strength. In this false confidence, we forget that it is the source of more desires and attachments, and our greatest spiritual weakness.
Some would say that the incessant need to have more and more material assets comes from unselfish motives - that we are responsible to meet the needs of our families and ensure their security. It is true that while living in this creation it is our moral duty to create an environment supportive of our family’s spiritual and worldly development. Also, in principle, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy. From a spiritual point of view, it is true that having worldly karmas in this life is probably a result of good actions in a previous life. It is our good karma that has brought us all our worldly comforts. We cannot run away from the fruit of our good karmas, just as we must face the bad.
The problem arises when we give in to temptation and lead extravagant lives, instead of just living simply. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we need more and more money?
There is a saying that goes, “People are funny. They spend the money they don’t have, to buy the things they don’t need, to impress the people they don’t like.” And alongside the tiresome task of impressing people and saving face in our societies, we risk disappointing our Master. Because often in the pursuit of looking better or having the best, we feed our negative passions. The more possessions we have, the more possessed we are by them. So much so, that:
One who thinks of nothing else but money and making money gradually becomes hard of heart, and even takes on a facial expression of relentless driving force. Such a person is pitiless. Nothing counts but money. He drives other men, even women and children, in his factories, grinding wealth out of them. He goes on grinding more gold out of them. Pity, love and kindness have long ago departed from his mental processes. He can see nothing but profits.
The Path of the Masters
When money starts to flow in abundance, often instead of supporting us, it starts to tie us down, and we lose our peace of mind. Ironic? Tension is the new make up we put on our faces to beautify our image and our standing in society. No one appears relaxed. The smile on our face disappears, amongst many other things. We lose patience with our children; husbands and wives become frustrated with each other; and envy creates animosity between brothers. Instead of looking at credits and debits on our balance sheet, we really should be looking at adding the positives in our lives and getting rid of the negatives in order to strike the perfect balance. Maharaj Charan Singh has said:
If our wealth is lost, the loss leaves behind it broken hearts and great distress. Earned with much pain and trouble, it still fails to bring the much desired happiness.
So how do we rise above the surplus and the deficits of our cash flow? How do we stop this cycle of wanting more and more? How can we focus on using money as a tool, instead of making it our goal? And more importantly, how can we maintain the desired worldly happiness that our wealth should, and does provide us? Saint Kabir says:
When water increases in the boat or wealth in the house, to take it out with both the hands is what the wise do.
As quoted in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III
Parting with a small portion of our money on a regular basis reminds us from time to time that we actually own nothing. We are just temporary caretakers of the material wealth that God has given us and this wealth can be taken away from us at anytime. Giving away some of our material assets liberates us and strengthens us. And if we truly believe that nothing belongs to us, then we will not miss it if we ever lost it.
Like all necessary evils, worldly fortunes can only be enjoyed when there is a balance. Our condition becomes like the child who weeps when he loses his father’s hand at a mesmerizing fair. The child was only able to enjoy the fair when he had the security of his father’s hand. In the same light, Maharaj Charan Singh explains:
We enjoy peace and happiness in the world only as long as we constantly remember the Lord and are devoted to him.
That is the test. If we are able to strike the equilibrium, keeping the Lord and his bounties in our mind all the time, we will not be distracted by our material gains and, at the same time, we will truly be able to enjoy the fruits of our good karmas. If we stay devoted to him, we will be able to enjoy this fair. But, if we let go of our Father’s hand, the very fruits of our good deeds will become a burden that we will have to carry around. It is commonly said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. It is up to us to choose what we do with our riches. It is up to us to let go of our Father’s hand or keep holding on. It is up to us to decide whether we want to enter the Father’s real treasure house.
Wealth and relations, so valued here,
Avail us not when death draws near.
Soami Ji, as quoted in Discourses on Sant Mat