Temptations and Misuses of the Money Power

The money power is one that has been so often the occasion of misuse and abuse that it has led to illustrative examples and proscriptions throughout the world. Whether we hear the words of Jesus that it would be easier for someone to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven, or we view Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice which illustrated the extremity of greed overcoming basic humanity, or we read the writings of Charles Dickens as he explores the plight of the underclasses who were oppressed by greedy rich businessmen, or we view the spiritual paths that call for ascetic denial of money or possession of wealth, we find a common thread or theme running through each of them; namely, that money can easily corrupt, distract and mislead.

Sri Aurobindo discusses it thus: “This is indeed one of the three forces–power, wealth, sex–that have the strongest attraction for the human ego and the Asura and are most generally misheld and misused by those who retain them. The seekers or keepers of wealth are more often possessed rather than its possessors; few escape entirely a certain distorting influence stamped on it by its long seizure and perversion by the Asura.”

We are easily reminded of the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ The Christmas Carol and we can reflect on the way he was consumed by greed until his providential conversion through what can only be termed “divine intervention”.

We also see the famous story of King Midas who requested a boon that everything he touched would turn into gold; only to learn through hard experience that he could not eat or drink gold, nor could he engage in any human relationships when the people he touched became gold–a morality tale that illustrates the grip of the money power on the human psyche and the suffering that comes in the wake of this obsession.

How many times in history have we seen noble causes or ideals distorted through compromises intended to attract money? In Goethe’s Faust the development of money was invented by Mephistopheles to mislead and enslave humanity. Those who control the power of money have time and again used it to manipulate, enslave, control and suppress others and they have acted to enhance their wealth at the expense of everyone else and without care or concern for the balance or harmony of the world, the environment, or the living beings who share this earth.

Today especially with the rise of Western material culture, we see the power of money raised up to a level of ultimate worship and the pursuit of money is considered to be a noble ideal in its own right, regardless of how it is acquired or the use to which it is being put. And we are causing untold suffering to the world and the people and other beings in the world through this one-sided, extreme, obsessive and compulsive behavior.

Clearly the need for a new understanding and balance in the acquisition and use of money is required.

Sri Aurobindo,