Sri Aurobindo proposes the ideal standpoint for the practitioner of integral yoga in relation to money: “The ideal Sadhaka in this kind is one who if required to live poorly can so live and no sense of want will affect him or interfere with the full play of the divine consciousness, and if he is required to live richly, can so live and never for a moment fall into desire or attachment to his wealth or to the things that he uses or servitude to self-indulgence or a weak bondage to the habits that the possession of riches creates. The divine Will is all for him and the divine Ananda.”
Spiritual disciplines have long had a tradition of requiring the seeker to live a life of poverty and dedication. They recognized the distractions and tempations that money can cause and wanted to simplify the issues. One of the biggest challenges lies on the other side–the ability to handle wealth without losing the dedication and focus on spiritual life.
We can use Sri Aurobindo’s guideline here as a mechanism to review our internal reactions and keep ourselves oriented toward the spiritual realisation.
There are many interesting stories used to illustrate the risk of “outward” renunciation but “inward” desire. One may be outwardly poor, but this does not always lead to focus on the spiritual principles. If the state of being poor leads the seeker into the desire for material goods or wealth, or focuses his attention on those things, then the outward renunciation of wealth has not led to a true inner freedom. Similarly, if one is wealthy, but uses the freedom and opportunity to provided to focus on spiritual realisation, then we see the inner freedom without requiring the outer renunciation.
The ancient legends of India provide the example of Emperor Yudhisthira, who was renowned for his wisdom, truthfulness and dispassion. After becoming an enormously wealthy emperor receiving the support and tribute of virtually all the kings of ancient India, he adhered to his righteousness and agreed to depart the throne for 12 years in the forest, and 1 year living incognito. He voluntarily gave up a life of enormous wealth and power, although he had the resources to hold onto his throne, and lived contentedly without wealth in the forest during this exile.