Trustees Not Possessors of Wealth

We have the mistaken idea that we “possess” wealth, and that somehow we can “acquire” it and “hold onto it” over the long-term. This idea stems from the ego-centric viewpoint that similarly holds that the sun revolves around the earth. We recognise at some point that we “cannot take it with us” upon our death, and we try therefore to find ways to pass it along to either our descendents or our favored organisations to utilise when we are gone.

But so long as we believe we possess wealth we wind up with a standpoint that can quickly become counter-productive and distracting. We then put inordinate efforts into the process of acquiring it, and maintaining it, and finding ways to “hold” it. Since money is a universal force however, it is intended to “move” and “do work”, and thus, those who try to sit on it, rather than put it to work, eventually find that it destroys both their inherent joy of life and their very ability to maintain it.

Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint is that “All wealth belongs to the Divine and those who hold it are trustees, not possessors. It is with them today, tomorrow it may be elsewhere. All depends on the way they discharge their trust while it is with them, in what spirit, with what consciousness in their use of it, to what purpose.”

Such an attitude not only provides a healthy way to deal with the temptations and pressures of living in the world, but also provides a key to an ideal attitude that avoids both the extreme of ascetic denial and the extreme of materialistic greed for the seeker of spiritual realisation.

Sri Aurobindo,

Finding the Correct Relationship to the Money Power

On the one side, we see the ease with which humanity is controlled by the money power–necessitating therefore extreme measures to distance the spiritual seeker from the taint of corruption or distraction from their goal. On the other side, Sri Aurobindo advises us not to cede the money power away but to reconquer it and put it to a correct use to transform life. The issue then arises, how do we accomplish the one without falling into the snare of the other?

Sri Aurobindo describes the correct attitude towards money: “You must neither turn with an ascetic shrinking from the money power, the means it gives and the objects it brings, nor cherish a rajasic attachment to them or a spirit of enslaving self-indulgence in their gratifications. Regard wealth simply as a power to be won back for the Mother and placed at her service.”

First a definition: “rajasic” implies a desire-filled impulsion or seeking.

The attitude recommended by Sri Aurobindo implies a delicate balance that avoids both desire and rejection. The Divine Shakti, the Mother, creates and manifests the world. The money power is a tool that the dedicated servant can consciously use to carry out that manifestation, or at least that part of it which has been entrusted to that indivudal.

Attaining equality of soul toward good things and bad, towards wealth and lack of wealth, is an essential step in the spiritual growth and practice. Without shrinking or avoidance and without grasping and desire, the practitioner of integral yoga should be able to handle money to help in the transformation that Sri Aurobindo envisions leading to a divine life on earth.

Sri Aurobindo,

Money and the Spiritual Traditions

The history of spiritual pursuits, all over the world, and from a number of traditions, shows a distinct preference among these disciplines to avoid money and its influence as inimical to the spiritual efforts. Many religious orders enjoin a vow of poverty on those joining the monastery or convent. We find this not only in the Christian tradition, but in Hinduism and other religious disciplines as well. In India, the ideal of the sannyasin, the renunciate who gives up all material wealth to live for the spiritual realisation, is of course well-recognised. Anchorites, renunciates, ascetics, all represent the traditional ideal of living without money and avoiding the temptations and distractions that it represents.

Sri Aurobindo’s view of this matter differs from this long tradition:

“…most spiritual disciplines isist on a complete self-control, detachment and renunciation of all bondage to wealth and of all personal and egoistic desire for its possession. Some even put a ban on money and riches and proclaim poverty and bareness of life as the only spiritual condition. But this is an error; it leaves the power in the hands of the hostile forces. To reconquer it for the Divine to whom it belongs and use it divinely for the divine life is the supramental way for the Sadhaka.”

Sri Aurobindo discloses here an alternative to the bareness and ascetic call of the past. Inasmuch as the aim of the Integral Yoga includes the integration of spirituality into life, and the transformation of earthly life into “the life divine”, it is not either necessary nor desirable to shy away from the use of the power that money provides. What is required is a different standpoint and relationship to the money power and its application, not an avoidance or suppression of the force.

Spirituality has tended toward bareness and austerity, but it need not be the case. Beauty and harmony also have their true place in a transformed outer life under the control of the Spirit. Money in and of itself is neutral and depends on the attitude or standpoint of the person applying that force to determine whether it is a “blessing” or a “curse”.

Sri Aurobindo,

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,

Money Power

Understanding money and its uses has always been a difficult and confusing task, not just for spiritual seekers, but for everyone. Many, if not most, spiritual disciplines try to avoid money as being a corrupting and distracting influence. We see the distortions that come about even in the day-to-day life of ordinary individuals when they get intoxicated by the influence of money, or when their decisions and values are tainted by the subtle or overt corruption that money can provide.

At the same time, for any work of transformation of human life, the use of money eventually has to be addressed and a truer relationship to money and its power needs to be worked out. Sri Aurobindo has provided us a framework for understanding money in a true sense in this chapter:

“Money is the visible sign of a universal force, and this force in its manifestation on earth works on the vital and physical planes and is indispensable to the fullness of the outer life. In its origin and true action it belongs to the Divine. But like other powers of the Divine it is delegated here and in the ignorance of the lower Nature can be usurped for the uses of the ego or held by Asuric influences and perverted to their purpose.”

First a definition: “Asuric” is a vital being with a demonic character that attempts to control and dominate life.

We shall be exploring the misuse and the proper application of the money power as we proceed through this chapter.

Sri Aurobindo,

The Protecting Grace of the Divine Mother

So long as we live and act from the ego consciousness, we are subject to the limitations of the physical, vital and mental levels of consciousness and we become subject to the play of forces that are at work in those arenas. The force that we can marshall to respond to these powers is weak, limited and generally ignorant.

A transition to the standpoint of the Divine Consciousness, through the process of expanding the action of faith, sincerity and surrender of the egoistic being, puts the individual, now a nexus of Divine action, into touch with the higher forces of manifestation that are at work in those higher planes. The supramental plane, where the power of the Unity is held even while a vast Multiplicity is manifested, has both effective Knowledge and Power of Action. Thus, the action of the supramental force has the power to overcome the opposition and obstacles put up by the forces of fragmentation, limitation, division and ignorance.

Sri Aurobindo points out that these higher powers are not solely impersonal forces at work. They are both Personal and Impersonal at the same time, unifying all aspects of existence. As we have seen in an earlier chapter, where one focuses one’s attention, one gets an immediate connection and response. And the impetus comes from the Divine level. Sri Aurobindo has described this in another place with the phrase “he who chooses the Divine has been chosen by the Divine.”

With this background, we can review the final statement Sri Aurobindo makes on the subject of chapter 3 of The Mother: “The more complete your faith, sincerity and surrender, the more will grace and protection be with you. And when the grace and protection of the Divine Mother are with you, what is there that can touch you or whom need you fear? A little of it even will carry you through all difficulties, obstacles and dangers; surrounded by its full presence you can go securely on your way because it is hers, careless of all menace, unaffected by any hostility however powerful, whether from this world or from worlds invisible. Its touch can turn difficulties into opportunities, failure into success and weakness into unfaltering strength. For the grace of the Divine Mother is the sanction of the Supreme and now or tomorrow its effect is sure, a thing decreed, inevitable and irresistible.”

Sri Aurobindo,

The Qualities of Sincerity and Surrender in Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo’s statement on the qualities of sincerity and surrender is direct and to the point: “Let your sincerity and surrender be genuine and entire. When you give yourself, give completely, without demand, without condition, without reservation so that all in you shall belong to the Divine Mother and nothing be left to the ego or given to any other power.”

This type of complete one-pointed focus of the entire being and all of the disparate parts of the being on the Divine Force will have the effect of eliminating the role of the ego and transforming the individual into a nexus of Divine Action. Such an individual does not evaluate or respond to events as would someone rooted in the ego-consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo makes a point that the sincerity and surrender must be genuine. The vital nature and mental being in particular have the ability to justify thoughts and actions while masking the true impulsion. The hidden motives behind the outer appearance must be recognised and rooted out. Altruism, for instance, is frequently used to mask the aggrandisement of the ego. Sexual gratification is frequently justified by the idea that it is part of a yogic path. Seeking after power and money are justified by the “good” that can be done, essentially with the idea that the proposed end justifies whatever means. The third reich was justified to some degree on the basis that humanity was being improved through the systematic development of a master race of stronger, healthier, more powerful people. Religious zealots frequently justify the use of extremist violence and intolerant rhetoric on the basis of defending the “true faith”.

All of these justifications detract from the genuineness and completeness of the sincerity and the surrender. The process must be detailed, painstaking and thorough in its review of the hidden wellsprings of the thoughts, feelings and actions that drive us, without simply accepting the surface justification put forward.

Sri Aurobindo,

The Quality of Faith

Faith is the first element of the inner poise required to overcome “fear, peril and disaster”. Sri Aurobindo defines the nature of the faith that is called for. This is not a blind or an arrogant faith, but a faith that understands the movements of Time and the evolution of consciousness at work through the universal manifestation, and which is able to accept this process with an open heart.

“Let your faith be pure, candid and perfect. An egoistic faith in the mental and vital being tainted by ambition, pride, vanity, mental arrogance, vital self-will, personal demand, desire for the petty satisfactions of the lower nature is a low and smoke-obscured flame that cannot burn upwards to heaven. Regard your life as given you only for the divine work and to help in the divine manifestation. Desire nothing but the purity, force, light, wideness, calm, ananda of the divine consciousness and its insistence to transform and perfect your mind, life and body. Ask for nothing but the divine, spiritual and supramental Truth, its realisation on earth and in you and in all who are called and chosen and the conditions needed for its creation and its victory over all opposing forces.”

We see that in the normal sense of the word “faith” as generally utilised, there is a large element of blindness, arrogance and fanaticism. Faith drives people, in many cases, to act in ways that are distorted and violent. It does not recognise the validity of other forms of understanding or belief, and does not leave room for coexistence and mutual understanding. “Faith” in this traditional sense has led to events like the “Holy Inquisition”, the Crusades, and various types of “doctrinal purity”, with a hierarchy in many cases actually determining what is “valid” and what is “heresy” to a particular religion, dogma, creed, philosophy or teaching.

Sri Aurobindo’s definition of faith is clearly of another order. It specifically calls for wideness and understanding and does not have any touch of arrogance or ambition associated with it. This type of faith allows us to overcome the limitations of the mental and vital framework within which we normally function, by allowing the higher forces to enter and do their work without opposition, with the understanding that what the mind cannot know today, it may at least be open and responsive for the promised transformation of tomorrow.

Faith reinforces aspiration and takes us beyond the walls of our mental structures and limitations.

Sri Aurobindo,

Overcoming Fear

“To walk through life armoured against all fear, peril and disaster, only two things are needed, two that go always together–the Grace of the Divine Mother and on your side an inner state made up of faith, sincerity and surrender.”

In the previous chapter we reviewed the 3 aspects of personal effort in yoga. This chapter takes up the inner attitude or poise required to make progress in the yogic path. The Taittiriya Upanishad provides us a clue to the source of fear: “But when the Spirit that is within us maketh for himself even a little difference in the Eternal, then he hath fear, yea, the Eternal himself becometh a terror to such a knower who thinketh not.”

So long as we remain trapped in the ego consciousness, we identify ourselves as separate from the Divine Truth, the Oneness of the Eternal. This separation occasions fear. Through the action of fear, we attract that which we fear to us through the very focus and tuning process we discussed in earlier chapters. Thus, we call upon ourselves “fear, peril and disaster”.

To the extent that we master our inner psychological poise, and create a state that is made up of “faith, sincerity and surrender” we identify and focus on the Divine, and make contact with the Oneness of the Divine, thereby removing the knot of the ego and the cause of fear.

We further take a standpoint that recognises that there are larger frames and patterns at work than the ego can absorb and we thus, do not interpret events purely as subjective causes of pain or distress, and thus, even events which the ego might interpret as disastrous can be seen from a viewpoint which resolves this limited view.

Of course, this is a progressive development in our psychological stance, and the quality of the poise becomes perfected through personal effort and the action of time. Until such time as the transition is complete, we still have opportunities to experience fear.

The reaction of fear results from the action of the egoistic consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Mother, Chapter Three, pp. 12

and Sri Aurobindo, , Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 7, pg. 271

Divine Shakti Replaces Personal Effort In the Yogic Process

As the personal effort of the yoga yields results, the transition to a new standpoint comes to the forefront. Sri Aurobindo describes the change: “In proportion as the surrender and self-consecration progress the Sadhaka becomes conscious of the Divine Shakti doing the Sadhana, pouring into him more and more of herself, founding in him the freedom and perfection of the Divine Nature.”

The reversal of the consciousness from the basis of the lower nature and the ego means that the individual begins to experience the deeper truth that there is a universal Force that acts and the individual is the occasion, a nexus or hub, through which this Force manifests.

As the process comes out from behind the veil it can lead to a faster and more certain progress: “The more this conscious process replaces his own effort, the more rapid and true becomes his progress.”

Sri Aurobindo provides a warning that one cannot entirely abandon the need for personal effort in the yoga: “But it cannot completely replace the necessity of personal effort until the surrender and consecration are pure and complete from top to bottom.”

There are those who attempt to justify a total absence of effort under the excuse that the Divine Force will do everything. Sri Aurobindo disabuses us of this notion as well:

“Note that a tamasic surrender refusing to fulfil the conditions and calling on God to do everything and save one all the trouble and struggle is a deception and does not lead to freedom and perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo,