Signs of Freedom from the Money Taint

Sri Aurobindo succinctly defines the qualities that the seeker should exhibit to be free of the deformations caused by wealth: “If you are free from the money-taint but without any ascetic withdrawal, you will have a greater power to command the money for the divine work. Equality of mind, absence of demand and the full dedication of all you possess and receive and all your power of acquisition to the Divine Shakti and he work are the signs of this freedom. Any perturbation of mind with regard to money and its use, any claim, any grudging is a sure index of some imperfection or bondage.”

Humanity wants to have a single, easy solution that is “black and white”. So we either adopt materialism and in its more extreme forms, a “greed is good” philosophy; or else, we hold that money and wealth are bad and that we need to shun or avoid them.

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that there not only can be a balance between these two extremes, but it is this balanced position that represents the appropriate attitude for the spiritual seeker in the integral yoga. The secret lies in the psychological standpoint we adopt and integrate into thought, word and deed in our lives.

The Taittiriya Upanishad, in describing the ascending levels of bliss of existence, points out that whatever level of bliss can be achieved, human bliss, or even divine bliss, is matched by the bliss of the “veda-wise, whose soul the blight of desire touches not.”

To treat the money power with respect as a manifestation of a divine force to be put to work for the achievement of the transformation of life and manifestation of beauty and harmony, and not to either relate to it with a mind of desire, nor reject it out of fear or avoidance, is the way of balance for the integral seeker.

Sri Aurobindo,

The Seeker’s Relationship to Those Who Possess Wealth

“Do not look up to men because of their riches or allow yourself to be impressed by the show, the power or the influence.”

It is a common occurrence to see rich people flattered and fawned over. They are given the right to decide and determine things simply by virtue of the riches they display, rather than by virtue of any inherent wisdom or compassion they may exhibit.

Even spiritual seekers and religious practitioners have, through the ages, paid special attention to those with wealth, in the hope that they can thereby achieve influence and financial support. During certain periods of history, in fact, rich people were able to purchase “dispensations” for their sins so that they basically bought a “ticket to heaven” from their church, regardless of how bad their actions in life were.

There is of course still the ascetic side which simply avoids the question altogether. But assuming that the seeker of the integral yoga needs to interact with society, this question is sure to arise. The seeker’s reaction to other individuals must be based on the inner truth of the relationship and not on the wealth of the other party, or upon some expectation of obtaining money from that other party. If the seeker is carrying out a work that will require money, he should ask for those funds in the proper spirit: “When you ask for the Mother, you must feel that it is she who is demanding through you a very little of what belongs to her and the man from whom you ask will be judged by his response.” The request must be pure, not tainted by desire, greed or any fulfillment of ambition or personal seeking on the part of the seeker. It must be focused on the larger principle or goal to be achieved, and the request should be made to align the money power with its true needed action. The party requested to provide funds then has an opportunity to respond freely, and based on the nature of that response, they have the opportunity to align with the Divine Force or to reject it, and thus they are “judged”, not by any individual, but in the larger scheme of the evolutionary force at work in the world.

Sri Aurobindo,

Spiritual Seeker’s Personal Relationship to Money

Having established the principle, Sri Aurobindo next takes up the attitude the individual seeker should take in relation to the money power.

“In your personal use of money look on all you have or get or bring as the Mother’s. Make no demand but accept what you receive from her and use it for the purposes for which it is given to you. Be entirely selfless, entirely scrupulous, exact, careful in detail, a good trustee; always consider that it is her possessions and not your own that you are handling. On the other hand, what you receive for her, lay religiously before her; turn nothing to your own or anybody else’s purpose.”

The seeker aligns himself with the manifestation undertaken by the Divine Shakti. All force that comes to the seeker, whether it be the money force or any other power, needs to be put to work to carry out that manifestation. The individual acts as the nexus of action, and thus, modulates the application of the force. The Divine Force (including the Money Force) originates outside of the individual and is not “owned” or “possessed” by the individual. In order to overcome the deformations caused by the ego-consciousness, one can act as a “trustee” for the resource. This implies power of action, but not attachment to the results of that action. In that sense, it accords with the famous dictum of the Bhagavad Gita that the individual has a right to action, but not to the fruits of the action.

Inasmuch as money is one of the major forces that tend to distract the spiritual seeker or attract the lower forces of desire at the very least, it is important to achieve the proper relationship and focus on the money power. Non-attachment implies the ability to handle and use money without greed or desire, while also accepting the lack of money with equanimity and a quiet goodwill.

Sri Aurobindo,

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,