Wealth and Duty in Hinduism

wealth and enjoyment

by Jayaram V

When it comes to money and wealth, people tend to be selfish. The ideal presented in Hinduism regarding money is it should be spent for preserving, protecting and promoting dharma.

According to Hinduism, earning wealth is one of the primary aims (Purusharthas) of human life.

The first aim is dharma and the second aim is artha (wealth). When you pursue these two goals properly you will be able to realize the other two, namely enjoyment (kama) here and liberation (moksha) hereafter.

In Hinduism, wealth earned and spent for one's own pleasure is evil and wealth earned and spent for the sake of dharma is divine.

Even when one spends money for the sake of dharma, one should not have expectations. One should not do it to earn good merit either, but as a duty only.

This is the ideal. In worldly life, of course, we see this rarely happening.

Sri Aurobindo once commented that material wealth was divine; but it was taken over by evil forces who have usurped it and ever since have been using it to achieve their own ends.

In fact, all wealth is divine, because the ultimate owner of all material resources in the universe belongs rightfully to God only. He is called Bhagavan because he is endowed with various kinds of wealth.

We may also divide wealth into three types.

Sattvic wealth, which is earned by virtuous means and spent for pleasure or for the peace and happiness of oneself and others.

Rajasic wealth, which is earned by selfish and aggressive means and spent for the egoistic purpose of enhancing one's power and prestige or to promote one's own interests and aims.

Tamasic wealth, which is earned by deception and cruelty and used for evil purposes to inflict pain and suffering upon others or to denounce God and spread chaos and confusion.

Goddess Lakshmi is goddess of wealth. Symbolically, she represents wealth in all its forms. She is a companion of Lord Vishnu. There is a symbolism hidden in this association.

Lord Vishnu is the preserver and promoter of dharma. He is like the Householder of the universe, with all the wealth of the universe at his disposal (feet).

Even though, he has no interest whatsoever, He upholds the worlds as His obligatory duty (dharma) by ensuring their order and regularity.

The association between Vishnu and Lakshmi clearly signifies that wealth in all its forms, whether it is wealth of knowledge or material wealth, should be spent for dharmic purposes only.

For a householder, wealth is the means to perform his or her obligatory duties. It is a kind of sacrificial material, an offering in the sacrifice of life, just like food or ghee used in the sacrifices.

He has to earn it through rightful means and spend it for rightful ends, without ignoring his own welfare and happiness. Whatever he earns, he has to offer it as food to God, the ultimate recipient of all sacrificial offerings. He has to give away a good part of it in charity.

However, for an ascetic who renounces worldly life and obligatory duties, money is a taboo. He cannot earn money or own wealth. He has to give away whatever comes to him through divine providence (daivikam) or through offerings from others.

He has to renounce all sense of ownership and live freely without expectation and any worldly obligations.

There was a time when ascetic people would not only shun money but also not even touch it physically as a rule. Those days are gone now. You have now spiritual teachers who own huge bank balances manage big organizations.

Most of them indeed earn money according to the ideals of Hinduism, as part of their obligation to help others, and spend it selflessly. We may, therefore, not find fault with them unless we have evidence to the contrary.

Restrictions applicable to the ascetic people do not apply to those who live worldly lives and take up householder's duties. They need wealth to support their households and perform sacrifices and obligatory duties.

According to the Vedas, human beings have five obligatory duties or responsibilities. They are entrusted with these duties by the Creator Himself as part of their dharma (duty) in creation. These duties are:

  • Service to God (brahma yajna)
  • Service to gods (deva yajna)
  • Service to your ancestors (pitr yajna)
  • Service to fellow human beings (manusya yajna)
  • Service to the rest of the creatures (bhuta yajna)

Wealth is required to perform these duties. A householder, therefore, is fully justified to engage in some profession or commercial activity and make a living. He should however use the money wisely and avoid bad karma.

These five categories of beings, namely Brahman, gods, ancestors, humans and other creatures, constitute the entire creation in relation to oneself.

By serving them dutifully and selflessly, indeed, one serves oneself. If liberation is the aim, then these five duties become important.

People pray to God for wealth. Our scriptures do support such actions. It is customary in our tradition to pray to gods seeking their help and obtain boons from them.

We have a right to seek wealth from God or from the divinities. But we must remember that it comes with a price. When we perform actions out of desires, we become bound by them. Whatever we accumulate out of desires becomes part of our karmic burden.

Wealth is therefore an opportunity for those who want to serve and a trap for those who want to use it for their own happiness and enjoyment.

We have a right to perform actions, but not to their results. The same principle applies to wealth also. We have a right to earn wealth but not to its fruits. The purpose of earning wealth is not to address our insecurities or alleviate our suffering, but to use it for right ends in our effort to find an escape from the phenomenal world.

It is difficult to get rid of attachment to wealth, until you practice yoga, overcome your attachment to your name and form and work for your self-transformation.

Spending your money for the welfare of others, is the beginning step in your practice for detachment. Whatever may be your financial status, spend a little portion of that in the service of others. Charity is purifying. Practice charity. It gradually leads to detachment and inner cleansing.

If you cannot give away money in charity, use your knowledge, wisdom or physical energy to help others. You can overcome attachment to things and your selfishness to some extent by expanding your vision and seeing things from a wider perspective. These efforts will help you gradually to cultivate right attitude towards material things in life.

In Hinduism, distribution of wealth is your personal responsibility, not that of a government, or a king or a queen. You have to give away your excess wealth in charity or in service. From the perspective of karma, social and economic inequalities are inescapable realities of human life. They exist because of the actions performed by individual beings.

Even if you succeed in resolving differences in human society, inequalities still remain among beings of various classes, such plants and animals, which also contain souls. Karmically, their suffering and salvation is as important as the suffering and salvation of human beings.

Human suffering can be resolved primarily through individual effort. Each individual must take responsibility for his or her life and help others to the extent possible as part of their own salvation. Let the governments help, but it is not a substitute for individual effort.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Translate the Page