By Vishakha Devi Dasi
How we value, acquire, use, and relate to money reflects our inner state of being.
Sri Sukadeva Goswami said, “Money does not stay in one place. It passes from one hand to another. Ultimately no one can enjoy money, and it remains the property of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.14.24) Money is God’s energy. He created it, He owns it, and He controls it: “Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord.” (Ishopanishad 1).
Krishna determines how much money each of us receives. It may appear accidental that one person is born into wealth and another into poverty, or that one person goes from rags to riches and another doesn’t, but Krishna’s law of karma destines these things. Srila Prabhupada says, “Everyone is thinking, ‘If I become greedy, I shall get more.’ That is not possible. You cannot get a farthing more than what you are destined.” (Lecture, October 3, 1973) And he writes, “It is not possible that simply by endeavors to accumulate more money a person will be able to do so, otherwise almost everyone would be on the same level of wealth. In reality everyone is earning and acquiring according to his predestined karma.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.27.8, Purport)
Modern civilization runs on the mistaken concept that if we work harder we will get more money and since money enables us to buy things that please us, with more money we will be happier. Happiness, however, is different from the sensual pleasures money buys. That is why almost all of us are restless and dissatisfied, despite earning and spending vast amounts of money and despite using and owning any number of things. Money does not necessarily produce happiness.
Failing to notice this stark truth, many of us pursue happiness by pursuing money. Most people are not satisfied with just enough money to maintain their families but want more and more of it. Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.22.33) tells us, “For human society, constantly thinking of how to earn money and apply it for sense gratification brings about the destruction of everyone’s interests.” In our mixed-up age, wealth alone is the sign of success and the harbinger of prestige and influence, regardless of one’s behavior and qualities.
Money and Our Dark Side
When we think that happiness would come if we could just afford to make certain material arrangements and adjustments, greed overtakes us. Krishna says that greed is one of the three gates to hell, the other two being lust and anger. We think, “So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. So much is mine now, and it will increase in the future, more and more.” (Bhagavad-gita 16.13) The lure of money even induces us to forsake our friends and relatives. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Sometimes, being in need of money, the conditioned soul steals and cheats, although he may apparently be associated with devotees for spiritual advancement” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.14, Summary) and, “if one person cheats another by a farthing or less, they become enemies.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.14.26)
Slaves of the pushes of our senses and the quest for money, we burn in an unquenchable fire of our own desires; thus the quality of our life diminishes, and we suffer. Srila Prabhupada writes: “Unlawfully accumulated money is now being snatched from miserly citizens by various methods of state taxation for the future civil and international war fund, which is spending money in a wasteful and destructive manner. The citizens are no longer satisfied with just enough money to maintain a family nicely and cultivate spiritual knowledge, both of which are essential in human life. Now everyone wants money unlimitedly to satisfy insatiable desires. In proportion to the people’s unlawful desires, their accumulated money is taken away by the agents of illusory energy in the shape of medical practitioners, lawyers, tax collectors, societies, constitutions, so-called holy men, famines, earthquakes, and many similar calamities. . . . Indeed, that is the law of nature; if money is not devoted to the service of the Lord, it must be spent as spoiled energy in the form of legal problems or diseases. Foolish people do not have the eyes to see such facts; therefore the laws of the Supreme Lord befool them.” (Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Chapter 2)
But mundane greed is not intrinsic to us, nor do we naturally exist for the sake of our business and bank balance or to identify with our material accomplishments. Our obsession with money and acquisition is a misplaced religious quest, a religious energy used perversely.
The Bright Side
Deep inside, we want to complete our term in this world of birth and death, of society and responsibility, of making and doing. We also want to fulfill the incalculably higher and greater possibility offered us as human beings. Each of us senses that we are meant to receive an invaluable gift and to respond with full commitment and service. Lives centered on getting money miss this opportunity and are therefore miserable. But we can use money properly, for the service of its creator, making it a true asset rather than a disguised deficit.
Srila Prabhupada writes, “Everything created by the material energy can be dovetailed with the Absolute by an attitude of service, which is the essential part of living energy. The pure devotee of the Lord knows the art of converting everything into its spiritual existence by this service attitude. . . .” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.1.20, Purport). The crux of the issue is this: Will I serve the Lord with whatever money He has allotted to me, or will I use it to try to please myself. My consciousness, and not on the amount of money I have, determines my decision. Prabhupada explains: “Materialism does not mean that one has to possess so many things. The actual fact is one may be a perfect transcendentalist or spiritual man by possessing the whole world, and one may be a gross materialist without possessing a farthing. So this distinction can be made on the basis of consciousness. When one is Krishna conscious while possessing everything in the world, he is a perfect spiritualist, and one may have renounced everything in the world, but lacking in Krishna consciousness, he is a gross materialist.” (Letter, April 23, 1970)
Money and Our Work
Vedic society classifies people into four broad groups: brahmanas (teachers), kshatriyas (rulers), vaishyas (farmers and merchants), and shudras (laborers and artisans). Each group relates to money differently. In traditional society the brahmanas accept contributions from their students, but since their material desires are minimal, they keep only as much as they need and give the rest in charity. Brahmanas never hoard money for a luxurious life, as kshatriyas or vaishyas might, but always live austerely, knowing that money easily diverts the mind to materialism.
Since kshatriyas rule, they need prestige and money. But their duty-and that of all possessors of wealth-is to give liberally in charity.
Vaishyas earn money through agriculture, cow protection, and some trade. By growing food grains and other necessities, vaishyas support themselves and their families without depending on others.
Traditionally, shudras are not paid but receive food, shelter, and clothing from the other three classes in exchange for their services. They are well provided for and happy. The term shudra also refers to anyone without spiritual training and knowledge. By that definition, almost everyone today is a shudra, and we see what happens when such people get money: They spend lavishly on sinful activities or accumulate it for no purpose. And they will do almost anything to get more.
Money and Life’s Stages
Srila Prabhupada explains that according to our scriptures, brahmacharis (celibate students), vanaprasthas (retirees), and sannyasis (renounced men) “are allowed to collect alms and are considered as the children of the society, which is composed of householders. In other words, our Vedic civilization is the most perfect community project. Only the grihasthas [householders] are supposed to earn money, especially the kshatriyas and the vaishyas, and the money is distributed community-wide.” (Letter, February 11, 1970)
In other words, by ruling the citizens or by their business or profession, householders are to earn money honestly and use it to maintain their family and to give in charity to spread Krishna consciousness. In a letter to several householders, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Krishna will give you intelligence how to engage in honest, brilliant, glorious work on His behalf. There is no need to engage in anything dishonest. Krishna has given enough money, now earn by honest means.” (Letter, January 24, 1977)
Grihasthas should not slave to accumulate money and unnecessarily increase their material comforts. And if extra money comes, they should use it for Krishna consciousness. To this end, grihasthas may keep their money confidentially so that in time they can spend it for good purposes. There is no fault in this, or in keeping a deposit in the bank for an emergency.
Srila Prabhupada once explained how men in Indian villages would live in the city, earn money, and send it back to their family in the village. Their intelligent wives would save that money and eventually invest in land. When they had enough land, the husbands would return to the village and be self-sufficient by producing their necessities from the land. “That’s a good idea,” Srila Prabhupada said. “Remain in the village with family.” (Conversation, January 4, 1977) And he also explained, “The principle is the husband honestly tries to earn livelihood, and at home the wife should be so intelligent that whatever money the husband has earned, she’ll manage. She’ll not demand, ‘Bring money, bring money, bring money . . .’ Then the home will be happy.” (Conversation, June 14, 1976)
The main point is that everyone must learn to spend money only for good causes.
Money and Krishna’s Service
Householder devotees are obliged to earn money because without money it is not possible to exist in the material world. In Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya-lila 16.238), Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu tells Raghunatha, “You should not make yourself a showbottle devotee and become a false renunciant. For the time being, enjoy the material world in a befitting way and do not become attached to it.” In other words, householders do not give up earning money, but while earning, they think of Krishna constantly and consider themselves humble servants of society. Householders who know that the Lord owns and controls all money are not diverted by excessively thinking about how to accumulate it. And they use what they have for Him. Srila Prabhupada writes, “If one engages for the service of the Lord whatever money one has honestly earned, that is spiritual service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the spiritual master, and the Vaishnavas.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Antya-lila 6.275, Purport)
Devotees live according to their means: “Since a devotee wants to satisfy the desires of the Lord, he can, Lord willing, accept all kinds of opulence for the service of the Lord, and if the Lord is not willing, he should not accept a farthing.” (Bhagavad-gita 1.32-35, Purport) Frugality is perfectly acceptable to devotees because they know that their spiritual advancement, and not a large income or showy opulence, pleases their spiritual master. “Why should one be anxious about the necessities of life? The principle should be that one should not want more than what is absolutely necessary. . . . The devotee should always be alert to consume only those things that he absolutely requires and not create unnecessary needs.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 24.262, Purport)
At the same time, devotees balance their obligations so that they and their relatives are secure: “Srila Rupa Goswami taught us by his own example by using fifty percent of his accumulated wealth for Krishna, twenty-five percent for his own self, and twenty-five percent for the members of his family.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.19.37, Purport)
But whether one has a lot of money or just a little, inevitably one will be separated from it, through spending or death. As Srila Prabhupada said: “You have to change your body. So you have earned so much millions and billions of money. That’s all right. But you have to go empty-handed. The money will remain here. You cannot take that money within the tomb. That is not possible. Then it is zero. You are going empty-handed. You came empty-handed and going empty-handed. You came with zero and you are going with zero. So whatever you have earned, that is zero. But if you have attempted to serve Krishna with all these zeros, then you have taken some value.” (Conversation, July 31, 1975)
“Whatever money we are getting it is from Krishna,” Srila Prabhupada wrote, “so nothing should be misspent.” (Letter, October 24, 1974) Earning an income is not difficult because Krishna provides for His sincere devotees. But not misspending the money is difficult and takes intelligence. Krishna provides, and improper spending can be a problem even among exalted devotees. For example, once Chaitanya Mahaprabhu “respectfully told Shivananda Sena, ‘Take care of Vasudeva Datta very nicely. Vasudeva Datta is very liberal. Every day, whatever income he receives, he spends. He does not keep any balance. Being a householder, Vasudeva Datta needs to save some money. Because he is not doing so, it is very difficult for him to maintain his family. Please take care of Vasudeva Datta’s family affairs. Become his manager and make the proper adjustments.'” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 15.93-96) Like Vasudeva Datta, those who lack wisdom in spending should put themselves under the care of a wise, trustworthy devotee.
The Favor of the Goddess of Fortune
“Everyone is seeking the favor of the goddess of fortune,” Srila Prabhupada writes, “but people do not know that Lord Sri Krishna is the beloved husband of all goddesses of fortune.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.4.20, Purport) When we try to engage the goddess of fortune in Krishna’s service, we gradually realize Him in every sphere of life. By this culture of Krishna consciousness, our happiness will no longer depend on how much money we have. We will be content even without money. “If there is no culture,” Srila Prabhupada said, “simply by money you cannot maintain a standard of civilization. That is not possible. Now the American leaders, they are thinking, ‘Let us have money, then everything . . .’ Of course, by money you are covering all the defects of the social culture. But this will not endure. The day will come when everything will be exposed. Therefore culture is required.” (Conversation, June 14, 1976)
One who has culture has faith in Krishna, and therefore has everything. Srila Prabhupada writes, “A pure devotee who has firm faith in the words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is to be considered a most learned scholar, the topmost aristocrat, and the richest man in the whole world.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 5.76, Purport)
Finally, in Srila Prabhupada’s words again: “Guru Maharaja said that ‘You do the right work, money will come. Money will fall down on your feet.’ There is no question of flattering. Do. Work sincerely. Everything will come, whatever you want.” (Conversation June 30, 1977)