Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Business of Money and Spirituality

        People who immerse themselves in more spiritually pronounced paths probably have a general suspicion of money. Perhaps they don't entirely reject it, but it's difficult for them to fathom how it can possibly contribute to their spiritual well-being and their destiny-slash-purpose here on Earth.

      I was always confused with the notion of how the poor are more blessed. Or how people in poverty are more happy and satisfied with their lives. I understand that when you don't have much, you probably have less things to worry about, less superficial things to waste your time on, and essentially have simpler reasons to smile about life.

   But you can't forget that poverty also breeds uneducated and unemployed people And half the time, it these people aren't aware of their rights. And the anxiety of living everyday not knowing when you'll have your next meal can push anyone to commit crimes or turn to vices like drugs, gambling, and drinking.
 There are a lot of rich people who let money take over their lives (and when they feel empty they also turn to vices like drugs, gambling, and drinking) but you can't discount the rich people who also use their wealth for charity, environmental research, education, healthcare, and to generate jobs for others.

 So saying that love of money is a sin doesn't hold water for me. Perhaps the love of money for the sake of getting more material things is a bigger sin. 

Wealth is as much as a distraction as poverty is.

Image from  An example of what not to do with your money.

 Money has ben given a bad name by religious hypocrites authorities over the years. To make things worse, saints, martyrs, and other spiritual figures are praised and glorified for renouncing their wealth to live simple and pious lives. Don't get me wrong: it is noble to choose to live a simpler life. It is also noble to work with the poor. Avoiding materialistic tendencies is also noble.
   But you have to understand that the value system years ago was different back then. In the past, if you want to work closely with the poor, you have to give up your inheritances or give away your wealth. It was either renounce your wealth or look for something else to do with your life.  In his book, Peace Is The Way, Deepak Chopra eloquently uses St. Francis of Asisi as an example of how wealth was viewed back in Francis' time when he renounces his military career and financial inheritance:

" This struggle of one person's soul caught between a successful military career and poverty wasn't based on the things we normally think about such as pleasure, security, finding a place in society and raising a family. The struggle was between worldly success and what pleased God, as taught by the church fathers."

 These days, Chopra points out, "It isn't that you either live for him or you don't. The process of integrating material life, with all the good it has to offer, and spiritual life, with all the good it has to offer, is a lifelong challenge."

 And this is a challenge that most of us are facing now.

 Take Bo Sanchez, for example. In the foreword of Think Rich, Pinoy!,  he mentioned that he's been a missionary for 26 years and his model was St. Francis of Asisi. Poverty was his goal. Except that went out the window when he got married and had a baby:
"Overnight, money became very important. Instead of prayer filling my mind, I was thinking of the rising cost of diapers. Then it hit me that if poverty remained my goal, I'd be committing sin against my wife, my baby, and my God who gave them to me."

 Since then, Bo Sanchez reconstructed his attitude and beliefs about money and ventured into real estate as an investor, bearing in mind that the ultimate pupose of wealth is to help others.

    When I was in high school, my family met this Filipino Buddhist monk-slash-yoga master. He was vegan, wore the same type of clothes everyday and had a long beard-ish goatee going on. I recall that he comes from a fairly wealthy family. I don't think he renounced any of his wealth or inheritance but he didn't take care of them either. After how many months, he decided that to expand his modest yoga center, he would need to use one of his properties. Last time I saw him, he had to call a lawyer to figure out how he could get rid of the informal settlers whose population have boomed around his property during the years he just left it alone.

Meanwhile, others have a habit of being charitable beyond their means. These are people who don't have a centavo to their name, just a hair's width away from declaring bankruptcy and losing their homes, but still manage to give a generous percent to their church without fail. Suze Orman puts this kind of "generosity" in perspective:

 "How can it please God for you to give more than you can afford? Do you really believe that God wants you to live with the anxiety that comes from being unable to pay your bills? For your children to live in need while His own house is gilded? And that it is not only your deity who sees your suffering but your family and everyone who loves you? Also, frankly- and as painful as it is to admit- when you are in debt and give more than a small, respectful amount every month, you aren't giving your own money, you're giving your creditors' money."

  In Islam, one of the five pillars of their religion is called Zakat ("Purification", to purifiy one's heart of greed) or compulsory charity wherein financially stable Muslim individuals contribute 2.5 percent of their wealth and assets. Muslims are taught that money in zakat is not something God needs or receives as he is above this type of dependency; One should not expect or demand any worldly gains nor aim at making one's names as philanthropist. Love of money is respected as long as it is with the intention of spending it on their needs and the needs of others. If you delve more in the Qur'an, you'll find specific instructions on dividing wealth among heirs, illegitimate heirs, dowry between wealthy families, dowry between not-so-wealthy families, transactions, etc. It's interesting how this religion seems to look at money in respectful terms without labeling it evil.

 If you look at it realistically though, money hasn't hurt a fly. It's people's attitude towards money and how they apply money to serve the hierarchy of values to which they owe their allegiance that affects families, communities, and nations. You can use your wealth to invest in companies that specialize in weapons of war, or to give scholarship opportunities to the underprivileged. Ideally, in the most perfect of worlds,  the more money you have, the more good you can do.

But just a little reminder:

Image from

 To quote the wise words of Suze Orman:

 "People first. Then money. Then things."

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