The seeming adversity of recession can be our
opportunity to rediscover the wealth of divine wisdom
During his inaugural address, US President Obama identified greed as a major cause of the current recession. Whose greed? It’s easy to point the finger at the US mortgage brokers. Certainly they were greedy, but how much harm could they alone have done? Not much. They capitalized on the greed of the ordinary Americans for unaffordable homes. Ultimately, if we are honest with ourselves and if we want to help solve the problem, we have to point the finger to ourselves.
ALCOHOLISM, SHOPAHOLISM, AND HOLISM
Greed for unnecessary and unaffordable things has bred a peculiar, new, rapidly-growing species of humans. Often called as shopaholics, these are people who are as addicted to shopping as alcoholics are to alcohol.
Is shopping really as bad as alcoholism? Let’s analyze the similarities:
1. Addictive short-lived “high”: Possessing new things, like drinking alcohol, makes us feel good and makes us crave for more of that good feeling. But just as the alcoholic high is short-lived, similarly the high the charm, the excitement, the pleasure of possessions is short-lived.
2. Hangover: After the shopping high has passed, the “hangover” that remains is the tension of maintenance, which drains our time, energy and money. Shopaholics have tea-set, sofa set, multimedia set and are up-set. An exasperated shopaholic once burst out, “Everything I own owns me.”
3. Dissatisfaction: A study in USA examined individuals whose idea of being successful meant having the biggest house on the block or the newest luxury car. Ohio State University psychologist Robert Arkin summarized the findings of the study: “The cycle of materialistic pursuits is disappointing and exhausting in the long run and can make people perpetually unhappy.” Why perpetually unhappy? Because if shopaholics have little, they want a lot. And if they have a lot, they want a lot more. Ultimately, despite the promise of pleasure, shopaholism, like alcoholism, makes them dissatisfied, not satisfied.
Thus shopaholism can be just as addictive as alcoholism. But, unlike alcoholism’s well-known harms, shopaholism’s harms are less-known. Concealing shopaholism harms is a deep-rooted notion, “Life is exciting and enjoyable only when one’s income and lifestyle are improving constantly.” The Bhagavad-gita (16.13-15) cautions that this materialistic conception breeds indiscriminate greed and slays values. Those infected by greed sacrifice integrity and intelligence on the altar of wealth. Their irresponsible financial choices snowball into crises individually, nationally, and globally. A glaring example is the US sub-prime crisis.
Greed arises from a lack of holism, a holistic understanding of life. If we compare life to a meal, wealth is like the salt in the meal. When salt is less, the meal is bland. Similarly, when wealth is less, life is dreary. But imagine a meal of only salt; it’s neither tasty nor nutritious, but is harmful. Similar is a life led in pursuit of money alone; it’s neither enjoyable nor healthy, but is self-destructive. Richard Needham pointed out, “When money is seen as a solution for every problem, money itself becomes the problem.”
Unfortunately, instead of helping people curb greed, modern society fuels and fans greed by portraying it as the basis of “success”.
THE WAY TO FREEDOM
Scientific studies show that if we want to curb greed and gain self-control, spirituality is the best way. A research by Michael McCullough published in the Psychological Bulletin, Jan 2009 stated: Eight decades of research has led to the conclusion that religious belief and piety promote self-control. As early as the 1920s, researchers found that students who spent more time in Sunday school did better at laboratory tests measuring their self-discipline. Subsequent studies showed that devout children were rated relatively low in impulsiveness by both parents and teachers, and that religiosity repeatedly correlated with higher self-control among adults.
The New York Times (31 Dec 2008) article ‘For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It’ by John Tierney, which reported the above findings, implied a striking suggestion: The one new-year resolution, which will empower us to stick to all our other resolutions, is the resolution to increase our religious commitment.
REDIRECTING OUR POSSESSIVENESS
How does increased religious commitment curb greed?To understand the answer, we need to ask a deeper question: Why do we feel greedy to possess more and more? Because it our right and nature to have unlimited possessions by possessing the possessor of all possessions God, Krishna.
The Vedic texts explain that, as spiritual beings, we innately long for spiritual wealth the loving, comforting, empowering presence of the divine in our hearts. Just as a fish suffers as soon as it comes out of water, we become dissatisfied as soon as we lose awareness of that divine presence within us. Due to spiritual ignorance, we mistakenly ascribe this dissatisfaction to a lack of material possessions. This misdiagnosis impels us to become greedy for external possessions.
Therefore, the real cure for greed is to cultivate internal possessiveness. When we commit ourselves to time-tested spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, prayer, and especially the chanting of the holy names, which is the scripturally recommended process for self-enrichment in this current age of Kali, we will become enriched by the presence of God, Krishna within. Once we are internally fulfilled, greed will never be able to victimize us, irrespective of whether we are materially opulent or indigent.
OUR CRUCIAL CHOICE
The choice we have is illustrated in the Ramayana through the mentalities of two of its main characters:
1. The divine mentality exemplified by Hanuman,
2. The demoniac mentality exemplified by Ravana
Hanuman, the heroic devotee, strove to re-unite Lord Rama’s consort, Sita, with the Lord. By dint of his devotion to the Lord, Hanuman was empowered externally to perform many adventurous feats and enriched internally by the presence of the Lord his heart. On the other hand, Ravana, the villainous demon, attempted to exploit Sita for his own enjoyment. By his brutal strength and nefarious schemes, Ravana attained fabulous wealth and power, but he was never peaceful or satisfied because his uncontrolled mind always demanded more and more. Ultimately, he met an inglorious end and lost everything.
The Vedic texts explain that all wealth is a manifestation of the Lord’s consort, Lakshmi or Sita. So, to follow in the footsteps of Hanuman means to use the wealth we have in the service of the Lord. To use wealth for our own selfish enjoyment means to follow the suicidal path of Ravana. It is unfortunate that today some misled people consider the Hanuman mentality of selfless godly service old-fashioned and the Ravana mentality of self-centered godless enjoyment modern. But irrespective of people’s opinions, the satisfaction that enriched Hanuman and the dissatisfaction that impoverished Ravana indicate the destinations of the people who cultivate the Hanuman and Ravana mentalities.
Alfred Ford of the Ford motors fame is often known as the billionaire bhakta due to his ardent devotion to Lord Krishna. He succinctly states the role of wealth in a holistic lifestyle, “Wealth is a gift from God. It’s best if it is used to help others and serve Him ultimately.”
THE VALUE-BASED APPROACH TO FULFILL AMBITIONS
Even if one is not utterly selfless and pure like Hanuman but has worldly desires, still he can attain good fortune by rendering devotional service to the Lord. This is vividly demonstrated through the example of the prince Dhruva. Desiring a huge kingdom, he worshiped the Lord with devotional discipline centered on chanting His holy names. He not only attained his desire, but he also became so purified and enriched with devotion that he was no longer captivated by worldly wealth. Thus empowered with devotion and detachment, he ruled as a virtuous and prosperous king in the service of the Lord and all His children.
The same powerful process of mantra meditation that blessed and purified Dhruva is available to us today. The process of mantra meditation is a scientific process for redirecting our desires from the things of this world to the source of all these things God.
In the present age, the most powerful mantra for meditation is the maha-mantra (the great chant for deliverance):
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Mantra meditation illuminates us with an inner wisdom that opens our eyes to the realities of the world we live in. It thus protects us from being exploited by vested interests externally and victimized by selfish desires internally. Mantra meditation also reveals to us the presence of the Lord in our hearts, thus forever satisfying our perpetual thirst for happiness. Further, by connecting us with the power and the intelligence of the Supreme, it enables us to face with confidence all the ups and downs of life and either achieve or purify our ambitions. And mantra meditation progressively increases our devotion to the Lord, thus preparing us for our return to the abode of supreme happiness the kingdom of God.
Thus the seeming adversity of recession can be our opportunity to re-discover the wealth of divine wisdom and love hidden in the recess of our hearts.
(Adapted from the author’s book Recession Adversity or Opportunity?)
Caitanya Carana Dasa holds a degree in electronics and telecommunications engineering and serves full-time at ISKCON Pune. To subscribe to his free cyber magazine, visit thespiritualscientist.com