A Hindu view of wealth, elevating our appreciation of abundance to the level of the Divine
BY NAVIN JANI
WHEN I PASS A PENNY on the street, I always pick it up. Its spending power hardly justifies the effort, but I do it out of respect. Although I didn’t fully understand the reason behind my family’s Diwali traditions, I did appreciate that there was a connection between the silver dollars we bathed in milk and the divine lady pictured on our altar, surrounded by white elephants and dropping gold from each of Her four hands.
In the modern West, money is a thing—cold, inert, and meant for our manipulation. But the Hindu concept is dramatically different: Money is personified as Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune and chaste wife of Lord Vishnu. We should thus treat Her as a queen.
For starters, this means not wasting money. If we have a bank balance, we have the honor of hosting a Goddess and should deal with Her appropriately. If we use our wealth to acquire unnecessary gadgets or indulge in superfluous luxuries, however, we are instead making Lakshmi our servant. We wouldn’t order a house guest to make us a sandwich or clip our toenails, would we?
At the same time, the other extreme—hoarding—is no more desirable. Lakshmi is not meant to be our prisoner, locked up for us to simply behold. When there are necessary and legitimate expenditures to be made, we must not avoid them under the pretense of being frugal. We should allow Lakshmi to do something productive.
So how do we utilize our wealth in a way that honors its true identity as the Goddess of Fortune Herself? The best host is one who fulfills the desires of their guest. In like manner, we should help Lakshmi do what She wants, which is to serve Lord Vishnu. This includes financially supporting His direct worship, such as donating to our local temple or maintaining a nice puja standard at home. But it also means taking care of our basic needs and those of others—including paying the mortgage; purchasing food, clothing, and transportation; and even participating in some recreation. After all, Lakshmi is also our mother. And part of Her duties is caring for the children. We just have to be careful to not get carried away.
A useful guide in honoring Lakshmi by navigating the poles of underspending and overspending is to dovetail personal expenditures with the promotion of our spiritual progress. We should ask ourselves with every purchase: “Will this help me to become a better person and the world to become a better place?” Odds are, we can find a way to satisfy our desires that also lets us answer yes—even when we have difficulty doing so. (“It may not bring about global peace, but that laddu behind the glass sure looks good!”) The endeavor to be conscious of the connection between our money and God is itself salutary.
If we instead forget the position of God and try to enjoy Lakshmi separately, we follow the path of Ravana. He kidnapped Sita Devi, an incarnation of Lakshmi, and was destroyed as a result. Those who try to seize Lakshmi without the right consciousness and motives can similarly expect Her to evade their grasp. For them, She will remain one who is fickle and flickers, never remaining in one place for long.
For Hindus, money is a person, and using it brings us into a relationship with the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi. We should neither abuse Her through capricious expenditure nor stymie Her through miserly reserve. Instead, we should engage Her in the service to God and all his children (including ourselves). By thus offering money the respect due to a queen—even that lowly penny on the street—we can count on receiving love from Her like a mother, and are sure to enjoy prosperity both in this world and the next.
NAVIN JANI currently lives in Dallas, Texas. He is a federal attorney and writer with an avid interest in Hinduism and Vedic thought. email: firstname.lastname@example.org