Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.

This week, we would like to briefly take you in a direction that you might not at all consider spiritual, namely economics, markets and all that. Having taken you on that detour, it shall then be our endeavour to convince you that wealth generation and the proper use of wealth cannot be divorced from Spirituality.

In a sense, economics and wealth dynamics are all about money. True, the concept of wealth goes back to the time when there was no currency and only barter. The advent of coins enabled wealth to be moved around more easily than moving bartered goods, and that was a major step forward. Let us say that five thousand years ago, two people do a barter exchanging a goat for some firewood. The man who receives the firewood has to carry it all the way back home. These days, however, when a villager sells a goat he gets cash, which he takes home; later he uses that cash to buy whatever he needs from the place where it is available. Money being “fluid”, it makes business easier than old style barter. In this age of electronic communications, new dimensions have been added to financial transaction. As someone remarked, money is no longer coins or even currency notes; it is a set of binary numbers in electronic code.

We are conscious that you are aware of all this but even so, this preamble would set the stage for what follows. Science and Technology have immensely aided manufacture, which in turn has spurred everything from trade and business to transportation and communication. For example, recent statistics show that the O’Hare Air Port in Chicago is the busiest in America , with roughly 500,000 plane landings and takeoffs in a six-month period! It is just amazing.

So what has all this got to do with Spirituality? Everything, because in one way or the other, it is all connected with money! Money is a great magnet, and few can resist its attraction. Sadhus might say they are not attracted to money, but it requires money to keep even Sadhus alive – someone has to give them charity! And the powerful attractor that money is, it tends to draw people out very much into the world in quest of money. Having drawn people into the world and got them hooked, money keeps the attention of such people rooted very much to the world. A man who has made a million starts thinking, “I am a millionaire now but how can I become a billionaire?” On the other hand, there might be a man who has borrowed heavily for some reason or the other, and he is all the time worried about how he is going to raise money to pay off his debts. With all this preoccupation with money, people lose sight of God and often with it, the quality of goodness. Of course there are others who, while worshipping money, have not entirely forgotten God, but for selfish reasons. They want God to be the Great Provider by giving them more money and still more money. This is nothing new and five thousand years ago, Krishna declared that this is one type of devotee, who unfailingly comes to Him!

Why is man attracted to money? It is all due to the Mind! As Swami says, the Mind of man can either make him look towards the world or inwards. If it looks outwards, then it easily succumbs to the attractions that the world provides in plenty. Man is then deluded into thinking that money is the royal road to all happiness. The connection to Spirituality is rooted in precisely this delusion that traps man; more about that later.

Money being at the heart of manufacture, trade, business, commerce, etc., is necessarily the engine of every conceivable economic system. For almost everyone today, being wealthy simply means having a lot of money. For about three hundred years or so, great thinkers have tried to formulate the basic principles of wealth generation, social well-being etc., and as a result, many theories of economics have come into existence. For some, well-being starts with opportunities for individual enterprise, making lots of money, minimal interference from the State, etc. This has led to the Capitalist system of economics, which, in recent times, has soared to the concept of absolute free-market economy cum globalisation. At the other end, we had, until recently, Communism that many countries went for, and “Scientific Socialism” which India opted for. As far as Communism as an economic philosophy is concerned, despite its strong ideological appeal at one time , it has now become more or less extinct, though there are still countries that are “Communist” as far as the political system of government is concerned. Scientific Socialism too is all but dead, despite some loyalists continuing to pay lip sympathy to it. Currently, the free-market philosophy with the “icing” of globalisation added to it is the dominant survivor, actively peddled by those who stand to gain much by it.

Today there is a lot of hype about the glory of globalisation and the free-market economy, but are they really the roaring successes they are claimed to be? It all depends on whom you ask. Those who have benefited from it would undoubtedly hail it in the most flattering terms. But if you ask the millions and millions who have been left out, nay sacrificed, it is a different story.

The free market philosophy is focussed almost entirely on wealth generation for a few, the shareholders. If others benefit by the process, that is purely incidental. Though many may be involved in the market processes as employees of various sorts, when it comes to brass tacks, it is a few that determine the fate of many. Throughout history, it has often been this way, but the power of modern technology has enormously magnified the impact factor.

In the last couple of decades, high power technology and high power business have affected people all over the world in many ways, creating in general a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots in all countries with big economies. Even in America , once the dreamland where the poor could become rich by working hard, they now say that if you are poor, you had better get out of America . If that is what is happening in America , the situation in the “newly emerging economies” like China and India is even worse. One might say, “Sorry that is inevitable in a free-market economy; that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” Maybe, but when hundreds of millions suffer, Society as a whole pays a price, and a big one too, that inevitably would one day impact those in the comfort zone also.

What we are driving at is that it is no longer enough to talk in terms of “costs”, “efficiency”, “profitability”, etc., as calculated by accountants and finance experts in big Corporations. Costs and profits may mean a lot to shareholders, but Corporations exist in the midst of Society and what happens to Society eventually makes an impact on everyone, including industry, business and finance. Thus, the business sector cannot clinically exclude from its considerations, the public who are STAKEHOLDERS. If it does, then while it may enjoy short-term gains, in the long run it too would have to pay, and heavily too. As someone said, one cannot have an island of prosperity in an ocean of misery.

Where the human race is concerned, everyone is a stakeholder. This important point has been consistently ignored in the past, but it no longer can be, especially in this age of high technology and fast communications. These days, when smoke clouds are produced by the burning of huge forests in one country they choke people in another country. Excessive fishing by the big fishing corporations of one country can ruin the poor fishermen of another country. Massive emission by hundreds of millions of vehicles in one or more rich countries now threatens the climate of the entire planet. So on the examples go. In every case, there is a price to pay and that price is paid by Society. In some cases, the price is paid by people in the same country where the problem originates, while in other cases it is people elsewhere that pay the price. And in some cases, everyone pays the price, no matter where.

We cannot go into all the details here but the essential point is that when there are huge imbalances, there will necessarily be conflict, violence, large-scale suffering, etc. Violence, cruelty and exploitation have no doubt been always present in mankind, but what makes the current situation frightening is the scale.

Which brings us to our central point: It is time to move away from socio-economic philosophies that focus on profits for a few to a philosophy that is wedded to the well-being of all. Currently, there is too much importance given to individual and corporate enterprise, and very little, if at all, to Society. This precisely is where Swami’s teachings come strongly into the picture. Swami says that without self-control, and we stress the prefix self, the human Mind would inevitably tend to seek self-advantage and focus entirely on the short term. This may appear to be very rewarding but the advantages that seem to accrue are illusory. As Swami says [this was in a recent Sai Inspires Message], “Human existence is enveloped in infatuation,” often with money we might add.

So what is the alternative? Swami says that the starting point of how one views oneself ought not to be the lower self [which is the one that wants profit in a hurry etc.,] but the Higher Self or God. Next, one must realise that God the Creator brought Creation/Nature into existence. Society is a part of this Creation and the individual is a limb of Society. So there is this Cosmic Hierarchy: God, Nature, Society and the individual, which should never be lost sight of.

The individual must conduct himself/herself in such a manner that is not harmful to Society, does not disturb Nature and is in harmony with God; that is to say, one must always act in full consonance with one’s intrinsic Divine nature. If a person does this, the person would not be in the business of selling fast food and soft drinks, however profitable they might be; why? Because fast foods and soft drinks harm people and thus Society. When a high percentage of the population becomes obese, when a large number of children develop diabetes at a young age, etc., Society ends up paying a very high price. The companies may make profit but if Society as a whole loses, is that good?

In today’s Society, it is dangerous to delink money-making from its consequences to Society. Economic theories can no longer afford to start from notions of unfettered freedom for the market. One must instead move away from the hitherto sacred principle that the individual has the right to make money to the principle that the individual has responsibilities to discharge to both Society and to Nature. In other words, economic philosophy must start from basic moral and human values and duties that arise thereof rather than rights that the individual might think he or she is entitled to. If we start with value-based economics, then we would have value-based trade and commerce, which in turn would ensure fair distribution of wealth, minimisation of exploitation, well-being for all in some reasonable measure. The present system is based on competition. On the face of it, competition might look like a good thing but soon it gets contaminated by all the evil tendencies lurking within humans, at which point it leads to painful consequences.

History has shown that Society moves forward through harmonious co-operation, which is why the Vedas extol co-operation. And that also is why Swami talks to us often about Unity, Purity and Divinity. Humanity must shine with humanness and NOT with meanness. That will happen only when we stop dreaming all the time about profits, and turn instead to using money for common good. We can never prosper in isolation. The dynamics of Society are such that money gotten by unfair and evil means would always produce its own unpleasant reflection via the problems in Society.

There is much that we can say on this subject, but we shall not. Instead, we bring to you a small extract from a Divine Discourse that Swami gave in Bombay on 12 th March, 1999 at a reception given to Him in the Cooperage ground by the elite of Bombay (now Mumbai).. Many who spoke before Bhagavan expressed grave concern about the rising crime in Bombay . Responding to those fears, this is what Swami said :

Is Bombay in a healthy state today? No! Hundreds of thousands of people are living in slums. Tens of thousand children receive no schooling at all. They roam the streets and take to evil paths. Any number of people are sick and they are left to their fate. In this same city, there are many rich and well-to-do people also. They also are a part of the same Society. They have become rich on account of this very Society; all their wealth has come from the people. But what is it that they are doing with their money? Are they using even a fraction of it for the general good of the public? Are they doing any service? Are they helping the poor in any way? Are they bothered? Are they concerned at all? Do they at least think of them and their misery? Do they feel compassion for them?

What this quote reveals is that money is the starting point of many of the problems of Bombay that Swami alluded to. What applies to Bombay applies to many other parts of the world as well. Values and NOT money should be the starting point of economic philosophy. When one starts with values, one knows how to deal with money properly; money would then not be an end in itself, but the means to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the dispossessed. However, if values are abandoned right at start, then there can be only disaster. We might in passing also draw attention to yet another of the recent Sai Inspires Message that says , “It is only when you experience other’s suffering as your own, that human value is manifested.”

We took up this topic of extreme economic asymmetry just to stress that Swami’s teachings are extra-ordinarily profound and touch all aspects of life. They are of immense value to humanity, especially in the present critical juncture. Will humanity realise that? Will the world wake up? We leave you to speculate about those issues! Meanwhile, if you have any comments, please do not hesitate to write to us.

All best until we get together again next weekend. Jai Sai Ram .

With Love and Regards,

"Heart2Heart" Team.