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How much money does one really need?
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner (Q): Acharya Ji, please explain what Shri Ramakrishna meant by the following:

“One day a Marwari gentleman went to Sri Ramakrishna and asked him for permission to present him with some thousands of rupees. But the master had nothing but a stern refusal for this well-meant offer. He said, ‘I shall have nothing to do with your money; for if I accept it, my mind would always be dwelling on it.’ The gentleman then proposed to invest the amount in the name of one of Sri Ramakrishna’s relatives to be used by him for the Master’s service. To this, the Master replied, ‘No, it would be double-dealing. Moreover, it would always be in my mind that I am keeping my money with so-and-so.’ But the Marwari still persisted in his proposal, quoting one of Sri Ramakrishna’s own sayings, ‘If the mind is like oil, it will float even upon an ocean of woman and gold'. At this, the Master retorted: That is true indeed; but if the oil floats on water for a considerable length of time, it becomes putrefied. In the same way, even if the mind were only to float over the ocean of ‘woman and gold’ the continuous contact of the latter for a long period would surely tend to vitiate the mind and make it give out an evil odor.”

Acharya Prashant (AP): What does money represent in this story? Money represents that which you do not really need. Meditate on the word ‘need’. Only the Self is needed, everything else is an externality. Only God is really needed, everything else is just a burden, a baggage.

It is not as if Ramakrishna had nothing to do with material, after all, he lived in a particular place; and that place is material. Surely that place was constructed out of somebody’s money. Even temples require material resources to be built. But, at the point when this gentleman is offering the material to Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna does not need it. He already has what he needs.

Going beyond your needs is what Ramakrishna is cautioning against. And what is your need? I repeat, only God is your need. What does that mean to us human beings of flesh and blood? It means, take only as much from the world as is needed to take you to God; only that is your real need. Take only as much from the world as is needed to take you to God.

When Madan Mohan Malviya was building the Banaras Hindu University, he roamed across the entire country and asked for funds. Every single brick of the university comes from donations. He obtained a lot of money, and that money was a real need. You might ask, “But sir, why does a great and wise man like him need to collect lakhs of rupees?” Because that was a need. What is the definition of a need? - That which helps you reach God, because God is your only real need.

If a lakh rupee is needed to serve God's purpose, then lakh rupees are your real need. And if no money is needed to serve God's purpose, then you must not accept even one rupee; and that is exactly what Ramakrishna did. Ramakrishna was in no need of funds at that time, so Ramakrishna says, “No, I do not need this". Had Ramakrishna been in the middle of some pious mission like Madan Mohan Malviya, Ramakrishna too would have accepted that money.

Was Ramakrishna not accepting small offerings from various devotees? He was. He was accepting only as much as was needed to serve the Mother. As much as is needed to serve the Mother, that is your real need. And you must not feel shy of fulfilling that need. Just as you must not be greedy in terms of going beyond that need.

If your real need, if your real God need is 200 rupees, then you have made a mistake if you have accepted 201 rupees. Equally, you have made a mistake, if you accepted only 199. If 200 is what you really need, neither 201 nor 199 is proper because 200 is exactly what will take you to God. 200 is exactly what the God purpose, the God mission requires. When the Dakshineshwar temple was being built, it must have cost money; would Ramakrishna have refused money then? Then he wouldn’t have refused because the Mother needed that temple, the devotees needed that temple. A shrine was to be built where people from across the world would come one day and be introduced to the fundamentals of real devotion and spirituality.

Money is nothing on its own. Money cannot bring you peace, but established in peace, money, and material and the world can be perfectly dealt with. Now you neither need to renounce money nor do you get attached to money because your real need is peace, not money. Now you have a healthy relationship with money.

Kabir would go every evening and sell his wares, his clothes and get money, but how much money? - Only as much money as would enable him to sing his Bhajans the next day. Even Kabir would gather money every day, but how much? – Only as much as would enable him to sing bhajans the next day.

In fact, a Sufi story goes this way –

A Sufi had a little bit of money accumulated with him. Others came to him and asked, “Why do you have this money?” He said, “Because if I do not have this money, then that would interfere with my devotional practices. Having this much enables me to be devoted without concern for the world.” And Kabir puts it even more bluntly; he does not say, "God do not give me any money"; he says:

“Sai itna dijiye, jame kutumb samaye Mai bhi bhukha na rahu, sadhu na bhukha jaye”

(God, only give so much that in which a family can survive, I myself can feed my stomach and also provide food to the visiting Sadhus.)

He is very clear. He does not say that money should be outrightly refused; he says, “You must have money, as much money as is needed to take care of this body and the bodies of those who are in need.”

But, would Kabir hoard money? Would Kabir be attached to money? Would Kabir build a future around money? Would Kabir build a mansion for himself? No, he would not do that. Money is alright, but when your mind becomes obsessed with money, then that mind is not alright.

Q: Sir, if Kabir and Ramakrishna are not attached to money, then why would he not accept…

AP: If you are not hungry, why would you eat? Why should you unnecessarily keep something with yourself that you have no need for? Do you have a need for ladies’ garments? So, if somebody comes and offers them to you, why should you accept them? Do you have a need for space-travel gear - things that people wear when they travel to outer space? Now, somebody comes and offers them to you for free, “Please take it,” would you take them?

Q: Ramakrishna is saying, “My mind would dwell on it.”

AP: Yes, of course, even if you are not attached to something, once you keep it inside your house, at least there is an inventory carrying cost, at least it occupies a corner of your house; your eyes would look at it every day, and Maya is quite deceptive, once you keep looking at something every day, it gives you ideas. Thoughts start coming up from nowhere. So, why should you keep things that you have no genuine need for?

Keep your house clean and empty and spacious. Do not keep stuff there that you have no real need for, otherwise you will get ideas. You have kept the space-travel gear, two years you keep looking at it, and one day you will wear it and jump from the top of a hill, hoping that you would now fly. You just hang the picture of some tempting place on one of your walls and just see what that picture does to you. You’d be tempted to travel to that place. You might be someone who has nothing to do with any kind of sensual activity, but you just hang the picture of a nude woman on one of the walls and see what that picture does to you.

Ensuring that you live in a clean environment is very important. The walls of your house must be covered with truthful sayings, with faces of saints and masters, not with pics of dazzling places and attractive flesh. Don’t keep unnecessary things in your house; they will change your insides.

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