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Why most people struggle with money || Acharya Prashant, with Youth (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
16 min
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Questioner (Q): Namaste, Acharya Ji. So, the way we are brought up, everything is related to money.

Money is always the centre. But I have heard people saying that economics and spirituality can't go together; they can't go hand in hand. I wanted to ask if there are any economic benefits of being spiritual?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, economics concerns the material world. Everything that is material comes in the purview of economics. Economics is the science of material welfare. But when it comes to material, there are so many choices that you have, right? For example, at this moment, what are the material things you can see around yourself?

Q: Everything—this hall. The things we are using...

AP: Let's count a few. So there is this camera. There's this little vase. There are these chairs, the carpet, the lights. These are all material things. How do you determine which one to go for? These are material objects, but the decision to have one of them is a subjective one, right? These are objects, but whether or not you want those objects is a subjective decision—it depends on you.

Now, how will you make the decision? How will you, for example, know whether that little plant, which is also a material being, is more valuable than this tumbler? How will you know that? And that's a very important question: Which material object is important for me? Because depending on the importance you give to a certain object, its importance in the economy rises or falls.

You know the law of supply and demand, right? If you start wanting something, its price will rise, and everything that is related to that object—the entire ecosystem, the entire supply chain—will start prospering. So, what shape the economics of a place takes depends on the value I accord to this object or that object, right? For example, jewellery—why do you go after jewellery? I'm not talking of those who look at gold or silver as investments.

But why do most people rush after diamonds, or rings, or necklaces, or precious stones, or whatever? It's a subjective decision, right? And so what happens, therefore? The price of a stone rises greatly, and you work very hard to, one day, come to a situation when you'll be able to afford that stone, and it's just a stone. Now, does the stone intrinsically carry that much value? Does the stone have something inside of itself, something innate to it that is very valuable?

Hardly anything. It's your own subjective value system, it's your own conditioning that's telling you that you must have that stone. And to have that stone you'll hop jobs, you may even take a loan, you may save for a long time so that ultimately you may have that stone, right?

Spirituality tells you what exactly is valuable in life. If you're a spiritual person, you are unlikely to attach great value to just a metal or a stone. And can you imagine how much hardship can this wisdom save you from? Otherwise, you can spend your entire life running after things that just do not matter.

Good spirituality is, therefore, good economics. If you are not a spiritual person, then you will make all economically-unwise decisions in your life, as people do. We do not know what to purchase. We do not know what really is valuable, even in the material domain. I am not merely talking of courage, or compassion, or wisdom, or relationships. I'm talking of something very material and tangible.

How do you decide, for example, which car to purchase? How do you decide whether you need to rent a house or buy it? Tell me, please. Isn't it a subjective decision? Isn't it a thing of your own wisdom? And if you're not wise enough, then you will end up buying a house where a rented thing might have sufficed, and you very well know what's the duration of the home-loan EMI (Equated Monthly Installment)—20 years. Now for 20 years, you are in bondage. It will look like a financial transaction: a certain amount is deducted from your bank account every month, but what has happened is actually a spiritually-unwise decision.

You didn't know whether that house is really of great utility to you, and why didn't you know that? Because you do not know who you are, and, therefore, what you really need. When you do not know who you are and what you really need, then you just start asking for things that everybody in the society is going after. You will say, “Oh, everybody's buying a house, so I too need to buy a house.”

You didn't really need the house, but you bought the house. Even decisions concerning relationships have great financial impacts, don't you know that? Now you do not know who you are, and, therefore, what's the purpose of your life, and you get married. And you get married to a guy who says, “You will have to quit your job if you marry me. You'll have to relocate to another city, and if you want, you may find a job there.”

Now, don't you see that a spiritual decision is having definite financial repercussions? —A spiritual or an unspiritual decision. Because there was no spirituality, probably, involved in your decision to get into a relationship. Similarly, the decision to have a baby, do you understand the kind of economics that are attached to adding that little member to your household? It's not merely a biological or emotional thing. It's a big, huge financial project to give birth, but we do not know.

And when we do not know what to do with life, then we keep on taking stupid decisions that ruin us even in the financial and economic sense. See, why do people go bankrupt? It's not necessarily because they didn't earn. Mostly, it is because they didn't know where to spend. They also never had their priorities clear in life, and to have your priorities clear in life is a spiritual thing. If you are not spiritual, how will you know what to do in life?

Now you all are here and pursuing a professional course, and it's possible, it does happen, I hope it doesn't happen here, that a girl like you gets a decent job in a far-off city, and the parents, because they come from a conservative mindset, and they don't have their minds clear, they just don't allow her to go that far away to work. Now, don't you see that conservatism has had financial costs?

The girl could have gone somewhere, earned for herself, and probably also brought some prosperity to the house, but lack of spiritual clarity has prevented financial gains. You look at the stock markets, for example, why do people lose so much there? The primary reasons are fear and greed. You invest much more than you can really afford, and when things don't go your way, you start panicking, and then you book losses.

Let it be very clear that spirituality and worldliness are not two separate domains. Even to succeed in the world, you need to be spiritual. And that's the reason why spirituality is so essential. If you are not spiritual, the punishment will not be that you will be denied entry into some heaven. Heaven etc. anyway don't exist. The punishment of not being spiritual is that you lead a very bad, a very ruined worldly life and that includes an economic life, a ruined economic life.

The fellow just does not know what to do with material objects. Instead of spending three hundred rupees on a book, he would rather buy a pizza. And this is a financial transaction, right? You can spend three hundred rupees on a book, or you could buy a pizza. But you do not know what to give a higher priority to, therefore, you just splurge your money, waste it just anywhere.

Even to be smart with money matters, you require a spiritual insight, and that applies at the micro level, also at the macro level. You look at nations, the finance minister, for example, presents the budget. Now, what do you give a higher priority to: subsidizing electricity or taking care of education and health? If the fundamentals, the inner-spiritual fundamentals are not clear, then you will present a budget that will give freebies to your constituency, your voter group, instead of putting the money in the right place.

So, it is not merely the person, even nations, actually the entire world suffers when the one making the economic decision is spiritually bankrupt. There are countries that spend an unbelievable proportion of their annual budget in just procuring arms—North Korea, for example. Now people there are starving, actually. The standard of living, the quality of life is very low, but all the money is being spent in being battle-ready.

Do you see how an unwise person can ruin the economy itself? The mistake that we make is, we think that to learn spirituality we have to go to one person, and the world and its matters are an altogether different thing, so to succeed in the worldly domain, we have to listen to other people; that's just not right.

Spirituality is there to tell you exactly what to do in this world, which object to give value to, which object to discard and give no value to. There are objects that you should not bring home, even if they are available for free. And there are objects that you should bring home irrespective of how costly they are. And that kind of thing only spirituality can tell you: what is it that you must always value and what is it that you must never spend your money on? You see, you look at the life of the common man. What bondages does he carry? What is it that makes the life of the common man hell?

Today, even a very ordinary worker earns ten-thousand, fifteen-thousand rupees, except if you are in the interiors (interior parts of the country), or if you are very unlucky, but still there is a lot of malnutrition. We also hear of entire families committing suicide because of poverty. Now, ten to fifteen thousand is not that small an amount that you cannot even eat. What is happening then?

What is happening is that we make very, very unwise decisions in life. Those unwise decisions that we make cost us a lot of money, and when they cost us a lot of money, we start saying, “Oh, the economic situation is very bad, at the personal level and at the national level.” Is that really so? The thing is that you produced five kids. The thing is that you spent 10 lakhs on your daughter's marriage, when you didn't need to, and that too on borrowed money. We know of the plight of farmers.

We know of farmer’s suicides—a lot of them happen because the farmer would have taken loans from the local money lender at a high rate of interest. And do you know why many of those loans are taken? For example, to take care of rituals: somebody in the family has died, and for 13 days, the rituals are there, and a lot of people have to be fed, and money has to be given to the local priest. And for all this, the poor farmer goes and borrows money, and that money comes at very arbitrary interest rates.

Later on, he cannot pay it off. The result, often, is a tragic suicide. Had we been spiritual, we would have known the importance of rituals. We would have said, “No ritual is so important that I ruin my life for it. Why should I get into something that is so hollow and meaningless? What does it all mean? The dead one is gone, and why should I be ruining the future and prospects of those who are alive?”

But we are not spiritual people. In fact, sometimes we are quite religious, but still not spiritual, so we keep making one unwise decision after the other, and that ruins the entire life. The fellow has been told that having a boy is very important. “Unless you have a son, the family is incomplete. And if you don't have a son, then your ghost will keep roaming about, because it is the son who has to, you know, perform the final rights when the father is gone.” So, the father is adamant, “I want a son!”

But the father cannot really control biology, so one after the other, five daughters are born, and the father is still waiting for a son. And, ultimately, the sixth one is a son. Now the son is here—alright. The father can die in peace, but how will he live in peace? He has to feed these six, and feeding these six is an economic project, don't you see that?

Because you are spiritually bankrupt, therefore, you get into economic trouble. And then you say, “Oh, the country is so bad, and the government is doing nothing for me.” Why did you produce these many? The fellow is still unemployed, but it has been drilled into his brain that he must necessarily get married—ditto for women.

She is now 25 or 28, and everybody is getting a cardiac arrest, “Oh, she's still unmarried!” Now, instead of getting into a career, looking after her future, she gets into the maternity ward. She could have earned a lot, now all that earning goes for a toss. Now, you have great financial hardships, don't you want to blame your financial hardships for your spiritual illiteracy?

It is your spiritual illiteracy that leads to all kinds of financial, economic worldly troubles; we do not realize that. In fact, I’ll venture to say that all the troubles that you have, even in the world, are really because we do not have spiritual education. Why do you think somebody fails an examination, you are students here, why do you think somebody fails an examination? Was he short of time, really?

There was another fellow who did very well in the same exam. His day had the same 24 hours. His classmate flunked the exam, how did that happen? Did this fellow have a particularly low IQ; that's not usually the case. Why did he fail the exam, then? Because his material priorities were not clear. The book is a material kept in front of you and so is the mobile phone.

Now, instead of getting into the book, this fellow was all the time getting into Instagram. And whether to get into the book or into Instagram is a decision of wisdom. If you do not have wisdom, then instead of the book, you will all the time choose shorts, reels, and then you fail the exam, and then you think that you are academically poor. No, you are not academically poor. First of all, you are spiritually poor. Because you are spiritually poor, that's the reason you are academically poor.

Because you are spiritually poor, that's the reason often you are economically poor. The vice versa is not necessarily true. I'm not saying everybody who has money is spiritually rich—no, that's not the claim. Even without being spiritually rich, you can have money, for a while at least; there are accidental things that happen. But one thing is certain, if you are spiritually bankrupt, all kinds of foolish decisions you will take in life, including economically unwise decisions.

You know of the Sri Lankan financial crisis. You also know how your neighbor, Pakistan, is unable to pay off its loans, even the interest on the loans. Why do you think that is happening? Where is the money going then? The money is being siphoned off towards unworthy priorities. That's where the money is going. That's how the Sri Lankan economy collapsed. That's how any economy collapses. A person collapses because he's unwise. A nation also collapses because the nation is unwise.

So, spirituality is not just about taking 'Ram naam', and sitting in your corner, and being aloof from the world, and meditating with your eyes closed. You require spirituality at every step in life. Want to choose a career? You need to be spiritual to make the right decision. Want to buy a car or a house? You need to be spiritual to make the right decision. Want to choose a man or a woman for a relationship? Again, you need to be spiritual to make the right decision. Any decision that you have to take in life will go bad if it is not taken from a spiritual point.

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