The Connection Between Money And Spirituality

Article in the Mindscape Section of the May 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

If you had to choose between two options, becoming more spiritual or having more money, what would you choose? Where would you put your money – On spirituality or on money? Or, where does your heart lie – In spirituality or in money? What’s more important than making a choice between the two is to understand how one and in turn the other could impact your life. Will having more money make you more spiritual or will it take away from your level of spirituality?

In the year 1943, Abraham Maslow in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, proposed a theory in psychology called the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In this theory, he represented human needs at different levels in a pyramid with the most basic physiological need right at the bottom and moving upwards to other needs like the need for safety, love or belonging, esteem and finally the need for self actualization right at the top of the pyramid.

A need to make spiritual progress or attain self realization is linked more to the self actualization need which surfaces strongly only after the other lower needs are met. How having money aligns with this theory is that it helps you meet all your basic needs and perhaps even helps you attain the need of esteem or self respect. Having satisfied all these needs, the next logical level is to fulfil the self actualization need and one of the prominent dimensions of this need is making spiritual progress. Some people (not all) who don’t have adequate money might end up spending a lifetime trying to fulfil their need for self esteem or the need to feel a sense of belongingness or sometimes even just trying to ensure the feeling of security in life. This short sightedness might end up curtailing the spiritual progress that they could have made had their basic needs been met.

Now I don’t want to sound as if money is the passport to spiritual growth. It isn’t. But what’s worth noting is that having more money, almost eternally has been linked with having more material possessions. And many of the super rich realize at some point that the mere pursuit of making more money and accumulating more material assets has real limitations. “What next???” is the big question. Especially when you can buy or own almost anything that you can think of, areas like spirituality particularly start to seem like more meaningful pursuits. Some of the richest people in the world also end up being the biggest philanthropists for precisely this reason. While quite a few of the rich and affluent shift their interests to spirituality due to the sheer boredom of material pursuits, many of them actually see spirituality as an area that will help them live a more fulfilling and satisfied life. The song “Can’t buy me love” by the 1960’s band The Beatles has many useful messages in it. There is a line in the song that goes “…I don’t care too much for money, and money can’t buy me love”. And there are many of us in this world who realize this a shade too late in life. It’s not uncommon to find people in the urban working world who spend most of their lives slogging and making money or amassing wealth till one day they are affected by an incurable disease or have lost a loved one. They realize at this point that no amount of money or material possessions can cure them or bring their loved ones back to life. There are a lot of things like love, happiness, peace of mind, contentment, etc. that money can’t buy, for everything else there’s master card. Another very common phenomenon among all sections of society is that as people start to get older, they begin to realize that the money and wealth that they’re working so hard to put together are things that will not help them eliminate loneliness or cure insomnia. Nor are money and wealth things that they are going to take with them when they kick the bucket. This realization often pushes people to explore spirituality. There is no point lying on your death bed thinking of how you needn’t have worked so hard after all and could have spent more time with your family instead of at airport lounges.

Of course, people don’t always wait to start growing old to realize the importance of spirituality. Quite often, this realization hits individuals earlier on in life. T. Harv Eker, the author of “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind” talks about something interesting in his seminars. He says that the best thing about becoming a millionaire or getting rich is not the money itself; it is who you have to become to make that money. In other words, to increase your wealth creation potential, you have to become a bigger, better person in many ways. A strong part of this personal growth is the spiritual dimension, either a meditation practice, belief in god or even appreciation for the good things in life or gratitude. In fact, many of the rich and famous realize that a strong spiritual dimension in their lives will actually help them achieve greater fame and fortune. In the 1992 American Music Awards, when Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff won the award for the best rap album, they came up on stage to receive the award and Will Smith highlighted the importance of being grounded in spite of any kind of success or celebrity status. Many a times, even money comes with a price tag. The success, fame, glory, hectic life style or stress related to stardom are part and parcel of your earning potential. To deal with these effectively, many turn to spirituality.

Finally, spirituality is a great leveller. Your bank balance or net worth might have an impact on steering you towards a spiritual pursuit but might have little to do with the quality of the spiritual pursuit thereafter. In that sense, spirituality could be an absolute leveller. The quality of your spiritual experience has nothing to do with how much money you have. Whether it’s the blissful experience of a soft breeze hitting your face by a meadow in the countryside or a life transforming realization that you have while in a deep meditative trance. For many who belong to the not so financially sound segments of society, a spiritual practice or experience is something that takes them beyond money, status and power. Likewise, for the wealthy segments of society, spirituality and the related higher experiences are things that are beyond what their money can possibly get them.