Earning Money for the Spiritual Path


I recently had a debate with my spiritual friend on the topic "Spirituality and Money". I said money is essential for spiritual progress...for instance if we want to go to a center to learn meditation, or attend workshops, we need money in terms of transport, workshop fees etc. If we want to go to a mountain cave and meditate, we need money; If we want to help an animal or person in distress, we need money and for several other reasons. Her contention is that money is not at all required for spiritual progress. Buddha gave up wealth. My answer was Buddha must have needed wealth till incarnation in which he was destined to attain liberation. Kindly help us with the answer.

—Nins, India


Dear Friend,

Think of money as energy! Think of achieving increasing spiritual consciousness as the result of self-effort (energy) attracting divine grace. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna responds to Arjuna’s question about what happens to a yogi who strives for enlightenment but does not achieve it in that lifetime. He says that such a soul will be reborn into a home where the opportunity to take up and continue his spiritual search will exist. This is like Buddha being born in the palace of a king or St. Francis being born into the family of a wealthy merchant.

But individual karma is complex and thus there are also saints who are born in poverty and who transcend its limitations (which usually preclude the spiritual search owing to the compelling necessities of bodily survival). But it is curious, however, that many devotees (not yet saints) are born into middle-class circumstances that provide them the opportunity for education, perhaps travel, and ultimately allowing the re-awakening of their spiritual interests to flourish and be sought. In the medieval times, a potential monk or nun had to bring a “dowry” to the convent or monastery and/or were supported, in part, by their families.

But the emphasis is not on money. In fact, quite the opposite. Patanjali states that in the perfection of the attitude of asteya (non-avarice), “all jewels come to you.” This means that as we grow in non-attachment to material wealth and possessions (in our faith and sole dependence upon Divine Mother), we find that our material needs are met. We can easily see that both Buddha and St. Francis were non-attached to their wealth even if it, initially-only, afforded them the opportunity to leave their wealth and pursue the goal of enlightenment and God-realization.

So one should not hide behind the desire for money saying that it is a prerequisite for spiritual seeking. On the other hand, I have counseled some people who had too little energy, enthusiasm, and willingness and who complained that they couldn’t find time for spiritual retreats, pilgrimage or classes because of lack of money, to put out the energy for a job or career that would allow them to do these things. But my real counsel was to put out energy in respect to their dharma.

It comes down to energy and consciousness. One of the deepest and most practical statements by Jesus Christ is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things (material needs) shall be added unto you.” In my life and that of many Ananda members and thousands of devotees down through the ages, I gave up a lucrative career to seek God first. The result of that act has been many opportunities to go on pilgrimage traveling to Europe and India on behalf of my spiritual work. I didn’t seek travel first. I have sought to do my guru’s will and serve my guru’s work without thought of consequences.

As we say in English: “Don’t put the cart before the horse!” Seek God first, and our material needs will, when the time is right, be met. We might be tested at first, living “hand-to-mouth,” but that is simply a test. That being said, there are those devotees whose circumstances or attitudes are such that they do have to strive to be materially successful first owing to karma. Think of India itself: though being wealthy in spiritual consciousness, the culture of India has had to balance that by attending to its material needs for a time. I won’t attempt to analyze the causes of this but the need to do so is obvious and right event though some people feel this pursuit jeopardizes India’s innate spirituality. Thus it must be for the time being.

If my goal is to reach the equator and I am living north of the equator, I will be directed to go south. If I live south of the equator, I must go north. But in both cases, the equator is the goal.

Joy to you!
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA