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A Hindu perspective on Economics

Seeta Lakhani's picture

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A Hindu perspective


Finding the balance

Hindus recognise that without taking care of worldly needs, spiritual progress is not possible. Creating wealth is a vital requirement in every society, and Hinduism recognises the importance of the creation and accumulation of wealth. One of the four aims of Hindu life is artha meaning ‘creating wealth’. The duty of every householder is to earn money righteously, with which he can support his family as well as others. This second stage of life is therefore considered extremely important as it provides financial support for the maintenance of the whole of society. The creation and accumulation of wealth are acceptable, as long as the wealth is then redistributed for the good of others. This is the requirement for religious living. The danger of excess wealth is that it can lead to over-indulgence and a materialistic way of life, which then hinders spiritual progress. On the other hand, a poverty-stricken individual can hardly focus his mind on spiritual matters; he is too busy eking out a living to think about spiritual matters. Both too much money or too little money can be detrimental to spiritual progress.


At a personal level

Religious living means learning to live for others. It encourages earning money for the upkeep of the family and stipulates that money should also be used for the benefit of the needy. The rich have an obligation to help the poor. Showing apathy towards the suffering of others cannot be accepted. The law of karma would come into action and the fact that we ignore the suffering of others would count against us and produce unpleasant consequences for us to bear in this or future lives.


Hinduism therefore advises affluent devotees not to hoard wealth, but to act as the stewards and distributors of wealth. Sri Ramakrishna teaches the man of wealth to ‘act in the world as a servant, look after everyone and act as if everything belongs to you, but know in your heart that nothing is yours; you are only the guardian (of wealth), the servant of God. Wealth spent for the benefit of others is money well spent.’


At an international level

On a more international scale, the reason why rich nations must extend an immediate helping hand to third-world countries is not just because the world is now a global village and the rest of the world will suffer as a result of their poverty. There are two contrasting attitudes to charity in Hinduism:

  • Dualistic Hinduism (Dvaita Vedanta) teaches that individual souls are separate from God, and conveys the importance of giving wealth through the idea of daya (compassion), and dana (charity), as ways to please God. These commandments are very similar to those adopted by religions such as Christianity and Islam.

  • Non Dualistic Hinduism (Advaita Vedanta) teaches that the individual soul and God are essentially the same, which gives a more logical reason why we should help others. The real, spiritual reason we should help others is because essentially we are all expressions of the same spirit. It is God alone who shines out through so many different eyes, so helping others is no big deal, it is just helping ourselves. The right attitude is to look on the poor as God Himself, and it is our duty to serve this living God here and now. The reason why we should not ignore the problems of the rest of the world is not so that the problems do not arrive on our doorstep, but because we are essentially expressions of the same divine being.