Some more thoughts on money, spirituality and happiness
- I grew up in a working class neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia. My parents went bowling a lot with the neighbors, my sister and I played with the neighbors' kids. I got in *humungous* trouble quite often, but that was ok.
When I reached high school, my parents moved to a much richer neighborhood. We lived in a bigger house, and my mom bought lots of sculpture and paintings to make it beautiful. We never got to know any of our neighbors, but at least we had a big yard. I thought the house was cold and unlovely no matter how much art we put in it.
In time, I went off to college in a different state. Unfortunately, my mom died quite suddenly at the beginning of my Sophomore year. My stepdad stayed in the house with his beloved toy poodle for a little while. He was really attached to the art, even though he didn't understand the esoteric schlock most of it carried, because he loved my mom and the art reminded my stepfather of her.
Eventually, he sold all of the nice paintings that had been drawn by famous Italian artists, as well as the African and Abstract Expressionist sculpture, and finally found a buyer for the house. He lives these days with his girlfriend in a small condo in one of the Northeast Philadelphia suburbs. The dog passed recently. He's happy with his life.
Money didn't make my family really happy. It just distracted my parents from doing the things that made them happy like going bowling with the neighbors, visiting art museums and studying foreign languages.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that it is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, that give happiness.
The eminent political scholar Amitai Etzioni, writing in the most recent edition of Utne Reader (one of my all-time favorite rags), describes the difficulties involved when societies or governments try to distribute wealth and resources fairly. Of course, the people with the most money also usually have the most political clout. He writes that "The answer is found when elites derive their main source of contentment not from acquiring more goods and services, but from activities that are neither labor nor capital intensive and hence, do not require great amounts of money."
Such activities, he writes, fall into two categories, mainly: communitarian activities and transcendental activities. Communitarian activities include volunteer work for the homeless, organizing on environmental issues, or even forming a `basement' support group that exists only to provide mutual support and understanding. Transcendental activities, of course, would involve prayer, meditation, studying music and the humanities, and pilgrimage.
None of the activities listed above requires a great deal of capital, but the payoff in significant life experiences and lasting joy is huge.
Sri Chinmoy writes:
The world's most colossal joke.
(From Seventy-Seven Thousand Service Trees, poem # 7,826 by Sri Chinmoy)
In a later "Service-Tree" volume, he writes,
Like the deer who runs
To and fro
Looking for the musk,
You will discover that
The supreme Reality
Is inside your heart.
(Poem # 15,608 in the Service-Tree series by Sri Chinmoy)
If people would just explore what's already inside them, in the depths of their hearts, then I think we would see a radical improvement in the standard of worldwide health, cooperation and happiness. Such, I feel, is exactly Sri Chinmoy's vision for the future of human progress.
I like many of the ancient sayings found in the Tao Te Ching, a sacred Chinese scripture:
"When the wise hear the Way, they practice it diligently. When the mediocre hear of the Way, they doubt it.
"When the foolish hear the Way, they laugh out loud. If it were not laughed at, it would not be the Way."
If you have discovered happiness by pursuing an unaffected spiritual lifestyle, then who cares if people are mocking and insulting you? You are entitled to the truth and beauty of your own discovery. You may even eventually be able to offer some little bit of hope and joy to those who right now are scoffing at and belittling you.
As Sri Chinmoy writes, with characteristic simplicity and resonance:
He who sees you praying and meditating
May not immediately follow you.
But someday when he is full of misery,
He will remember that he saw
Something very special in you.
(Poem # 7,950 from the Ten Thousand Flower Flame series by Sri Chinmoy)