The burning question was raised many a millennia ago. The questioner was a seer of the Vedic times and the question was targeted at the entire humankind. The same question continued to crop up from time to time. No doubt, every society attempted to answer this question according to its dominant nature and preponderant psyche. But, did the world get a satisfactory answer to the question mouthed by sage of yesteryears? Could this answer help in establishing a flawless and stable system of economy? Or, has it led to more economic problems than actually solving them?
CAPITALISM – WEALTH BELONGS TO THE INDIVIDUAL
Capitalism as a system of economic development began in the 18th century. This century witnessed the outbreak of Industrial Revolution. Machines began to be used for bulk production. Since mass production required heavy investment of capital, therefore those who could afford and invest adequate capital-fuel reaped windfall profits. Within no time, they became the owners of huge wealth and began to dominate the economic fabric of society. This gained acceptance at the altar of underprivileged and the deprived sections of society. Owners of capital amassed more and more wealth and with it they could usurp power and position in society. This lead to the birth of capitalistic system of economy. Under this system, wealth came to be understood as a personal property belonging to the individual concerned. “Work and Earn” became the dominant ideology. Income earned became the sole property of the owner of the capital. Other factors of income-generation became irrelevant and their claim and interference in any manner whatsoever was considered unacceptable. Even state interference was ruled out. All these became accepted principles of capitalistic system of economy.
Thus, the only this answer provided by this system to the age-old question – “Whose wealth is this?”
Was that “The wealth belonged to the individual who earned it.” But, was this answer appropriate? Passage of time proved a decisive factor. Evil consequences started coming to the surface with lapse of time. The nations, which were forerunners in embracing this system, began to feel the piercing pangs of cut-throat competition. Poor became poorer. Rich became richer. Millionaires became billionaires. A few rich cornered the wealth and resources of the nation. As a result, the society witnessed extreme economic inequalities. Sky rocketing buildings alongside huts became a common sight.
How utterly ironical it was! The situation was akin to uneven circulation of blood in a living body. While some organs received blood more than required, others were deprived or received too little. Under such circumstances, what can one expect the state of the body to be? Its depreciation is certain! Deficient organs would get de-activated on being dried up. The ones with excessive blood supply would also not remain healthy. They too will decay.
In exactly the same fashion it also became the destiny of the capitalistic economy. On the one hand, the poor were deprived of the bare minimum necessities of life and total deprivation became their life’s integral part. On the other hand, rich became richer to such an extent that their coffers began to swell. As a natural consequence, vices engulfed them. Promiscuity and licentiousness became their lifestyle.
Depravity and wickedness not only descended on social fabric, but also moral values witnessed a steep fall. While the rich exploited the poor, the poor, in order to fill their bellies, stopped distinguishing between right and wrong means. In course of time, the grave shortcomings and pitfalls of the capitalistic economy led to the nations to plunge into state of utter disorderliness. Gloom descended all over the world.
The dark side of capitalism made it clear that it failed to provide a suitable answer to the age-old question. This led the world to move to a new system to run the affairs of the world economy.
SOCIALISM – WEALTH BELONGS TO THE SOCIETY
The proponents of socialism like Karl Max, etc. declared in Unison – “Individual property is theft; property owners are thieves.” Thus, they advocated that the system of personal property should be destroyed. Wealth should be declared as income of the society and be distributed proportionately in the society and be distributed proportionately in the society without any discrimination whatsoever. On these fundamental principles emerged socialism. Complete ownership of wealth was bestowed upon the society. The age-old Vedic question received a new answer – ‘Wealth belongs to the society.’
The question is whether this experiment was logical and rational. Certainly, the solution to the discriminatory practices of capitalism was inherent in this system. The system provided solution to the economic inequalities, which prevailed in the capitalistic system of economy. Through this system, exploitation could be checked to a large extent. However, amidst solutions and finer points of this system, another grave problem cropped up which itself exposed the serious loopholes in the system. There emerged a larger issue of immense concern to both the producer and the consumer. The system usurped the all-important elements of personal freedom. All crucial decisions pertaining to production came to be taken by a handful of planners and bureaucrats. Bureaucracy reigned supreme in every walk of life. Since the system predetermined the wages of individual, skill and innovation got dissolved over a period of time. Since there was no personal profit, nobody felt motivated to put in extra labour and skill. Lethargy began to prevail all around. People opted for leisure in lieu of hard work. All this together inflicted a hard blow to socialism. The impact was so powerful that even a strong nation like USSR could not bear it and ultimately collapsed. Many East European nations also became victims of immature and impracticable policies of this system.
Thus, the age-old Vedic question – “Whose wealth is this?” remained answered on the social horizon too. These developments forced the economists and policy makers to propose another answer to this vital question. There emerged another system to run the economic fabric of the society.
MIXED ECONOMY – WEALTH BELONGS TO BOTH THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE SOCIETY
In reply to Vedic Question, this system said, “Both the individual and the society have the ownership of wealth.” The wealth belongs to both. As a result, the world witnessed co-existence of both the private and the public sector. In lure of personal profit, the private sector started devising best skills and practices to produce goods and services at the optimum level. On the other hand, the public sector started utilising national resources in a planned manner for social welfare.
The merits of both, Capitalism and Socialism, were merged to gain maximum profits and attain the goal of social well-being. But, every coin has two sides. Just as the merits of the two previous systems were up for grab, even so, the demerits were also there to follow the suit. Many other serious issues also surfaced. To cut things short, this system also did not prove fault-free.
The aforementioned facts are not meant to convey that all these system were a total failure. Moving on these lines, some nations could undoubtedly achieve an all-round development. The progress and advancement of nations like USA, Japan, etc. is today witnessed by the whole world. However, the fact also cannot be ignored that none of the systems proved perfect and fool proof. Each system suffered from some or the other shortcoming.
A system can be perfect only under one condition – when it not only propels industrial progress but also boosts the moral and ethical wealth of both the producers and the consumers mentally and ethically. An ideal system would be one which not only lays a strong foundation for economic growth but also sow the seeds of satisfaction, patience, and selflessness in the minds of people. Only a system, which pays equal regard and attention to both the aspects of human evolution, can be perfect and fault free. Such a system, capturing the two-fold purpose of human development, alone can provide a logical and rational answer to the vital Vedic question.
SPIRITUALISM – WEALTH BELONGS TO GOD
The Vedic seer had not just raised a question of immeasurable significance for the entire human race, but had also provided answer to the question itself. If we refer to the Sanskrit version and connotation of the question – Kasya svid dhanam, we would know that the question itself provided the answer. Inherent in the connotation is the answer to the question. The entire expression when disintegrated implies – K+asya svid dhanam – Wealth belongs to God alone. Therefore, Spiritualism declares unequivocally that wealth belongs neither to an individual nor the society. It belongs to God only. It is just an offering to humankind from the ever benevolent Lord. We are only trustees empowered to make use of it in a rightful manner.
Recipient of an offering is then required to follow religiously an age-old special tradition. Under this God-ordained tradition, one is not permitted to hoard wealth or use it for personal deeds alone. It has to be mutually shared and expended. Then and then alone, it gives pure pleasure to all. It has been said that something which pleases all is oblation – Prasaadam. Spiritualists, in every age, advocated this very system of dealing with wealth.
The system entails the following guiding principles:
· Wealth in our possession should be looked upon as a gracious offering from God.
· Never ever hoard wealth in your personal coffers.
· Never restrict it to personal use only.
· Help should be heartily extended to the needy and deserving.
The ideas were presented to the posterity by the Vedic seers through their powerful messages and soulful personal examples. Hereunder, is presented a brief description of some examples:-
In Shrimad Bhagvat Puran, Lord Krishna dwelt upon an important principle of economic policy. He declared that “a man has rightful right on quantity which is sufficient to pacify his hunger. The one, who considers as his own more than what is needed by him, is a thief of society and liable to be punished.”
Bhagwan Mahavir also depicted the same principle in words – “wealth more than one’s need is liable to be abnegated like sacred cow’s meat.” Thus, all enlightened souls have criticised the tendency of hoarding. They have said that such tendencies are apt for ants and bees, but, for humans this mind-set is deplorable.
The Vedas also proclaim – “Those who consume their earned income alone and do not share with others, all their efforts for income-generation are futile. Remember, this wealth will one day become the cause of their death.”
In this roaring message is inherent a profound warning too. The sages, in fact, endeavoured to convey to the humankind that even if one amasses wealth like Duryodhana, a villainous character in the famous epic Mahabharata who denied lawful share to his brethren, he will surely be defeated in life. A similar message is also depicted in the Holy Gita. One of its verses says – “Those great ones who consume remains of a religious sacrifice are liberated from all sins. But, those who look for only themselves, they only earn and accumulate sins.” At another place, the Holy Gita advises not to hoard more than required. Never consume alone. Share with others.
What should really be done with earned income? The system of economy whose sole basis is spiritualism presents an altogether different philosophy. It advises us to distribute earned income among the deserving and needy people of the society. Saint Kabir has also given similar message through one of his verses. The verse says – “When water enters the boat, the instant reaction of the boatman is to pour the water out using both his hands. In the same vein, when the wealth swells up in our coffers, we should demonstrate humanness by giving it away in charity to the society with both hands.”
It, however, does not imply that earning is a bad proposition. This system goads us to work hard using fair means and earn. But, all this should not be for self-interest rather for philanthropic purposes. It should be inspired by goodness at large. We have heard of Emperor Harshvardhana, who would work hard for five years to run the affairs of his kingdom. And then, at the conclusion of the fifth year, he would give away everything in charity.
Not just one, there have been umpteen philanthropists in the past. Large heatedness has been the cornerstone of philanthropy of the Aryans of yesteryears. Self-abnegation and self-extrusion has been the tradition. Hoarded wealth was declared to be the cause of death and giving away in charity was compared to immortality.
Charity – How, How much, and to Whom is a significant aspect of this deed itself. Charity should not be done blindly. Spiritualism does not advocate irrational charity. Act of charity should be performed with clear and clean heart, and with utmost humility. There should not be even a tinge of self-praise and pride. God should be regarded as the only giver and we as only His instruments. Give away charity as per your economic status. Give only to the needy and the deserving. Make sure that your act of charity should not propel the recipient to take begging as a matter of habit. Give only to the one who is truly impoverished and hapless. Only such institution should benefit by your charity which are doing real public good and welfare. – These were ideals and rules that were enshrined in the economic system proposed by the spiritualists of India.
Saint Kabir has said – “If such a system is introduced in the society, down to the level of an individual, this will lead to a flawless system of economy in which nobody will earn and spend using unfair means.” This will surely reinforce and establish the finer points and merits of Ram Rajya. All will be suffused with the sense of large heartedness and philanthropy. None will be poor, impoverished, and sorrowful. There will be health, happiness, and wealth all over.
It is, therefore, imperative for the materialistic world to pay heed to our Saints’ exhortation. Pay heed and act to usher into an ideal world. Deeds and wealth become productive, constructive, and justifiable when acted upon by internalising eternal religion. Practical spirituality (Brahm Gyan)is the foundation of a sound economic system. This is the eternal truth.