Modern Economics in Light of Spirituality

Published: 24.10.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

South Asia Mail


Saturday, Oct 24, 2009 

The concept of Standard of Living has greatly misled the people. Everybody aspires to attain a high level of living. The problem, however, is that resources are not abandoned for achieving the objective. As a result of the aspiration, the possession of certain articles has come to be regarded as the yardstick of one's status and sign of development. If the objective were limited to the satisfaction of the basic needs, there would, perhaps, be no problem, as that would be healthy thinking. Even animals satisfy their basic needs. Why then an intelligent species like man should not do that? But this concept of standard of living has made basic needs a secondary issue and the craving for non-basic articles has been aroused in man.

Mahavira studied man and the attitudes of man. He said that men exhibit divergent attitudes: they do not measure everybody with the same yardstick. He classified men in three categories:

  • One having many desires (Mahechha)
  • One having few desires (Alpechha)
  • One having no desires (Ichhajayi)

Men in the first category are those who have too many desires, too many wants. Those in the second category have limited desires and few wants and those in the third have controlled their desires, they have conquered desires.

Modern economics requires us to multiply our wants. If there are more desires then there would be inspiration for initiative, leading to greater efforts. When there are few wants, there would be small effort. Mahavira, while analysing both the characteristics, said that the one who takes great desires would have many wants. He would earn his living by immoral means and would not think of virtues.

By saying so, Mahavira said that such a person would be violent, furious, mean, cunning, insolent, wicked. Mahavira has given the interesting picture of the nature of a mahechha type of person. Such a person will not give consideration to anything. If it were in his self-interest, he would not hesitate even to kill anybody.

Today, many innocent and mute animals and birds are being killed mercilessly for the production of luxuries and cosmetics'. In the manufacture of a number of articles, products from bodies of animals, which are killed, have to be used. For exporting meat, numerous butcheries have to be established killing millions of living birds and animals.

Everything is being done for money. Enormous money cannot be earned without so much of violence and fury. Cheating, manipulation, and fraud - all these have to be committed. False accounts, bribery, threat, murder, abduction - all these activities are pursued. All this is associated with the group with great and multiple wants, which is being overwhelmed by the urge for acquisition. It is indeed difficult to visualize how, having expanded wants and the image for acquisition, one can be saved from evil tendencies. It is imperative that we think of welfare along with what is pleasant. Without controlling wants and limiting desires, we cannot achieve welfare.

Alpechha does have desires, but these are limited. Such a person would set up a factory, but he would not accumulate too much capital for himself. Policy of decentralized economy and decentralized power, about which Mahatma Gandhi talked, is the reiteration of what Mahavira called few desires, few wants. Mahavira said, dhammenam vitte kappemana - a person with a few wants earns his living virtuously.

We have two concepts before us - Alpechha (a person with limited wants), and mahechha (a person with many wants). One leads life unethically. Being ethical is to possess compassion. I may mention here about the devoted disciple of Mahavir Saravake Shrimad Rajchandra, who gave the basic mantra ahimsa to Mahatma Gandhi, and who received enlightenment from the fourth Acharya Shrimajjayacharya of Terapanth.

He entered into a deal with a jewellery trader. Prices suddenly shot up. He was losing fifty thousand rupees in just one consignment. Shrimad Rajchandra asked him to bring that agreement. The trader said, "Sir, you need not worry. I will pay you the last penny, but at present I am not in a position to do so". Shrimad Rajchandra replied, "I am not talking about payment or not-payment, l just want to see that agreement once." The trader apprehended that after getting the agreement he would at once file a case in the court and he would be trapped. Accordingly, he was reluctant to give the agreement, but eventually he had to give the agreement. On receiving the agreement, Shrimad Rajchandra tore it to pieces and assured the trader "Rajchandra can drink milk, he cannot suck anybody's blood. I cancel the bargain."

This is mercy. A man with a few wants earns his living virtuously. He does not do injustice to anybody. He does not behave ruthlessly. He does not exploit others. He does not manipulate, nor does he conceal others' possession held in trust.

The third category of person is he who has controlled his wants. We would not consider him a social being. He has no wants or has conquered wants. He becomes detached from the society by becoming a saint. He performs no economic activities, has no factories, and does no business. His life is only devoted to sadhana (devotion). Bhagwan Mahavira said that we leave the third category of persons alone although there is no dearth of people of this category.

In Mahavira's devout society, the number of persons with few wants was five lakhs (500.000) and the number of persons with conquered desires was fifty thousand (50.000). When our saints and sadhvis visit Europe, people are in wonder when they see them. The people wonder how they can withstand heat and cold. They do not carry money either. This type of life is beyond their imagination. They cannot believe that there would be people who have disowned wealth.

Modem Economics is concerned primarily with earning profits in utter disregard of man's basic nature. Anything that does not yield profit is useless from the point of view of modern Economics. Market is supreme; the product has no value unless it is marketed. Man's basic nature has been completely over-shadowed. In vrati (dedicated) society, man's nature is of prime importance. Obviously, there is a distinct divergence between these two points of view.

To maintain that Modern Economics has not given any solution to the problem would also be a one-sided view. The one who understands Mahavira does not have one-sided point of view. There is no doubt that some concepts of modern Economics have helped solve a few problems and have given some relief to the poor. But it has, at the same time, created more problems. If we think objectively, then there will be no difficulty in maintaining that modern economic concepts have encouraged violence.

Respected Gurudev  Tulsi was once sitting in the courtyard of Jain Vishwa Bharti. The Vice-Chancellor of Ajmer University, Dr. Ahuja, who was herself an economist, arrived there. In the course of discussion, she was told that we wanted economics of non-violence. She wondered, however, "which economics would that be". Economics is born out of violence. Wherefrom will it derive non-violence? Let us then understand that the Economics, which is limited to eradicating poverty, is not good for us. For us that Economics is valuable which, while eradicating poverty, does not increase violence. A synthesis of material prosperity and promotion of non-violence is essential today. This kind of synthesis is present in ample measure in the concept of the vrati (dedicated) society propounded by Mahavira. It is only through the harmonization of such principles that the needed synthesis can be achieved.

South Asia Mail - by the efforts of Mr. Lalit Garg
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Ajmer
  4. Bhagwan Mahavira
  5. Economics Of Non-Violence
  6. Gurudev
  7. Jain Vishwa Bharti
  8. Lalit Garg
  9. Mahatma
  10. Mahatma Gandhi
  11. Mahavir
  12. Mantra
  13. Non-violence
  14. Sadhana
  15. Sadhvis
  16. Shrimad Rajchandra
  17. South Asia Mail
  18. Terapanth
  19. Tulsi
  20. Violence
  21. Vrati
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