Wealth, Money, and Vedic Knowledge

By David Frawley - 18.7 2022


One of the common myths about Vedic knowledge is that it requires an austere lifestyle, where people divest themselves of all pleasures and embrace the life of a hermit. Some believe it regards wealth as evil and shuns it with all its might. While Vedic knowledge recommends the right usage of our resources, it also holds that wealth and money is an important force for good or ill that should be under the power of the wise who use it for dharmic purposes. In this article Dr David Frawley with U. Mahesh Prabhu explore the concept of wealth and wisdom from a Vedic perspective and its relevance today. Veda indicates wisdom. Our current aim in education is to gain degrees & certificates used to impress others or get high paying jobs, rarely for true knowledge. It is essential that we understand the importance of Wisdom in the Vedic sense to achieve anything lasting and helpful to all.


Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom

In this information-technology era we easily get trapped in data and information as knowledge. We must first recognize that data is not information, information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom. Data is raw material, like finding wood that can be used for various purposes.

The wood has little value by itself until we fashion it into something. But when we know that a particular type of wood can be used as raw material for certain products – this is useful information. Knowing how to take the wood and shape it properly, is true knowledge. Knowledge takes data, information, and skill and uses them for specific purposes beyond their mere outer forms. But understanding how to use such knowledge to achieve higher goals, rather than just addressing a particular practical need, is what we would define as wisdom.

Today data and information receive more attention than knowledge, while true wisdom is rarely recognized. Previously people believed that Knowledge is Power. With our advancement in information technology and the internet, knowledge is becoming superseded by Information, which we have much more of but also know less how to interpret it and apply it wisely.

Because we confuse Information with Power, we are still struggling to understand the world around us and determine the best course of action. The internet with a plethora of apps and sites bombards us with endless disconnected information and contrary points of view. This information is organized to evoke an emotional reaction that is either or depressing, which is more politics or entertainment than any objective sharing of truth. Such information creates more confusion rather than a clear comprehension of our resources and what we should do with them.

We mistake data and information for Truth. Data and information have no meaningful application without the proper knowledge how to use them. Knowledge tells us what to do with the information and data at hand. For example, when the media informs us about a war, people are made afraid and stimulated to act irrationally. This leads to social unrest including panic buying, selling, riots and chaos.

Whatever occurs outwardly, apparently good or bad, we need to change the perspective in our minds in order to properly deal with it and adapt to the new situation without compromising our core values. That inner shift in perspective happens when we have the knowledge and wisdom within us necessary to bring it about.

Similarly, an economic boom is no guarantee of prosperity for all, nor does a recession mean that everyone will lose money. There are always opportunities in the world for gain or loss, advance or decline. We must identify these through right data and information and then a careful analysis with a calm mind. We must recognize the nature of the forces around us and act according to their potentials, which are various.


The Views of the Rishis

Equanimity of mind is the key for right action, for which understanding how the mind works is essential. Vedic texts boldly declare that our true nature is neither the body nor the mind – which is to say that we transcend body and mind which are but our instruments. The Sanskrit word Atman, often wrongly translated as soul, essentially means “That which transcends the mind.”

If we are neither body nor mind, how can any pleasure and pain in body or mind be ours? How can anything external belong to us? Questions such as these arise once we recognize the reality of our inner Self. Yet this does not mean that we should not try to accomplish anything in the outer world or be concerned about the welfare of society.

Rishis– the sages behind the Vedic texts – were largely individuals who lived in seclusion away from civilization. They had Ashrams – small settlements – which served as places of higher learning. They avoided positions of power and lived in harmony with nature, shunning any display of wealth.

But these Rishis were never escapists. They didn’t accept a hermit’s life because they failed in what they previously did. These Rishis included legendary figures. For example, Vishwamitra and Bhartrihari were great kings before they became hermits. They achieved success in their material and social endeavors before retiring to a life of simplicity and solitude.

According to Vedic principles, the aim of life is to find Sukham, which refers to lasting inner Happiness. But enduring Happiness is not the result of transient Pleasure. Addictions, which entrance so many people today, are powerful sources of outer pleasure. We all know the dangers that these lead to.

As the important Vedic text on wealth, Arthashastra declares: Pleasure is the harbinger of pain; just as pain is the harbinger of pleasure. We experience pain as the opposite of pleasure; and without pain or deprivation we cannot appreciate pleasure. Pleasure and pain are cyclical. This addictive cycle can only be broken through Vidya or Wisdom.

Many people have the misleading notion that by giving up all pleasures we can quickly go beyond all sorrow. Such people may join monastic orders hoping to escape pain. What they don’t understand is that merely leaving one place or institution for another is just a shift in situation and not a real or lasting inner solution.

By focusing on people, situations, or circumstances we may be doing a disservice to ourselves. Attachment can only be countered by detachment, not merely by change of residence or association. But what exactly is detachment? People confuse detachment with renunciation as an outer giving up of possessions or associations. Detachment cannot arise merely by giving something up externally, it requires letting go of our desires internally. Detachment is a state of detached observation based upon calm and control of the mind.


The Place of Meaningful Wealth

There is an important saying in the Arthashastra that Life without Artha is Nirartha. To understand this maxim, we need to understand the concept of Artha. Artha essentially indicates Meaning. Life without meaning is useless, indicating that even wealth without purpose is useless. In the Arthashastra wealth is understood as Meaningful Wealth, which serves a higher purpose, not just collecting outer possessions

Wealth is important for facilitating positive causes for the benefit of all. But meaningful Wealth does not mean merely amassing money for oneself. Money by itself cannot bring lasting wealth or happiness. A gambler may gain a lot of money by gambling but will not be able to use it to achieve any lasting prosperity. That requires knowledge how to use the resources gained.

A healthy body is the necessary foundation for lasting wealth and happiness. When the mind has true knowledge, it directs our physical actions accordingly so we can achieve the goals of life. When we have gained wealth, we can use it for various supportive purposes, including caring for our bodies as we grow old and infirm. There is a time in life when we must work to achieve wealth; then comes a phase when our wealth coupled with our knowledge helps us increase our finances as through proper investments.

Vedic sages honor the importance of money in our lives so that we have the time and resources to pursue our dharma without outer obstacles. Yet they don’t emphasize the importance of money as an end-in-itself. They direct us to knowledge full of wisdom to earn what is necessary to sustain ourselves and our families and help the societies in which we live in and support our spiritual life above all.