World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts
Editor, Andrew Wilson
Labor And Industry
An important practical function of religion is to encourage the virtues that make for economic success, such as: industry, frugality, concern for home and family, delay of gratification for a future goal, honesty in one's dealings, and perseverance in an undertaking. In addition, religion should give positive value to worldly success and the labor required to become prosperous. Max Weber's well-known thesis on the rise of capitalism credits the Calvinist Protestant ethic with the rise of capitalism in the West by encouraging believers to interpret their success as a sign of God's favor. He doubted that modern industrial societies could arise in people of other religions. Today, however, it is imperative that the wealth of Western capitalism be shared by all peoples, and this requires that every society develop its own industrial base. And indeed, as the economic rise of the Confucian-based societies of East Asia proves, other religions also possess--or potentially can develop--the foundations necessary to support the development of a modern industrial society.
We give a few texts from scriptures which support industry and value the accumulation of wealth. They approve of honest work as its own reward, condemning sloth, laziness, and profligacy. But labor is even more sanctified if its wealth, once accumulated and enjoyed, is then devoted to charitable and public ends. Philanthropy is the logical end of capitalist accumulation, and one of its most important religious justifications.
We conclude this section with two versions of the Parable of the Talents, from the New Testament and the Jain scriptures. Though they have different imports, they share in common the theme that a person has the obligation to make the best use of what has been given him.
Work is worship.
Hinduism. Virashaiva Proverb
Great is labor; it confers honor on the laborer.
Judaism. Talmud, Nedarim 49b
When the blacksmith dies, his hand hangs in the world.
African Traditional Religions. Idoma Proverb (Nigeria)
When the prayer is finished, scatter in the land and seek God's bounty, and remember God frequently, that you may prosper.
Islam. Qur'an 62.10
Do you keep your feet, hands, intellect ready, O Mazdayasni Zoroastrians, in order to practice lawful, timely, well-done deeds, in order to undo unlawful, untimely, bad-done deeds. Let one practice here good industry; let one make the needy prosperous.
Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Visparad 15.1
And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your ground.... And the Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; and you shall tend upward only, and not downward; if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God.
Judaism and Christianity. Deuteronomy 28.11-13
Weeping is not the answer to poverty; a lazy man who is hungry has no one to blame but himself.
He who wishes to eat the honey which is under the rock should not be unduly worried about the edge of the axe.
There is no place where one cannot achieve greatness; only the lazy prospers nowhere. There is no place that does not suit me, O divinity!
African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverbs (Nigeria)
Virashaiva Proverb: This expression, kayakave kailasa, means that labor, when done with a selfless attitude (see Bhagavad Gita 3.4-9, below) is equal to self-realization itself. It could also be translated, Service is salvation. Qur'an 62.10: Prayer and spiritual concerns must be the foundation for worldly success. Visparad 15.1: The Parsees in India have long been known for their industry; they occupy much of Bombay's middle class. Deuteronomy 28.11-13: Prosperity is a mandate from God. This passage is often used in lower-class Protestant churches to exhort people to industry, thrift, and ambition, to forswear the fatalism and profligacy of poverty, and adopt a middle-class lifestyle--all with the confidence that they really are meant to succeed in life.
He who says, "It is too hot, too cold, too late!" Leaving the waiting work unfinished still, Lets pass all opportunities for good. But he who reckons heat and cold as straws And like a man does all that's to be done, He never falls away from happiness.
Buddhism. Digha Nikaya iii.185, Sigalovada Sutta
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her food in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a vagabond, and want like an armed man.
Judaism and Christianity. Proverbs 6.6-11
One who claims to be a saint, And goes about begging-- Touch not his feet! He whose livelihood is earned through work, And part given away in charity-- Such a one, Nanak, truly knows the way to God.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Var Sarang, M.1, p. 1245
We were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat anyone's bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busy- bodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.
Christianity. Bible, 2 Thessalonians 3.8-12
Digha Nikaya iii.185: This sutra is addressed to householders and refers to the worldly labors of trade and industry, not merely to spiritual pursuits. Yet the latter also applies, compare Luke 14.16-24, p. 585. Var Sarang, M.1: This passage critiques asceticism which can degenerate into parasitic begging. The religious ideal of ascetic poverty may discourage the sincere believer from striving for economic success. Cf. Dhammapada 308, p. 427. 2 Thessalonians 3.8-12: Paul is speaking of how he and his fellow apostles did not rely upon their congregations for support, but earned their own bread.
He who shirks action does not attain freedom; no one can gain perfection by abstaining from work. Indeed, there is no one who rests even for an instant; every creature is driven to action by his own nature.
Those who abstain from action while allowing the mind to dwell on sensual pleasure cannot be called sincere spiritual aspirants. But they excel who control their senses through the mind, using them for selfless service.
Fulfill all your duties; action is better than inaction. Even to maintain your body, Arjuna, you are obliged to act. But it is selfish action that imprisons the world. Act selflessly, without any thought of personal profit.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 3.4-9
In the dark night live those for whom the world without alone is real; in night darker still live those for whom the world within alone is real. The first leads to a life of action, the second to a life of meditation. But those who combine action with meditation cross the sea of death through action and enter into immortality through the practice of meditation. So have we heard from the wise.
Hinduism. Isha Upanishad 9-11
Rabbi Judah ben Ilai, Rabbi Jose ben Halafta, and Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai were sitting together. Rabbi Judah praised the Roman government for the splendid markets, bridges, and baths they had erected in Palestine. Rabbi Jose kept silent. Rabbi Simeon retorted that they had done so for their own benefit, not for the land's sake.
A disciple incautiously repeated this, and a Roman spy informed the government. An edict was issued that Rabbi Judah be promoted to the headship of Jewish assemblies; that Rabbi Jose be banished to Galilee; and that Rabbi Simeon be executed. Rabbi Simeon and his son, Rabbi Eleazar, hid in a cave for many years and spent their time there in mystical studies, laying the foundation for the Zohar and other works of Kabbalah. When they left the cave, following a change in the administration of Palestine, they beheld several men engaged in agricultural labor. They exclaimed, "These folk neglect eternal affairs and trouble themselves with temporal matters."
Then they returned to the cave until their minds had grown accustomed to the idea that people should engage in material labor as well as in spiritual work, and that such is the will of God.
Judaism. Talmud, Shabbat 33b
Bhagavad Gita 3.4-9: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 3.25-26, p. 833.
A clansman has wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by strength of arm, won by sweat, lawful and lawfully gotten. At the thought, "Wealth is mine acquired by energetic striving, amassed by strength of arm, won by sweat, lawful and lawfully gotten," bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called "the bliss of ownership."
A clansman by means of wealth acquired by energetic striving... both enjoys his wealth and does meritorious deeds therewith. At the thought, "By means of wealth acquired... I both enjoy my wealth and do meritorious deeds," bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called "the bliss of wealth."
Buddhism. Anguttara Nikaya ii.68
Abu Huraira reported God's Messenger as saying, "Among the actions and good deeds for which a believer will continue to receive reward after his death are knowledge which he taught and spread, a good son whom he left behind, or a copy of the Qur'an which he left as a legacy, or a mosque which he built, or a house which he built for the traveller, or a stream which he caused to flow, or a contribution which he gave from his property when he was alive and well, for which he will continue to receive reward after his death."
Islam. Hadith of Ibn Majah
It will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, "Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master." And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, "Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much, enter into the joy of your master." He also who had received one talent came forward, saying, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours." But his master answered him, "You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."
Christianity. Matthew 25.14-30: Parable of the Talents
Three merchants set out on their travels, each with his capital: one of them gained there much, the second returned with his capital, and the third merchant came home after having lost his capital. This parable is taken from common life; learn to apply it to the Law.
The capital is human life, the gain is heaven; through the loss of that capital man must be born as a denizen of hell or a brute animal.
The slave to his lusts has forfeited [his capital], human life and divine life. Having forfeited them, he will have to endure one of these two states of misery; it will be difficult for him to attain an upward course for a long time...
He who brings back his capital, is to be compared to one who is born again as a man. Those men who through the exercise of various virtues become pious householders will be born again as men; for all beings will reap the fruit of their actions.
But he who increases his capital is like one who practices eminent virtues; the virtuous, excellent man cheerfully attains the state of the gods.
Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 7.14-21
Uttaradhyayana Sutra 7.14-21: This Jain Parable of the Talents, even more than the Parable of the Talents in the Christian Bible, is not really about labor and industry in a worldly sense, but rather uses that theme to illustrate a truth about the spiritual life and the treasure in heaven which is its aim--see Matthew 6.19-21, p. 293. Yet the principles of worldly success and success in the spiritual life are similar: both require investment, ambition, labor, and perseverance.
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