World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Renunciation Of Wealth

All scriptures regard attachment to wealth and possessions as a fetter to the religious life. Attachment promotes greed and avarice, which draw the mind downward into the mire of self-centered desire. Therefore the path to Transcendence requires renunciation of wealth and the desire for its benefits.

Renunciation of wealth is of two kinds. One is total renunciation: the vow of poverty incumbent upon the monk. The other is the more moderate rejection of acquisitiveness: wealth should be regarded as a secondary end, never overshadowing the purposes of God or the goal of spiritual advancement. A person's work may result in gain, but that gain should never be grasped at, nor even desired if it would conflict with the demands of righteousness and require the exploitation of others. For more texts on total renunciation, see the next section on asceticism.

We may divide these passages into three groups. Those in the first group distinguish true religion from concern for wealth, the search for God from the business of mammon. A person must put God first; attachment to riches is an obstacle to realizing the spiritual goal. A second group of texts recommends an attitude of non-possessiveness. People should not work with the expectation of reward, nor grasp after possessions. The Bhagavad Gita describes work done without attachment or desire for reward as liberated and not productive of karma. Taoist texts describe non- action (wu-wei), which is devoid of self-interest, as the way to manage everything. Texts om the last group describe a hierarchy of values: rightness and duty come above personal gain. As long as the former is upheld, gain is permissible; but it is incorrect to seek gain at the expense of rightness.

What avail riches for the practice of religion?

Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 14.16

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Judaism and Christianity. Deuteronomy 8.3, Matthew 4.4

Do not race after riches, do not risk your life for success, or you will let slip the Heaven within you.

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 29

Busy not yourself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.

Baha'i Faith. Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah, Arabic 54

Anyone who is stingy, is stingy only with his own soul. God is Wealthy while you are poor.

Islam. Qur'an 47.38

Woe is he... who has gathered riches and counted them over, thinking his riches have made him immortal!

Islam. Qur'an 104.1-3

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Christianity. Matthew 6.24

When they see merchandise or diversion they scatter off to it, and they leave you standing. Say, "What is with God is better than diversion and merchandise. God is the best of providers."

Islam. Qur'an 62.11

Riches ruin the foolish, but not those in quest of the Beyond. Through craving for riches the ignorant man ruins himself as he does others.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 355

Chuang Tzu 29: Cf. Tao Te Ching 12, p. 934; John 2.13-16, p. 1055. Qur'an 47.38: Cf. Qur'an 107.4-7, p. 491; Osashizu, p. 795. Qur'an 104.1-3: Cf. Qur'an 107.4-7, p. 491. Matthew 6.24: Cf. 1 Timothy 6.10, p. 420; Matthew 16.26, p. 962. Dhammapada 355: A man may have wealth as long as he does not crave it but places it in service of the higher goal--cf. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 2, p. 965.

And he [Jesus] called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.

Christianity. Mark 6.7-9

This is the way of Torah: A morsel with salt shall you eat and water by measure shall you drink; and you shall lie upon the earth, and you shall live a life of hardship, and labor in the Torah. If you do thus, happy shall you be and it shall be well with you.

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 6.4

The Master said, "Incomparable was Hui! A handful of rice to eat, a gourd full of water to drink, living in a mean street--others would have found it unendurably depressing, but to Hui's cheerfulness it made no difference at all. Incomparable indeed was Hui!"

Confucianism. Analects 6.9

Blessed is the straw hut where God's praises are chanted; Worthless the white mansions where remembrance of God is not. Poverty with the holy while contemplating God is bliss itself. Burn that pride of high state that involves the self with Maya. Grinding grain with rough clothing brings to the mind joy and contentment. What worth kingship without peace of soul?

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Suhi, M.5, p. 745

Yajnavalkya [addressing his wife]: "Maitreyi, I am resolved to renounce the world and begin the life of renunciation. I wish therefore to divide my property between you and my other wife, Katyayani." Maitreyi: "My Lord, if this whole earth belonged to me, with all its wealth, should I through its possession attain immortality?" "No. Your life would by like that of the rich. None can possibly hope to attain immortality through wealth." "Then what need have I of wealth? Please, my lord, tell me what you know about the way to immortality."

Hinduism. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.1-3

Mark 6.7-9: Cf. Matthew 10.9-10, p. 821. Analects 6.9: Hui Neng was Confucius' favorite disciple; see Analects 9.10, p. 819; Shih Chi 47, pp. 607f. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.1-3: Cf. Lotus Sutra 12, p. 818, the story of a king who renounces his wealth to follow a mendicant teacher and learn the truth. The Sakyamuni's own life is, of course, the best example of a rich man renouncing a kingdom and its riches for the sake of a higher goal; see Buddhacarita of Ashvaghosha 3-5, pp. 597f.

`Ali ibn Abu Talib said, "When we were sitting with God's Messenger in the mosque, Mus`ab ibn. `Umair came to us wearing only a cloak of his patched with fur, and when God's Messenger saw him he wept to think of his former affluence and his condition at that time. He then said, 'How will it be with you when one of you goes out in the morning wearing a mantle and goes out in the evening wearing another, when one dish is placed before him and another removed, and you cover your houses as the Kaaba is covered?' On receiving the reply, 'Messenger of God, we shall then be better than we are today, having leisure for worship and possessing all we require,' he said, 'No, you are better today than you will be at that time.'"

Islam. Hadith of Tirmidhi

Running after that cur, money, I have forgotten you, O Lord. What a shame! I have time only for making money, not for you. How can a dog who loves rotten meat, relish the nectar?

Hinduism. Basavanna, Vachana 313

Beautified for mankind is love of the joys [that come] from women and offspring, and stored-up heaps of gold and silver, and horses branded, and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of the world. God! With Him is a more excellent abode. Say, Shall I inform you of something better than that? For those who keep from evil, with their Lord are Gardens underneath which rivers flow, and pure companions, and contentment from God.

Islam. Qur'an 3.14-15

Jesus said to [the rich young man], "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it will by hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Christianity. Matthew 19.21-24

And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God will say to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

Christianity. Luke 12.16-21

Matthew 19.21-24: Cf. 1 Timothy 6.10, p. 420; Matthew 6.19-21, p. 337; 13.44-46, p. 675; John 2.13-16, p. 1055. Luke 12.16-21: Cf. Matthew 6.19-21, p. 337.

I see men of wealth in the world-- acquiring property, from delusion they give not away; out of greed a hoard of wealth they make, and hanker sorely after more sense pleasures....

Heirs carry off his wealth; but the being goes on according to kamma. Wealth does not follow him who is dying, nor child or wife, nor wealth or kingdom.

Long life is not gained by wealth, nor is old age banished by property. "For brief is this life," the wise say, non-eternal, subject to change.

Rich and poor feel the touch [of death], fool and wise are touched alike. But the fool, as though struck down by folly, prostrate lies, While the wise, touched by the touch, trembles not.

Wherefore better than wealth is wisdom by which one here secures the Accomplishment.

Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya ii.72-73, Rattapala Sutta

The Great Man--his face and form blend with the Great Unity, the Great Unity which is selfless. Being selfless, how can he look upon possession as possession?

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 11

The impulse "I want" and the impulse "I'll have"--lose them! That is where most people get stuck; without those, you can use your eyes to guide you through this suffering state.

Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 706

On gaining the desired object, one should not feel elated. On not receiving the desired object, one should not feel dejected. In case of obtaining anything in excess, one should not hoard it. One should abstain from acquisitiveness. One who sees Reality should consume things in a manner different from that of a layman.

Jainism. Acarangasutra 2.114-19

Majjhima Nikaya ii.72-73: Buddhism does not condemn the acquisition of wealth in the life of a layman. He may energetically acquire wealth as long as he does not exploit others. Attachment to wealth and miserliness are condemned. Furthermore, far better than wealth is to realize enlightenment, arahantship, 'the Accomplishment.'

The sage manages affairs without action (wu-wei), Carries out the teaching without speech. Ten thousand things arise and he does not initiate them, They come to be and he claims no possession of them, He works without holding on to, Accomplishes without claiming merit. Because he does not claim merit, His merit does not go away.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 2

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself--without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For discipline is perfect evenness of mind.

Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 2.47-50

The master said, "A superior man takes as much trouble to discover what is right as lesser men take to discover what will pay."

Confucianism. Analects 4.16

Be not like the servants who minister to their master upon condition of receiving a reward; but be like servants who minister to their master without the condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 1.3

Virtue is the root; wealth is the result. If he makes the root his secondary object, and the result his primary, he will only wrangle with his people, and teach them rapine. Hence, the accumulation of wealth is the way to scatter the people; and the letting it be scattered among them is the way to collect the people.

Confucianism. Great Learning 10.7-9

Wealth and rank are what every man desires; but if they can only be retained to the detriment of the Way he professes, he must relinquish them. Poverty and obscurity are what every man detests; but if they can only be avoided to the detriment of the way he professes, he must accept them. The gentleman who ever parts company with goodness does not fulfill that name. Never for a moment does a gentleman quit the way of goodness. He is never so harried but that he cleaves to this; never so tottering but that he cleaves to this.

Confucianism. Analects 4.5

Tao Te Ching 2: Cf. Tao Te Ching 64, p. 918; Chuang Tzu 6, p. 234. Wu-wei is the benevolent principle of Heaven; cf. Tao Te Ching 34, p. 141; 37, p. 136. Bhagavad Gita 2.47-50: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 4.19-21, p. 775. Abot 1.3: Cf. Micah 3.5, p. 446; Slokas, Farid, p. 420. Analects 4.5: Cf. Mencius VI.A.10, pp. 755f.; Chuang Tzu 4, pp. 709f.


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