Many spiritual inclined people have conscious or unconscious problems with money. Assagioli clarifies his position on money and gives us an opportunity to reflect on our use or misuse of money.
By Robert Assagioli, August 1937, The Beacon
If we observe and examine ourselves with that complete and fearless sincerity which ought to characterize all true and earnest aspirants to the spiritual life, we soon discover that the thought of money arouses in all of us deep and intense reactions. It is a tumult of conflicting emotions, of passionate attitudes, which proves that money constitutes—adopting the convenient psychoanalytic terminology—a strong complex.
In my opinion, it is well to analyze the money complex, to allow all that surges up from the depths of our unconscious to emerge to the surface, and then to throw upon it the clear light of our spiritual understanding. In this way we may rightly interpret the facts and correct erroneous attitudes and unwarranted or excessive reactions. This will help to dispel in some measure the intense glamour which surrounds money, and consequently, to avoid mistakes of judgment and of action which may have serious consequences and constitute real obstacles to our spiritual progress.
The chief and most general aspect of the money complex is attachment. This is an obvious fact, but we must not be content simply with this acknowledgment. In order to successfully free ourselves from attachment, we must try to find out its causes, its roots. It is not difficult to realize that they reach down to some of our most fundamental instincts and emotions, which accounts for the intensity of man’s attachments to money. These instincts, tendencies and emotions are: Self-preservation (with its outgrowth, the search for security), covetousness and fear.
But since money has more and more become a means of achieving social prestige and of acquiring real power, another root of the money complex is constituted by the instinct to self-assertion, the will to power, which manifests as pride and ambition.
To these primordial and direct causes of the money complex, many other causes can be added, which greatly complicate the problem.
All those who are sufficiently evolved to possess living, ethical principles and an incipient sense of spiritual values cannot fail to realize the bad consequences—individual and collective crimes of all sorts, physical and moral prostitutions, etc—brought about by the greed for and the attachment to money.
An immediate, spontaneous, often unreasoned and more or less unconscious reaction to this realization is an attitude of condemnation of money, accompanied by a sense of personal guilt concerning it. Moreover there is often a polarization of tendencies between our conscious personality and its unconscious parts, which brings about the following conflicting attitudes:
- A conscious appreciation and desire of money and an unconscious guilt-complex about it.
- A conscious condemnation of money and an unconscious and repressed craving for it.
- A more or less conscious ambivalence, and a consequent oscilation between the two tendencies.
All of these contrasting attitudes produce an inner strife which manifests in a sense of confusion and uncertainty. But often an excessive polarization brings about extreme overcompensations, of which many have very unfavorable consequences. For instance, the unconscious guilt complex is the cause of many failures in earning or in keeping money.
I cannot dwell now on all the ramifications and complications of the psychological problem of money, but I will mention a particular glamour which the money complex produce in a certain number of sincere spiritual aspirants and which brings about in them curious reactions. These aspirants consider spiritual life and money as two things quite apart, having nothing in common, and they deeply resent any attempt to connect the two—for instance, any appeal for financial help in order to carry on some spiritual work or to make possible some kind of spiritual service. Their resentment is sometimes conscious and outspoken, but at times it comes up indirectly under the form of suspicion of the motives of the workers, of criticism of their plans and policies, etc.
It is not difficult to see how the money complex operates in such cases. The attachment to money tends to bring up all sorts of pseudo-reasons in order to justify to one’s self and to others the refusal to support or to contribute to a certain work or service. This is the mechanism of a rationalization, which is theoretically known by many, but which we often fail to detect, and which is one of the chief manifestations of glamour.
On the other hand, the conscious or the unconscious condemnation of money tends to create the attitude that spiritual life and work should have nothing to do with money, that they should be carried on only on “higher” levels and through purely ideal means, avoiding thereby the contaminating influence of financial considerations. This attitude is often much intensified and inwardly justified by the sad misuse which not a few so-called spiritual movements have made of psychological influences under the form of promises, allurements and even worse kinds of pressure, in order to extort money. We must mention also the excessive emphasis put on material success by some otherwise well-intentioned and clean spiritual movements.
It is obvious then that there is a great need of clarification upon this complicated problem of money. Let us start at the beginning: let us ask ourselves: “What is money?”
In order to understand the nature of money, let us remember how it originated. The first exchanges of material goods among men were accomplished by means of barter. Then it was found that one particular material good of general utility, used as a common denominator and standard among the various goods, was very convenient and greatly facilitated the procedure. This standard good has been of various kinds: salt, strips of leather; but more often, metals, until gold was finally adopted for this purpose. A further step was made through the creation of paper money, representing gold, and more recently by checks, etc.
These facts clearly show that money in reality is merely a convenient contrivance created by men in order to facilitate the exchange of material goods and facilities,—indeed, to make such exchange possible on the enormous scale, in the complicated ways, and with the growing rapidity required by contemporary life. If we want to express it more philosophically, money is a symbol of material goods.
It is obvious then that, as such, money does not deserve either the attachment or the condemnation of which it is made the object. Men wrongly project upon the symbol what is within themselves.
Only within man are to be found truth and error, good and evil. If we consider the problem of money from this deeper, psychological and subjective angle, we shall realize that our mistakes and our sins (if we may use this word, which sounds old-fashioned, but which is difficult to replace) are of two kinds. In the first place, they directly concern money itself, and in the second place, they concern material goods in general. The first mistake and misunderstanding is due to the perverse tendency (due to mental shortsightedness and to materialistic hypnosis) to confuse the means with the end, to erroneously identify the instrument with that which it produces and, speaking more generally, to take the symbol for the reality, the form for the life.
It is an illusion of which we can observe many instances, and some of them are rather amusing—when we notice them in others! It is apparent in all forms of collecting objects of no practical or artistic value, and paying for them extravagant prices only on account of their rarity.
Thus, bibliophiles—or should we call them bibliomaniacs —prefer old editions which they can scarcely read, to beautiful modern ones. As a French epigram puts it, the bibliophile is apt to exclaim: “What luck ! I am really happy. I have got hold of a good edition. Look there, pages 12 and 16, the mistakes which are lacking in the others !”
But in the case of money, it is not a harmless and more or- less ludicrous mania. The glamour in this case produces such vile passions that through them, symbolically speaking, man may “lose his soul.” Therefore, the first spiritual attitude we should take towards money is that of eliminating all excessive evaluation of it, of freeing ourselves from its fascination which emanates from it, and of considering it with clear vision, with cold objectivity, seeing it for what it is in reality: simply a useful symbol, a practical contrivance.
This clears the way to the consideration and the tentative solution of the basic problem: that of the right attitude towards all material goods and earthly possessions. These goods, whatever form they may take—food, clothes, houses, tools, works of art— are composed of, or are derived from, materials belonging to the three kingdoms of nature, mineral, vegetable and animal. Therefore, there cannot be any intrinsic evil in them. According to purely external and material consideration, they are just “things.” From a spiritual standpoint, they are parts of the Divine Manifestation and, as such, they are gifts of God.
Consequently, their meaning for us, the good or bad effects they may have, are due to our inner attitude towards them, and to the use which, by free and conscious choice, we can or do make of them. This fundamental recognition throws a clarifying light on many important practical and spiritual issues.
In the first place, it is obvious that the lack of material possession in no way solves the problem of detachment and liberation. Even without taking into consideration all the difficulties and limitations that the lack of money and possessions inevitably bring about in our modern civilization, any person who, while having no possessions, desires them, is unhappy without them, envies and is resentful towards those who have them, is no less attached than the others: psychologically he is a slave of possessions. On the contrary, a wealthy man who is inwardly detached from his money, who has no craving nor fear concerning it, is really a spiritually free man, and “poor in Spirit.”
But not even this inner detachment, which is a high and difficult achievement, constitutes a complete solution of the money problem. It solves the individual problem; that is, it puts man at peace with his own conscience and, from that angle, at peace also with God; but no individual life is isolated: we are all interwoven with each other by many threads of family and other group relationships, both of a moral and of a practical character, which cannot be ignored and dismissed. Therefore, the inner detachment must be supplemented by the right use of what we possess and earn.
Such right use can be determined only by a clear spiritual conception which shows the true relationships existing between ourselves; others, and the One Life of which we all are a part. From the standpoint of this ultimate Reality, no one individual can claim to have exclusive and unqualified ownership of anything. Our real position and function, as Christ has so well indicated in the parable of the talents, is that of trustees of all our so-called possessions; responsible, as stewards, to the one and only true Master and Owner.
The spiritual and practical problem is therefore defined and focussed as that of the right and wise utilization of possession and money for the highest good of all—(ourselves included, but not with any special rights or privileged position), It is this right utilization which is the true meaning of service.
Starting from this sure foundation, we may proceed to consider the use of money in service. But in order to arrive at a true and satisfactory conclusion, we must first consider some deeper aspects of money.
Money as a part, or as representative, of divine manifestation, can be considered as materialized or condensed Divine energy—what the orientals call prana. In its origin and essence, it is, therefore, something good and pure. But in the course of its use, money, and other material possessions also, become polluted by the evil passions, the low desires, the worries and fears, the selfish attachments of all to whom they temporarily belong.
This is not a merely symbolical or psychological connection: it is a real occult fact. Actual evil psychic forces are formed, accumulated and become attached to money and possessions. This is dramatically demonstrated by the sinister influences emanated by certain famous jewels, but it is more or less the case with all other kinds of material possessions. This is one of the chief causes of all the trouble, of all the individual and collective strife, maladjustment and unjust distribution connected with material goods, and particularly with money. And if this cause has a psychic, subjective character, the true solution, the effective remedy can be only of the same kind: it can be only subjective, psychological and spiritual.
Such a solution is twofold: general and specific. The general aspect is that of deliberate right use, through right motive and skill in action. But first, let us take up the specific and more occult way of counteracting that which could be literally considered as the “curse” which is attached to money.
(This “curse” forms the central theme and the deep meaning of Wagner’s really esoteric series of musical dramas—”The Ring of the Nibelung”).
This spiritual purification and redemption of money can be achieved by the conscious use of our spiritual and psychological energies, so as to counteract, neutralize and render harmless the evil influences. Like every act of white magic (which it truly is), it can be accomplished by the rise of concentrated thought, animated by right feeling (or emotional force) and projected by will, through the use of affirmation formulated in words.
If we subjected all money which passes through our hands to such a “treatment” or healing, and if an increasingly large number of people; deliberately did it, many problems which find no external and technical`; solution would be done away with. This may seem surprising—so little are we accustomed in this materialistic civilization to give true practical consideration to the reality and the power of subjective and invisible forces—yet it is so, and if we are consistent in our spiritual convictions, we cannot but admit it.
Any right formulation of such an affirmation may be effective. A group has been using for a while the following one:
BENEDICTION OF MONEY
MAY THIS MONEY BE BLESSED—
IT IS A SYMBOL OF DIVINE SUBSTANCE AND ENERGY.
MAY IT BE REDEEMED FROM EVERY IMPURE INFLUENCE,
FROM EVERY SIN, FROM EVERY ATTACHMENT AND CRAVING.
I APPRECIATE IT AND KEEP IT AS A DIVINE GIFT.
I WILL USE IT ONLY FOR GOOD, RIGHT, APPROPRIATE PURPOSES.
IN USING IT, I AGAIN BLESS IT AND GIVE THANKS FOR IT.
Let us now consider again the right use of money. This, too, can be subdivided into generic and specific.
Generically, the right use of money can be considered that by which necessary and rightful earthly goods are procured for ourselves, for our family and for others, with an inner attitude of appreciation and thankfulness, with wisdom, moderation and kindness, with inner freedom from attachments.
The specific right use is that dedicated to definitely spiritual purposes. Here comes up the question briefly indicated at the beginning. The justification and the need of an increasing use and consecration of money to the furthering of spiritual causes appear obvious to any person free from the money complexes we have described.
Christ has said that the Kingdom of God must be realized on earth; and in modern times an increasing emphasis is made upon making spirituality practical and effectual in daily life. This manifestation of spirituality obviously requires material means. Even when, in the Middle Ages, a more ascetic and unwordly conception prevailed, religion needed material means in order to accomplish its social function. For instance,its beautiful cathedrals could not have been built and adorned without a great expenditure of money.
The history of St. Francis is very significant in this respect. We all appreciate the greatness and the real spirituality of St. Francis when he renounced all earthly possessions and even took off his clothes in the Cathedral of Assisi, and went to live the life of a hermit, without money, and forbidding his early followers to touch any money. But very shortly after his death, his followers still quite ardent, and with the best attitude—found that it was practically impossible to live, even then, without using any money and without having some sort of possessions. And from that time on the Franciscan Orders handled money, and now its members travel by train and use all the modern instruments of civilization. So you see that a movement which had started with the idea of doing away with money—(St. Francis’ mystical marriage with Dame Poverty)—had in a very short time to use it. And of course this is all right, as long as the right inner attitude is kept. The fact that Franciscans handle money doesn’t detract in any way from their spiritual ideal, if they do it with detachment and freedom. This is the individual test and problem of each Franciscan monk—and of each one of us.
An analogy with music will make even more clear the true relationship between spiritual realities and material means. The catgut of violin strings has apparently nothing to do with Bach’s sublime compositions, yet in order that a violinist may render them audible to thousands of hearers, it is necessary, as well as the wood of the instrument, etc.
The same obtains in spiritual work and service. Let us take its simplest aspect: that of the diffusion of the spiritual message through printed paper. In order to emphasize the growing realization of the power of the press, I will quote a significant editorial contained in (today’s June 8, 1937) “New York Times”:
“Princeton seniors think more of a Phi Beta Kappa key than of a varsity athletic letter. So they have just voted in the commencement poll. …
“In the colleges it is a genuine drift away from athletolatry to intellectual distincton, though no doubt the influence of vogue enters to some extent. These have been hard years for the youth of America, as part of the world at large. The boys and girls in college have been compelled to ponder the outside world more seriously than once upon a time. So doing, they could not help seeing how powerfully our modern life is being shaped by ideas. Books, once the occupation of sissies, now deserve the full consideration of he-men; for books contain ideas that may explode half a continent.”
There is an urgent need of the wide-spreading of books, pamphlets … (missing line) numberless individuals who are consciously or unconsciously in desperate need of them.
The amount of good that can be thus produced is incalculable and out of proportion to the amount of money used; a book, a pamphlet, and even an article, can transform a life and, through it, many other lives. Many instances of such kind could be given. The same could be said about the money used to make possible a lecture tour or a spiritual convention, in which the power of the spoken word and the subjective vivification brought about by contacts and group work can have most far-reaching beneficent consequences.
Another significant item is contained in today’s “New York Times” (June 8, 1937), which has bearing on our subject.
“Gifts recorded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the past year totaled $2,535,009.”
This is a fine instance of a generic good use of money, and it further proves that there is abundance of money for purposes whose value and utility, for the good of the community, are clearly realized. Many other similar instances, such as the five one-million dollar Eastman’s Dental Institutes, etc., could be quoted.
Now, let us realize what wonderful things could be done in the spiritual field if similar sums should be dedicated to the specific good use of furthering spiritual service.
The money exists; the thing to do is to cultivate with a dynamic intensity the realization of the need, of the value, of the opportunity, of its use for spiritual purposes, so as to be able to awaken to such a realization those who are in a position to give.
Another fact which it is well to realize, and to help others to realize, is that “spiritual giving” brings many blessings to the giver.
First of all, there is the sure working of the law of cause and effect, according to which all good action has a beneficent reaction on its doer, This. “good karma” can counteract and off-set much corresponding “bad karma” created in recent and the remote past—and who could consider himself free from such a liability?
Then there is a still more valuable inner blessing: to give for spiritual purposes with deliberation, with joy, with pure motive, brings about a wonderful inner release, opens a channel for the inflow of spiritual light, love and power.
Last, but not least, spiritual giving necessarily attracts the loving attention of the Great Ones, of Those who have made the sublime renunciation of Their individual liberation and bliss, in order to remain near to humanity, so as to assist it and save it. They ever are, and particularly in this critical and decisive period, looking for willing coworkers, and all who in any way help to further Their cause, to realize Their plans, cannot fail to receive Their recognition and Their appreciation. As One of Them has said: “Ingratitude is not one of our vices.”
In order to eliminate all misunderstanding and any possible discouragement or bitterness on the part of those who cannot give and serve in this particular manner, I will emphasize that all the other ways of serving are just as valuable and useful, and often more so, and that some of them are of a higher order.
There is, first, practical help of various kinds, which can be given in connection with the spreading of the spiritual light in the world; for instance, stenographing or stenotyping, copying and mimeographing, addressing envelopes, etc.— these apparently material activities become spiritual when, and in the measure in which, they are done with a spiritual motive and for a spiritual purpose.
Then there is all the service which can be accomplished through the powerful means of speaking and writing “Truth.” There is no need to emphasize the potency of the “word.”
Highest and most powerful of all is the subjective work and service which can be rendered through prayer, through deliberate thought-form building in the way described in “A Treatise on White Magic,” and through the subtle but irresistible spiritual radiation spontaneously emanating from those who have attained some measure of spiritual realization. No material obstacle can prevent this kind of giving. As it has been said, “One can be in prison and be a server of the Plan.”
But the points I want to make clear are:
- Spiritual service through money is legitimate, necessary and of an incalculable value.
- It is the easiest and sometimes almost the only way of serving, for those who have means but not personal gifts of expression or an adequate measure of subjective training and attainment.
- It contributes to the necessary purification and redemption of money and possessions from the evil- forces and the karma attached to them from age-old sources.
We may conclude by saying that the particular way of serving does not matter much. All ways are needed. What is of importance is that each one of us may give abundantly of what he has, or is, and that, while thus serving, he may release himself more and more from the shackles of personality limitations, and consciously and joyously merge in the One Life.