We are learning the devastating results of an unrestricted focus on short-term monetary gain, and we are seeing the public’s anger at the people who’ve pursued vast quantities of wealth, seemingly without concern for consequences to others. This may lead us to believe that we have only two options:
to relentlessly pursue wealth and risk following the path of those whose irresponsibility led us to this point, or reject wealth as inherently corrupting, and focus instead on the development of morality and spirit.
I saw an example of this dilemma in a recent NewYorker cartoon in which a depressed looking man lays on a psychiatrist’s sofa, staring aimlessly at the ceiling. The psychiatrist says to him,
Just because you work at a bad bank doesn’t mean that you are a bad banker.
This man is depressed because he thinks that the pursuit of wealth necessarily label him as “bad”. The best of philosophical and spiritual teachings tell us, though, that there is a higher way to understand this dilemma with a resolution that allows us to experience wealth while maintaining a path of growth and concern for others. These teachings urge us to move from a mode of greed to one of abundance.
To many, these terms may sound similar because both are associated with wealth and prosperity. It’s not surprising, therefore, how much confusion – in my experience - there seems to be around this distinction. We can distinguish between greed and abundance as follows:
The Greek philosopher Epicurus said of greed,
Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.
The motivational teacher Wayne Dyer said,
Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into
The difference between greed and abundance come from different essential beliefs in the fundamental workings of the cosmos. Where one sees fear and lack, the other sees love and gratitude. The ancient Jewish book of wisdom, Saying of the Ancestors, asks, “Who is rich?”, and answers, “One who is happy with his lot”. This tells us that abundance can not flow when we are not grateful for the gifts that we already have. Like the child who sits amid a pile of presents and complains that he does not have enough, ingratitude shuts out abundance because we will never be satisfied until we can be grateful for what we have. This does not mean that we should be complacent and not strive to increase our wealth, or that we should eschew ambition. In fact, gratitude frees us to pursue prosperity free of fear attachments, with creativity and fun, leading to sustainable wealth and happiness.
When we look at the incalculable vastness of space and the unbelievable diversity of species and resources on our planet, we see that the essential urge of creation is endless abundance. We do not need to be “worthy” of abundance because it already exists, just waiting for us to recognize and appreciate it. And this abundance has been provided to us as a blessing of our birth. Wealth, then, is a blessing that facilitates our purpose and supports others. From this perspective, greed is a distortion of the intuition of infinite abundance; when we project that intuition on to physical objects and our own fleeting needs.
There has been much written recently about how to tune in to and attract abundance. Unfortunately much of this has focused merely on receiving desired material gains, as if there is a magic secret for manipulating the Universe in to giving you the stuff that you want. True abundance, though, is a two-way flow of giving and receiving – not only material wealth, but attention, concern, and love. The greatest abundance flows when we too desire to be a blessing to others, which then creates more abundance for us.