The separation of religion and economics, like so many other separations in modern thinking, is the gift of the Western reductionist methodology of drawing arbitrary boundaries within reality and treating them as isolated systems. These separations never occurred in Vedic thinking. Wealth, for instance, is one of the qualities of Lord Viṣṇu, personified as Lakśmi. Thus, when Viṣṇu is worshipped, Lakśmi automatically arrives in that place. Economics is therefore the science of how Lakśmi goes from one place to another. In this post, I will talk about why Lakśmi is called restless, why She goes from one place to another, and how She becomes fixed only where Viṣṇu is fixed.
Divine Religion-Economics Connection
Religion cannot be separated from economics because where there is Viṣṇu, there is Lakśmi. The devotees of Viṣṇu don’t pursue Lakśmi but Lakśmi comes automatically to them. Trying to separate religion from economics is trying to divorce Viṣṇu from Lakśmi. That attempt is futile. Wealth is one of the aspects of God. The devotees of Viṣṇu ask everyone to focus on Viṣṇu, and not merely on the aspect of wealth. But they do not reject Lakśmi, because She is an aspect of Viṣṇu. The focus on Viṣṇu and the acceptance of Lakśmi are for the same reason.
The fact is also that any attempted separation of religion from economics in the minds of some people will not separate them in most minds because religion has been connected to prosperity in other religions: God rewards a religious person with power, beauty, and prosperity.
Our disagreement with this connection is simply that it holds in one direction but not another. Where there is God there is prosperity, but where there is prosperity there may not be any God. The truth is wealthy, but wealth is not the truth. The truth is powerful, but power is not truth. The truth is beautiful, but beauty is not truth. Wealth, beauty, and power can exist temporarily even where God is absent. But where God is present, wealth, beauty, and power are eternal. Therefore, the equivalence of religion and prosperity is accepted in the sense that truth is wealthy but rejected in the sense that wealth is not truth. If wealth, power, and beauty are obtained through theft, then the acquisition is short-lived. If dharma results in the acquisition of wealth, power, and beauty, then those acquisitions are also long-lived.
The philosophical principle is that beauty, wealth, fame, power, and renunciation are adjectives of the truth but they can also be treated as nouns. If they are treated as nouns—i.e., things independent of the truth—then they are temporary. But if they are treated as adjectives of the truth, then they are eternal. This principle is called Puruṣa and Prakṛti–Puruṣa is the noun and Prakṛti is the adjective. Where there is Puruṣa, the Prakṛti is always present. But, Prakṛti can also seem to be a noun temporarily, separated from the Puruṣa. That seeming objectivity of wealth is an illusion. Thus, if we think that there is Prakṛti to be taken because She doesn’t already belong to the Puruṣa, then that is an illusion.
Puruṣa may be obscured by Prakṛti because we want to see the Prakṛti and not the Puruṣa. For example, a man may lust after a woman’s body without any interest in the person itself. The body doesn’t exist without the person. But due to lust, one disregards the person and lusts for the body. Similarly, Prakṛti has no independent existence from the Puruṣa. But due to lust, we disregard the Puruṣa and focus on the Prakṛti. This is why devotees of Viṣṇu say: Focus on the person, and when you do that, then the body is included. This is just like a man may genuinely love a woman, and not simply lust for her body. Then, love doesn’t exclude the body, and yet, the body is not the exclusive focus. Likewise, wealth doesn’t exist independently of a person. Only a person is wealthy. And yet, we can lust for wealth to create the illusion that there is wealth to be taken because it is not already owned by the Puruṣa. This independent existence of wealth is an illusion.
The Personalist Idea of Economics
Wealth is one of the adjectives of Viṣṇu, personified as Lakśmi, and called Chanchala or “restless”. She walks around in the material garden playfully twirling the lotus in Her hand, and people want to grab Her. Since She seems to appear in this world without Viṣṇu, therefore, an illusion of wealth as a noun is created. Everyone wants to possess Lakśmi and make Her their adjective—i.e., become wealthy. But Lakśmi is neither an independent noun nor is She everyone’s adjective. She is always the adjective of Viṣṇu. Thereby, She doesn’t stay with anyone except Her husband Viṣṇu. Her appearance in this world where She seems like a noun to everyone is just an illusion.
This illusion is created by Lakśmi playfully to attract the fools to Viṣṇu through the allurement of wealth—i.e., if you become devoted to Viṣṇu, then I will also bless you. Since there is truth in this allurement, therefore, the connection between religion and economics cannot be severed. And yet, because allurement is just playfulness without devotion to Viṣṇu, therefore, without Viṣṇu, all the wealth is eventually lost.
Poverty and prosperity are equally the results of Lakśmi playfully twirling Her lotus and giving sidelong glances to Her suitors, and when these suitors are attracted by Her sidelong glances, Lakśmi goes to another suitor, if they just want Her without Her husband. Lakśmi is always playing with prospective suitors so that they may follow Her and eventually come to Viṣṇu due to their allurement for wealth. She goes to some people to check if they will become devoted to Viṣṇu due to prosperity. She goes away from people to check if they will become devoted to Viṣṇu due to poverty. Some people become gracious and humble when they obtain riches. Others become gracious and humble when they lose their riches. Since different medicines work for different people, therefore, these are just playful methods of attraction.
Economics for the Vedic tradition is the sidelong glances of Lakśmi playfully twirling Her lotus to attract everyone to Viṣṇu. That same economics in the Western world is mathematical equations, cycles of boom and bust, graphs and charts, with arrows pointing upward and downward. The Vedic tradition replaces those upward and downward arrows with the sidelong glances of Lakśmi looking here and there for the most suitable candidate to be blessed by Her either through prosperity or through poverty. Those who forget Viṣṇu lose their wealth as a reminder to remember Viṣṇu as Lakśmi moves to the previously poor people hoping that they will turn to Viṣṇu after becoming wealthy. If they don’t reform even after getting wealth, then Lakśmi goes to those remembering Viṣṇu just to gain wealth.
Lakśmi can come because—(a) She wants to check if a person will be devoted to Viṣṇu after he gets wealth, (b) She comes to a person who is devoted to Viṣṇu for wealth or despite poverty. Lakśmi can leave because—(a) the person has forgotten Viṣṇu and She wants to make Him remember Viṣṇu again, and (b) She considers wealth a hindrance in the devotion to Viṣṇu, and She leaves the person to make him even more devoted to Viṣṇu. In every case, Her goal is to make a person remember Viṣṇu.
Wealth can come to us because we are religious, or because we can become religious out of gratitude for having received wealth, or because we are expecting wealth as the recognition of our religiosity. Wealth can go away because we are not religious, or because we have no gratitude for having received wealth, or because we think that religiosity is not a precondition for wealth, or to strengthen our religiosity, or to remind us that good things happen to those who are involved in doing good to others.
Those who measure themselves by wealth rather than character will eventually lose their wealth. But those who have character can again accept Viṣṇu and Lakśmi, and if they do so, then they will regain wealth because Lakśmi likes to stay with the decent person who treats Her respectfully and not with the person who tries to grab Her by force and abuse Her grace for immoral activities. When Lakśmi goes to the decent person, then those allured by wealth will naturally start following the decent person.
Therefore, wealth is not the long-term decider of truth. But the truth is the long-term decider of wealth. Those strutting around arrogantly due to their wealth have to be impoverished to bring them to the truth. The poverty of those who worship wealth can be solved by worshipping the worshippers of truth.
Economic Failures of Impersonalism
Impersonalists say that Viṣṇu and Lakśmi are human concoctions, which is why we invite them to produce economic theories that explain the rise and fall of societies without reference to Viṣṇu and Lakśmi. Western academics have already tried that, and their economics is now known as a “dismal science”. Impersonalists can also try. We can accept their views on morality and spirituality if they can produce better economics. Otherwise, their claims are empty rhetoric.
The fact is that they cannot produce a better economic theory. The fact is that they cannot create economic prosperity. The fact is that their ideologies have led to the economic decline of the most prosperous nation. Hence, their morality and spirituality have already been proven to be bankrupt.
Anyone trying to make an equation that predicts the upward or downward trend in economics will be frustrated by the indeterminism in economics because Lakśmi comes and goes due to many different reasons. Whichever equation is universalized, it will be undone by another reason why Lakśmi comes and goes. We can never solve the problem of economics without personalizing wealth. Personalization is the rejection of mathematical equations, cycles of boom and bust, graphs and charts, with arrows pointing upward and downward. One who can understand how economies rise and fall due to the playfully moving glances of Lakśmi will find mathematical equations disgusting. They will be able to see Her in this world and reject the ignorance found in Impersonalism masquerading as truth.