I came across an interesting line while meditating the other day. It can be found in Proverbs, one of my favorite sources of Hebrew “mantras” (I meditate reading in Hebrew but I often look to the English translation to see what I’m reading when one is available).
It can be found in Proverbs, Chapter 16:
Better a little with righteousness
than much gain with injustice.
It got me thinking of how different this philosophy is than what is practiced by the rich and powerful these days.
When I say “these days”, err, perhaps I should say, “like, since forever”.
In the mid-1980’s, I was enrolled in an MBA programme, albeit not at your typical university but at Maharishi International University, located in Fairfield, Iowa. I was part of an all-male “Purusha” course that combined many hours of private and group meditation with university study.
In the first weeks of that course, I remember having the profit model explained from a rather enlightened point of view. According to my professor, profit was the by-product of a business providing a service to society. The main focus of the people involved in the business was to work at perfecting their ways at providing this service and that profits would naturally result.
What a refreshing way to look at how people could approach the business of making a living, and how corporations could possibly approach the idea of growth.
Now, it’s not surprising to hear a moral message coming from the Bible. King Solomon, author of Proverbs, also wrote in Ecclesiastes:
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
In the line taken from Proverbs above, King Solomon is not telling people to not try to make a lot of money, or to hate money, but to temper profit-making with morality.
(Regarding the line from Ecclesiastes, it’s interesting to note that while the author is telling people that loving money doesn’t lead to real happiness, King Solomon at the time was one of the richest monarchs alive, his people chafing under what they considered very high taxes. Anyway…)
The word “righteousness” used in Proverbs is a typical Biblical word, and possibly a source of misunderstanding.
You might hear the pastor or rabbi mention the word in his or her sermon and your eyes will glaze over. It’s not a word, or concept, that carries over very well into the week. What I think that Solomon is saying is: It’s better to earn your living, even if you make less yet live in accordance to your inner moral guide and your inherent goodness, than to make a lot of profit violating your moral and ethical conscience of what is the right thing to do. To do so with “injustice”.
Today, or maybe always, the lust for wealth has led to all kinds of negative actions and injustices, on behalf of nations, peoples, companies, tribes and individuals. Today, spurred on by impatient investors, corporations will do almost anything to increase their profits, even incrementally, even if it means putting hard-working people out of work, or destroying the environment or acting with callous “injustice” in any number of ways.
Does “acting honourably”, as is one of the definitions of “righteousness”, ever come into play in the minds of those who run corporations or privately-run businesses? Do people ever consider the larger picture when making decisions, or is the bottom line always “gain”?
The answer to this dilemma, as I see it, is awareness, or better, the growth of awareness, starting from the individual level and working its way to the top of corporations or governments. If we can see life from a wider perspective on how decisions affect the world, or the society which is serviced by the various institutions, or the people working for the institutions, as well as the environment supporting the institutions, then righteous and moral decisions will conceivably be easier to make, and the “gain”, or profit, that ensues from their actions is, as King Solomon puts it, “better”.
Why is it “better” to make less and be more “just” than to make more and act in a less ethical manner? It’s not always obvious. In the highly competitive world of business, the pressures to maximize profit are probably quite intense.
I think that it all comes down to the idea of happiness, as suggested in the line from Ecclesiastes. Inner satisfaction can easily overtake the power of material satisfaction. It’s true that a materially-deprived starving person cannot meditate or find it very difficult to discover the inner bliss of Pure Awareness, but a relatively poor person who is spiritually enlightened is far richer than King Croesus himself, because the bliss of the Absolute is so much, well, richer, not only for the person experiencing it, but for the surrounding environment.
When people who inhabit the powerful inner workings of a corporation, for example, learn over time to redefine their perspective on life with an inner perspective to counterbalance unfettered materialism, then the obsessive chase for profits can possibly relax its chokehold.
And that would make for a better world.