Cluster of 12 blossoms – द्वादशमञ्जरिका (8) – Sankara, The lizard brain & the question of wealth

The question of why we acquire wealth, why we hoard it, and want to pass it on to our next generation is an intriguing question, particularly when you consider that the greatest philosopher of Sanatana Dharma lived in the midst of wealth, was a king, fought wars, is often thought of as flirtatious and cunning, and involved himself in political intrigue – It must be obvious to all that I am talking about Krishna an enigma that defies conventional, logical explanations.

Surely Sankara, who has written commentaries on Krishna’s greatest work “The Bhagavad Gita” could not have meant that the acquisition of wealth is meaningless?

Then there is the example of King Janaka of Mithila who is considered a Raja Rishi a “Jnani” –  a realized person, a seer. He too was a busy king who ran his country, involved himself in the day-to-day running of the Kingdom, acquired wealth and even conducted a swayamvara for his daughter, Sita.

In this Shloka, Sankara seems to be posing 4 questions:

1. Why do we acquire and hoard wealth?
2. Why do we want to pass on our wealth to our next generation?
3. Why are we fearful of our future and of what might happen to us?
4. Why can’t we “live” in the present?

The answer lies in a study of the Science of “The lizard brain” in humans along with a qualified spiritual interpretation of this shloka. The “lizard brain” syndrome refers to the primitive part of the human brain that governs emotions like “Fear”, Feeding”, “Sex”, “Fight” and “Flight”. Humans, like all mammals have evolved from reptiles and this part of the reptilian brain has been retained as is during the course of evolution. It is useful for survival but at the same time it is essential that this part be controlled and regulated for humans to be able to progress beyond being just individualistic, competitive, successful survivors in a dog-eat-dog world. It is this part of the human brain that resists all attempts at developing good habits – For example, it is the part of the brain that tells us that it is OK for us to sleep a little longer and we can start exercising from tomorrow. It is also the part of the brain that keeps us in a constant cycle of fear, telling us that we need to be doing more, worry about the future, acquire and hoard, be selfish and all of those patterns of flawed human behaviour. All great achievers in any field of human endeavour have done so by quietening the constant chatter of this “lizard brain”. Quietening the lizard brain is also the first step of spiritual evolvement.

The second dimension is the spiritual interpretation – Krishna talks about this while discussing the qualities of the Stitha Prajna –  THE MAN OF STEADY WISDOM (link to earlier post). This is a quality that focuses on the process alone (Karma & Dharma) and not on the fruits thereof:

It doesn’t matter how much wealth you possess; what matters is how “possessed” are you by that wealth

Acquisition of wealth Per se is not wrong, it is the exclusive focus on this to the exclusion of everything else, combined with a constant fear of losing it, and a refusal to share even a portion of it with the needy that is a problem that Sankara seems to be referring to.

Therefore Sankara says that it is calamitous to be focused only on acquiring more and more wealth (for one can’t take it with us when one dies). He asks us to reflect on this truth daily. He further asks us to contemplate on whether there is an iota of happiness to be derived from this wealth? For, the wealthy man fears even his son who is simply waiting for the wealthy man to die so he can enjoy the riches – Isn’t this the reality everywhere, in all the three worlds?

The shloka, its transliteration, translation, and purport below:

अर्थमनर्थं भावय नित्यं
नास्तिततः सुखलेशः सत्यम् ।
पुत्रादपि धनभाजां भीतिः
सर्वत्रैषा विहिता रीतिः ॥
Artham-anartham Bhavaya Nityam
Nasti Tatah Sukelshaha Satyam
Putra-dapi Dhana-Bhajam Bhitihi
Sarvatraisha Vihitha Rithihi

अर्थ (Wealth, Riches, Property, Desire, Money) मनर्थं (Meaningless, Calamitous) भावय (Reflect, Demonstrates) नित्यं (Daily, Repeatedly, Eternal, Perpetual)
नास्ति (It is not, Non-existent) ततः (From that) सुखलेशः (Not an iota of, Not even a small bit of Happiness, Delight, Pleasure) सत्यम् (Truly)
पुत्रादपि (Son) धन (Wealth, Money, Riches) भाजां (Division, Share, Entitlement) भीतिः (Fear, Apprehension, Terror)
सर्वत्रैषा (Everywhere, In all the three worlds) विहिता (Prescribed, Settled) रीतिः (Way, Method)

Wealth and its acquisition is calamitous, meaningless (for it is not permanent, you can’t take it with you) – Reflect on this truth day after day. The wealthy man fears even his own son. This unfortunately is the way of life everywhere, in all the three worlds…

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