The Hindu Concept of Wealth and Its Function Part 1

Dr. Shanker Adawal                                                                  

Part 1

Human Life is viewed and looked upon buy Hindu thinkers and sages as the training ground (sadhana kshetra) for man to unfold the potentialities and integrate tem into a pattern. The human being is a blend of the divine and disbolic, he is dust and divinity combined. The human being has to put himself to such a training as to hold back the cursedness and lust on him and grow the divine element in him. Hinduism has proclaimed a scheme of fourfold values (aspirations) as governing the growth of human life. Human life has to be lived according to plan and not left to itself to shape as it grows.

The four-fold values can be classified under two heads, the first, the values artha and kama are the basis of human existence. They are possessions and passions. The life of man consists in his desires. Man is described by the Upanishads as a collection of desires. As is his desire, so is his nature. To fulfil the desires, man has to earn and gather material aids, i.e., wealth. All such material aids go under the name of artha. It is an instrumental value. It should not be pursued as an end in itself.

Man is not merely an economic being for he has other aspects characterizing his life. The pursuit of wealth becomes value (Purushartha) only when it does not contravene the canons of social justice and morality (Dharama); otherwise it becomes a dis-value and stands condemned. Both passions (kama) and possessions (artha) have to be regulated by dharma.

The term artha comprises the whole range of tangible objects that can be possessed, enjoyed, shared and lost and that we daily require for the upkeep of our life and family.

Artha is absolutely necessary for man’s life It is the source and sustenance of all virtues, not so speak of the mere gratification of desires. Without wealth virtues become impracticable. Poverty is never glorified as a virtue. At the beginning of all our spiritual ceremonies we resolves (samkalpa) that it is performed for securing all the four values. Wealth is not neglected.

The common-sense poet Bhartrihari sings the praise and function of wealth in ten verses. He points out to us how it is necessary for all men to live a dignified life. It is wealth and money alone that enables us to live a live of independence without appeal to others for our livelihood. One is asked to adventure forth appeal to others for our livelihood. One is asked to adventure forth on the high-seas for securing fortune. If a man cannot support himself and his family on the material plane, how could he work for moksha which is very difficult. Even those who talk of sanyasa (renunciation) must acquire something to give it up. They cannot renounce nothing; it is empty sanyasa, a mockery of the concept.
The Hindu ethicists have insisted on the necessity of man to ear his livelihood by the sweat of his brow while he is fit, strong and young. For achieving anything substantial in human life, one must be free from indigence and misery and enjoy a certain degree of economic competence. He must seek as far as possible to be self-sufficient.

Poet Nilakanta Dikshit writes that “Dharma is earned by artha and by dharma artha is earned. The one is the means and support of the other. Artha is the source of the whole world. The loss of wealth spells ruin. Moksha cannot be attained by poverty.”


Arjuna in the Mahabharata holds the view that dharma and kama are the limbs of artha. In the Ramayana Lakshmana eloquently praises the function and the worth of wealth. He says: “From wealth amassed and increased all actions proceed as rivers from mountains. To the person of little power and energy bereft of wealth, all actions are extinct, like-rivulets in summer. If a person abandons wealth, he seeking happiness, begins to commit sin and wrong and leads a sinful life with increased longing for enjoyment. To the wealthy exist friends and relations. He who has wealth is regarded as a man of importance by people. He is considered a learned man. He is lucky and he is intelligent. To the man of wealth dharma and kama and all else are helpful. The man of poverty desirous of wealth and seeking it finds it difficult to get.”

Dr. Shanker Adawal
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