Wealth Through The Eyes Of Sages (II)

The ancients' distrust of wealth must strike most of us today as bizarre. Who among the educated classes today doesn't see wealth as a testament of virtue? Who can conceive of their last years on earth without closets of cash and stock? We moderns, street smart if not wise, prudent if not philosophical, "know" how crucial a career and a 401(k) are; we know that the only objective criterion by which human worth can be gauged is wealth. Upon meeting someone new, we're savvy enough to ask "what they do" (reason: their job description tells us how important or unimportant they are, and if "unimportant," we don't usually waste our time on them). William James, America's most celebrated philosopher, described the fear of poverty as "the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers" (this was back at the turn of the twentieth century).

Here are a few more views on the subject.

"One who knows that enough is enough will always have enough."

-- Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching (D.C. Lau trans.)

"Money is the soul of craven men."

-- Hesiod, Works and Days.

"No current custom among men [is] as bad
as silver currency. This destroys the state;
this drives men from their homes; this wicked teacher
drives solid citizens to acts of shame.
It shows men how to practise infamy
and know the deeds of all unholiness...
Be very rich at home. Live as a king.
But once your joy has gone, though these are left
they are smoke's shadow to lost happiness."
-- Sophocles, Antigone (trans. by Elizabeth Wyckoff)

"Fortune hath somewhat the nature of a woman; if she be too much wooed, she is the farther off...
I cannot call riches better than the baggage of virtue. [T]he Roman word is better, impedimenta; for as the baggage is to an army, so is riches to virtue; it cannot be spared nor left behind, but it hindereth the march...Of great riches there is no real use, except it be in the distribution; the rest is but conceit; so saith Salomon, Where much is, there are many to consume it; and what hath the owner but the sight of it with his eyes? The personal fruition in any man cannot reach to feel great riches: there is a custody of them; or a power of dole and donative of them; or a fame of them; but no solid use to the owner."

-- Francis Bacon, "Of Riches"

"Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one."

-- Benjamin Franklin, Wit And Wisdom

"Mephistopheles: Are there not always wants, the wide world o’er?
Now this, now that, but money in our case;
Which, truly, can’t be picked up off the floor,
Yet wisdom delves in treasure’s deepest place.
In mountain-veins, old walls, or underground,
Is gold, uncoined or minted, to be found.
And should you ask who’ll bring that store to light:
’Tis he endowed with Mind and Nature’s might."

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Act II (Wayne trans.)

Two passages found on the Bhavana Society site:

"That you may have pleasure in everything,
Seek pleasure in nothing.
That you may possess all things,
Possess nothing.
That you may be everything,
Seek to be nothing."

-- John of the Cross

"Friend, let this be enough.
If thou wouldst go on reading,
Go and thyself become the writing and the meaning."

-- Angelus Silesius