What Has Love to Do With It?

(Adapted from Chapter 11 of “Law of Love & The Mathematics of Spirituality”: Economy based on altruistic love and volunteerism as an alternative to capitalism and communism.

Vedānta is rich in its practical understanding of human behavior. Kathopaniṣad suggests that motivation for human activities fall in one of two broad categories, preyas and sreyas.

 “The good (sreyas) is one thing, the pleasant (preyas) is another. These two having different purposes, bind a man. Of these two, it is well for him who takes hold of the good; he who chooses the pleasant misses his end. The good and the pleasant approach a man; the wise man considers and distinguishes the two. Wisely does he prefer the good to the pleasant, but a fool chooses the pleasant for its worldly good.”[142]

Actions under the influence of preyas are undertaken to satisfy one’s desires and are sometimes also called as kāmya karmas (kA-mya ka-rma)  or desire-prompted actions.  On the other hand sreyas prompts actions undertaken for the sake of the welfare of the family, nation etc and are selfless actions, nikāma karma (niṣ-kA-ma ka-rma) or. Generally speaking, kāmya karma is seen as a path of spiritual devolution leading in the long run to discontent.  In contrast, nikāma karma can contribute to spiritual evolution and happiness all around, provided they are performed out of love. We should distinguish this from actions performed for reasons such as fear of punishment, sheer economic necessity, or social pressure. These actions, which fall into the category of “kartavya karma” or obligatory duties, may also do good to the larger community but do not have the same spiritual merit as selfless actions performed out of Love.

Modern Economies

Besides a multitude of laws, there is one other powerful tool man has been forced to invent: Money, the grease that keeps the wheels of modern economy turning. “Moneytheism” is an aptly coined word to signify the stature of money in modern economies approaching godhood in its power and prevalence.

What is an economy and what ultimately is the measure of success of an economic system? I am not a professional economist, but I think it is not incorrect to say that an economic system is there to ensure that the society produces, and makes available in a timely manner, all the goods and services needed by its members.  Further, to be efficient, it must do this with minimum waste of human and natural resources. The key to the success of an economic system lies in its ability to motivate people to perform economically necessary functions in an efficient and timely manner.

Communism was one of the two major economic systems of the past century, and it failed by ignoring consumer desires and the material benefits of kāmya karma. Its experiments with “cooperatives” to tap into the potential of kartavya karma also failed when people were in effect forced to work for state-owned enterprises run by corrupt party bureaucrats. This brute approach of communism, we may say, was mainly tamasic. In sharp contrast, the other major economic philosophy of our times, namely capitalism, has succeeded spectacularly by whipping up endless desires in individuals and leveraging the power of kāmya karma to raise human activity to very high levels. In this sense , capitalism is mainly rajasic.

However, the sweet success of capitalism is merely a sugar coating on the bitter pill inside. General happiness among the populace simply does not track the GDP of a nation. Take the US economy for example. Amidst a general prosperity that is unprecedented in history, there is also a high degree of constant insecurity and anxiety affecting people of all professions and segments of society. The financial crisis of 2008 was a grim reminder of the flaws inherent in the system. Crises are only to be expected when short-term profits and bottom line considerations dictate human relations instead of long-term trust and love. Another paradox is that, in spite of the tremendous productivity gain brought on by automation, people are working longer hours today than they did a few decades ago. A reason is that all capable people are required to be gainfully employed in a society where every man is to himself. But high levels of employment along with high productivity is possible only when the society produces, and people are persuaded to consume, an ever increasing array of goods and services, whether they really need it or not.

The result is the ugly spectacle of over consumption that we see today in many parts of the world. A significant percentage of what is produced and consumed is wasteful as it is unnecessary for meeting any real need of humans, or, like narcotic drugs, even outright harmful to them. The impact of over consumption on the environment and ecology is a well documented fact. It is sad that so many people should be working so hard to produce so much waste and poison and admire it as a successful economy with full employment, technological progress, and high standard of living!

Is the new millennium likely to see the emergence of a new economic system that is more stable and sensible?  In other words, is there a satvic approach to organize the economy? As societies become aware of the painful problems associated with present day economic systems, it is possible that they will look for new ways to run their economy without the gut-wrenching roller coaster cycles of boom and bust or ecological destruction. We can only speculate what shape the new system will take, but can argue, as we do below, that a system which taps more into the potential power of altruism, that is niṣkāma karma based on Love, may be an answer.

Money is synonymous with security and power. Money can buy almost any good or service and thus gives a much-needed sense of security to those who possess it. Money is also a source of power and influence for those who have it in abundance. In all countries and at all times, it is usually people of wealth who rule the land and conversely it is people who rule that amass wealth. The inducement to acquire money is therefore very strong. But this strong motivation is both a blessing and a threat. It is a positive blessing to the extent money makes people engage in productive work.  It poses a threat when some people are motivated to amass wealth by any means, fair or unfair, and use the power of wealth to dominate the society. Greed to acquire more money and fear of losing money already acquired are the underlying psychological currents in a money-driven society.  Depending on which sentiment predominates, the economy lurches from boom to bust. There is seldom stability and without stability there is insecurity at all levels of the society. As Lord Krishna asks

aSAntasya kutaH sukham?”

Where is happiness for one not in peace?” Indeed can there be real happiness in society lacking security and peace?

Money is quite efficient in getting work out of people, but the problem is that it appeals to the baser instincts of greed and fear in the human being.  As such money oriented pursuits are seldom spiritually ennobling. Sri Ramakrishna was never tired of expressing his aversion to money and avoided even touching money [143].

But is there any real alternative to money which is efficient as an inducement to productive work but at the same time spiritually rewarding? 

What Money Can Do, Love Can Do Better

Universal, unconditional love is a potential alternative to money as an engine to power an economy. It is a potential that in fact is realized to some extent today, but whose wider application will have to await a sea change in the spiritual awareness of the average citizen and government.

The power of love to harness work is most readily seen in the functioning of an ideal family.  The love that the parents bear toward their children is sufficient motivation for them to work day and night.  They work so that the children, and not just themselves, are well provided for.  They endure many discomforts and hardships with a fortitude made possible by their dedication to the family.  There is little or no money exchanged for services within the family but everything is done out of love and a sense of duty.

Besides ideal nuclear families, there are numerous other institutions where love and duty energize members to work with selfless dedication. In most countries around the world, especially developed countries, volunteers contribute significantly to a nation’s economy. Non-profit and non-governmental organizations play a vital role in espousing and advancing legal, social, religious, health, educational, and environmental causes. The work of these organizations is typically sustained by the efforts of a large corps of unpaid or underpaid volunteers. They bring to the table a wide variety of professional and technical skills. Their rank can include doctors and lawyers, accountants and managers, nurses and social workers whose work normally would command high salaries. A Johns Hopkins study estimates the output of the non-profit sector in the United States at US$1.1 trillion (or nearly ten percent of the national income) in 2002. The study also puts the number of volunteers in this sector at 10.6 million full-time equivalent workers. The dollar value of their service, assuming a nominal $50,000 per year, would be more than half a trillion dollars. 

Huge as it is, even this monetary picture does not tell the full story of the value and valor behind volunteerism. Volunteers work for worthy, humane causes that profit seeking enterprises and governmental institutions turn away from.  They work often in very difficult physical conditions in the midst of famine, natural disasters, and war. There is little to gain by way of material reward; on the other hand, there is every chance of risking comfort, money, life and limb in the course of the service.

What can make such altruism possible if not the love these workers have for their cause? That love may not be universal, but it has to be unconditional in order to sustain work with little or no reward. This is in stark contrast to what typically goes on in a money-driven enterprise. The work put in by the employees is for wages in fulfillment of a contract; there is no love lost in the employer- employee relationship. These workers are in fact receiving miserly spiritual rewards, since as Gītā says [144]

kRpaNAH phala hetavaH

Where money is the goal, what ensues is tortured labor that enslaves.  Where selfless love is the motive, the result is a work of joy that liberates.

Love is Not a Zero-Sum Game

Thus, love is not only a possible alternative to money as an engine to drive economic activities, but a superior one at that. One basic undeniable fact about money is that it is a limited commodity; it has no value if it were unlimited. Money-based transactions are therefore “zero-sum games” in the sense that somebody’s gain is necessarily at the expense of another person’s loss. Therefore, when money is the sole measure of rewards in a transaction, there is competition among the parties to the transaction, each vying to maximize its reward or minimize its loss. Competition can lead to mistrust and to unfair, unethical practices. At the end, the outcome of the competition can leave everyone feeling hurt and dissatisfied.

Love, on the contrary, is not a zero-sum game; it is in this respect just the opposite of money. By giving love, the love one has does not diminish; rather it grows. Therefore cooperation is natural when people are engaged in a common selfless effort “yajña” (ya-Jna) out of love; they do not and need not act in competition and at cross-purposes. The outcome is much more likely to be beneficial materially and spiritually to all involved.

Money and love differ in other ways too. Money is not a goal in itself even though many of us work for it all our lives. Usefulness of money lies in its ability to acquire material goods, services, power and prestige.  Love, on the other hand, is its own reward. Love practiced for acquiring something else is not unconditional love.

Work done for money can be drudgery, demeaning and devoid of the joy of creativity. True creativity such as seen in the works of poets, artists, and scientists, is possible only if there is love for the work.  In fact love can transform any work into an act of joy. A young mother attends joyfully to the needs of her baby however menial the chores might be.

Love Based Economies?

Thus, in theory at least, love can replace money as the fuel to power an economy. All human activities- whether they are in trade, agriculture, administration, technology or arts- can be potentially accomplished through the power of love. The work efficiency and productivity in such an economy can be as high as in a money-driven economy. Gītā’s teaching

“yogaH karmasu kauSalam

implies that work done with love is naturally efficient. Absent the greed, fear and destructive competition associated with money, there is no risk of panic-driven market crashes or greed-driven boom markets. The threat of environmental and ecologic disasters posed by over consumption can also be more easily averted when greed and competition are not factors. Democracy and human rights, which today often take a back seat to economic considerations, will naturally flourish in a love-based economy. But the greatest benefit of all of such a system is the justice, peace and happiness that one can rightly expect to flow out of an economy working on a “yajña” spirit.

All this seem at least theoretically possible, though this ideal condition has never been even approximated in recorded human history. Does that mean it is not ever achievable anytime in future? The answer depends on how optimistic one is about the evolution of human beings in the centuries ahead. Given our past, it is easy to be pessimistic and write off such a rosy future as a mere fantasy or as a dead-on-arrival concept. But then there also visionaries like Sri Aurobindo who sees the forces of natural evolution leading to a more spiritually enlightened, and less materialistic, society in the future [145]. In between these opposites lies perhaps the more wise and pragmatic view: Let us not waste our energy speculating whether mankind as a whole will become more benevolent or not. Instead, it should be possible for societies to support and strengthen the reach and extent of the existing volunteer organizations so that their contribution to the economy is not ten percent, but thirty or forty. Personally each of us can get involved in volunteer work to help our own spiritual evolution, while also helping the world at large. There is, even now, numerous organizations engaged in good social work that need more help from selfless, dedicated volunteers. Lack of workers holds back these organizations from achieving their full potential.

A solution to this human resource problem is to educate individuals, both young and old, in spiritual principles by which they may clearly see the benefits of selfless work to oneself and the society.  The importance of spiritual education cannot be over emphasized and it is a topic which we will address next in the concluding chapter of this book.

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