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Abundance seems to elude the rich and the poor alike. For some, too little money leads to unhappiness. For others, too much money complicates life in unwanted ways. Regardless of how much money comes into our lives, after our basic needs are met, an increase in income tends to lead itself to increased consumption. Somehow, a treadmill effect ensues, and often whatever accoutrements we do have are never quite enough. Fortunately, spiritual happiness depends neither on abject poverty nor on material success. Spiritual happiness is cultivated in places where money and material possessions have no dominion. It is from this place that we can discover the truth of what it means to live in a state of abundance.
Certainly, you have all experienced the feeling of freedom that comes from being away on vacation, adventuring through undiscovered landscapes, sampling foreign cuisine or exchanging stories with the locals. Perhaps you have lived out of a suitcase with few amenities or personal belongings, and this simple existence brought you bliss, freedom, purpose and fulfillment. As you look out onto the vast, unconquered landscape of what is inexorably the rest of your life, there is a common thread that binds you to the same force of abundance that nurtures the environment and endlessly provides for the needs and lifecycles of all that surrounds us. That well exists in abundance, and it is up to you to tap into it.
Yoga’s vast philosophy has many things to say about abundance. The complexity is useful because different times and circumstances require shifting perspectives. The issue is not how much wealth you have or how much you should earn, but whether it will be your assets or your actions that define you. The old school, mystic yoga path required, among other things, total renunciation or vairagya in Sanskrit. Today however, the modern yogi is encouraged to renounce by using everything in service of the Divine. This dovetailing, or engaging everything you have—your time, talent, money—is called yukta. When we combine these two elements, we have the modern yogi’s rallying cry, “yukta vairagya” or “use everything in service of spirit.
”Interestingly, the word yoga is synonymous with the Sanskrit word for sacrifice, or yagye, which does not mean performing painful austerities. It means making everything sacred. This is the actual origin of the Latin word sacrificium [from sacer, or holy, and fic, from facere (to make)]. Among the many lessons we have to learn, one of the most precious ones lies in our ability to make life a sacred adventure.
The answers lie in your ability to recognize that your thoughts and your actions have energy. In order to embody “the lifestyle abundant,” you must focus your mind and forge steadily forward on your path and in all your endeavors. With a fixed practice, you can fulfill your dreams. The desires that exist in your heart can fuel the spiritual journey. The issue is not how much wealth you can amass, how much power you can harness, or even how much you can earn. The life abundant is about making each moment sacred and doing so through defining each moment in terms of its action rather than its asset.
What do you need so that you can be of service for others? It comes down to what it is that you are willing to sacrifice. The question remains, what keeps people from developing a lifestyle of abundance, of simple living and evolved thinking? If the solution is to simplify one’s lifestyle to the furthest extent possible, why is it that we have such a hard time truly embracing this concept? The challenge, whether we like to admit it or not, is that we are deeply invested in the fantasy of financial freedom.
If we can alter our perception, then we will be able to redefine the boundaries of what binds us and what makes us free. Four hundred and fifty years ago, the Bhakti yoga scholar Jiva Goswami gave the formula for the ideal modern yogi: 50/25/25. The idea, according to Goswami, was to “simplify your life so that you can use fifty percent of your income for charity and good works, live on twenty-five percent, and the rest should be invested for retirement and future care of family.
”It is interesting to consider whether or not such a model could be sustainable today. What is the modern take on abundance, and what position does yoga philosophy take on the subject of material wealth? To further understand how to sharpen your intent and actions, it is important to understand the forces working within.
Six Mantras for a Lifestyle of Abundance
Karma is all about physics. Karma is responsible for your genetics, your culture, and your lot in life. Your genetics determine the kind of body you have (tall, short, athletic, hobbled, etc.) and culture represents the circumstances of your birth (race, class, etc.). Your lot is what you have coming in life (money, difficulties, good times, etc.). This can be a bit of a difficult pill for some to swallow because it can make a person feel as though they are at the mercy of destiny. But this is not the case.
The most exciting aspect of karma is that although you know what your genetics and culture are, you can never know what lot awaits you. Even Vedic sciences like astrology only give cursory and vague indications of what lies ahead. So what do you do if you have no way of knowing if prosperity or tragedy awaits you?
You do what any spiritual warrior would do; you assume the best and live from the place of knowledge that everything you need, you have already. Many people understand this in terms of the “be-do-have sequence,” and it is the most successful and fulfilling paradigm from which to live since it involves growth from within.
The first step involves assuming the space you wish to hold in the future. This means absorbing and internalizing the core principles of what it is you wish to “be.” As you proceed with learning and integrating this new milieu, you will naturally begin doing the things associated with your desired field or state of being. As you naturally “do” the basic activities associated with this desired existence, the fundamental aspects will spontaneously become part of your personality. And as a result, you will come to have all the things—the knowledge, the gear, the equipment, the contacts, the confidence, the perseverance—that you will need to do the things you dream of doing and being the way you dream of being.
If karma is what you are born with, dharma is what you do with your karma. Dharma is an exciting and multifaceted story. It has to do with what is right, and in that sense, dharma means virtue. It holds the key to discovering who you really are, it is your essence, your true nature and is inherently reciprocal. When you protect dharma, it protects you. Dharma is the opportunity to redefine who you are by choosing to be defined by your actions (dharma) rather than your assets (karma). If life hands you obstacles or even tragedies, you either go dharmic on it and turn the fire of adversity into fuel for growth, or you capitulate and let the fire burn down all hope.
The essence of dharma is the drive to connect with spirit. This same impulse is part of the creative impulse. This is why art, music, science and literature are, at their best, all about gaining access to the indescribable, the mysterious and the exquisite, absolute truth. The negation of dharma is the laborious effort of trying to control the unconquerable realm of matter. Because matter is transient, it offers only the illusion of stability; one can never fully control it. No amount of material success will ever bring a sense of abundance. Dharma is the courage-instilling adventure of stepping into the unknown and discovering what we are capable of and who it is we really are.
Your heart is like a city and is overpopulated with longings, lust and desires of every possible size and shape. If this city had a name, it would be kama. Kama includes every material desire you have. It also represents one of the greatest opportunities that exist for spiritual growth and offers the chance to harness a force greater than all the material obstacles put together. It is the secret weapon of all great yogis and spiritual warriors, for they understand that kama does not originate in the realm of matter. Only as a consequence of having forgotten our spiritual nature did kama become colored by material desires. The secret to redirecting the power of kama is to replace your material goals with spiritual goals. You can do this by analyzing your material wishes and figuring out a way to make them spiritual.
If the mysterious, the exquisite or the absolute have an emblem, it is the inconceivable quality of kripa, or grace. (Kri means “to do” and pa means “to get.”) It is the only force capable of making an end run on karma. Outrageous quantities of it are all around us, and yet it cannot be mined or extracted at will. Those who attain it know its intrinsic properties: uncontrollable and undeserved. Though we can never command it, we can dispense it freely. It is the one thing you can never purchase, yet you have an unlimited supply of it to give away.
Yajna (pronounced yug-yuh)
Yajna is the Sanskrit word for sacrifice. In the ancient practice of mystic yoga, sacrifice involved elaborate rituals or extreme acts of self-denial. For the modern yogi, sacrifice is about engaging everything you have in service of spirit and humanity. In other words, “What is the least you can need, so you can do the most for others?” Making life sacred is based on the practice of engagement (versus renunciation). Yogic engagement means you give more than you use. The modern yogi should be able to support spiritual programs, give in charity, and provide for the welfare of those who work exclusively for the benefit of humanity.
The word yoga is a powerful mantra. It is a universe of stories, histories and adventures. Yoga opens the door to a waking world where each day brings new awareness and experience. Yoga literally means “to yoke.” This yoking or connecting refers to restoring the relationship between the self and its original source—the source of all abundance. Another Sanskrit synonym for yoga is atma-jnana, which means “journey of self-discovery.” Yoga has always been about knowing yourself. Through self-discernment, yogis discover what they can and cannot control, and then derive power from knowing they have no control over life’s outcomes. Yoga is about living what you can control and not being controlled by what you cannot live.
Abundance is not measured by what you have, but rather by what you can give away. Those who have little but give a lot are among the happiest people on earth. Those who have a lot but give very little are often quite miserable. If you start today and figure out what is the least you can need so that you can do the most for others, then abundance manifests immediately. Why wait for something that exists in the now? Tap into the true nature of abundance.
Eleven Ideas for Practicing Modern Detachment (Yukta Vairagya)
1. Keep a journal for one month and track what you spend and what resources you use.
2. Have a family meeting and brainstorm inventive ways to reduce what it is that you live on.
3. Create a wish list containing the charities you can support by liberating a percentage of your income.
4. Make a three-year and a ten-year plan to grow your income and shrink your living standard.
5. Choose a number between one and thirty and make that number represent the day of each month when you will do a major lifestyle simplification overhaul.
6. Plan a volunteer vacation.
7. Read from a spiritually inspirational book at least once a day.
8. Play mantras, kirtan, gospel or any spiritual music throughout your home (even when you are not there).
9. Start a book club where you read classic literature, discuss Sanskrit texts, and explore the spiritual meanings of the works.
10. Associate with people who have advanced spiritual knowledge.
11. Smile, chant and serve.