The commonly held view in modern spiritual circles is that organised Christianity’s promotion of poverty and asceticism was a misinterpretation of Christ’s warnings against riches, and that this led to that great error of the past – thinking that money is evil and unspiritual. This is indeed a grave error, but unfortunately modern spiritual thinking involves an equally monumental mistake – which is that chasing and accumulating vast sums of money is a legitimate object of the spiritual life.
This new “abundance mindset” offered by mainstream spiritual thinking is even less in line with Christ’s words than the poverty consciousness it replaced. There is no getting around it – Christ says “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven. For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 18:24 -25).
The Kingdom of Heaven represents the internal state of spiritual enlightenment. Christ plainly states here that if we view spiritual operation as a means of mere material growth, we will almost certainly never reach a state of enlightenment. Christianity’s error was to take these words as a declaration that all wealth is evil. Modern spiritual thinking falls into the exact opposite trap by declaring all wealth to be good and conveniently bypassing all Christ’s teachings to the contrary.
It’s true that Christ never teaches poverty as a requirement for following the spiritual path. But he does teach it as a requirement for perfection, as when he told the young man: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21.)
Furthermore, when sending his apostles out to preach, he instructs them not to take anything more than the bare essentials:
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils: freely have you received, freely give. Do not possess gold, nor silver, nor money in your purses. Nor scrip for your journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a staff.” (Matthew 10:8-10).
So Christ, the most enlightened being ever to walk the earth, preached as he lived – and his life and teachings were one grand sermon on poverty. So why is modern spiritual teaching so enamoured with the idea of amassing vast sums of money?
However, here we must make a crucial distinction, and one that is missed in all erroneous teachings on the spirituality of money. The distinction is between poverty and lack. Poverty means personally owning nothing, or nothing but the bare essentials. Lack means actually suffering the deprivation of something essential – so lacking sufficient food, clothing or shelter. Christ practised poverty, but he never suffered lack. In fact Christ’s entire life could be seen as a perfect sermon on this precise topic. He lived his life in poverty, because had complete trust in the providence of the universal spirit. He did not need to stockpile money or supplies, because he knew the infinite treasury of heaven was always open to him. All he had to do was “ask and it shall be given you…knock and it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7).
Thus did he strictly charge the apostles to go on their journey in the same manner – taking no preparations for the journey, but simply trusting that all would be provided by heaven. It is not the poverty itself that Christ was teaching us, but the trust that must necessarily accompany it, and the detachment from worldly concerns that must precede any ascent to great spiritual heights.
Modern Law of Attraction practitioners often teach that the best way of getting into alignment with our desires is to act as though they are already fulfilled. With this in mind, the best way to act as though heaven will provide for your every need is to make no preparations of your own, and live entirely by trusting the storehouse of heaven. This is the true abundance mindset, and people who spend their lives stockpiling riches in unthinking rebellion to Christianity’s poverty fetish have missed the point entirely. The rejection of one error has simply led to the opposite error. As with all things in life, the truth lies at the mean between the extremes.
I must also repeat that living in poverty is one of Christ’s counsels of perfection. Christ came to make men perfect, but not everyone is sufficiently evolved to follow his path to the utmost, and of course he was well aware of this. For those of us who are not yet ready to abandon all things and live entirely off the providence of the universe, we can apply Christ’s teachings simply by becoming more neutral to money, and seeking spiritual enlightenment ahead of material gain. Paradoxically, this makes money easier to obtain anyway because too great a desire for it causes resistant energy. Thus Christ tells us: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).
By this method, we may or may not end up with limitless riches – but it doesn’t matter. We will live a far more fulfilling life and will evolve our souls to a much higher degree than we ever could by making money the end goal in itself. Again, the modern error is that wealth is the only worthwhile yardstick for one’s success in life. Health, happiness, wisdom and love are fine as well, but they are not quantifiable. People judge themselves to be a success once they’ve made their first million dollars – but there’s no similar benchmark for the others.
Study after study shows that once people have their basic needs met, there is absolutely no correlation between money, happiness and love anyway. And what are we here for but the evolution of our souls? There are so many experiences a soul can have to further their evolution – many of them involve no worldly success whatsoever. Modern spiritual thinking judges this to be a failure, because it views wordly success as a sign of inward spiritual alignment.
Indeed the great teacher Thomas Troward agrees with them, up to a point. The material side of life should not be despised, he says, because it represents the spiritual. In other words, if we are in genuine material lack, then something has gone wrong spiritually – we are yet to learn Christ’s lessons about the providence of the universe. But if we go to the other extreme and live purely for the material, we’ve missed something equally important – the detachment from wealth that Christ says will make us perfect. For, as he says, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3). That is, it is not necessary that we be materially poor – only that we be detached from wealth. But this crucial distinction is almost completely absent from modern spiritual writing.
Freeing ourselves from limitation is indeed one portion of the spiritual path. There is no benefit to be gained from holding on to the outdated notion that having money is wicked, immoral, or unspiritual, and that lack is the only acceptable path. But the idea that there is nothing to be gained from any life that falls short of unbridled wealth and luxury is every bit as much a limitation as the former. It’s a fear based limitation proceeding on the false assumption that a life without material wealth must be a life of suffering.
Of course, having money gives us no guarantee of avoiding suffering whatsoever – but having sufficient spiritual wealth does indeed offer such a promise.
“Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.” (Matthew 6:19 – 21).