Solution to Poverty



(Director, Sister Nivedita Academy, Madras)


“There  is no greater woe in hell” says Kalhana in Rajtarangini, “for one to see. Than seeing his own son crying out of hunger, his wife serving as a menial in another’s house, his friend in danger, a cow emaciated due to starvation, his own parents going without medicines to cure illness and his master being defeated by an enemy”. The Tamil saint, Tiruvalluvar, also says that “there is nothing that afflicts (one) like poverty :. He points out that ” Hankering poverty destroys at once the greatness of ( one’s) ancient descent and ( the dignity of one’s) speech”. In the Mahabharata, Vidura tells Dhritarashtra : “Sleeplessness overtakes the weak set on by the strong, one bereft of the means of livelihood, the man deprived of his wealth, a lover  and a thief”. There is a saying : “What sin will not be committed by have lost everything become ruthless”. Even a rishi like Vishwamitra driven by hunger, broke into the home of hunter and ate the flesh of a dog.


Poverty Is Plenty

Poverty is that condition in which there is a shortage of articles and facilities to satisfy the basic needs of human life. Such a condition may occur because of one’s own indisciplined way of life, neglect of one’s duties and responsibilities and squandering of wealth in possession. It may also occur on account of natural calamities like flood and famine or of human frailties leading to improper distribution of wealth among the members society. ” But when two or three individuals, or even two or three thousand, die of hunger, in the midst of a city hat feasts and is merry”, says Sister Nivedita, ” it is because something is wrong with the distribution of food, and something wrong too with those human relations that brought no hurrying footsteps with pity and help, to every sufferer over whom had fallen the shadow of despair.” She further points out: “One mother, mad with hunger , kills her child that she may not see it starve. Another, absorbed in pleasure, has no time to see her own child eat. What one spends on her toilet, would lift the other out of hell. Surely this shows want of adjustment. But why?” The foremost among the illustrious disciples of the great patriot-monk Swami Vivekananda, Nivedita, who came from England to live in the midst of the poor and downtrodden in India, sharing their woes and sufferings in famine and poverty , leaves a warning note : “A few centuries hence, when man’s outlook upon life is better informed and organized than at present , society  will look back with amazement upon a period when crowds of starving unemployed assailed the gates of rich people whose fortunes were devoted to the production of pate de foi gras ” for private consumption”.


Steep fall


Surely, the condition in which we live today is a great fall from those of our great ancestors about whom we learn from our scripts:


“Na raajyam na raajaaseet na dandyo na cha daandhikah.

Dharmenaiva Prajaassarvaah

Rakshantisma parasparam:.

“There existed no State, no King, no penalty and np criminal. All protected one another by virtue of dharma”. Even later, when society came to be organized into four classes and there arose a king to rule , Dharma still reigned supreme and the goal of the individual as well as society continued to be Sarvebhavantu sukhinah (let all be happy) . It remained not merely a goal, but it was achieved too. Certainly, the aim of each and every individual in our modern society too is happiness, but the more we try  to reach it, the goal recedes farther and farther. ‘what is wrong with our society that causes its failure to achieve the goal and what is the secret of success of our forefathers?’ – is a study which will throw light on the path we have to tread if at all we really yearn to reach our goal.


Ancient Ideals – the Purusharthas

The highest aim of life, according to the great rishis, is attainment of moksha, i.e., God- realization or self –realisation.  This is impossible to achieve without control over the senses and concentrating the powers of mind and intellect on the Supreme Self. Control of the senses is not an easy task, and it does no mean making the senses inactive or interfering in their functioning actively and efficiently. As Tirumoolar exclaims, ” There are not even devas who stifle the five senses. If the five senses are stifled, it becomes life less “. Hence the aim of life, then is to lead a disciplined life life which will not only give happiness, but will enable one to realise Brahman or become Brahman. In order to enable man to attain the highest goal, our ancestors prescribed four objects of life. One must be piou, acquire wealth, satisfy his desires and make effort to get his soul released from the cycle from the cycle of birth – Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha. The main emphasis laid by Manu on the plan of life of an individual must earn money to maintain himself and his family, have a good physique and enjoy the world but not in an indisciplined way, not be a servant of wealth, power or desire, but become their master. Wealth and desire are to be earned and enjoyed in a righteous way, in the full awareness that at a certain age they are to be given up and thenceforward a detached life should be led.


Varnashrma Dharma

Our ancestors developed all the social laws on the bais of religion and made the latter so comprehensive as to include everything that is necessary for the progress of man, as a member of his race. A beautiful, comprehensive and true view of the unity of the social organism is expressed in the idea of Purusha in the Rig Veda wherein it is said: ” Brahmin is the head, King the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet.” This means the whole society comprising the four divisions is our God. This fourfold division has nothing to do with the so-called caste system of the present day which is directly opposed to the spirit of oneness proclaimed by the Vedas. Referring to the verses presenting the picture of Purusha in the Vedas, Lala Lajpat Rai says: “These verses give expression to two of the sublimest truths about the social relations of man with man as an individual and with mankind as a whole. They establish the oneness of humanity in the body of the Lord and they explain away the phenomena of differences in the capacities, powers and faculties of individuals. As parts of the same whole, they are to sustain, support, supplement, help, each of them, their own separate functions to perform. Applying this to a particular social organism as distinguished from general humanity, they form the basis of a complete system of social duties. ”


For the collective development, Varna- dharma (the duty  of the system of four castes) was evolved. For the individual development, the Ashramadharma (the duty of different stages of life – Brahmacharya, Gaarhastya, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa) was eveolved. As Swami Vivekananda puts it: “In India, from caste we reach to the point where there is no caste. Caste is based throughout on that principle. The plan in India is to make everybody Brahmana, the Brahmana being thet ideal of humanity.” He further points out: “Our ideal is the Brahmana of spiritual culture and renunciation.” As Mahatma Gandhi observes, the theory of Varnashramana- Dharma “seeks to harmonise the claims if both the individual and the community and to bring nto existence a co- operative society in which there are classes, no doubt, but classes based on character and technical skill and hence fluid, and all working towards the same end – the good of the Commonwealth. ”


Now let us study the salient features of this ancient social system which contributed to the harmonious development of the material, mental and spiritual development of the individual and, through him, of society as a whole and see how the high ideals thrown up by the system are needed to solve our present- day problems, particularly that of the challenge of poverty. We will also see how these ideals are re-interpreted b our great thinkers and servants of humanity in the modern times.


Individual – Part of Society


“Our definition of dharma” says Guruji Golwalkar, “is twofold. The first is proper rehabilitation of man’s mind and the second is adjustment of various individuals for a harmonious corporate existence, i.e., a good social order to hold the people together.” According to him, individuals, though imperfect, when merged into a corporate whole, can give rise to a perfect society. When the entire society, becomes a unit, then alone there will be stability and peace. The individual does have a high status in our ancient Vedic social order, but that is slightly in a different way. The Vedic economic system gives full importance to the individual and still preserves social unity. The concept of individual development includes unity of purpose. The social ideal of Herbert Spencer is stated to be “a state of things in which the antagonism between societies having utterly ceased on the one hand and the conciliation between the interests of the individual and those of the social organism having been perfectly attained to, on the other, the individual also will have reached a stage development in which it will afford him the highest pleasure to act in a manner conductive to the good of social organism, and this even where such conduct is to all appearance directly antagonistic to his own material interests. Just as at present the highest happiness is often obtained in parental sacrifice.” As Sister Nivedita says, “Man is man in proportion only as he does not live the blind instinctive life of his first impulse, his immediate convenience, his individual self- interest, but a higher life of struggle against these primitive desires and their suppression by others which are subtler, less self- regarding, and further reaching. ” It is this sublime ideal which has been so beautifully proclaimed in Vidura Niiti :  “an individual should be abandoned for the sake of a family, a family for the sake of a village, a village for the sake of the country, and the whole earth for the sake of one’s soul.”


Work for Work’s Sake


“Do thou thy allotted work ; for to work is better than to desist from work. By desistind from work thou canst not even sustain thy body. The world is fettered b work unless it is done as a sacrifice. Therefore, O son of Kunti, give up thy attachments and do thy work work as sacrifice”, says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. In our ancient system, there was an excellent arrangement for the reward of servants and other workers who, on their part, worked for work’s sake. In this arrangement the giver should think, according to Manu, that the receiver is not demanding. The person who employs has to think of giving; the other party does not ask for his due. Manu declares that work should be done as a mission (vrata) of life. ” Labour is an offering as acceptable as Ganges water”, says Nivedita. “The potter yearns to deliver his people. Let him make good pots. The energy of his passion will make deliverers of the very men who stoke his fires. He thought to mould pots and vases. He was moulding men the while, out of the clay of the human will”.


Society- the Protector


In the view of our ancient seers, society is self- born. It is an entity with its own “SELF”, its own life. It is a sovereign being like an individual; it is an organic entity. It is the responsibility of society to look after even those who do not earn, the children and the old, the diseased and invalids, all must be cared for by society. The Rule of Dharma requires that the subjects are protected and their minimum requirements met by the State. Kalidasa says in Raghuvamsa about Dilipa: “Being responsible for the maintenance, protection and education of his subjects, he was their true father. Others were merely instrumental in giving them their birth”. King Bharata after whom our country has been named Bharat was called so because of his “maintaining anfd protecting his subjects”. Kautilya says in hs Arthasaastra that he is the noblest of all rulers who sacrifices himself for the welfare of his subjects. He mentions: “In case of a famine sweeping the country, the King shall help the people by distributing among them seeds and food stuffs. In such a calamity the King shall start constructing forts and bridges with a view to feed the people….. those who are incapable of work shall be given free meals…. In order to save the people from famine, the King may make the rich disgorge their accumulated wealth”. Even in the matter of collection of taxes in the normal conditions, the Vidura Niiti ponts out: “As the bee gathers honey from flowers yet protecting them, so also should a King collect taxes from the subjects without doing them harm”.


Wealth Belongs to God


Our Upanishads say:


“Isavasyamidam sarvain

Yatkincha jagatyam jagat

Tena tyaktena bhunjitha

Mad gridah kasyaswiddhanam”.


“God permits all creation. Whatever is felt over by Him, after offering Him, enjoy only that much. Do not rob what belongs to others. ”


According to Manu, man has to die leaving all his wealth behind. Under this circumstance who is the owner of wealth? Wealth belongs to God alone– Prajapatervekah. So he commands: “Take whatever is essential, for bodily sustenance. To take more is an act of theft and deserves to be punished.” In the Ramayana also it is said: “Gold and silver, garments and ornaments are said to be common and indivisible property among the noble and the virtuous.”


In former times, prestige was not attached to wealth. Wherever wealth has an undue importance, the value of man will always be low. There will not be any stability, happiness or peace in a society in which wealth is the basis of social order. Our scriptures have laid down that no one has the freedom to accumulate an unlimited amount of wealth for his selfish purpose. Because of the existence of the spiritual goal in society, there was no desire also for unlimited accumulation of wealth or pursuit of sensual pleasures in individuals. No one interfered with the occupation of others and, therefore, concentration of wealth and power did not take place. If there was any excess, the same had to be given in charity – Vridham teertheshu nikshipet. According to the Vedas wealth belongs to God, and hence it must be used for the work of God. If at any time it was found that any accumulation of wealth had taken place, it was laid down that the wealth should be used in sacrifice (yajna), charity and so on. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is the spouse of Vishnu and therefore, to accumulate wealth amounts to imprisoning the Mother. Bharatiya prayer refers to the earth also as the wife of the Lord, and our scriptures command that first thing in the morning we must said: “The economists define Artha as the material gain thoughtlessly sought after by persons attracted by fascinations.” There is a Sanskrit saying: ‘Youth, wealth, power and indiscretion- each one of these is enough to bring disaster; then what to say when all the four combine? ‘ Hindu thought and practice had kept economic power away from the hands of the State. It also deprived the people producing wealth of all political power, and thus kept these two as interdependent and mutually corrective. “It was the continuous tradition of such persons holding the scepter of spiritual authority who were ever on the alert to undo any injustices perpetrated by any of these two powers, while they themselves remained above all temptations of power or roches, that formed the real breath of the glory and immortality of our ancient nation,” observes Guruji Golwalkar. Our Puraanas speak of the destruction of the golden Lankaa in fire and the drowning of the golden Dwaaraka to point out that is gold is adopted as the sole ambition in life, noble aspirations of life, divine feeling and such other virtues will disappear, and will lead to the ruination of the country. “Money is the visible sign of a universal force”, says Sri Aurobindo, “and this force in its manifestation on earth works on the vital and physicalplanes and is indispensable to the fullness of outer life. In its origin and tru action it belongs to the Divine.” He further adds, “All wealth belongs to the Divine and those who hold it are trustees and not possessors.”


Value of Labour


In our Vedic social organization, the dignity of labour was maintained at the highest and each one tried to attain the maximum perfection in his field. Dharmavyaadha was a butcher by profession and even while discharging his duties in that walk of life, he could evolve as a great saint and was considered to be one among the wisest. Kabir, though he was a weaver by profession, was a great saint respected by the people. He used to weave high quality cloth and did so because of the conviction that God was to wear it. He considered the people as living representatives of God. Not only wealth, but even the efforts of individuals were considered to be belonging to God, Even a barber has high respect in Vedic times and he would not accept payment for his labour. Instead, society had the responsibility to see that his requirements were made available at his residence. No gain or loss was linked to labour. There was no necessity of giving economic incentive for doing work. Great works of men like Vasishta, Vidyaaranya, Sankara and Tukaaraam are all the spontaneous outcome of labours of love. Selfless service, obligation to other and good character are one’s duty according to our ancestors.


Such values cannot be measured in terms of money. To consider labour as one’s duty is a spiritual thought. In work, God is working through man. The special feature of the Bharatiya economic system is that it propagates ideas to make everyone the master or the owner, be he a barber or a shoe- maker. There were no differences between high and low, poor and rich. What a contrast it is to the modern scene where a worker is made a “human machine of an intricate kind”, as Nivedita puts it. There was no undue competition among producers, as each one produced only to meet the requirements of society. There was no exploitation of labour, as there were no capitalists and middle men. Even to help a foe in distress was considered to be a virtuous task. Our Vedic seers prescribed the method of spending wealth for consumption. The proper use of income was determined and appropriate instructions given. In modern days, t was Mahatma Gandhiji who put forward the proposition that control of consumption was an important factor in the natural economy. Indian philosophers advocated the simple life with few needs. This avoided undue production of unwanted goods, a menace which our modern society faces. The realisation that physical labour is morevaluable than the capacity of machines is yet to dawn in the minds of modern people, inspite of the warnings of men like Swami Vivekananda who have proclaimed from the housetop: “Machine never made mankind happy and never will make.”


Need of the Hour


“The chaos in our environment arises fro mthe conflicts in our minds” wrote N. Ganguly in 1928. “I feel modern India has been left without a moral code to guide her destiny”. He maintained that Indians needed to “evolve a new programme of life based upon a new synthesis of values”. Sister Nivedita has pointed out: “When our texts were formulated, our society was rich in virtue as in material resources. When the last of these deserts us, it is difficult to prevent the decay of the former, and what is wanted today is a deliberate recapture of both”. She says elsewhere: “Thought, thought, we want clear thought! And for clear thought, labour is necessary, knowledge is necessary, struggle is necessary. Clear thought and highly placed affection are essential conditions of victory in any field.” Not merely thought, but collective effort is also stressed by her. “He who mounts far must have twenty behind him close upon his heels “. “For re – building the Maha Bharata, the village is to be the workroom. The city is the factory. The whole country is the site of new building”. She gives the clarion call: “Back to simplicity and the lofty uses of simplicity! Back to the barrenness that was beauty, and the depth of thought that meant culture! Back to the mat on the bare floor and the thoughts that were so lofty! Let us ordain ourselves free of the means of living: let us give our whole mind to the developing of life itself”. She also reminds us: “On Indian men and women is laid the responsibility of caring for the Indian poor, and let there never be forgotten the curse of the Gita on the man who does another’s duty instead of his own”. Her illustrious master, Swami Vivekananda, also tells us: “So Long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor, who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them!”


Humane Economic System


In the economic field, many institutions are created. We have to think what should be the nature of economic structure. In the words of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya. “We must have such and economic system which helps in the development of our humane qualities, or civilization and enables us to attain a still higher level of all- round perfection. We should have a system which does not overwhelm our humane qualities, which does not make us slaves of its own grinding wheels. According to our concept, man attains God-like-perfection as a result of development”. Sri M. Vishveswaraya has said that while considering the system of production, one must take into account the seven ‘M’s – man, material, money, management, motive- power, market and machine. Pointing out this, Deendayalji remarks: “The skill and ability of the workers or those who should be provided with work must be considered”. According to him, instead of the usual exhortation, “Every worker must get food”, we think of “Everyone who eats must get work”, as the basis of our economy. “Man, the highest creation of God, is losing his own identity. We must re- establish him in his rightful position, bring him the realisation of his greatness, re- awaken his abilities and encourage him to exert for attaining the divine heights of his latent personality. This is possible only through a decentralized economy”. He adds, “We want neither capitalism nor socialism. We aim at the progress and happiness of ‘Man’, the Integral Man”. Sri Aurobindo also says the same: “To eliminate poverty, not by the crude idea of equal distribution but by the holding of all property in common and its management by the organized State, to equalize opportunity and capacity as far as possible through universal education and training, again by means of the organized State, is the fundamental idea of modern socialism”.


In the above thoughts pf all our great thinkers, right from the Vedic period to the modern days, we find in common a grand unity of vision and clarity of ideas. That itself is the marvelous achievement of the living ideals of our hoary culture. Sir John Woodroffe in his famous work Is India civilized? Has rightly remarked: “India has presented herself as one of the immortal people, suffering racial and social division, politically disrupted, with a variety of languages and scripts, governed by strangers for centuries; she has yet held together, so that we can speak of India. This, I think, is principally due to certain religious and philosophical concepts held in common by the people, and as regards Hinduism in its technical sense, by the wonderful organization called Varnashrama Dharma“.