Capitalism and Custodianship | A History of Wealth

Body, mind, and wealth
Everything is yours
Oh Lord, everything is yours
I present you with what is yours
Nothing is mine
Oh Lord of the Universe

Om Jai Jagdish Hare, a Hindu hymn to Lord Vishnu

Vishnu with Lakshmi at Halebidu, India

The ancient ones understood that we humans are nothing but mere temporary custodians of the world’s wealth. Everything that is ours belongs to the one who temporarily loaned it to us before our earthly incarnation.

You may be wondering why I am speaking of wealth in such spiritual terms. The two have consistently been portrayed as archenemies. But are they?

The Temple of Heaven, located in Chinese capital of Beijing, is the historical site of a biannual ritual that the Kingdom’s Emperor would make to Shangdi–the absolute God of the Universe. Countless scholars have chosen to frame and conceptualise the Eastern religions as polytheistic, but it would be a short-sighted view that shows poor understanding of Eastern theological beliefs. The earliest references to Shangdi are found in oracle bone inscriptions dated 2nd millennium BC. To the ancient Chinese, Shangdi was the ultimate spiritual power. He was believed to control victory in battle, success or failure of harvests, weather conditions and the fate of the kingdom.

Founded in the first half of the 15th century, The Temple of Heaven, is a complex of fine buildings set in gardens that are surrounded by historic pine woods. The layout of the temple symbolises the relationship between earth and heaven–the human world and the Almighty’s world. This belief is rooted in the heart of Chinese cosmogony and brings our attention to the special role played by the emperors within that relationship.

Twice a year, the Emperor and his retinue would head to the Temple of Heaven where the Emperor would personally pray to Heaven for a good harvest for all his citizens and the prosperity of the land. The Emperor would get down on his knees and bow in submission to the Supreme Being to whom he himself was answerable.

Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Modern Materialism

At our literal fingertips, we modern humans have all the material comforts and worldly knowledge as offered by what is known in this era as the disciplines of science and commerce. These comforts have not brought the majority of us ‘peace’; but rather unrest and anxiety. No matter what we have, it is never enough. We are in a constant mode of ‘upgrade and update’ which has left us tired and depleted.

Our minds have either grown lazy and inept or are buzzing with millions of thoughts like a monkey that dances in the same spot like a juggler that’s desperate to get our attention. The ‘foundation’ on which a majority of modern humans have built their lives is a shaky one.

I would like to bring your attention to a relationship that touches almost every person that exists in the world today. It is our relationship with money. We love it. We hate it. We never seem to have enough of it. Most of us never seem to ever have the problem of having too much of it. Only the rich have that problem–a problem of privilege that most of people will never experience. It is perhaps why the rich are so vilified in popular culture. They are the handful of haves who are surrounded by all the have-nots.

It is all too easy for bitterness to plant a seed in our hearts when we see the haves and realise that we are the have-nots. Our feelings of envy, greed and jealousy are the product of a deep-seated and unspeakable lust for something most of us will probably not have the opportunity to experience in our lifetime.

The Journey to Wealth

But what does it mean to have the soul of a capitalist? Is it an individual who hoards his wealth? Is it an individual who profits at the expense of others? Is it the offspring of the wealthy capitalist–those ‘lucky’ individuals who did not have to toil for their hard-earned labour? Who exactly is a capitalist and what does his or her soul look like?

Scratch beneath the surface of every empire and you will find a story. A story that begins with violence and theft. The history books are replete with stories of colonisers and conquerers. In these stories, the colonisers and conquerers are either the bad guys or the celebrated heroes. History, however, is a fickle friend whose tales are only ever written by the victors–who may well have won the game through unscrupulous means.

Can we solve the problem of the mindless materialism that exists in the world? We may either hold the opinion that the particular age we live in is more or less money-driven that ones that existed before it–but musings on the nature of wealth started long ago–during the Vedic period which dates back to 1100 BCE.

The process of generating wealth has historically been a violent one. It doesn’t matter where in the pecking order you are–we destroy the earth to sustain our lives. We destroy ecosystems to create new ones. By working hard, we create industries and markets where goods and services that didn’t exist before are created and sold.

Through this process, social divides, class divides and even geographic divides are created based on economic indicators. The richest countries in the world today are not the countries that are simply blessed with natural resources–but those who have the knowledge and technology to successfully utilise the resources they have under their care. Some countries are blessed with the bounty of the earth Herself; others seek out foreign lands only to return with spoils from their victories. The recent colonial era is a case in point.

If you’ve ever walked through a museum–especially in the territories of former conquerers–you will see theft that masquerades as cultural heritage. After the colonisers were done exploiting a culture of their natural resources; they took it one step further and even stripped the people of the stories and cultures that connected them to the Land Herself.

How did this happen? Why did this happen?

Those who establish industries and markets feel entitled to claim the lion’s share of wealth generated–and they do typically receive more than those who actually work. And then there are others, who have not earned anything but benefit from exploiting vast wealth because they were born into a particular family. Those who are born into privilege cannot see, let alone understand, the unfairness of the situation. Many born into privilege are wrecked by a far more destructive emotion–the emotion of guilt.

What creates wealth for one group is theft for another group. Wealth in all its forms represents a duality. It can usher in happiness in the form of material abundance and a happy family; it can also be something that brings deep dissatisfaction. The envy of neighbours, the loss of friends, quarrels within the family and so on. Nevertheless, giving up wealth simply because its arrival can cause unhappiness is not the answer.

The true capitalist is a custodian of the world’s wealth. Entrepreneurship, and by extension capitalism, is the creation of jobs and opportunities that did not exist before the arrival of the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are a creative economic force. They create value that did not exist before.

The true capitalist is not a thief. He or she is a custodian of the world’s wealth.

The Angkor Wat Temple was built as a dedication to Vishnu, the Preserver and Sustainer of Wealth

8 thoughts on “Capitalism and Custodianship | A History of Wealth

  1. Excellent. Brilliant. Beautiful. Astounding.

    A deep and profound understanding of the nature of wealth and our relationship with the One who places it under our ‘custodianship’. I wish you all the best in your journey as the preserver and sustainer of wealth. With an inner compass that is pointing in the right direction, I have no doubt that will you will create wealth that is destined to last for generations to come. Venture forth. I wish you luck and good fortune in your pursuit of commerce. May the ancient ones light your path and guide your way should you ever need the shining light of their wisdom.

    Like

  2. Wow!! I am in awe of the connection you drew between The Temple of Heaven and the prosperity of the land. China has changed a lot, but this is a part of who I am and my cultural heritage. So wonderful to see stories and knowledge of my ancient ancestors being shared with the world.

    Like

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