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Wealth

Here are two standards of value, the one real and the other fictitious, one permanent and the other shifting. It is a propensity of the human mind to forego the idea and deal with the symbol, and as money is the symbol of wealth, to invest the material world, organic and inorganic, with a material value, and to write dollars and cents over the face of God's fair earth; and so it comes that society is well nigh submerged in the stream of opulence that flows from the human mind, that symbolic stream which quenches not the inner thirst, that affords "not any drop to drink."

There is perhaps no subject which labors under a more general misapprehension than that of wealth. While economists have dimly predicated an inward as well as an outward wealth, they have preferred to treat it directly as that which has an exchange value and to class it as a species of utility, but of a base order, having reference only to the material welfare of man. And herein lies the fallacy of the worldly concept of life, that it would deal with material issues as separate from spiritual, whereas in fact the material is but the reflex of the spiritual, and can no more be rightly considered as a separate entity than a corpse may be regarded as a man; and though political economy may admit that man has a soul, it nevertheless does not recognize it as an asset.

It is a shallow sophism that money will buy everything; it will buy everything but happiness, everything but peace, everything but truth, wisdom, love. It will buy servile allegiance but not respect; it will buy a book but not the ability to read it; it will buy a coronet but not nobility of character. In short, it will buy the symbols but not the substance of things.

To inherit money may or may not prove beneficial; but to inherit the conviction that money constitutes wealth is always a calamity. There is this difference, moreover, between earning money and acquiring it, that the one contributes to character and the other requires character to withstand it. Two payments are made for all honest work; the first is in money and is counted, the second is in patience, in dexterity, in tact, experience and courage, and is not counted.

An adequate cultivation of the mind renders much money superfluous; a real contentment needs but few dollars. We have forsaken Virgil and Horace for the applied sciences, but the classics would, none the less, augment the wealth of imagery and of thought. Culture forever protests that money is not wealth, but its symbol, merely; that "money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul"; and the spiritual mind exhorts us to seek first the kingdom of God—to work for that in life that shall endure. It is not to the Bicardos nor the Adam Smiths, it is not to political but rather to spiritual economy that we shall look for a right understanding of wealth.

For the world's view of wealth readily follows its dogma of success. Money is today largely the measure of success—a business that is profitable; a profession that is lucrative. But the ample perspective of history reveals success to lie only in the character of a work and thus is assigned a truer value to a work of Phidias or an ode of Pindar than to contemporary art or life. Inventors have lived in garrets; there are monuments of literature which brought but paltry sums to their authors; prophets have been stoned. Was the inventor then less rich in ideas; was the author less wealthy in diction; had the prophet any the less an ownership in truth? It is but a poor standard of success that is measured by gold and silver; a noble bearing, a lofty brow, a kindly smile, a self-control, a healthy body, a clear eye bespeak a success that is more real. The only victory worth making is the victory over one's self; the only real success lies in the development of character and insight; the only thing worth seeking is the Soul; the only thing worth possessing is the truth; the only thing worth living for is love. And this is the greatest success—to have ennobled your environment, to have done good, to have given happiness, to be happy; for virtue alone wears a serene smile, and wisdom only is truly happy.

It shall become apparent to every thoughtful mind that despite the fetishism of the dollar, it is not money but love that rules the world. Prince Sidartha renounced a throne, and in the garb of a mendicant went forth to enlighten men and to teach the supreme doctrine of love and of renunciation. Jesus, in the name of Love, healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and his life was a giving and a doing for others; a torrent of beneficence and kindly deeds. Yet, He who is called the Light of the World was a penniless wanderer in Palestine. Think you the world of Annas and Caiaphas esteemed the life of this man a successful one? Do we esteem any one successful today who has not a house over his head, be his preaching never so eloquent? But these lives are momentous facts that somehow subvert all our standards of success. And though in the growth of civilization the examples are no longer applicable to present needs, the principles and ideas are none the less so—a fact to which the world offers tacit recognition, for with all its getting and all its self-seeking it is still led by inspired mendicants, whose sole possession is wisdom. What of the Pharaohs, the Caesars, the kings—is their memory grateful to mankind? What of the great names of science—have their discoveries on the whole contributed to make life happier or nobler? How is it that the names of simple men outweigh the influence of empires and of dynasties?

It fatigues to be constantly reminded of the so-called wealth of men—that man should so universally be judged according to the symbol. Wealth is capacity, not money; the capacity to love, the capacity to appreciate the beautiful, the capacity—above all—to hear and apprehend the monitions of the Spirit. He who possesses the symbol merely, not knowing the thing symbolized, is often the poorest of men. It is said the inventor is always poor; so he may be in money, but so is Croesus poor in invention. Poverty is relative. He who is rich in equipages is often poor in health—in sinew and vigor to climb the mountains. Must we be taught that there is no poverty to the Soul? We have wealth to the extent that we apprehend the principles of being. It is no appraisal of a man's wealth, indeed, to say he has certain stocks and bonds, for every man owns heaven and hell.

Wealth, then, is capacity: capacity for wisdom; capacity for doing good; capacity for entering into the lives of others. Egotism is a kind of pauperism; to see everything always from a personal standpoint is to be incarcerated within the four walls of a self-made prison and to exclude a wealth of human love and sympathy. Incapacity to grasp the true meaning of life; incapacity for expressing the good that is in us; incapacity for recognizing the good that is in others—such is poverty. To be poor in love, to be poor in thought, is to be poor indeed. What avails a vast estate if we live in a crack; to what end a private observatory if we dwell in the cellar of our being; of what use broad acres to a narrow mind?

The only real wealth lies within, and no outer semblance shall gainsay an inner poverty. The richer the inner life the greater the outer simplicity. There are men who never find themselves until they lose their money; there are beauties that never become apparent until the purse is empty. When we have found the Soul, what can be added to or taken from us? We shall cherish the Soul in the silence and leave the trappings of the world—the tinsel and gewgaws. It is expedient to have our possessions within, compact and available, that we may be in good marching order and shall not be hindered on the journey. Better internal forces than external encumbrances.

Ah! To live free from perturbation, tranquil! serene! How do we call ourselves men—who are driven by care, we who are slaves to a calling to the end that the vanity may be pampered, the stomach appeased. Fear, toiling to lay up against a "rainy day," is meanwhile forging chains. But to the serene mind there are no rainy days. Real necessity requires only the work of men and not the toil of slaves. Surely there is a high price paid for luxury; simplicity would lift a burden from the shoulders. Reflect, that, after all, the quintessence of things may never be bought. We can only buy according to our capacity; we read in the book only the measure of our own enlightenment; we see in the work of art only the degree to which we are receptive to the beautiful, and conversant with the principles of art. Nor can there be obtained the full significance of that to which somewhat is not contributed—the work of mind or hands: the artist, the artificer, the craftsman retains always an interest in what is bought of him. The gardener laying out a flower bed will abstract a share of its meaning and its beauty. What are these things sought after? Are they worth the best part of human life? Is the diamond more beautiful than the rain-drop on the barberry leaf; or ruby, than the cardinal flower as it gleams solitary from amidst the low alders; is there woven fabric more delicate than the spider's web? Is there aught more precious to a thoughtful man than leisure: leisure to reflect, to meditate, to worship? What a commentary upon society that men have not time to observe nature—nor time to reflect upon what they are, nor why they may be here!

Values are not always apparent, and a hasty judgment would often overlook that which is best. There are delicate lovely blossoms so fragile they may not be plucked from the grassy meadow in which they grow; so is it with our fairest visions, expressed in words they can never be, for their subtle and ethereal quality escapes us. The sand dunes and the desert have been made to burst in bloom, and where once was a dreary waste, the Gold of Ophir now twines about the branches of the pepper trees, the heliotrope and the lemon verbenas stand high in air, the Cherokee runs riot and the Marechal Niel hangs its heavy head. And this much will love do for the barren life: no desert but shall be bright with flowers; no Sierra but shall have its snow-plant. There are kind hearts under rough coats; there is a vision of truth in lowly minds. All that glitters is not gold, and there is a gold that does not glitter.

We hear of men today in India who can neither read nor write and are yet profoundly versed in the science of being; men who have never owned a single piece of gold, but are rich in the Soul's realization of freedom, and who rejoice in the wealth and power of self-control and self-union. There are men who wander from village to village along the dusty Indian roads, calling practically nothing their own, in whose eyes shines the light of peace, on whose brows is the stamp of wisdom. Men of remote and inadequate ways of life these, as judged by western standards; yet must we bow to the superiority which lies in a serene consciousness, though housed in a barren exterior, for a true sagacity perfects always the inner life and dwells within the sanctuary. And what shall we say, we of rich externals, but no serenity, no self-trust?

Every man comes into the world with a title to all that is; it remains for him to prove it through capacity. There is a prior title to this lake, this forest, these mountains, than any that is on record. All recorded titles may prove defective, for like people's names they seldom fit their owners. Such an one has a deed to the shore of a lake, but its beauty eludes him and he foolishly cherishes the possession of so much muck and mire, and is weighed down with his cubic yards of earth. Another is ravished with the beauty of this same fair lake; it is to him a consolation and an inspiration, and he springs aloft in the joy of his spiritual possessions. Have done with this cry of poverty, and reflect that for you have been painted and chiseled the masterpieces, for you has been garnered all wisdom, for you races have lived and wrought; that in the dim past poets wrote for you—looked over the heads of their unheeding fellows, and said, "I salute you, you who in ages to come shall commune with me—for you I write." Ponder this, and consider how august a personage you are and never more belittle yourself or live other than nobly. And how marvelous the working of the divine laws that a little book should live through the ages—to come in at your window and open before you its message at the appointed time, that seers should prophesy and philosophers meditate and historians write for you—you whose inheritance of beauty is as wide as the cosmos, and as deep; whose estate of wisdom is as great as your own soul; whose property in love is as large as your own heart.

There is a storehouse of undreamed of wealth to which every soul may have access; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. Is not truth an adequate legacy? Is not the kingdom of God a sufficient inheritance? For what bauble shall we renounce them and preserve a semblance of reason? It is not currency reform—neither a gold standard nor the free coinage of silver; it is neither protection nor free trade that shall bring the "good times" we so eagerly await. But it is spiritual-mindedness, right living and right thinking; it is love in the world—more cooperation and less competition. The perfection of the credit system is one indication of the degree of civilization, but trust in god is a greater. There is a spiritual as well as a business acumen. We soon pass judgment on the banker who fails to note the proper value of securities, or neglects the world of affairs; but here are we all foolish bankers who pay no heed to spiritual values, which alone are enduring.

In this plea for a right understanding of what constitutes wealth, I would not be thought foolishly to disparage the good offices of money. Manifold are its beneficent uses. But whenever that which is ordained a means is falsely elevated to the dignity of an end, a goal in life, the perversion worketh woe. Money as a means is an agent of love; as an end it is a cause of sorrow, a breeder of strife, and only when returned to its proper place does it fulfill its beneficent function. Not until the gold of the Nieblung is restored to the Rhine does peace prevail. Let us acquire money, and let us spend it if in so doing we may quicken the generous impulse and expand the heart, and not come to shut our eyes to the wealth that lies within. A wise man regulates his expenditure by what is fitting, and not by what he can "afford." No man can afford to spend upon himself more than is needful; none can afford luxuries where others lack necessities. He is the richer who is content with less, not he who, having much, needs more. But prudence lies not in spending little, but in spending wisely, and it is a poor economy that saves money and lets go generosity. Would that we knew more of the beauty of simplicity and of the value of a stern and frugal way of life, for high living ever discourages high thinking, and when most lavish to the body we are penurious to the Soul.

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Stanton Davis Kirkham

  • Born on December 7th, 1868 in Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France and died on January 6th, 1944 in New York City.
  • Graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Quoted in As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
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