From what I have observed, the greatest driving force in the world is the desire for wealth. So many wars have been fought for it, and millions of lives have been lost for it. No aspect of today’s life is not under its spell, and yet we really cannot define it. Wealth and money mean different things to different people and they can serve different purposes.
Investopedia defines wealth as:
Wealth measures the value of all the assets of worth owned by a person, community, company or country. Wealth is determined by taking the total market value of all physical and intangible assets owned, then subtracting all debts. Essentially, wealth is the accumulation of resources. Specific people, organizations and nations are said to be wealthy when they are able to accumulate many valuable resources or goods.
In a simple language, it means all the worldly possessions a person has accumulated.
In economic terms, wealth is explained in many ways such as Net Worth for the individuals and for the wealth of the countries by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Before money was introduced, different societies had their own systems of exchange to create wealth and they used wheat, rice, salt, cattle and livestock. Silver and gold were used before currencies came to being and since then money has become the most common means of measuring wealth.
Considering all that, I would like to define wealth from the Baha’i point of view. Baha’u’llah tells us:
The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed.1
This is the spiritual definition of true wealth. I understand it to mean that we acquire spiritual wealth when we work to develop virtues, virtues such as trustworthiness, truthfulness, assertiveness, compassion, honesty, honor, prayerfulness and so on.
If we spend our lives developing virtues, we will have something to show for it when our time in this world of material existence comes to an end as these developed qualities will assist us in our next stage of existence.
Developing these virtues will naturally have an effect on our financial and material lives. For example, as it relates to trustworthiness, Baha’u’llah says:
Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light.2
When it comes to a Baha’i perspective on wealth and money, several different ways of thinking about materialism come to mind. For one, Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. Above all, if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement, for such a benefactor would supply the needs and insure the comfort and well-being of a great multitude. Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy.3
Baha’u’llah reminds us about the purpose of wealth and how it should be utilized in these Hidden Words:
O SON OF MAN! Bestow My wealth upon My poor, that in heaven thou mayest draw from stores of unfading splendor and treasures of imperishable glory. But by My life! To offer up thy soul is a more glorious thing couldst thou but see with Mine eye. 4
O CHILDREN OF DUST! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.5
Based on my understanding of these quotations, I see wealth as an amazing tool for the service to humanity and have not shied away from using my God-given abilities to strive to create wealth with this in mind.
However, in striving to earn money, I also work on detaching myself from it and continually call to mind my purpose of seeking spiritual wealth. Baha’u’llah cautions us:
O SON OF BEING! Busy not thyself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, and with gold, We test Our servants.6
The materialistic and capitalistic world that we live tries to convince us that there is no higher goal in life than buying and consuming. In these confusing times where the cancer of consumerism has taken hold of mankind and slowly eating away its humanity, the Baha’i teachings tell us to look at wealth and life differently. Rather than living solely to maximize our own pleasure, we can try our best to love the Creator and seek God’s pleasure and therefore love His creation—humanity. Instead of focusing only on personal satisfaction, we can turn away from ourselves and focus on a higher purpose. In this sense, we will be truly wealthy.
Abdu’l-Baha suggested how to prepare for the end of our lives. He said we should be as a passenger packed and ready for the spiritual journey by becoming more detached from the material world. At that end of life, wealth loses its glitter and its charm, and the only thing that will satisfy our soul would be the fact that we understood the true meaning of wealth and used our material wealth for the good of others.