Understanding Wealth and Living With Purpose
The Full Discussion
Join us for Part One of a three part mini-series as we explore how to live purposefully and abundantly in the world, without succumbing to the temptations of success, wealth and fame. Through various stories of the popular elephant headed deity, Ganesha, we will learn to navigate obstacles on the path of life. Is life all about work and money? Fame and success? Does being successful mean you have to sell your soul? Do you have to give up all your possessions and renounce money to be “spiritual”? Find out, by listening to this engaging three part mini-series.
Welcome to the Sivanna podcast everyone, I’m your host Ashton Szabo, and I am super excited for today.
This episode marks the start of a three part mini-series on purpose, wealth, obstacles, and success.
As we dive into the stories of the beloved elephant-headed deity, Ganesha, we’re diving into a topic that I feel is very relevant in our American culture today. And after years of living abroad, in many ways disconnected from the fast paced modern world, I’ve seen some of the large contrast our culture has with others around the globe. It’s also clear how western ideas of capitalism, success and fame have spread across the planet.
And one thing is very very clear to me, that there is a preoccupation here, an obsession in the United States, in the west, with success and wealth. With the acquisitions of goods, or stature. In fairness, it’s always existed in the world, and it’s likely connected to our human nature. But the obsession has hit epidemic proportions here in the so-called western world.
As a species, I think it’s fair to say that humankind feels a collective wound or disconnection from the world, or a feeling of emptiness inside. It seems to be part of human nature, and how that feeling or dilemma is met personally and socially can tell you a lot about a particular culture. It’s addressed in some way or form in every culture, every religion, personally and socially. In our modern western culture, the happiness, the connection, the wholeness we all seek is to be found through material success. So once you make enough money, once you buy that car, once you have that stuff, then you’ll be happy, then you’ll be satisfied. That hole that you feel inside, fill it with things, fill it with stuff. And once you’re filled up enough, you’ll find that elusive happiness; once you get to the end of the race, so to speak, you’ll be filled with joy and an overall abundant feeling of happiness.
It catches us all on a treadmill of working and spending, working and spending. So you work, work, work, to make money, but hey, if you’re feeling down, feeling stressed, feeling empty and overwhelmed by life and work? Go shopping. Feel the temporary rush of buying stuff, of what wealth provides. Get all hopped up on the goods. We literally have retail therapy in this country.
You want to feel better? Spend! Consume! We’ve created a culture that self-soothes through shopping, through consumption. People stress with work so they can make money, then they use the money to shop and self-soothe from all the anxiety and stress from their work.
Their quest for money. It doesn’t make any sense.
Is spending the source of meaning in life?
And growing up the United States, I was filled with questions about,
Why we’re here?
What’s the meaning of life?
What’s it all mean?
And my questions usually were met with responses like,
“Don’t ask questions like that, you need to go to school, get a job make money. That’s how the world operates”
Like, that’s literally told how I was supposed to grow up. Not to have questions about meaning of life, but rather to get a job and make money, money, money, money, money. It has become the center of our modern western world.
It has nothing to do with purpose or following your dreams, unless of course the purpose of those dreams are about making money, or getting famous. But there are other cultures that take an entirely different approach to this human dilemma.
This longing for wholeness and happiness that we all seek on some level. So in stark contrast to the American model, some cultures believe that you feel a hole or a wound, because you look outside of yourself for what actually lies within.
This is important because the resolution to that human tendency to feel disconnected or empty is to look inward instead of outward. Your fulfilment comes not from outward possessions and stuff, but by inward vision. And the source of wholeness is not outside of you, it’s already within you. This lies in stark contrast to what we’re told in the West.
I think the difficulty that we have today is not to choose or replace one view with or over another, but rather, how can we find a way to integrate what we can learn from various approaches to this fundamental human question or tendency?
What can you learn about ourselves? Our culture? And our personal and collective growth and evolution?
I think the trappings of materialism are pretty clear to most, but that doesn’t mean we have to swing the pendulum the other way and renounce everything material. The question is, how do we live within the rules, the boundaries and relationships of the material world while integrating the wisdom that can only be found by looking inward? Can we live in a world of money and still find an alternative view to what’s going to make us feel whole and happy? Something that includes something other than an endless attempt to fill ourselves with stuff or to satiate ourselves with stuff; with success and money and possessions. Without trying to find out how many Instagram followers we have, or judging our success based on the number of Facebook likes that we have.
And we see this idea expressed in a story about the beloved elephant-headed God, Ganesha. We’ve explored a story about Ganesha’s birth in episode 8 of the Sivanna podcast. And today and throughout this coming mini-series, we’ll explore a few more stories of Ganesha that give us some different insights into the world. In particular, insights into living with purpose and being aware of the trappings of wealth and success, fame and power.
So once upon a time, in an age when everyone, and I mean everyone, was gaining access to heaven. Even the nastiest, dirtiest, most savage murderers you could conceive of. They were all getting in.
As you see, people have found out, that all they had to do is visit this one Shiva temple, in a place in India called Somnathpur, and all of their sins would be forgiven. Shiva was kind of a pushover when it came to things like that. Shiva represents the absolute, he is everything, he’s the Godhead, and he’s known for being a bit of a softy when it comes to certain practices or prayers devoted to him. He’s said to be very easy to please that way.
But now that the word is out, now that it’s common knowledge that Shiva can be so easily pleased, heaven is getting filled with rascals and unsavory types, and the hells are all going empty. Live as greedily or selfish as you want in life, but make your way to this temple, offer prayers to Shiva and you’ll escape the horrors of eternity in one of the various hells.
So, the Gods are freaking out with all this going on. Yama, the God of death in particular, is absolutely freaking out. So he goes to Shiva and Parvati, the absolute Godhead, the transcendent, as well as the eminence of the Goddesses, is everything and represents everything in the world, and they are the divine couple up on Mount Kailash. So Yaman and these other Gods, they go to Shiva and Parvati to their home on Mount Kailash, and they beg them to do something about the situation.
So Parvati, the Goddess, the great mother, listens to the worries of Yama and the other Gods and decides to help. She starts to scrape along the surface of her arm, and this oily black tar comes off her skin. She collects the tarry substance, and molds the material into the four-armed elephant-faced god, Ganesha.
And it’s said that they wait for the oily, tarry, gunky stuff to dry before Ganesha actually comes to life. And I can’t help but to picture this moment in my head. You’ve got Yama, Death, the Grim Reaper, sitting there next to this immaculate pristine Goddess and I just see this, like, awkward moment waiting for the thing to dry, them trying to make small talk, like, “Oh you know so how’s the death business?” Like, thinking of an old granny and a rugged biker sitting in a room next to each other trying to pass the time. I don’t know why I always picture it like that, but it makes me more fond of that particular moment to think of it that way.
So anyways, Ganesha wakes up and Parvati commands him to place obstacles before anyone who travels to this particular Shiva temple, the place where people are gaining this access to heaven. She instructs Ganesha to place wealth, money, fame, success, power, and sex all in the way of those who wish to enter the temple. And she says,
“And those who see through your tricks, let them enter.”
And so in images of Ganesha, you’ll often see him holding a snare or a noose in one of his hands, and one of the interpretations of this is that he’s holding the reminder that wealth and success can easily ensnare you. They can ensnare you based on your motivations, your perspective, your purpose, or lack thereof we could say.
So Ganesha also sometimes holds an ax with a prod on it in one of his hands, and he’s literally prodding us. He’s prodding us to look inward, he’s prodding us to live our purpose out in the world. Because without purpose, we are very likely to get ensnared by wealth and fame. And when you look inward, you discover who you really are. When you know who you are, you’re free to be in the world for whatever purpose that may be.
So maybe through that enactment of your faith, you happen to receive wealth or fame, and that’s fine. So too is it fine if you live with your purpose, but you don’t acquire fame or fortune. Because, the fulfillment isn’t in those things, it’s in the realization of who you are.
When you wake up every day, do you get up for the money?
Are you in a job that isn’t serving you or your purpose, but you stay because it pays well or has nice benefits?
We see where that path goes, it’s no mystery. Despite, perhaps, the media and marketing continuously putting forth the idea that you need this thing or that thing before you’ll be happy, right? It’s something that money can buy. I think it’s very obvious to most that these things won’t bring you happiness. We see this touched on, time and time again throughout the pages of history, of all these different sages and saints that keep telling us this over and over and over again.
Talk with people in our culture who are deemed successful. Typically, their money hasn’t made them feel any more or less fulfilled. Those that do feel a sense of fulfillment, you’ll find almost universally live with a sense of purpose. A purpose that is larger than themselves, a purpose that is larger than just trying to acquire more for themselves. Yes, maybe in living that purpose they acquire massive amounts of wealth along the way, but that’s not why they did it. They did it for something larger. We also tend to find that those that are unhappy with large sums of money are usually still chasing the dragon. They’re looking for that next hit, like,
“Once I get that pay raise, that promotion, that deal, that thing, then I’ll be happy”.
“Once I get the bigger house, finally I’ll be content. I’ll be good”.
Those people are ensnared and they haven’t realized it yet. They’ve gotten caught up in that noose that Ganesha’s holding, the obstacles that he’s placed in front of the realization in fulfillment of life.
So the story gives us a really great opportunity to look at our own lives, look at our own motivations for things.
Are we constantly telling ourselves that happiness will come after I get that thing, that outward material thing?
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The story is saying, “Hey look, life is about more than the acquisition of more things, more stuff.” If you’re seeking fulfillment, redemption, realization, enlightenment, happiness, any of those things, and you allow yourself to be distracted by money or fame, you will never be fulfilled. Or if you’re busy chasing all of those things, you will constantly be chasing and chasing and chasing for eternity.
And Ganesha, with his obstacles, is literally the giant, giant elephant in the room that no one’s talking about in our culture. People all throughout time in history speak of the trappings of wealth and money. Yet in our modern culture, we simply don’t talk about that because our culture glorifies and praises the acquisition of money, power and fame. So these obstacles that Ganesha places, they become, he becomes, the barrier; the obstacle, the thing that you have to get past, the thing that you have to get by, to cross over, to go beyond the temptation, that money fame and success can bring.
And Ganesha is considered to be the remover of obstacles, but he’s both the remover of the obstacles, and the obstacle himself. But this isn’t a story about giving up all wealth, and this is important. The Goddess tells Ganesha to let those who see through your tricks enter. She doesn’t say let those who renounce all money, or people who have no fame or success. No, she says if they can see through all of that, and if they understand the trick that it is, the temptations that it is. If they know what their true purpose in seeking fulfillment is, then they can come in.
What is their true purpose in life?
If they know it, they can pass that threshold, that gateway of Ganesha, and enter to heaven. We’re not just talking about the trappings of large sums of money.
So part of the social dialogue right now is kind of the haves and the have-nots, so be careful of getting trapped up in the realm of the luxurious and all of this sort of stuff. We’re not just talking about that. We’re not saying, “That’s evil, but me and my poor little relationship with money, just trying to get by.
That’s not a trap. We’re only talking about these really big concepts in amounts of money.” It’s like, no. This story is talking to all of us. And it talks to our tendency that has a say that, you know, we keep hoping that the next purchase, or the next partner, or the next job, or the next iPhone, will finally bring you fulfillment and happiness.
If you keep thinking that, then you’re doomed to feel exiled or wounded or disconnected, unfulfilled. Try to fill yourself up with stuff and you’ll always find that you’re feeling lacking. With spending, shopping, there’s a heavy compulsive element to it. It’s a strong desire like, “Oh my gosh I need that new iPhone. I need that new bright shiny thing, and once I get it I’ll be satisfied. I’m unsatisfied with my current phone. Like, it’s the iPhone 4, you know? I need the new super duper iPhone megaphone, SG, whatever.”
But what happens when you get it?
Maybe there’s some novelty of the new features or whatever, but then what? You’re back to the same you, the same concerns, the same feelings, the same need to be fulfilled and happy. That thing, that purchase, hasn’t actually given you anything sustainable or lasting.
But look inward, see the divine in you, and through understanding yourself, your purpose in life will be revealed as the simple act of being you. Whatever that life story of you brings, it brings. Welcome it, accept it and continue to live as you, as you are meant to live, That’s it! Wealth will come and go, fame may come or it may not. Those things can be abundant or not, but their transient; their elusive. If you attach your happiness to them, then your happiness will always be seemingly in a state of flux and wanting.
But if you live with purpose, and you wake up every morning and live your purpose, then that feeling of fullness doesn’t wane. It’s not that you don’t question your purpose, or you don’t have moments of highs and lows. But when you’re strong in your purpose, it sustains you through all the ups and downs, through all the highs and lows. Nor does it matter in a more global sense, “spiritual sense,” if you’re making money. Like, I get that we all want to make sure that our basic needs are met. That’s something that is important as part of the conversation. But beyond that, what is money really giving you?
Living with purpose can give you gifts that money can never give you. That’s what cultures and people have been telling humankind for ages. But somehow in our modern American culture, we missed that memo and we’re all sceptible to it.
When I moved back to the United States from Asia with my family, we had the full intention to live a life of service. I mean, I was coming back from doing yoga practices all day, really high on this cloud of just being fulfilled with joys and happy all the time. We moved back here to the US to serve, to be close with our family and community, and really be a part of everything around us. I came back with a really strong purpose of, like, what we are here to do and why we came back. But living in the heart of southern California, it was super easy to get swept up in money being the center of the world. The cost of living is high, the economy isn’t great, I have a wife and child to support, college to think of one day, bills, insurance, this and that, all kinds of stuff. It was really easy, it IS really easy, to forget about purpose and just try to do the things that will make you the money to pay your next bill. To put the next meal on the table.
But living that way inevitably leads to a poor quality of life, to stress, to a lack of fulfillment and joy. And regardless of where we are financially, when living a life filled with purpose, there’s joy. There’s a sense of connection, of happiness, of fulfillment. It’s not the money that brings it, it’s purpose.
It’s literally learning how to offer what your gifts are, what your place in the world is. An offer to the world, and you have that when you’re living a life of purpose. When I’m living, giving my fullest gifts, I also paradoxically have more of myself to give others, to give my family. I’m lighter, I’m easier to be around, I’m more likely to hunker down and roll around on the floor and be with my family, rather than stressing out in my office just trying to get work done, to get the next paycheck. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do, but what are my moment to moment motivations behind it? I might be doing what I love, but does a fear of unpaid bills drive me to put money at the center of my world, instead of my purpose or instead of my family?
If I only work for money to provide for myself and for my family, but that work negatively affects my relationships with my family, then does that make any sense whatsoever? What actually drives me each day?
So stop for a moment. Ask yourself why you woke up this morning.
Did you wake up just to go to that job that pays your bills?
Or did you wake up with the sense of why you were put on this planet.
Why you’re here.
What you’re here to do.
How you can be that thing that you are and live that now today.
You don’t need to shun success, you don’t need to shun wealth or fame. But know their trappings, know their seduction so you can see clearly when the temptations arise. Or being in the world offering up your purpose to existence may include you acquiring wealth or fame or money or power. But don’t let those things take you away from your purpose, because it’s not the gaining of more stuff that will make you happy. It’s the truth behind your purpose. It’s the truth of knowing who you are that will bring fulfillment, it’s that truth that will renew the whole world.
That’s part one of three for our mini-series about wealth and purpose in exploring the stories of Ganesha.
Join us for part two as we continue down the rabbit hole to see the effects of consumption and spending as we dive into the story Ganesha and the king of gold.
Thanks so much for listening today, and I’d also like to take a moment for a special thanks to Zach Cooper, our sound engineer for all the work he does and for bringing these stories to life.
Thank you Sivana, for making these podcasts possible, and for all you listeners out there thank you so much.
Please subscribe to the show, leave a review for us on iTunes and let us know the topics you want to hear, what you like about the show, what you don’t like about it, whatever, so we can continue to create podcasts that’s serve you the most.
I’m Ashton Szabo, this is the Sivana podcast.
I hope you all have a deeply present and fulfilled moment. Namaste.
You’ve been listening to the Sivana podcast. To find out more about Sivana, go to sivanaspirit.com or follow Sivana on Facebook, at facebook.com/sivanaspirit. For daily inspiration, check out our blog at sivanaeast.com. Be sure to join us next week for a new episode and thank you for listening to the Sivana podcast.
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