So 2015 is here and many are full of plans for the year, making visual boards and creating goal trackers, a lot of them aimed at the attainment of prosperity. And yet, some people are unclear at what they mean when they ask for prosperity. When it comes to prosperity, the first thought that tends to come to mind is “money.” Lots of it. Then images of mansions and sports car hang in the air like sugar plum fairies in Christmas Eve. On the other hand, some religious and spiritual people seem to see prosperity (usually reduced to the idea of material wealth) at odds with some beliefs and principles. But is it being just rich what prosperity really means?
Following the time-honoured tradition of many a lecturer, I have resourced to the dictionary to have starting point in elaborating definition for prosperity. The one that called my attention describes prosperity as a condition: a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects. One a bit more straight to the point, defines prosperity as the condition of being prosperous. So, naturally, I looked for definitions for prosperous. This is what I found:
1. flourishing; prospering; thriving; successful; booming; profitable
2. rich; affluent; wealthy
3. favourable; promising; good fortune
It is interesting to notice that being rich is not the first definition. For some thesauruses, being prosperous is also a synonym of peace and happiness, enjoying or showing joy and pleasure –and idea echoed by some world spiritualties and ancient wisdom.
In the Jewish and Christian sacred readings, the word for prosperity appears several times. In the New Testament, 3 John 1:3 says: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” One of the translations for Euodoo, the Greek word “prosper” used here, is “to grant a prosperous and expeditious journey/to succeed in a business affair/to be successful.” In 3 John 1:3 we also see a correlation between the stature of the soul, if you will, and health and prosperity; the more knowledgeable and developed the soul is, the more prosperous and healthy people are.
On the other hand, the Hebrew writings we find the word shalom, which can be translated as “prosperous”, but also as “to be whole, safe, healthy sound and content.” The Prophet Zechariah speaks about of prosperity in verse 8:12: “For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew…” (King James Bible.) Curiously, however, the American Standard Bible translates this verse in the following manner: “For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew…” The International Standard Version, on the other hand, translate the passage as: “For there will be a sowing of peace: the vine will produce its fruit, the earth will produce its full yield, the sky will produce its dew.”
In Hinduism, Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, is also the goddess of beauty, wellbeing, generosity, charm, wisdom, fertility and harmony. She’s also seen as healer and a comforter during difficult times (hope or optimism I guess you would call it). Her name seems to derive from the Sanskrit word Laksya, meaning “goal” or “aim.” In Hinduism, prosperity is also one of the four purposes in life, known as Artha. Hinduism divides life’s stages into four. One of them, the “house holder/owner” (usually the adult working years) would be the appropriate time to seek and work for earthly success and prosperity. Although the ultimate goal is enlightment, Hinduism is very practical, and understands that a society cannot function if everyone drops all activities and renounce the “material” world (there would be time for this once people reach the Mocksha stage –usually the elderly years). However, Hinduism sees prosperity working hand in hand with Dharma or living morally and ethically at all times.
In spite of some ideas, the Buddha did not seem to be against prosperity. He experienced both, the care-free, egotistical riches of a prince and the body-breaking poverty of those who had reject any kind of comfort –including enough nourishing food- in exchange for spiritual growth, and decided there had to be a middle way. He thought that prosperity could be achieved in four ways: by applying skill and perseverance in one’s thoughts and work; by being careful and doing things carefully; by surrounding one’s self with virtuous, faithful and wise friends; and by living a balanced life, which included living within one’s means, as well as actually enjoying one’s wealth –avoiding hoarding wealth for wealth’s sake. The Buddha also believed that it was best to combined material wealth with faith, virtue, charity and wisdom. In this manner, people could enjoy prosperity without becoming a slave to it.
For many Islamic scholars, Islam very much supports the idea of prosperity as a birth right to humanity. Natural resources are free to be used by everyone for their own advantage. That said, it does seem to condemn the monopoly or resources by one group (be it religious, race or national oriented) to the exclusion of others. That which has been taken for nature must be used, either in a personal way or a communal way, so idle accumulation of wealth is frowned-upon, whilst the idea of benefit, for the individual, community or both, is stressed. There is also a strong component of social justice and wealth redistribution. This is particular true in the institution of the Zakat, a form of tax imposed on all of those who can afford it, to be used for the benefit of the poor and vulnerable. The call is to keep mind and heart on Allah, not only in difficult times, but also in prosperous time, to keep an inner balance and live a moral life.
In ancient China prosperity was related to the idea of Lu. It refers to the opportunities opened to regular people (well, studious, regular people willing to work hard) to take a test, which, if passed, would allow them to work for the government and create a career to the highest rank positions. So Lu literally means a “salary” or position of civil service. With it came not only financial security, but also prestige. It was also associated with training and preparation. Confucius apparently said, “Study hard and Lu will follow”. Another Chinese saying stated that books would ensure a good home and a beautiful wife. The god of prosperity, appropriately called Lu Xing, is depicted holding a baby, thus children and family were also incorporated in the Chinese vision of prosperity.
Earth-centred spiritualties are also at ease with the idea of prosperity, partly due to the strong connection perceived between humans and the natural world. There are lessons in abundance everywhere in Nature, as well as teachings on what can happen when the delicate balance is altered. Hence, many Pagan spiritualties teach to tread gently upon the Earth and prosperity is viewed by many as a harmonious co-existence with the planet and its creatures. There is no righteousness in being poor, yet there is no pressure to take more than is needed. Some Pagan groups such as Druids promote creativity as part of inner and outer prosperity. Others encourage the creation of prosperity through values and beliefs, as in the case of the Asatru’s Nine Noble Virtues, which include industriousness, self-reliance and hospitality.
Although not exactly religious, but steeped in spirituality, I would like to bring to the table the American thinkers usually associated with New Thought, the grand-daddies of the self-help movement. One of them, James Allen, equated being prosperous with creating harmony between our inner and outer selves. He also believed success and prosperity are the result of joy applied to work, and right thought generating a righteous action.
Napoleon Hill became one of the best-selling authors of all times with his book, Think and Grow Rich. Hill worked with prosperity as a synonym of achievement. A bit like Confucius, Hill saw prosperity intimate linked to the government (in this case a capitalist democracy), as it creates the conditions for people to develop themselves. He also considered negative emotions, be it fear, envy or anger, to hampered prosperity and one of the reasons for people’s failure in their quest for success. For Hill, the secret in obtaining prosperity is to work in harmony with others in the creation of value and benefits for all. What most New Thought-inspired thinkers share with other groups we have since so far, is the idea of prosperity going hand in hand with universal values, such as charity, service, and integrity. There is also a common idea that prosperity is, in a way, a “divine” duty, since it springs form the knowledge, honing and proper use of people’s natural talents, skills and efforts for personal, family and community well-being.
I hope that by now you have noticed a certain pattern here. First, most religions do not seem to be against the idea of people being prosperous. And, second, that none of the different definitions and ideas about prosperity we have so far, seem to have anything in common with the image of the house magically filled with money to expend in wildly in whimsical desires –although, some whimsical desires may be included in prosperity.
So let’s find the commonalities in all these spiritual visions about prosperity. The first that caught my attention was the idea of “flourishing.” It appears to suggest that prosperity is not a static thing, a once-in-a-life-time event, but constant renewal, growth and expansion. So unless you put that unexpected money from our original example to work and multiply, well, eventually you’ll stop being prosperous. Yet, I think is more than just generating money.
To me, flourishing brings the image of trees and fields doing what they do best -yielding fruits and produce- in a supportive environment that allows them to give all that is in them to give. This brings to mind other words found in the different definitions of prosperity: create, work, joy, development and achievement. It seems to me then, that prosperity is intimately linked with activity, with doing, with using skills and talents as best as possible, in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves and the results of our efforts. In other words, prosperity is the opportunity to be the best that we can be, putting our talents (including experiences, skills and studies) to work productively and efficiently. Now, will this make us super rich? Not necessarily, although it will be an important factor. But it will not make us poor and it will contribute to our personal well-being and satisfaction.
Another concept we found in the different definitions was that of service, both related to “quality,” “pride” and “carefulness” in the way we produce our goods and deal with our customers; and to what we somehow give back to our communities, through our jobs and commercial endeavours. So prosperity is not a “one-man-band,” but include the direct and indirect well-being of others. Hence, prosperity adds a deeper meaning to our lives than having the chance to have a fast car. It makes us conductors of happiness, welfare, comfort and security to the larger world. Hence, the more good we spread around, the more prosperous we are.
We also saw the words challenge, hard-work and study. This of course, goes hand in hand with flourishing. For fields to flourish, they need to be planted first. Prosperity is associated with the opportunity to put our stamina, steadfastness, resilience, courage and capacity of recuperation to test. Prosperity is not for wimps. And to be prosperous, not only should be ready to face the tests, but actually relish them. Developing our definition a bit more, we could say that prosperity is the opportunity to be the best that we can be, putting our talents (including experiences, skills and studies) to work productively and efficiently, in a way that benefits ourselves and others, whilst honing our inner strenght.
(To be continued.)
© Karen Barratt 2015