The Poverty Mindset

— Swami Narasimhananda —

Once, a monk of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission asked the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi how to deal with wealthy people who came for free treatment at a dispensary run for the poor. The Holy Mother answered that these wealthy people should also be treated as poor because anyone who begs is a poor person. This is a succinct description of the poverty mindset. Anyone who thinks that one does not have enough wealth, learning, wisdom, influence, or other resource, in spite of having these things on an above average level, is a person who is suffering from the poverty mindset.

Before understanding how the poverty mindset works, we should first understand how resources work. For doing any particular work, we need resources. There is a bare minimum level of resources needed for every work. If one does not have that minimum level of resources, then one cannot do that work. However, the fixing of that bare minimum level is crucial. For instance, if a person is hungry, one needs food to appease the hunger. Food could be readymade or freshly cooked. If there is no readymade food around, that person can buy readymade food. Of course, for that, one would need money. If there is no readymade food and no money with a person, then that person has to rely on freshly cooked food. Suppose, there is no freshly cooked food. Then, one has to see whether there are materials for cooking food, like cereals, vegetables, oils, spices, stove, and so on. But, the materials needed for cooking food are themselves not sufficient. One should have someone who can cook or should know cooking oneself. Suppose, one does not have someone who can cook and does not know cooking also. Then, that person could display a presence of mind and innovatively come up with something that could appease that person’s hunger. If, on the other hand, a person has the materials needed for cooking food and does not cook it because of not having a proper cook and not knowing how to cook, that is the beginning of the poverty mindset. Worse, if a person has a cook who cooks food, but constantly complains about the cook, the cooking, and how that person lacks anything in the name of good food, then that person is displaying a poverty mindset.

When we look deeply into our lives and the lives of the others around us, we find that often we complain about how less we have and how it is impossible for us to do anything with it. Everyone is complaining. Surprisingly, the intensity and frequency of complaining increases with one’s wealth. The pavement-dweller just needs a decent house, whereas, the millionaire is worried that the morning coffee did not have the right amount of cream! Now, who is really poor here, the pavement-dweller or the millionaire? To be content in life we need to first understand what is it that would make us content. We need to fix our goals.

When we understand that only joy would make us content, we start searching for joy. However, we need an unending stream of joy. Obviously, that cannot be provided by objects, because all objects eventually perish. Therefore, the Upanishads tell us that we need to turn our search inwards and find that the fount of joy was always within us. Then, we understand that we have all the wealth of the world. By conquering oneself one conquers the universe. By attaining control over one’s own nature, one controls the entire universe.

One does not become poor due to lack of wealth but due to lack of faith.

The understanding that one’s true nature is the ever-existent, ever-pure, ever-joyful Atman makes one achieve the almost impossible in this world. Swami Vivekananda inspired and continues to inspire billions of lives by pointing out the indomitable and inexhaustible power that lies within oneself. If we closely read the lives of people who left a mark on this world, we find that almost all of them had humble beginnings. They had the proper mindset to create their own environments. They did not bicker about the problematic times in which they were living. They did not wait for opportunities. They created opportunities. One does not become poor due to lack of wealth but due to lack of faith. This faith could be in oneself or in God. However, faith in God is also in reality, faith in oneself.

Nature works according to the dictates of the strong-willed individual. If one understands Nature and believes in oneself, Nature adjusts itself according to the needs of that individual. It is very easy and convenient to cry over what we do not have. It is wise to focus on what we have and increase the intensity of our abilities and resources, however less they may be, and overcome the lack of other abilities and resources. One who is lacking in intellect can make up for it by sustained hard work. One who lacks hard work can make up for it by teamwork and networking. One who lacks in money can make up for it by innovation.

The key to breaking the poverty mindset is changing our outlook. If our goal is to find ways to accomplish a particular task, we would be able to find ways out of any difficult and challenging situation. Just like the gushing stream of a river finds its way through rocks and stones, if we are focused on achieving our goals, we would find our way through problems. That is why Swami Vivekananda insisted that we should remember that we can do anything and everything if we have a strong resolve. He asked us to consider all weakening things as poison and reject them. A mindset of poverty is the most weakening thing.

For success, an individual, society, and a nation have to concentrate on what they have and put all their efforts to convert those resources into what they want to achieve. For example, if there is a slump in economy, one should look out for resources that might help in getting out of the slump. In the case of many nations, such a solution lies in their human resources. If every person tries to produce something or give some services that might not be conventional and are innovative, any nation would be able to beat a downward economic trend. However, if everyone just complains about the slowing down of the economy, nothing constructive can be achieved. This is true for all other avenues of the life of an individual and a nation.

We should concentrate on the wealth that we have in ourselves. As the Upanishads say, it is for one’s own joy that a person does everything and this joy is intrinsic to every living being. When one experiences this joy then all wants are fulfilled and then that person does not have any desire. This ultimate fulfilment gives the knowledge that there is nothing that one cannot do. We suffer because we move away from this intrinsic joy and do not understand our true selves. All our pursuits are different searches for joy and we keep on searching for that joy. We need to search for that joy which is the joy of all joys. An unshakeable conviction that such joy exists within ourselves would destroy the poverty mindset.

2 thoughts on “The Poverty Mindset

  1. Ravindra Lohokare says:

    Good article. Pl continue to write like this always. Devotees need advice on this aspect all the time. Pranam swamiji.

  2. A.PADMANABHAN says:

    Shree Ganesha Sharada Gurubhyo Namaha

    Monetary poverty (MP) one can understand but Poverty-Mindset falls into a different category. A person who is born in a financially poor environment/family can come up in his/her life through hard work and Grace and reach higher positions and echelons in the Community and Society. There are, may be a few (one doesn’t know), known and reported instances of such individuals coming to occupy high official and professional positions. Here, monetary poverty might have had played an important motivating and /or compelling factor for such individuals to come up so. It has to be appreciated. But after coming up in life and having occupied high official and professional positions, if such individuals, simply forget their kin and kith and don’t do or do which in an-otherwise situation they would have had done or not done, then it is a situation of Poverty-Mindset for such individuals. Again, say, an individual getting a huge fortune from the traditional property of the family does not care for the brothers and sisters of his family and fully appropriates the fortune for himself at the cost of his brothers and sisters, then such individual is said to suffer from Poverty-Mindset.
    Tens and hundreds and thousands of girls and boys and women and men of all ages and sections of the Society undergo trials and tribulations and privations and deprivations without any succour. Rain and heat, they don’t have a tarpaulin sheet or even a hat over their head. For a morsel of food, they look into the unending present with a forlorn face. For them past and future are present. In the midst of such a mind-numbing situation, well-off/rich/wealthy people always go on ‘singing’ and ‘parroting’ their poverty of ‘not having enough’ sipping hot Brazilian coffee stirred in American sugar sitting in their centralised air-conditioned mansion. This is another instance of poverty-mindset.
    In fact, such poverty-minded people would automatically and involuntarily get themselves alienated from their own biological family and community and work-place over a period of time to their own chagrin. They would be sometimes feared or flattered or saluted but not inherently loved or respected. Such live situations are there in the societies throughout the world. Money-hungry people and power-hungry people are flattered and feared but not loved or respected. ‘The mind of the matter’ is that such people are not consciously aware of this situation.
    Poverty-Mindset is born out of desire and greed and avarice. This mindset is driven by perversion and accumulation born out of Ahamkara and Mamaakara.When a person is struck by this mindset, then he is stuck with it. It is Tamo Guna, not even Rajas. He will be in the process of becoming like Midas. It is difficult for him to come out of it-he is in lustful attachment with it. A poverty-minded person would not be in a position to enjoy the riches he is possessing. Because, he is now possessed by the lust for more. What is the way out of it? Only Eeswara knows.
    Boys and girls and men and women, at appropriate ages and stages, both in school and college and afterwards in home and work-place should be conscientised with the values of caring and sharing, helping and cooperation, sympathy and empathy, respect and humility,etc., drawing proper conclusions from actual life-situations abounding around us both in the past including near-past and present. Life is not merely individual but also collective and not merely collective but also humanistic. Both Capitalism and Communism are exploitative and oppressive and are inimical to welfare and creativity. Poverty-Mindset is ontologically capitalistic in nature and teleologically communistic in spirit.
    The effective counter-lesson for the poverty-minded person is his own counter-experience. In spite of riches and fortunes he is having he is unable to have or experience a happy and contented life. He is always complaining, edgy, tensed, moody and self-alienated. He will always take only Brazilian coffee stirred in American sugar but won’t be able to enjoy the flavour and warmth of the coffee. His brother won’t regard him-because of his poverty-mindedness-but it doesn’t matter him; his chauffer doesn’t salute him and he gets angry. He goes to a 5-star hotel and takes morning-tiffin and pays Rs1500 which would cost only Rs50 in an ordinary family owned hotel-mess. The poverty-minded person, in fact, pulls himself down in life unknown to himself
    A calibrated teaching and study of Social Education in terms of Family and Community, Humanistic Education in terms of Psychology and Literature and Spiritual-Philosophical Education in terms of Yoga-Soothra and BhagavadGeeta, would prevent one from getting afflicted with this poverty-mindset. RaamaAyana and MahaBharata, the greatest World Ithihasas, are there as eternal pointers.
    The starting two Mantras of ईशावास्योपनिषत् declare unhesitatingly and empathetically as follows:
    ईशा वास्यमिदꣳ सर्वं यत्किं च जगत्यां जगत् ।
    तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम् ॥ १॥
    कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेच्छतꣳ समाः ।
    एवं त्वयि नान्यथेतोऽस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ॥ २॥
    Let us pray as and do for accordingly:
    ॐ सर्वेशां स्वस्तिर्भवतु ।
    सर्वेशां शान्तिर्भवतु ।
    सर्वेशां पुर्णंभवतु ।
    सर्वेशां मङ्गलंभवतु ।
    ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

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