Money and Spirituality: Is Money Really the Root of All Evil?

The Hindu holy man Swami Gnanmuni is the administrator of the magnificent Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in New Delhi, India. As such, he has taken a vow of absolute poverty.  His material possessions consist solely of two robes, some prayer beads, and a wooden bowl.  

Gnanmuni took a rather unconventional path to reach this position. He grew up in Houston, Texas and attended the University of Texas, where he received a bachelor’s degree and three master’s degrees, including an MBA.  Following graduation Gnanmuni took a lucrative job as a management consultant and did very well financially.  Unfulfilled by material possessions he gave everything up at the age of twenty-six, traveled to India, and enrolled in a Hindu seminary. 

Intrigued by the contrasts in his life Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, traveled to India to meet Gnanmuni. Following introductions Brooks jumped right into the question that had brought him across the world.  “Swami”, he asked, “is free enterprise good or bad for the soul.”

Without hesitation Gnanmuni answered, “It’s a good thing! It has saved millions in my country from starvation.”  “But you own almost nothing,” Brooks responded.  “I was sure you would say that money was corrupting.”

The Swami laughed, and betraying his Texas upbringing, replied, “There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money.” 

Then, like in a scene from a movie, the holy man shared with the weary traveler who had come so far to meet him the secret of a happy life. The formula for the best life, Gnanmuni told Brooks, is “abundance without attachment.”

The Most Misquoted Verse in the Bible

“The problem in life is attachment to money.”  This teaching from a Hindu swami should sound familiar to Christians, but might not, since similar teaching from the Bible has been misquoted so often its true meaning has been all but forgotten.

Many people swear the Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil. What the Apostle Paul actually teaches in 1 Timothy 6:10 is:

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

It is not money, but our attitude towards it (the love of it, the coveting after it, the attachment to it) that leads to evil and sorrow.

Don’t Focus on the Silver

Larry M. Gibson, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, recounted how his father taught him about the dangers of loving money.

When he was a young boy Larry relished spending money. Whenever he had any he immediately spent it – almost always on himself.  His father became worried about Larry’s materialism and devised a way to teach him a memorable lesson. 

One day when they were shopping for shoes in a downtown department story his father took him to a second story window and asked Larry what he saw. Larry responded that he saw lots of people. 

His father then took a bright, shiny silver dollar out of his pocket and asked, “What is this?” That was an easy question that Larry quickly answered correctly. 

Then his father, who knew a little about chemistry, asked Larry a much harder question. He said, “If you melt that silver dollar and mix it with the right ingredients, you would have silver nitrate.  If we coated this window with silver nitrate, what would you see?” 

Larry had no idea, so his father took him to a full-length mirror nearby and asked, “Now what do you see?”

“I see me,” Larry responded. “No, what you see is silver reflecting you.  If you focus on the silver, all you will see is yourself, and like a veil it will keep you from seeing the eternal destiny Heavenly Father has prepared just for you.” 

His father then instructed him “…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).”

Larry Gibson’s attitude towards money started to change that day. While a few minutes earlier the shiny silver dollar represented all the things he could buy with it, it now reminded him of the danger of focusing too much on money, and how doing so can make you see only yourself and your needs.

Larry never did spend the silver dollar. He kept it as a reminder of the lesson taught to him that day by a wise and loving father. 

Swami Gnanmuni, the Apostle Paul, and Larry Gibson’s father were all teaching the same lesson in their own unique style. Money is not the root of all evil, but is a tool that can be used for both good and evil.  Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, reminds us, “Jesus praised the good Samaritan, who used the same coinage to serve his fellowman that Judas used to betray his Savior.” 

It is not money, but our attitude towards it (our attachment to it, love of it, and focus on it) that leads to spiritual challenges. On the other hand, if our attitude is right money can be a great blessing to us and others.  As the Swami Gnanmuni so succinctly put it, the formula for a happy life is abundance without attachment.

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