To the people of this archipelago, of which Bali has always been an inseparable part, artha, “wealth” or “money” is not the end but the means to attain to total prosperity. And total prosperity is not just economic prosperity, but also social security. Above all, artha is something that gives meaning to one’s life.

One of my friends in Singapore named his company Cash & Gold Pte. Ltd. Now, “cash” and “gold” in English cannot have any other meaning. Cash is cash, and gold is gold. But here, svarna artha, literally meaning the same, “gold” and “cash,” may have a quite different implication.

Svarna can also mean auspicious, glorious or precious. Gold is a precious metal, but truthfulness and integrity can also be precious. It is not only matter but also character that can be precious.

Similarly, artha does not always imply cash. So Svarna Artha is not always Cash & Gold. Svarna Artha can also mean auspicious means.

An idealist may say, “Money is not everything.” But to a pragmatic person, money is something you cannot live without it. One of my friends, a Buddhist at heart, agrees with Buddha’s conclusion that life is suffering. All this is samsara, repetitive experiences ending in dukha, or pain. “But,” he adds, “with money, you can choose how to suffer. Without money you cannot.”

Most of the time, he is on the move. He flies business class, occasionally first class, and stays in 5-star hotels. He has his cocktail time set at 1800 hours wherever he is. And he agrees that “These are all comforts. They do not make me happy. I am still suffering. I have not found the love that I have been looking for all these years. But at least I can suffer in style.”

Well, well, well… Okay, if that pleases you, my friend.

But to the ancients of our archipelago, such life would be meaningless. To suffer in style is not their definition of meaningful life.

A meaningful life is a happy life.

A meaningful life is a joyful life, a contented life.

Wealth that does not add to your happiness and joyfulness is of no value. I must emphasize the word “add” here. Wealth does not make you happy, but it can add to your happiness. Wealth does not necessarily make you joyful, but it can add to your joyfulness and contentment.

True happiness comes from a sense of satisfaction in acquiring wealth. It is in the struggle and strife to earn your living and deposit your first savings in the bank. For it is when you strive hard to earn money that you know the real worth of money, the true value of wealth.

I have seen people inheriting tens of millions of dollars and pounds from their parents. They do not know the value of money. One of my friends always complained about his sons, “They are good for nothing. They lose every penny that I give them for business. Easy come, easy go. They cannot hold on to anything.”

My friend is a self-made man. He started his career with menial jobs. Today he is a multimillionaire, perhaps billionaire. But he is very unhappy, very much worried: “What will happen to the empire I have built once I am not here?”

Alas, he has not learned from his life experience. He started with zero, so he values each cent that he earns. His sons started with millions. They did not have to sweat to earn money. Hence, they have no idea whatsoever about the true value of wealth.

In the olden days, people made their own wine-like beverage from fruits. So we have this saying in the East: “Those who can make wine know the true value of wine.” People consume wine – they may even get drunk on it – without knowing what exactly wine is, and how it is made.

I don’t know how meaningful the saying is for those of you who are not familiar with the Eastern way of thinking and doing things. The meaning behind this saying is: “It is the struggle, strife and hardship to earn your living that makes you value what you earn.”

Artha does not focus on the goal alone, but also on the means to reach the goal. Therefore, it is suggested that we earn our living through rightful or dharmic means. You can be wealthy, but make sure that you wealth does not come from un-rightful means. Do not rob anyone of their rights; do not cheat; do not oppress.

We deserve happiness. We deserve a joyful and comfortable life. But let us make sure that our happiness, our joys and comforts are not causing others unhappiness, grief and discomfort.

Artha also implies the dharmic or rightful distribution of wealth. For more than two millennia, taxation has been considered a means to distribute wealth. And the rulers in those days were entrusted with the task, the responsibility to facilitate the distribution.

Governments were advised to spread awareness about the necessity of such distribution. The wealthy were made to realize that “a poor neighbour is a jealous neighbour.” And that “thieves and robbers are products of jealousy and greed.” This is not a rule of thumb. Not all poor neighbours become jealous and turn to theft and robbery. However, the advice was good. The reminder made a god impact upon the wealthy. And they would willingly share part of their wealth, through taxes as well as charity, to ensure social security.

Dharma and artha and righteousness and wealth cannot be separated. They are like our two legs. With only one leg, we become lame. So both are equally important. Those who boast of righteousness but are dependent on charity and “social security” for their living are not fulfilling the goals of life. They have not understood the true meaning and implication of purushartha, the structure of human life.

So artha is not only wealth, money, dollars, euros and yens, but also social security, justice and prosperity for all. I am reminded of the renowned poet WS Rendra, who died last week. He said:

“(For economic purposes) Bali’s beauty and nature, both have been reduced to tourist attractions… Jets are ready to land here, they must have business and Bali must be as attractive as she can to allure them. Bali’s art and culture must be packaged attractively so they become saleable…

“And if the natives of Bali are poor, let them remain so. Their poverty too becomes business for institutions like the World Bank, who are ever-willing to invest and make money.”

By Anand Krishna  for The Bali Times ( August 13, 2009 )
Source: Bali Times