— 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.