Religious Studies

Hinduism: poverty and wealth

The world's religions teach that God is good, and that God wants all people to enjoy a 'good life'. Religious people believe that they have a responsibility to try to make the world a better, more equal place for everyone.

Human rights

The world is a place where many people are poor and suffering, while there are some very rich people and institutions living more comfortable lives. People living in developing countries often have a very low standard of living: they do not benefit from modern medical care, have few opportunities for education and little or no access to technology.

Religions teach that this is wrong; everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the wealth that God's world has to offer.

The First Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

The Declaration also says:

Freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, the peoples of the United Nations have... determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

Hindu teaching on wealth

Hindu dharma (duty) encourages Hindus to work hard and earn money. In this way they can support themselves and their family. This is in keeping with one of the four purushartas (aims or goals) of life, artha. Artha is about gaining wealth by honest and lawful means.

In Hinduism people are part of different groups called varnas. Each varna has its own dharma (duties). The word 'caste' refers strictly to sub-divisions within each varna, and not to varnas themselves.

The four varnas are:

  • Brahmins (priests and teachers)
  • Kshatriyas (warriors, rulers, administrators and leaders of society)
  • Vaishyas (traders and merchants)
  • Shudras (a variety of jobs, serving the needs of the other three varnas)

Hindu duties

Everyone at the householder stage of life (grihastha), between being a student and becoming a monk, has a duty to work hard and earn enough to support their family.

It is accepted for Hindus to pray for money, and at Divali (Festival of Light) many Hindu businessmen make offerings to Lakshmi asking her to make them prosperous. This does not mean that Hindus believe greed to be acceptable.

As a student a Hindu should live a simple life without luxuries so that he learns to live on the minimum. He should learn that the most important things in life cannot be bought. As a householder he will have to earn money to look after his extended family. The Hindu scriptures teach that money alone cannot bring happiness especially if it is not shared with the poor.

After the householder stage a Hindu should become less interested in money and possessions and more concerned with leading a religious life. Money is seen as necessary but it should not be seen as the most important thing.

Hindus should choose their occupations according to their varna so that they can fulfil their dharma.

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