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Since the beginning of recorded history, man has been haunted by the intimation that he lives in a world of mere appearances. In every teaching and spiritual philosophy of the past we find the idea that whatever happens to us, for good or ill, is brought about by deeper forces behind the world that seems so real to us. We are further told that this real world is not accessible to the senses or understandable by the ordinary mind. But, and this is a point that is not usually understood, we live in a world of inner appearances as well.

We are not what we perceive ourselves to be. There is another identity, our real self, hidden behind the self that we believe ourselves to be. It is only through awakening to this deeper self within that we can penetrate behind the veil of appearances and make contact with a truer world outside of ourselves.

It is because we live on the surface of ourselves that we live on the surface of the greater world, never participating—except in rare moments which do not last and which are not understood—in the wholeness of reality. It is this all-important second aspect of the ancient wisdom, the aspect that speaks of our inner world, that modern thought has been blind to.

And the question about the meaning of life is inextricably linked to the need for contact with the real self beneath the surface of our everyday thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Without this contact, the external world of appearances assumes for us the proportions of an overwhelmingly compelling force. We cannot see the real world because we are not in contact with the deeper powers of thought and sensing within ourselves that could perceive it.

Because of this, it is inevitable that we experience the external world as the strongest force in our lives. This is the meaning and the origin of materialism. Nor does it involve, at its root, some philosophical view about matter and spirit in their usual meanings. No, the error of materialism is an error of reality perception, based on lack of experiential contact with the inner world. What we know as greed and possessiveness, with their attendant traits of cruelty and human exploitation, are results of this ignorance of the inner world.

We turn to the superficially perceived outer world for that which can only be obtained through deep access to the inner self. But a mistake of immense proportions, and with deadly consequences. It is like searching for water on the surface of the moon to search for meaning in the external world.

Like grasping a picture of food and trying to eat it. Not only meaning, but also health, safety, service, love, and power can be obtained only through turning to reality. The unreal world can never yield these things to man. The forms of social and cultural organization founded within the great spiritual traditions of the world have been based on a recognition of the reality of the inner world, and of the higher force that can enter into human life through the inner world.

Money itself may have originated in this context as a sacred device. These institutions and forms, such as those involving the family, the gathering and production of food, and other practical means necessary for survival—shelter, clothing, treatment of illness—all these patterns of living were originally structured to allow human beings to seek contact with the inner self in the midst of the challenges of the external world.

These rituals, customs, and manners were created to foster this interior contact not only as a thought in the mind or a momentary emotion, but also organically, in the very sensations of the body.

Enduring and deep contact with the higher forces requires the participation of thought, emotions, and physical sensation, because each of these functions is an indispensable instrument of perceiving reality.

Without this complete perception, the experience of the inner self is less vivid, and the outer world dominates human life. The inner world is no longer experienced as vividly as the outer world. The external world begins to seem more real, more compelling, more exigent. Life in the external world begins to have more apparent value to the individual and the society. The ideals of the inner world may remain in the form of religious doctrine, in the thought alone or in the emotions alone or in the automatized ritual patterns of movement and behavior, which are no longer understood.

But the organic, experiential contact with a higher force becomes weaker and less compelling and may disappear altogether. Therefore, as actual contact with the inner world diminishes, the individual and the community suffer more and more disorder. To repeat: moral power, the power to live according to the ideals of the inner world, comes only from direct contact with the higher forces that can pass into the inner self from the deeper recesses of the universal world.

We must bear in mind how strong the demands are that compel men and women to act for survival in the physical and social world. These survival demands are of such magnitude that they easily dominate human life in the absence of our direct contact with the depth of the inner world.

The traditional social forms were intended both to ensure human survival and to support the struggle for contact with the inner world. What, after all, is the point of physical survival without this inner contact? What is the point of eating, sleeping, and reproducing without our being conscious of ourselves? If we wish for merely unconscious survival, it means that we wish to be only animals or computers, beings that eat, reproduce, react, or think without self-awareness.

On the contrary, for most modern people, the main experience of inner intensity lies in the realm of instinctual and emotional drives such as hunger, sexual desire, the need for safety, and the avoidance of pain. Because of this, time-honored forms and customs that supported the inner life have been altered and abandoned, new forms and customs invented, the result being that countless subtler, finer aspects of the human psyche have been eclipsed.

The patterns of living that once nourished these subtler aspects of human relationships have been regarded as oppressive or outdated, while new communal forms that could support the full range of possible inner experiences have not yet been created and disseminated by men and women of vision.

The idea that there are two fundamental aspects of reality, two opposing movements, is a universal teaching ancient beyond imagining, ancient beyond Christianity, beyond Judaism, beyond Buddhism and Hinduism, perhaps even beyond Egypt, Sumer, and Babylon. There are two movements of all energy and life—toward and away from unity, toward and away from the wholeness of the universal oneness. Many of the emotions, sensations, and thoughts evoked by these rites and ethical practices were meant to lead human consciousness toward awareness of the universal source in the midst of the rhythms of life.

But when the inner contact weakens, then the feelings that could move man toward the higher attach themselves to the other, outer movement. When impulses of love, for example, cease to lead consciousness toward contact with the Source of the universal world, these impulses must inevitably lead consciousness toward the multiplicity of the sensorily perceived world.

The conditions of modern life bring emotions of many kinds, thoughts of many kinds; but none of this fulfills us deeply because it does not point us to deep contact with the world within ourselves.

Our feelings and thoughts about truth and value are pale when compared to the needs and sensations delivered to us by the outer world. We do not experience the inner world as vividly as the outer world.

All our vivid emotions are tied to desires and fears dealing with the outer world. Our feelings for God, for Being, for Truth—whatever we choose to call the ultimate unity of reality—pale when compared to the stimulations that survival and functioning in the outer world evoke.

Money, being the principal means of organizing and ordering survival in the outer world, thus seems the most real thing in our lives. We must move toward truth or appearance, being or nonbeing. Everything moves—and it moves either upward or downward, inward or outward. If we do not love God, we will inevitably love that which conveys intense energies in our daily lives, including, especially, money. What does it mean that against the forces of money, our inner values are almost always so weak and insubstantial?

How many times have we not actually experienced that money factors overwhelm considerations of love and friendship, trust, good faith, artistic integrity, mercy, justice, truth? It is not a question of trying to bring back this or that ancient custom or ritual practice or ethical rule.

The point is simply to understand that progress in the modern world has been obtained at the expense of certain kinds of experiences available to us. Customs and rules that seem absurd or superstitious to us may have had purposes that we do not now understand—providing experiences of contact with another level of force within ourselves and within the universe. Money, thus understood, is intrinsically embedded in a contradiction!

Money is intrinsically a contradiction because man is intrinsically a contradiction. It has come to seem so real not only because there are no longer strong enough experiences of the inner world, but also because there are no longer conscious experiences of the two worlds together.

It is the experience of this contradiction that can become the source of inner intensity in our modern lives. This is the main point toward which our discussion has been leading. We need to examine it closely. Man must ultimately choose between the inner and the outer world, between God and the devil—yes it is true, it is what our religious teachers have always told us in unmistakable tones. In every human life there are glimpses of the inner world, glimpses that could lead us to the search for the real inner self.

They may be only elementary experiences and they may be isolated, random, and fleeting, but they certainly exist. What is not understood about them, however, and what is not experienced—that is to say, not willingly nor consciously suffered—is the contradiction, the opposition between the inner movement toward the deep self and the outer movement toward the external world that is given by the senses and organized by the logical mind.

Something analogous to the experience of this contradiction is in fact familiar to all of us. We approach this whenever we realize that how we act contradicts what we feel to be our deepest values. But we do not accept these experiences as the gateway to consciousness of our true nature.

Yet it is just these experiences of the disparity between our values and our behavior which could be felt as vividly as anything the external world has to offer. If we would seek a reality stronger than money, we may find an opening in the cultivation of a new attitude toward these common experiences of inner contradiction.

The ancient rites and customs provided the basis of experiences in the inner world, sometimes very deep experiences, while satisfying the needs of the outer world, the external life in physically perceived nature and human society. But the contradictoriness of the two worlds, the spiritual world and the external world, was generally taught only by the hidden path. The mode of living in two opposing worlds and relating consciously to both of them has always been difficult to discover, just as in our own life it is something that will have to be rediscovered again and again against great odds.

Returning to the question of why money seems so real: the conditions of life in our culture do not support inner experiences, experiences of movement toward a higher part of oneself, that are as vivid as experiences of the outer world and the part of oneself that is drawn to the outer world.

And as money has become the principal means for organizing contact with the outer world, there is nothing more vivid—for most of us—than the question of how to have, get, make, accumulate money. No fear greater—for many of us—than the fear of not having money. It is therefore not a question of getting rid of these desires or fears. What do most of us have to put in their places?

Otherwise there is nothing in most of our lives as enduringly intense as the money question. Therefore nothing seems as real. The money question is so strong not because money is ultimately real but because our experiences with it have become—for most of us—the most vivid and intense experiences of our lives.

There are many concepts, ideas, habits, and conditionings from ideas received in childhood, that support this fundamental illusion about money.

But the main and basic point has to do with the intensity of experience. This is not easy or obvious. It is impossible to achieve by turning to religious ideas or to love or to art or the pursuit of knowledge. And the reason this cannot be done in these ways is that all these activities have already been absorbed by the money problem.

This is the real crime of our culture—not that we are selling God or truth or morality; at least not as that accusation is usually meant. The crime is that the buying and selling are more intense and inwardly vivid than anything else. But we must not forget that the main reason we have bought and sold God, truth, and morality is that the forms we have used to relate to these ideals no longer offer us the direct experiences of them that are possible and necessary for man.

If a person marries for money rather than love or duty, it is not necessarily because he prefers money to love or duty, but because he has not experienced the real force of love or duty.


Jacob Needleman: Money and the Meaning of Life

Since the beginning of recorded history, man has been haunted by the intimation that he lives in a world of mere appearances. In every teaching and spiritual philosophy of the past we find the idea that whatever happens to us, for good or ill, is brought about by deeper forces behind the world that seems so real to us. We are further told that this real world is not accessible to the senses or understandable by the ordinary mind. But, and this is a point that is not usually understood, we live in a world of inner appearances as well.


Money and the Meaning of Life

Last week, the big story was the conviction of Raj Rajaratnam on 14 counts of insider trading, a greed-driven scheme that will lead to obliterated reputations, […]. Last week, the big story was the conviction of Raj Rajaratnam on 14 counts of insider trading, a greed-driven scheme that will lead to obliterated reputations, long prison terms, or both, for senior leaders at IBM, McKinsey, and other blue-chip institutions. And next week on HBO we get to see the made-for-TV adaptation of the bestseller Too Big to Fail , a blow-by-blow chronicle of the subprime-mortgage fiasco — an exercise in collective greed that came pretty close to destroying the world as we know it. Every time I read or see these sorry dispatches, I ask myself the same questions. How much is enough, and why are people willing to risk so much to get more?


Amit Host : Today, our guest is none other than Jacob Needleman, someone who really embodies today's theme and hopefully we'll be able to dive into on, "Money and the meaning of life. I know I am, personally. I really want to thank all of you for joining us. Our theme for this week is " Money and the meaning of life". Our guest today wrote that, " we as humans are uniquely beings of two natures. The material, which is focused on the world of action and doing and the spiritual or transcendent, longing for something higher greater and more inclusive of the ordinary self. He has noted that our great possibility as well as our great difficulty is how to find a relationship between the two realms in this life.

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