Be Wealthy, Be Wise: Yoga’s Guide to Prosperity
By paying attention to yoga’s concept of wealth, you can become a steward of prosperity. Find out how to embrace the goddess Lakshmi and step into abundance.
If you travel through India you’ll see images of Lakshmi everywhere you turn: she’s the loving, smiling, generous goddess with gold coins streaming from her hands. You’ll find her picture in the produce stands, the sari shops, in banks, and temples—even painted on the sides of trucks. Lakshmi symbolizes prosperity and well-being in their myriad forms. Now may be a good time to get to know this fascinating goddess and make a place for her gifts in your life.
Are you surprised to hear that building and managing wealth is a solid part of the yoga tradition? No wonder. Many yoga students assume that spiritual practice leads to an otherworldly state of renunciation and non-attachment. But in reality only a small percentage of yogis renounce the world in order to devote themselves exclusively to spiritual life. The vast majority of us have to make mortgage payments, put our kids through college, or save up for retirement.
Because the yoga tradition is so practical, in addition to the practices designed to help us explore higher consciousness, it also recommends techniques that can help us create a comfortable lifestyle. The yoga tradition fully acknowledges the realities of material existence, and encourages us to skillfully cultivate all four important components of a fulfilling life: spiritual growth, meaningful work, pleasure, and prosperity.
It is true that expansion of awareness is the primary goal of yoga, but as consciousness expands, so does our ability to deal effectively with the concerns of everyday life, and a host of subsidiary forms of yoga have evolved over the centuries to help us live healthfully and happily right here in the mundane world. Hatha yoga helps us keep our bodies in good working order, for example, and karma yoga directs us to serve others who may need our help. But there’s another, less familiar branch of yoga that’s designed for a very explicit and eminently practical reason: making money. It’s called Padmini Vidya.
Padmini means “lady of the lotus,” and refers to Lakshmi, who is often portrayed sitting in the open petals of an enormous white lotus. Vidya means “yoga science.” In India it is said that people who rapidly amass enormous wealth must have been yogis in previous lives who devoted themselves single-mindedly to Padmini Vidya.
There could be something to these rumors. Keep in mind that before the rise of the oil magnates, India’s numerous kings controlled the greatest concentration of wealth in the world. It was no accident that India’s British conquerors considered the subcontinent “the jewel in the crown” of its empire. Huge sums looted from India funded the expansion of the British navy and made England queen of the seas. From the Sumerian period around 3000 bce through the era of Christopher Columbus, the Indian subcontinent was synonymous with gems, spices, exotic textiles, and fabu-lous wealth. Even today, after centuries of having been despoiled by Arab and European invaders, the Indian economy is bouncing back with vigor. According to Forbes, India has 36 billionaires—more than any other country in Asia. (The next runner-up, Japan, has 24.)
Prosperity and Spirit
Understandably, many of the mantras, meditations, and ritual techniques of Padmini Vidya remain carefully guarded secrets, but yogic texts like the Markandeya Purana and the Lakshmi Tantra offer a few clues about the system. Let’s take a look at what the yoga tradition says about making money.
If you’ve been studying yoga for a while, you’ve heard of the siddhis, psy-chic powers like the ability to heal others or foresee the future. You may also have heard of the riddhis, minor occult skills like the ability to read thoughts. Padmini Vidya is the science of the nidhis, subtle forces used to attract large amounts of money. (Nidhi means “container of treasure.”) Some people are born with the ability to manipulate—consciously or unconsciously—these intangible energies and materialize vast tangible assets. Others may develop the mental powers necessary to control the nidhis after years of intense concentration.
In the tradition of Padmini Vidya, wealth isn’t thought of as the accumulation of material objects; it is the active and willful manipulation of shakti, the energy of consciousness. Wealth isn’t so much a static possession as an active flow of energy. Controlling the nidhis means tapping into this flow and directing it to one’s benefit.
The Markandeya Purana states that although many people have the determination and ability to create wealth, their attitudes and actions in doing so can create vastly different karmic consequences. Developing nidhis can place a person in a position to act as a blessing force in life, or it can create karmic debts the person will be paying off for lifetimes to come.
Saint Paul says in the Bible, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” But it’s not money itself he condemns—what he warns against is a self-centered approach to generating and hoarding wealth. The love of money (“greed” in plain English) can lead to ruin, he warns. We’re surrounded by dramatic examples of this, such as corporate heads who undermine their own companies with unscrupulous accounting practices, or who lay off thousands of employees while hoarding millions of dollars themselves. We see busi- ness leaders who don’t hesitate to lay waste to the land and air and water in order to make a profit. The Markandeya Purana has harsh words for this misuse of shakti, and warns that it can lead to ghastly karmic complications.
While modern culture seems to signal it’s okay to get rich no matter what the cost to others, the yoga tradition challenges us to look at money as a divine force that we must handle responsibly. It asks us to locate our desire for prosperity within a wider spiritual context. The Lakshmi Tantra, a voluminous text devoted to inner and outer well-being, encourages us to earn a good living through honest, lawful means. At the same time, it urges us to live ethically, respecting our family responsibilities and attending to the welfare of our community, while devoting a portion of each day to focused, heartfelt spiritual practice. For many yoga students, though, our interest in cultivating the inner life is so keen that we find it difficult to get our financial act together at all! It is only when we start to work with the nidhis that making money is no longer something we do in addition to our spiritual work. Now it becomes a valuable part of our spiritual work.
The People’s Choice Goddess
Lakshmi is a popular deity in India. If the coins streaming from her hands represent money, the fact that she’s a deity reminds people that money is not just something to be enjoyed; it should also be honored. Affluence should be respected because it’s a shakti, a powerful stream of energy that can quickly reshape your reality in either positive or negative ways, depending on how you use it.
Creating substantial wealth takes exceptional focus and ability. That’s why the yogis say you need the nidhis (which include clarity, desire, and willpower) to make your financial dreams manifest. But you also need punya. In yoga, punya means merit earned in previous lives. (Westerners who don’t believe in reincarnation can translate punya as “good luck.”) Even today, if you spend time with orthodox Hindu families you’ll find the concept of karmic merit very much alive.
Although individuals can generate their own merit, karma is also seen as a collective force. A whole family creates good karma through their combined spiritual practices and altruistic deeds. Some parents and grandparents do hundreds of thousands of mantra repetitions, or fast, or go on pilgrimage, not for their own sake, but for the sake of their children and grandchildren. They believe that exceptional souls, such as saints or multimillionaires, don’t incarnate in a particular family out of the blue. That family has probably been doing japa (chanting mantras) for generations in order to purify their karma and invite a spiritually advanced or materially fortunate soul into their home.
It is also traditional for wealthy families in India to sponsor large public works, such as digging wells and bathing tanks for villagers, or making generous contributions to the local temple. They are consciously working with karmic principles which dictate that if you want prosperity to continue flowing toward you, you need to keep it flowing out toward others. This keeps the stream of karmic merit running. Unfortunately, as Western norms increasingly penetrate Indian culture, some children of wealthy parents have turned away from the traditional concept of building merit across generations, and are squandering both the money and merit they’ve inherited on self-indulgent lifestyles. Then the flow of punya stops, “luck” dries up, and the family goes financially and morally bankrupt.
How to Prosper “Yoga-Style”
Most of the powerful techniques of Padmini Vidya remain concealed, passed on like advanced yoga practices only to carefully screened disciples. This keeps the knowledge from falling into the hands of unprepared students who might abuse its powers. However, there are a number of methods commonly used throughout India to enhance punya, or as we’d put it in the West, to build prosperity consciousness. These work with the shakti or “divine energy” of prosperity personified as a goddess, to make the practice more vivid and personal. Let’s take a look at the practices India’s householder yogis perform to invoke material abundance, and how you can emulate them.
Many devotees chant the Lakshmi Sahasra Naman, “The Thousand Names of Lakshmi,” every day at dawn. This beautiful practice includes chanting phrases like, “I bow to Lakshmi who is the very essence of beauty, who is the exquisite form of the unthinkable vastness of the universe, who brims with loving tenderness, who is supremely generous to everyone without fail.”
What you can do: Every morning, as part of your yoga practice, honor the blessing force of abundance throughout the universe with the words above. By focusing intently on Lakshmi’s qualities, you are invoking the very beauty, prosperity, and generosity she represents.
Some traditional Indians perform a daily puja (ritual) before a statue or painting of Lakshmi or her yantra (geometric form), which involves waving lit candles and offering gifts such as incense, fruit, flowers, and purified water to the image. This symbolizes their loving respect for the divine forces that create health, abundance, and success.
What you can do: Place a picture, poster, or statue of Lakshmi (or another sacred image representing prosperity) in a special place in your home, such as a meditation altar. Mentally honor that image every time you look at it. This simpleritual can align your subconscious mind with the powers of prosperity and awaken your latent ability to manifest abundance in your life.
Because Lakshmi also represents beauty, devotees spend time each day cleaning and beautifying both their own bodies and their surrounding environment. They aim to keep their homes and their own frame of minds in such a state that if Lakshmi walked in the door at any moment, she would feel pleased and comfortable.
What you can do: Keep your home and work place beautiful and clean, decorating with attractive colors and fragrant flowers, and purifying the atmosphere with soft, uplifting music. And to keep your body and mind pure, bathe regularly, wear fresh, clean clothes, and practice regular yoga and meditation. By maintaining a clean, clear environment—both internally and externally—you invite the blessings of Lakshmi into your life.
The Lakshmi Tantra suggests that if we wish to never suffer from a lack of resources, we should respect the living energy of the earth, which is the concrete form of Lakshmi herself. In India, the earth goddess is often visualized as a nurturing cow. Just as a cow provides us with milk, butter, ghee, and yogurt, the earth selflessly provides for all our needs. Honoring the earth means never taking anything from it without giving something back.
What you can do: If you use wood to build a home, plant new trees. If you grow flowers or vegetables in your garden, add compost or organic fertilizers to keep the soil rich. You can also celebrate the earth’s bounty by supporting CSAs (community supported agriculture) and farmers’ markets; lobbying for environmentally friendly legislation; and reducing your ecological footprint by following the tips at websites like Al Gore’s climatecrisis.net. As Rumi said, “There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
It’s said that the goddess of prosperity feels most at home in a generous and compassionate heart. Those who eagerly watch for opportunities to help others and make liberal contributions to charity, without expecting anything in return, are sure to receive the benefits of Lakshmi’s grace.
What you can do: Sign up for karma yoga at your local yoga center; volunteer at a homeless shelter; donate money to a charity or humanitarian project that truly makes a difference in the world. By selflessly and cheerfully using your energy—and your earnings—to support good causes, you transform the mundane act of making a living into a valuable spiri-tual practice.
The Yogic Perspective
There are many different yogic lineages. Some of them are deeply ascetic. But the earliest surviving yoga text, the Rig Veda, was meant for householders, not renunciates, and is filled not only with prayers for spiritual illumination but also with requests for ample food, physical safety, longevity, success, and healthy children. Yoga students should never feel they’re not good yogis if they pray for—and work for—things they genuinely need to survive and thrive in today’s expensive, demanding world.
At the same time, the Lakshmi Tantra reminds us that the goddess of prosperity has much greater gifts to offer than a beautiful home or a hefty savings account. After all, death won’t let us take these things with us into the next world. The text explains that Lakshmi is not just the energy of abundance; ultimately she is pure consciousness itself. “This goddess, whose beautiful face radiates grace, fulfills every desire. She gives wealth, success, and love to those who ask for them sincerely. But to those who ask for enlightenment, she grants Self-realization.”
It is a wonderful blessing to be a humanitarian, a philanthropist, an activist, a karma yogi, or a spiritual leader. If we keep the first three aims of life—fulfilling work, pleasure, and wealth—in the context of the fourth—spiritual growth—then we don’t shortchange our souls. The gifts of the spirit are the ones that travel with us from life to life, and they are by far our most valuable asset.