India is a place of contrasts, all interwoven by the blessed threads of life. There is extreme poverty (but never despair, that I noticed), a surrender to the Divine in all aspects of life, and beauty beyond description.
Seventeen of us came to India to learn about the country’s financial planning profession and to share our insights from the US (and Australia). We found we are more similar than different, and that everybody likes a cookie now and then.
What I think surprised me most about India is that all income classes live amongst each other; there are little to no lines of demarkation. There are squatters’ shacks right in front of high-end office buildings. The Mercedes drives right next to the Tuk-tuk (a motarized riskshaw). A crowd of beggars awaited me as I left my five star hotel in Mumbai.
People all over the world– regardless of their income, home, family or job – have interesting and challenging relationships with money. It means different things to everybody. Probably the biggest common issue is its ability to help us care for our families.
When you don’t have money, you are socially relegated to a position, wondering, “Is this my lot in life?” and “Am I worthy of anything more than this?” and, if not, why not? These are deep, troubling questions that only the fulfillment of our lives can answer.
And yet, if you have money, regardless of the amount, you may constantly work to remain in that position and strive for more and more wealth. Because nothing is quite so pitiful as someone who has lost wealth; be it by poor judgment or the callous markets. Perhaps that’s where risk aversion comes from. I don’t know if we’re more afraid of losing money or being pitied.
Our flight from India back to the states was fraught with lots of turbulence. It scared me. A lot.
Could all I have and all I am cease at any given moment?
But at this moment?
I “heard” this bit of calming wisdom, “You can choose not to be afraid,” and indeed I chose that, if nothing more than to keep my plane neighbor’s arm intact (who was gracious, even though I was clearly interrupting his viewing of The Big Bang Theory).
Bumpy rides scare us because they challenge the status quo.
Buddhism’s practice of detachment can teach us a lot about not only being a better human being (not being attached to attention, substances, objects, life) but can teach us about being better at money management. Only when one is completely detached is one truly free. Maybe that’s why India’s poor don’t seem sad to me, they’re free in a way.
And Hinduism, with its regard for the sacred in everyone and everything, can help us walk a path of love and respect, not only for ourselves but for all that is. It is a peaceful path.
I learned about India’s “sacred cows.” Because the cow is so important to the family (for food), Indian’s are taught that they were created on the same day as priests, so that no one would dare kill one.
Once the cow is no longer producing milk, the family may no longer be able to afford to care for it. So the cow is released to the community, who feed and care for it, kind of like a retired cow pension.
There is the trustful knowing that the community will care for the cow; there is hope that she will survive by the goodness of others. Indeed, I didn’t see any starving cows. I understand there is a phrase, “First piece of bread for the cow, last piece of bread for the dog.” Some devout Hindus even fast after a cow’s death, to honor its service and soul. We should all be so grateful for our food source!