Prashant has raised a very interesting point. And one of the more important statements he makes is “… several religions of the world preach that material belongings are unimportant.”
Indeed material belongings are unimportant. If several religions of the world make that point, they are indeed right. But if they don’t go to the next step, they have only a partial grasp of the true nature of things. The next step is to make sure that one does not get bogged down with having to mess around with the unimportant. Here is where “The Panchatantra” is wiser than most half-assed religions.
The Panchatantra, being very wise, never falls into the vulgar error of supposing money to be important. Money must be there, in reasonable amount, because it is unimportant, and what wise man permits things unimportant to occupy his mind? … Needless to say, worldly property need not be, indeed should not be, too extensive, since it has no value in possession, but only in use…
Most people are “materialistic” because they don’t have sufficient material. If they had the required material, they would not be “materialistic.” Humans are rational creatures. They will not bother with something that is unimportant. A thing only becomes important when there is a shortage. To make a thing unimportant, see that reasonable amounts of the stuff is available.
Water is unimportant only when there is sufficient amounts available to go around. If you are stranded in a lifeboat, water becomes important. You can make the most impassioned speeches about the greatness of self-sacrifice and nobleness of sharing, but it will not amount to a hill of beans when there is only a little water left and people have to fight to survive.
The objection would be that some people can be “too materialistic.” Let me try to understand that. I suppose it means that some people spend too much of their time running after material things. So what? It is their time and it is what they evidently value. They have nothing better to do. For myself, beyond my basic material requirements (basic as defined by me, not by anyone else), I am quite happy to pursue other interests that I have. As far as I am concerned, a person who spends all his time and effort gathering stuff is more to be pitied than censured. He is being stupid and missing out on other things that life has to offer.
Running after material things at the cost of everything else is stupid, not immoral. So the proper attitude towards these people ought to be, “You are astonishingly stupid”, not “Be good or else god will punish you.” I recall one of Tolstoy’s stories called “How much land does a man need?”
Since I had read it when I was a wee laddie, the details are murky. But the essential bits are these. A man in Russia was granted a fortune in land by the tsar. He could have all the land his heart desired provided he could mark out the territory on foot between sunrise and sunset and be back where he started. So on one fine long day, he starts off at the crack of dawn and runs as fast as he can marking land for himself. He keeps up a very fast pace throughout the day and although he has to get back before sunset, he is tempted by the next field and so on. Eventually, he starts running back to the starting point. He just barely makes it as the sun is setting. He has collected a huge amount of land. He collapses on the ground through sheer exhaustion from running for land and dies.
They bury him right there — in a plot 6 feet long, 3 feet wide. That’s how much land a man needs.