Have you ever heard of a mystical economist? It seems strange to see these two words side by side, since they represent two entirely different universes.

Can they be combined? Are they really opposite? Can we have both? The gap between the two seems so great.

Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran

Mysticism symbolizes the higher or spiritual aspects of our lives—detachment from the material world and from anything that would serve as a distraction from attaining the goal of the presence of the Beloved. Mystics believe that if we want to attain spirituality, then what we need in our lives is more of Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, the great poets and inspiring philosophers; and less of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and other economists. Mystics have more interest in traversing the Seven Valleys in our spiritual journey, and less in computing data to navigate our economic lives.

The journey of life is a short one, and every moment is very precious, so the question becomes: why spend more time on the material side of our lives rather than the spiritual side? After all, we cannot take our material possessions with us to the next world.

A mystic sees death in living and living in death. He sees the beginning in the end and the end in the beginning. He has learned through experience in life that everything in this world is transitory, like a mirage. The compass of his soul is directed straight towards the Beloved, and nothing can distract him from reaching his heart’s desire. Jewels and gold are like the twinkling of the stars and nothing more. They just sparkle and have no use for him on his journey. His soul wants him to spend his time and energies to serve his fellow human beings. It wants him to give praise and gratitude to his Beloved, and be lost in His love.

Economists and the field of economics represent what the world has to offer for the sustenance, pleasure and the comfort of the body and the senses. Economics reminds us that no one has seen the next world, so why not be happy and enjoy everything the material world has to offer, to earn more money so that we can afford to acquire all the luxuries and comforts: the best house, the best cars, and eating the best food. We can have the latest and the best the world can offer to us; after all, the whole world with all its splendors was created for us. Why not enjoy the glitter of jewels and gold, the comforts, the pleasures that all one’s senses can enjoy? The economist in us wants to master (of) the art of accumulating wealth.

The Baha’i teachings, and the teachings of every great Faith, remind us about the danger in possessing and acquiring wealth:

It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. – Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25

… wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 41.

Here’s a thought: although it may be difficult, spiritual beings do not need to avoid the world for fear of being drowned in materialism:

To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Baha’i thought. But neither are the teachings in sympathy with sweeping dismissals of wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral, and asceticism is prohibited. Wealth must serve humanity. The Universal House of Justice, 1 March 2017.

The Baha’i teachings remind us, as individuals or as a civilization, that we need a balance between mysticism and economics:

Material civilization is like unto the lamp, while spiritual civilization is the light in that lamp. If the material and spiritual civilization become united, then we will have the light and the lamp together, and the outcome will be perfect. For material civilization is like unto a beautiful body, and spiritual civilization is like unto the spirit of life. If that wondrous spirit of life enters this beautiful body, the body will become a channel for the distribution and development of the perfections of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 12.

The history of the separation of these two through the ages does not mean that the future has to be the same.

We have come a long way—but we have to start a new way of life that allows us the capacity to use both of these gifts for the advancement of ourselves and our society. As we grasp the spiritual implications of combining the two kinds of insight and wisdom, we will build the capacity to handle both the material and the spiritual. We will learn and educate ourselves through the tests that money can bring, and prepare ourselves to avoid unknown factors that can hamper our goal of combining the two together. We will develop a vision that gives us the ability to see the two as one.

Both of these wonderful tools can help us grow and develop spiritually and materially. The man or woman of the future does not have to escape from the material world. Awareness of the reality and purpose of spirituality in the material world will allow humanity to utilize material possessions for the benefit of our collective spiritual journey. There should not be a conflict between the material side and the spiritual side of our lives—they both have their place and their importance:

We must care for man’s two natures; for as the material man makes certain demands for food and raiment and if not looked after suffers, even so his spiritual reality suffers without care. This is why the divine messengers come to the rescue—to care for the reality, that man’s thoughts may unfold and his aims become realized, that he many inherit a new field of progress, for the spiritual side should be cared for as much as the corporeal; the help that comes is through the resuscitating breath of the Holy Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 96.

The new race of man will see God in everything, including money and possessions, so that it can give freely for the betterment of the world.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

4 Comments

characters remaining
  • Apr 28, 2017
    This gets me thinking (meaning it serves its purpose well). Suppose we consider economics in the same way as science. Scientists should not make moral judgments that could interfere with the search for objective truth. The moral use of science falls on all citizens, including scientists as citizens and not in their role as scientists. As an engineer I know all too well that scientists and engineers have very little say in how the results of their work will be used, or even in the setting of goals for their work. It seems that the ...same must apply to economists. It is incumbent on all of us to rethink the goals of economics and to apply such results as will benefit society.
    Read more...
    • Badi Shams
      Apr 29, 2017
      Dear Daniel,
      I agree. If all the resources of the world belongs to all, then we all have a say in this. We all have a role in this process. The time has come to play our part, no matter how small it may be.
  • Charles Boyle
    Apr 28, 2017
    An important exploration and presentation - thank you!
    Can I suggest though, that far from being poles apart, economics is also at its heart a spiritual enterprise in that spirituality is concerned with the confluence of forces whose origins, being detached from material origin we describe as Divine. Economics is likewise subject to all manner of forces which are primarily moral or ethical.
    Rather than a war on poverty, a Baha'i approach might be more a war on wealth, one of pioneering ways to improve the moralities that drive economic decisions and more. Wealth and poverty ...are simply manifestations of this.
    Read more...
    • Badi Shams
      Apr 28, 2017
      Thank you Charles. That is a nice way of looking at this subject.