Last week we touched the surface of the Hebrew understanding of the spiritual and the material in our world. I started with the Hebrew, because that is where I come from and who I am. But as some of my readers have probably realized by now, I don’t try to convert anyone to my religious beliefs. I do believe there is only one truth in this world. But also, that there are many paths to approach that truth. And that it is not for us to completely know that truth. We can approach it. We can become comfortable with it. But there will always be so much more than we can understand.
I believe that god has spoken to all peoples in this world, and to each in his own language, and according to his own nature. Nowadays it is fashionable to believe that all people are the same. Though there are similarities, still, each human being is unique. To me, an individual is a parable of a people and vice versa. And we are different, even though we nay be brothers, or members of the same people or nation. Yet we always have something to learn from others. This is true in spiritual learning just as it is true in science and technology, and farming, and sailing the seas. I have learned from many sources, and ultimately, having learned from some foreign wisdom, was often able to go back to my own culture and religion and find what I had learned also existed in my own backyard.
And so, to understand the meaning of money, I would like to use the symbol of the Tao, the yin and yang that we know so well, that comes from China and has influenced a number of religions and cultures. Though not formally accepted as monotheism, Tao teaches us to understand that there is a ‘whole’ and that it includes everything we know. And that we too are part of that whole. Anyone who has studied this religious philosophy knows that it isn’t easily understood… not in an hour nor in a day. But we will be brave here, and touch the surface, knowing that the depth is deep… very deep. From my very Jewish perspective, I see the yin and yang as two fishes embracing each other, and each of the fish has an eye which is of the color of the opposite fish, and represents its opposite. And so, the eye of the yin is yang, and the eye of the yang is yin. Now, for our purposes we will associate spirituality with yin, and materialism with yang.
For us, our home, our car or bicycle, our furniture, our food and clothing, and our books and jewelry and toys are all part of the material world. And our love, and our faith, and our joy and sadness, our transcendence and our peace are all part of the spiritual world. But each side of this equation has an eye that belongs to the other side. On the side of spirituality, we may have wine and wafer, or a cross, or the church building, or incense, or rosary beads or a present to our lover that represent our love and faith. They are the white dot on the black yin. On the side of materialism, it is money that represents all those physical possessions that we love. That is the black eye on the white yang. Money, associated as it is with everything material, is in fact a spiritual entity, which by itself would have no special value without the belief and faith of all the people who employ it. It is a convention, accepted by almost all. And though it may be nothing more than a piece of paper with a picture on it, and some printed letters, I have heard that money talks.
this is a display representing the head phylactery, worn by Jews during prayer, showing the side where the letter shin has four arms. This letter has a mystic importance, and its symbolic meanings are very deep in our culture.
Now some of us get so caught up in the church building, or having the right incense at the right time, that we forget the essence of faith. And others of us get so caught up in the accumulation, investment, and dispersal of money, that in our passion, we sometimes forget that it exists in this world as a symbol with which to buy shoe laces and tomatoes. My teachers have said, ‘who is a rich man? A man who is satisfied with what he has’. On the most basic level, this means to me that if I don’t have the money to pay my mortgage on my home, I should leave it, and find a single room to rent. And if that too is beyond my means, I might sleep under a tree. On the other hand, when I do have food and clothing, and a roof over my head, I have no further need to accumulate more and more money. Though if it rains on me… and sometimes this happens, I can use it to further those things I love or believe in. Freedom is one of the sweetest of human experiences.
All the images in this post deal with the importance of symbolism in our understanding of the world around us.