O Lord, lead us along the right path to prosperity. O God, You know all our deeds. Take from us our deceitful sin. To you, then, we shall offer our prayers.
Shukla Yajur Veda, Isha Upanishad, 18. VE, P. 83
Good Money, Bad Money
My satguru, the venerable Sage Yogaswami, discriminated between good money and bad money and taught us all this lesson. Money coming from dharma’s honest labor was precious to him to receive, and he used it wisely in promoting the mission of the mission of his lineage. Money coming from adharmic activities was distasteful to him. He warned that such gifts would, when spent, bring the demons from the Narakaloka into the sanctum sanctorum of our shrines to create havoc in the minds of devotees. This has been the unsought reward for receiving bad money — funds gained through ill-gotten means — for many ashramas this last century. One day a rich merchant came to Yogaswami’s hut with a big silver tray piled with gold coins and other wealth. Yogaswami, knowing the man made his money in wrongful ways, kicked the tray on the ground and sent him away without accepting it.
Yes, there is such a thing as good and bad money, because after all, money is energy. Why is money energy? Money gives energy. Money is power. Money is a form of prana, captured in paper, in silver and most importantly in gold. Actually, gold is the real money, the basis of all paper money, coinage, checks and bank drafts. All the money in the world once fluctuated in value according to the price of gold. Mystically, if you have gold in your home or your corporation — I mean real gold — your real wealth will increase according to the quantity of gold that you have.
Good money is righteous money, funds derived from a righteous source, earned by helping people, not hurting people, serving people, not cheating them, making people happy, fulfilling their needs. This is righteous money. Righteous money does good things. When spent or invested, it yields right results that are long lasting and will always give fruit and many seeds to grow with its interest and dividends from the capital gains. On the contrary, bad money does bad things — money earned through selling arms or drugs, taking bribes, manipulating divorces, performing abortions, fraud, theft, riches gained through a hundred dark and devious ways. Bad money issues from a bad intent which precedes a wrongdoing for greed or profit. That is bad money. When spent or invested, it can be expected to bring unexpected negative consequences. Good money is suitable for building temples and other institutions that do good for people.
Bad money is sometimes gifted to build temples or other social institutions, but often only to ease the conscience of the person who committed sins to gain the money. Nothing good will come of it. The institution will fail. The temple will be a museum, its darshana nil. Its shakti, though expected to be present, will be nonexistent. Bad money provokes bad acts which are long lasting, and it sours good acts within a short span of time in the lives of the people who receive it. In 1991 I composed an aphorism to guide those who have sought my opinion on this matter. It says, “Siva’s devotees, knowing that bad money is cursed and can never do good deeds, refuse funds gained by fraud, bribery, theft, dealing arms or drugs, profiting from abortion or divorce, and all dark, devious means.”
Some postulate that using bad money for good purposes purifies it. That is a very unknowledgeable and improper concept, because prana, which is money, cannot be transformed so frivolously. Many among this group of misguided or naive individuals have lived to witness their own destruction through the use of tainted wealth. Also, this brings them into the illegality of laundering money. Money cannot be laundered by religious institutions. Money cannot be legally laundered by banks. Money cannot be laundered by individuals. Further, we know that those who give ill-gotten money to a religious institution will subtly but aggressively seek to infiltrate, dilute and eventually control the entire facility, including the swami, his monastic staff, members and students. If bad money is routinely accepted in abundance and depended upon, it will bring an avalanche of adharma leading to the dissolution of the fellowships that have succumbed, after which a new cycle would have to begin, of building back their fundamental policies to dharma once again.
Refusing Soiled Funds
My own satguru set a noble example of living simply, overnighting only in the homes of disciples who live up to their vows, and accepting only good money. He knew that accepting bad money brings in the asuras and binds the receiver, the ashrama or institution to the external world in a web of obligations. How does one know if he has received bad money? When feelings of psychological obligation to the giver arise. This feeling does not arise after receiving good money that is given freely for God’s work. Bad money is given with strings and guilt attached.
Our message to religious institutions, ashramas and colleges is: Don’t take bad money. Look for good, or white, money, known in Sanskrit as shukladana. Reject bad, or black, money, called krishnadana. If you don’t know where the money came from, then tactfully find out in some way. How does the donor earn his living? Did the money come from performing abortions, from gambling, accepting bribes, adharmic law practices or shady business dealings? Is it being given to ease the conscience?
Even today’s election candidates examine the source of donations exceeding US $10,000 — investigating how the donor lives and how the money was gotten — then either receive the gift wholeheartedly or turn it back. When the source is secret, the source of gain is suspect. When the source is freely divulged, it is freed from such apprehension. In the Devaloka, there are devas, angels, who monitor carefully, twenty-four hours a day, the sources of gain leading to wealth, because the pranic bonds are heavy for the wrongdoer and his accomplices.
Imagine, for instance, an arms dealer who buys his merchandise surreptitiously and then sells it, secretly or in a store — shotguns and pistols, machine guns, grenades and missiles, instruments of torture and death. Money from this enterprise invested in a religious institution or educational institution or anything that is doing good for people will eventually turn that institution sour, just like pouring vinegar into milk.
The spiritual leader’s duty is to turn his or her back to such a panderer of bad money and show him the door, just as an honest politician would turn back election donations coming from a subversive source, gained by hurtful practices, lest he suffer the censure of his constituency at a later time, which he hopes to avoid to hold his office. A politician has to protect his reputation. The spiritual leader will intuitively refuse bad money. He doesn’t need money. When money comes, he does things. If it doesn’t come, he also does things, but in a different way, perhaps on a smaller scale.
In Reno, Nevada, for many years the gambling casinos gave college scholarships to students at high schools. Then there came a time of conscience among educators when they could no longer accept these scholarships earned from gambling to send children forward into higher studies. They did not feel in their heart, mind and soul that it was right. Drawing from their example, we extend the boundaries of religion to education and to the human conscience of right conduct on this Earth.
Humans haven’t changed that much. Over 2,200 years ago, Saint Tiruvalluvar wrote in his Tirukural, perhaps the world’s greatest ethical scripture, still sworn on in Indian courts of law in Tamil Nadu: “A fortune amassed by fraud may appear to prosper but will all too soon perish altogether. Wealth acquired without compassion and love is to be cast off, not embraced. Protecting the country by wrongly garnered wealth is like preserving water in an unbaked clay pot” (283, 755, 660).
Three Kinds Of Bribery
Let me tell you a true story. A young man is riding his motor scooter in busy Kuala Lumpur. His tail light is out and he knows it. Hearing a siren behind him, he slows and is pulled over by a motorcycle policeman. In Malay, the officer informs him of the infraction, and pulls out his ticket book, then indicates through well-known gestures that a small bribe would take care of the matter. Heart pounding, palms sweating, the boy musters up his courage and says, “Officer, are you asking me to bribe you? I’m not paying you anything. What is your badge number? Take me to your superior!” Visibly shaken and seeing that the youth is no easy mark, the policeman spins around, mounts his bike and speeds away. There was a bad feeling about this real-life incident. The cop knew he was committing a crime. The youth was tempted to become the accomplice, but resisted, sidestepping for the moment one of society’s most sinister problems.
Yes, briber and bribed are bound together in their dishonest, dark deed. Reluctance, resignation, efficiency, disdain — none of these sentiments relieve a person from the guilt, the ever-accumulating kukarma, the bad karma, of the crime. There are three kinds of bribery. The first is the most common — withholding services one has been paid to perform until that additional, secret compensation is paid. The second kind is a little more subtle. Favors — contracts, concessions, legal immunity, etc. — are given to those who pay a bribe in cash or kind. The briber offers money, saying, “I am giving you this money, and this is what you can do for me,” and if the party accepts it, that is what he must do. It’s a purchase of secret, unauthorized use of influence, position or authority. The third form of bribery, even more subtle, is to provide a paid service and then exact an additional reward. This is, however, the most easily detected of all, because when asked for further service, it will be delayed or denied — that is, if the gift expected after the first service was performed was not given or was not large enough.
Bribe comes from an Old French word, meaning a morsel of bread given to a beggar. Says Webster’s Dictionary, a bribe is “1) anything, especially money, given or promised to induce a person to do something illegal or wrong; 2) anything given or promised to induce a person to do something against his or her wishes.” Bribery money when received, in cash or kind, is bad money, because it is wrongly gotten — in whatever of the three ways — by psychological force, the arousal of greed or by devious coercion.
In many countries, bribery has become a way of life. Bribes are demanded, and usually paid, for most anything, from getting a contract signed to buying a train ticket. A prominent politician in India told me he finds it impossible, simply impossible, to get anything done without it. Most, but not everyone, would agree. A successful, sophisticated Bangalore businesswoman, now in her forties, swears she has never, ever paid a bribe in her entire life
Bribery Is Corruption
Spiritual people and institutions sometimes feel compelled to accept or pay bribes because the alternative is so frustrating or because their sense of mission is so strong, and they want it to go forward at all costs. Still, it must be remembered that it is not only what you do that is important, but how you do it. Bad money cannot be purified by spending it on good projects. Rather, bad money sours and fails them.
In our spiritual fellowship, we have a rule that we do not engage in bribery, even when it means great sacrifice. In our efforts to carve a granite temple in Bangalore to be shipped to Hawaii — for which we established a village of a hundred workers and their families — we have been called upon time and time again to hand over a bribe. Yes, even a giant project can be hampered by a small bribe. We had to ask ourselves, shall we pay the petty pittance to keep the electricity on and the phones working? It was hard sometimes not to submit, but now it is well known that we don’t pay, and the bribe takers no longer ask. One previous bribe seeker actually apologized for his earlier demands.
By neither accepting nor paying bribes, my devotees are telling the community that bribery is unacceptable and ultimately unnecessary. If enough people follow this principle in any society, then bribery will go away. If enough people do not, then bribery becomes the accepted way of doing business, and everyone will accept bribes as a source of additional income, and pay bribes as a means of getting things done. The acceptance of a bribe is an affirmation of the practice. Every time a family, an individual, a community, a nation disavows or rejects the practice of bribery, then bribery is diminished. To walk away from a bribe, to reject a bribe or to refuse to pay is to fulfill Hindu Dharma.
Where does bribery begin? The same place as everything else — at home, often at a young age. Mothers bribe their children to behave and earn good grades. Fathers bribe youths to marry according to their race and financial position. Dowry, we could say, is another form of bribery. If it’s not given, the marriage does not take place. If it were really a gift, that would not be the case. Those who take bribes and pay bribes raise a corrupt family
Mercy, through personal prayashchitta, sincere penance, can help relieve the bad karma, but that, too, is all for naught unless one stops the practice. The power of decision rests on the character of each person in the family. If that power is used rightly, the kukarmas clear. If not, the family and all members go down and down and down, for bribery is stealing and being stolen from. It is similar to walking into someone’s house late at night, opening their cash box and taking money. Bribery has the same emotional and psychological impact. He who pays a bribe is an accomplice to the person who demands it. He who accepts a bribe proffered to buy his favors is likewise bound to his crafty benefactor. There are two criminals in each case, he who accepts and he who pays. Inwardly, karmically, astrally, they are bound together as one. Those who pay bribes for the sake of efficiency or accept gifts without examining the intent may deem themselves innocent, but they are not. Karmic law spares no one.
Steps Against Bribery
Bribery breeds an educated criminal generation. It blocks the free flow of business. Bribery disrupts positive projects. Bribery diverts creative energies to worries about who, if not paid, will disrupt the progress, cut the phone lines, turn off the electric power or otherwise cause delay after delay after delay. Bribery is devastating to a nation’s economy. No one knows how much anything really costs; and since it is illegal money, black money, the recipients don’t pay taxes on it. Two sets of books have to be kept. Honest companies are put out of business by dishonest competitors who give and accept bribes.
What can be done about bribery? On the governmental level, there are instructive examples from recent history. Twenty years ago in America, undercover FBI agents approached various politicians and offered them bribes to help a fictitious Arab company gain American business. A few politicians accepted the bribes and quickly found themselves jailed. Every politician got the message. A few years ago, New Orleans hired a new police chief to reform its notoriously corrupt police force. First he demanded and got the officers’ pay doubled. Then he arrested, prosecuted and fired the next sixty-five officers caught taking bribes. The rest, it’s said, no longer risk their now well-paying careers for bribe money.
Internationally, only the United States has a law preventing its companies from bribing foreign officials. As far as we know, other countries — including all of Europe — have refused to pass similar statutes on the excuse that it would put their business communities at a disadvantage. In fact, the bribes so paid are even tax-deductible. Yet, the same companies’ paying a bribe in their own country can result in prosecution. One organization, Transparency International in Berlin, is attempting to end this global double standard which makes it so difficult for individual countries to root out the scourge of bribery.
From a psychological point of view, bribery is a criminal consciousness of deceit, cheating, on the darker side of life. Guilt is always involved, secrecy, fear of being caught for extorting funds, fear of what might happen if bribes are not paid and worry over obligations incurred by accepting bribes. Such surreptitious dealings create an erosion of trust in society.
Bribery is basically stealing through intimidation. The able-bodied beggar demanding alms on the street is no different from the able-bodied businessman who withholds his services. The beggar shirks his legitimate work, and the businessman uses his position to exact payments not due. Both reap bad karma that will reflect on every generation in the future and a few in the past.
Bribery and Tipping
A healthy society is based on honesty, openness, love, trust and goodwill. It is at the grass roots level, in the home, in schools, in the marketplace, office and factory, that bribery should first be stopped. Hindu Dharma is the law enforcer. Simply don’t bribe. It really is OK not to bribe. More and more, not bribing is becoming acceptable behavior. It is difficult to step back from this practice, but you can live your whole life and not pay a one rupee bribe, even in a place where everyone pays bribes.
One might wonder if tipping is a form of bribery. It is legal in nearly every country to tip a waiter, busboy, carhop, valet, cab driver, maitre d’, and no one has ever been arrested and prosecuted for giving such a gratuity. True, a tip is expected, but services can’t be withheld if it is not given, lest the individual lose his or her job. Giving tips, or gratuities, is not bribery when it is the custom for paying waiters in restaurants, bell boys in hotels and valets who will get your car from the parking lot and drive it up to the door. Tips are expected, and because they are receiving tips, their salary from the hotel or restaurant is often very low. The giving of gratuities is an accepted custom. But the employees would be bound by the hotel or restaurant to perform the same service even if tips were not forthcoming. This is not to be extended to areas where this custom does not exist, such as to paid government servants who have a salary much higher than those who live by being tipped.
Similarly, the giving of gifts on auspicious occasions to anyone who has been of service is spreading goodwill, but is not expected and is completely voluntary. The service would not diminish if the gifts were not given. Our giving gifts to the shilpis several times a year at our temple worksite in Bangalore is an example. Even if we did not honor our carvers by a gift, they would still have to do their work up to specifications. This is the pure vibration we want to work into Iravian Temple — the vibration of dharma, not the vibration of giving something to someone for fear they will in the future withhold their services or do us some harm.
There are many other wrongs, too, such as prostitution, paying for sex — that’s sex without love, which is lust — that create kukarmas, that are also against the law. Then, we might ask, why don’t some countries in which bribery and prostitution have become part of the national culture make these practices legal, at least to protect the lawmakers, who would then pass legislation to control them?
There is small time bribery and big time bribery. In the Western world, bribery is big time. It’s at the top, involving millions of dollars. We’ve seen cases where a senator will put his family, his reputation or his life in jeopardy by accepting a $10,000 bribe — which is about seven percent of his yearly salary — and lose his office, lose his reputation. In India, bribery comes down to a few pennies to facilitate the little chores of life. We have heard of unspoken rules in different parts of India as to how bribery should be done if you want to get anything done, even buying a train ticket.
Why is it that people are willing to live in fear of being found out? Why is it that politicians who accept great bribes often finally bribe their way out of the situation with those who brought about their indictment? And why are they caught, but maybe to siphon off some of the wealth that they had garnered from bribery, which could be quite lucrative for law-enforcement people? Even after their punishment, those who have become wealthy through receiving bribes often maintain a higher standard of living than they would have before they mastered the art of bribery.
Bribery in The Home
Then there is bribery of children: “I’ll give you a sweet if you do what I want you to do. I’ll take the sweet away if you don’t.” Some call this discipline, but true discipline is training and teaching, learning to uphold a known rule. Anything else is punishment, which closes the lines of communication between the elder and the child. The child has to be clearly taught what the rules are and who is in charge. The child has to know what he is going to get and not get, according to his or her misdeeds. But to bribe the child who has not been educated in this way, to awaken his desire for something and not give it to him, that is a form of corruption. The child will carry that out into the community. He will not be a good citizen, and his kukarma will reflect upon the family and several generations back and several generations in the future. The blame is upon the father and the mother, because children follow the example of the parents. Bribing and beating go hand in hand. When it becomes a way of life, children are bribed to behave, to get good grades, to go to bed on time.
There is still another, even more insidious, form of bribery that happens within the home. This is emotional bribery: “I shall be unhappy unless you please me,” “I shall be happy to include you in my will if you do what I want, but if you don’t, you’re out of my will.” That is bribery. It inhibits the freedom of the individual. “Marry this girl and you will please your family. After all we have done for you, you have to marry the way we want you to marry, and you have to give up the girl you really, really love.” Even if the boy has been having an affair with that girl, even if she is pregnant, his family will bribe him to marry someone else by threatening exclusion from the family, disrespect and the ruin of his name in the community. Oh, that is a favorite form of bribery: “I shall blacken your name in the community, make up stories about your character. I shall ruin your reputation. Your name will look like mud in the minds of an ever-increasing group of people unless you buckle down and do what we say.” That is a form of intimidation or blackmail that is used quite often in today’s world. Blackmail is a kind of reverse bribery. While a briber demands money to do something for you, a blackmailer demands money to not do something against you. The blackmailer says, “Give me what I want or I’ll expose the secrets I know about you.” This demand for hush money is an ominous form of reverse bribery, but bribery nonetheless. There is serious karma involved in all forms of bribery, which are part of the negative culture which tears down a nation, which tears down a community, which tears down a family, which the younger generation, hopefully, will not put up with.