The following is an extract from my book “Natural Enmity: Reflections on the nīti and rasa of the Pañcatantra” which exhorts the reader to accumulate wealth and desist from hoarding it.

The importance of artha (wealth)

Vardhamāna, who is presented to us right in the beginning as a role model of an arthārthin (seeker of worldly goods), was the leader of a merchant-convoy, who was possessed of manifold virtues and had earned a great amount of wealth from having practised dharma in previous births. One night he lay in bed thinking that even if one owned a great deal of money, one should contemplate on the means for generating wealth and put them into practice. This is beautifully explained in the following way:

प्रभूतः अपि संचितः अर्थः प्रवेच्यमानः अञ्जनं इव क्षीयते। स्वल्पः अपि संचीयमानः वल्मीकवत् वर्धते। अतः प्रभूतेन अपि द्रव्येण तस्य एव वृद्धिः करणीया। अलब्धा अर्था लभ्याः। लब्धाः परिरक्षणीयाः। रक्षिता विवर्धनीयाः पात्रे संपादनीयाः च इति। लोकमार्गेण अपि रक्ष्यमाण अर्थः बहूपद्रवतया सद्यः विनश्येत्। अप्रयुज्यमानः प्रयोजनोत्पत्तौ तुल्यः अप्राप्तस्य इति। ततः प्राप्तस्य सतः रक्षणविवर्धनोपयोगादि कार्यम्।

Even a great saving which is spent a little will decay like collyrium. On the other hand, even little wealth, if saved will increment like an anthill. Therefore, even if one possesses great wealth, one should strive to increase it. What has not been obtained, should be obtained. What has been obtained, should be kept secure. What is kept secure, should be augmented and expended on the deserving. Even wealth that is protected according to the practices of the world can be suddenly lost due to various calamities. If wealth cannot be used when the occasion for it arises, then it is just as good as not having earned it. Therefore, protection, increase and use of the earned wealth should be done.

The great difference which even a small amount of money can make in terms of spending and saving is explained using the metaphors of collyrium (añjana) and the anthill (valmīka) respectively. Considering that a very minute quantity of collyrium needs to be applied to the eyes, one feels as if there is an enormous amount of it in the container. But as one keeps using it every day, there comes a time eventually when the container becomes empty. Likewise, an ant may contribute only a small quantity of material towards the construction of an anthill every day but over a period of time, it gains a massive size. In the same way, money which has been saved (sañcita), will finally run out as it is being spent, even little by little, every day. On the other hand, even a tiny amount of money which is being saved (sañciyamāna) every day will increase manifold in the future.

The money cycle explained in the foregoing passage works as follows:

  1. earning – acquire the money which you do not have,
  2. saving – protect the money you have earned,
  3. investing – augment the money which you have saved,
  4. spending – deploy the money to worthy causes.

We are warned against hoarding wealth, firstly, because it can be destroyed by some calamity, and, secondly, because enjoyment is the sole proof of possession. Generally, in Indian thought, with regards to any material good, worldly life consists of two aspects: yoga (acquisition) and kṣema (protection). The Pañcatantra adds two more: vardhana (augmentation) and upayoga (application). We will consider some of the verses adduced to reinforce the ideas explained above:

उपार्जितानामर्थानां त्याग एव हि रक्षणं। तडागोदरसंस्थानां परीवाह इवांभसाम॥३.१॥

upārjitānām arthānāṃ tyāga eva hi rakṣaṇaṃ|

taḍāgodarasaṃsthānāṃ parīvāha ivāṃbhasāma||

[3.1] In order to protect the wealth that has been gained, one must let go of it like the outflow of water that is stagnant in a tank.

Hoarded money is comparable to stagnant water – it becomes the harbinger of dregs and diseases. Like water, money should be constantly in circulation.

अर्थैरर्था निबध्यन्ते गजैरिव महागजाः। न हि अनर्थवता शक्यं वाणिज्यं कर्तुं ईहया॥३.२॥

arthair arthā nibadhyante gajair iva mahāgajāḥ|

na hi anarthavatā śakyaṃ vāṇijyaṃ kartuṃ īhayā||

[3.2] Wealth attaches itself to wealth just as giant elephants to each other. Without outlay of capital, it is not feasible to practice commerce assiduously.

Use money to make money. Wealth attracts wealth as – we have a nice ancient metaphor here – elephants attach to other elephants. Commerce (vāṇijya) is regarded as the most lucrative occupation but its practice is impossible without capital investment.

दैववशात् उपपन्ने सति विभवे यस्य नास्ति भोगेच्छा।

न च परलोकसमीहा स भवति धनपालकः मूर्खः॥३.३॥

daivavaśāt upapanne sati vibhave yasya nāsti bhogecchā|

na ca paralokasamīhā sa bhavati dhanapālakaḥ mūrkhaḥ||

[3.3] With regards to the fortune that has fortuitously come to one’s lot, the one who possesses neither desire to enjoy it nor a striving for the world beyond, that master of wealth is a fool.

Money should be expended to partake of the pleasures of this world as well as to gain merit for happiness in the next. This would probably include engaging in dharma such as donating gifts to brāhmaṇas, construction of civic amenities and religious buildings, and charity to the poor.