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Inspirational Article


The Causes of Economic Depression

by Paramhansa Yogananda

From Clarity Magazine - Winter, 2008

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Always avoid the evil of selfishness. Any person who lives selfishly for himself does not really live at all, for he chokes the expansion of his life. But when a person extends his sympathy from his family, to his neighbors, and to the world, he expands and connects his little life to its source in the eternal life of God.

In the parable of The Good Samaritan, Jesus marvelously shows the meaning of “neighbor” and every person’s duty to his fellow man: Thieves had robbed and wounded a man, leaving him half-dead on the road. Two people later passed on the same road, but each crossed to the other side. The third person, a Samaritan, had compassion for the wounded man. He cleaned and bound his wounds, took him to an inn, and cared for him.

The meaning of “neighbor”

Here Jesus is saying that you should help any afflicted person who is thrown in your path. If you see someone meet with an accident, you should consider him a neighbor and assist him in every way possible, just as you would like to be assisted if you were in the same position. Helping any such person who happens to be near you, whether in your own neighborhood, or in a foreign land, is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Thomas a Kempis once said, pointing to a condemned criminal, “There, but for the grace of God, goes myself.” That is true from a limited standpoint, but from a universal, spiritual standpoint, we may well say of every man, “There goes myself.” From a spiritual standpoint, everyone is your neighbor for God is our Father and we are His children, and one with Him.

Selfishness: the root of all troubles

Selfishness is the root of all troubles, whether individual or national. National selfishness is just as evil as personal selfishness. The state of Texas in America could produce enough wheat and corn to supply the whole world. Why, then, is there any starvation in the world today? Because of man’s national and industrial selfishness, which is against the divine law of cooperation, mutual service, and sharing God-given prosperity with other nations of the world.

When a member of a family becomes sick or disabled, he honorably shares the family food and wealth; he is not the object of charity. The same should hold true for each member of the world family. No one should starve because he has no job, or is old or disabled. If individuals and nations followed the law laid down by Christ, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” starvation would cease to exist.

The spiritual law of equal supply

Selfishness caused the 1930 depression in America. Businessmen and industrialists, by their indifference to the needs and sufferings of others, and selfish advancement of their own interests, broke the spiritual law of equal supply. Thus, the richest nation on the globe suddenly became poor.

Even the smartest businessmen became children in the hands of destiny. Businessmen who were certain of their ability to invest properly and preserve their fortunes lost everything. When a materially-minded businessman’s brain is befuddled with greed, his mind causes him to initiate one failing plan after another. This is the price all selfish, materially-minded people are bound to pay eventually.

However, even in the worst depression, an unselfish businessman who keeps his mind concentrated principally upon God, the Giver of all things, will never lose everything, unless it is a divine test intended to help him spiritually. And those who consider the world their home, and work for the advancement of group or world prosperity, will find prosperity even in poverty-stricken environments.

It is a popular error to think that unselfishness involves tormenting sacrifice and loss. Unselfishness is the only lasting way to secure individual prosperity.

The competitive spirit in businessThe competitive spirit in business kills the spirit of unselfishness. It breeds the attitude: “Get the money any way you can, just for yourself and not for your country or your suffering world.”

In business there should be cooperation, not competition and cut-throat methods. If each one of two thousand people in business were to help one another, then each one would have one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine helpers. But when each member of the business community tries to take away money from his neighbor, then each one lives surrounded by one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine business sharks.

The competitive spirit in business must focus on the superior desire to do universal good. Only when business competition awakens the desire to do the greatest good for the greatest number will there be a real foundation for lasting prosperity and happiness.

Vibrations travel through the ether

We are all indissolubly linked together and bound up in a common fate. Vibrations travel through the ether from one place to another; when depression starts in one place, it starts everywhere. No one can get away with disturbing one part of the world and preventing the disturbance from moving through the ether waves to other parts of the world.

That is why such a monumental disaster as recently occurred in Florida* from the devastating two-day hurricane deserves our universal sympathy and financial assistance. It was occasioned by the sum total of wrong human thoughts. As a world race, we are all responsible for it.

The wrong vibrations of war and industrial selfishness invariably bring about natural calamities. The death struggles of those killed by the civil war now raging in Spain** are floating in the ether, causing floods in America, storms in England and Portugal, and earthquakes in India.

We are the creators of this universe. Our thoughts and deeds have contributed throughout the ages to the making of tidal waves, forest fires, and volcanic upheavals, just as they have flowered forth in spiritual giants, innocent children, and the soft petals of flowers. The more spiritually civilized we grow, the more we control Nature. But Nature rebels when the master of the house of civilization sleeps.

Universal sympathy and love

Disease, universal depression, war — all these are making nations realize more and more that national security, prosperity, and health are dependent upon international development and world unity. We are a part of the world family and cannot exist without it.

To seek world unity only for its practical usefulness to individual nations will give us, at best, a temporary peaceful life on earth by preventing wars. But unless we can unite our consciousness with the cosmic consciousness of God and find the cord of one life, one law, and one wisdom uniting us all, we will not have real world unity. Real world unity and permanent prosperity, peace, and joy require that we feel that we are all children of the One Father, God.

You can only develop this kind of universal sympathy and love through meditation and spiritual effort. Actual steps must be taken to live the brotherhood preached by Christ and the masters of all religions, and to learn to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

From articles and lessons, 1926-1942.

*A hurricane of great magnitude hit downtown Miami, Florida, September 17-18, 1926. There were sustained winds of seventy-six miles an hour for twenty-four hours, resulting in 240 deaths and 115 million dollars in damage. It’s said that the hurricane gave Miami a three-year head start on the Great Depression.

**The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, involved the Popular Front, a coalition of left-wing parties, on one side, and the Nationalist Party led by the fascist General Francisco Franco, on the other. The Nationalist Party prevailed and Franco became the de facto dictator of Spain until 1975.