Impersonal Wealth and Spiritual Regeneration of Social Capital

By Ananta Kumar Giri

The Problem

The Social responsibility of business has been primarily thought of in the needy people support given by business people and the affluent to the needy people directly or to various charitable organizations which work for the poor. The affluent and the leader was of business usually write cheque for the cause which they consider worthwhile and for them this writing of a cheque is an adequate demonstration of their commitment and enough for the amelioration of suffering and eradication of poverty. When after all the money dumped in  this way into various welfare activities, nothing much difference takes places in the lives of the poor, the affluent benefactors develop a disdain towards the poor holding them responsible for their present predicament. They become anti-poor and anti-welfare as is the case with the advanced industrial societies in Europe and North America an attitude and social condition which has become globalize in the last two decades. This is also leading to the erection of walls of need to create relationship of trust between the affluent and the poor and to realize that the root of the problem has been proceeding with just giving money to the poor or writing a cheque as a mode of embodiment of one’s social responsibility. If the affluent and the business leaders were part of activities in which they had shared time and labour with the poor, then they would have been able to establish embodied relationship and solidarity with the poor and some concrete steps could have been taken to overcome the distance between the rich and the poor. But this has not happened either in the realm of the welfare state or with civil society. Both the state institutions and civil society organizations have proceeded with giving and collecting money as a primary mode of demonstrating their commitment and they have not created a collective and generative grounds where the poor and the rich can take part in activities such as building houses, constructing roads, digging ponds, cultivating orchards, and various other productive activities which create common goods. Such embodied sharing of time and labour could also have replenished the declining social capital in these societies and generated new social capital.

In this context, there is a need to think of new modes of embodiment of responsibility on the part of the affluent and the poor. In this new mode of engagement, responsibility is characterized by mutual responsibility and self-responsibility. Both the affluent and the poor are responsible to each other for their enrichment, overcoming of life incapacitating obstacles, amelioration of suffering, realization of happiness, and the creation of a good society. Anthony Giddens provides us such a mode of engagement in his agenda of "Positive welfare" in which welfare would be directed to fostering the auto telic self. The auto telic self is one with an inner confidence which comes from self-respect and one where a sense of ontological security, originating in basic trust, allows for the positive appreciation of social difference. It refers to a person able to translate potential threats into rewarding challenges someone who is able to turn entropy into a consistent flow of experience."

Positive welfare is not confined to improving the life of the poor or the underprivileged alone: it also considers its task to create opportunities for self-enrichment for the affluent as well. Instead of being obsessed with distributive equality between the rich and the poor, now there is a need to strive for generative equality between them, an equality which emerges out of mutual collaboration between the affluent and the poor in building collective foundations of a good life and in overcoming "collective bads" Equalization here is a primarily understood in terms of equalization of a quest for a meaningful life and relationship. But for participating in this mutual collaboration, the participants have to overcome their superiority and inferiority complex, and have to develop a new relationship to wealth. If the rich do not learn to relate to their wealth in an impersonal and non-possessive way and utilize it as a trust for the common good, then their ability to participate in this desired mutual collaboration would be limited. But schemes of generative well-being and equality in Giddens scheme of things do not have any scheme for generating an attitude of and relationship of non-possession vis-a vis use of wealth among the participants. We find such a striving in the socio spiritual movement of Swadyaya in contemporary India. A distinctive aspect of the vision and experiments of Swadhyaya is generation of impersonal wealth or apourasheya laxmi in the many socio economic experiments or prayogas in which the rich and the poor work together with the devotional sharing of time and labour and the wealth which arises out of such projects belongs to none but God. The generation of impersonal wealth enables the participants to use and relate to wealth in anon-possessive and non-proprietary way and one of the primary objectives of this research project is to bring this vision experiment of impersonal wealth into dialogue with contemporary schemes of reconstruction such as Giddens positive welfare and Putnam's trust and social capital.


Swadhyaya is a socio spiritual initiative in self development and social transformation in a contemporary India which is active in many villages in the state of Gujarat and Maharashtra and in the last twenty years has the spread to other parts of India as well as also to other countries in Europe and North America, Africa and the Middle East. In Swadhyaya both the rich and the poor are encourages to participate in asset of activities which is meant to bring "man close to man." Overcoming of distance is considered, the most time, a sharing which creates divine relationship among them. Bhaktipheri is the foundational prayoga or experiment of Swadhyaya where the participants are encouraged to go to other villages with their "time, ticket, and tiffin" and spend time ranging from one to three days.

In Swadhyaya, the bhaktipheris have not degenerated into picnics, nor have they been confined to burden relieving tours because of their spiritual foundation. Continued meetings between those who have knowledge and wealth and those who do not have become the starting point of a critical reflection on the existing life and building collective foundation of welfare and well-being. This begins with a series of experiments to generate wealth in the community in order to provide support to the needy. Among the farmers, this initiative is called Yogeswara Krishi o Lord's farming. The Swadhyayees of a village take a piece of land on lease and cultivate it. They cultivate it thorough their own labour. But their conception of labour is am ore enriched one than that of voluntarism as there still continues to be a lot of paternalism in the theory and practice of voluntary labour. Swadhyayees consider their work in community farming as an instance of shramabhakti, devotion of labour. They consider work as worship and themselves not as volunteers but as pujaris, as worshippers. Whatever is the produce from collective farming is considered as apoureshaya laxmi or impersonal wealth by the Swadhyaees. Portion of this wealth stays at the village level of e providing support to the needy, the remainder goes to a higher level of coordination to create a safety net for the needy with am much broader canvas. Similar is also the case in case of the community fishing boat among the fishermen which is called matsyagandha. This is manned buy the sharma bhakt of the fishermen in the community.

Swaadhyaya applies a similar approach to creating institutions of collective well-being in case of different communities. Among the diamond cutters it has an experiment called Hira Mandir or the temple of Diamond which works through the same principle of generating impersonal wealth through shrambhakti. Among the businessmen it has an experiment called Parivara Stores. The doctors of a locality come together and run a hospital through the same principle of bhakti.

While the above are community or group specific programmes, there are also many programmes which bring different communities together. One is the brukhamandir prayoga or the experiment of the tree temple. In the tree temple, people from surrounding villages and towns, from different social and professional backgrounds farmers, fishermen, and doctors come and take care of the community garden. They worship plants and trees in this garden as gods. Shri Darshana is another experiment in agriculture which works at a supra-village level where villagers from surrounding twenty or more villages come and work together. All these experiments provide Swadhyayees opportunities to work selflessly for the generation of impersonal wealth and the creation of the common good. Swaadhyaya argues that as individuals work on their own firms and professions and generate profit for themselves, there must be also such platform of creativity for the common good. 

For its welfare activities, Swaadhyaya does not accept either any grant from the State or any donation from the rich. Shrambhakti or devotional labour, where time and labour are not sold through the media of money and market, is the source of impersonal wealth here. The vision and generation of impersonal wealth has a spiritual foundation in Swaadhyaya. God is a partner in one's time and labour. Hence the wealth generated does not solely belong to the actor, God has a share in these wealth too. this share of God must be taken out for doing God's work which means working for creating better conditions of material and spiritual life for God's children. Swaadhyaya believes in the dictum of Manu Samhita, namely that when one is one is 18, one should keep 8th part of one's income for one's use and one part ought to be taken out as God's share for development in God's work and when one is 81, 8th part of one's income must be utilized for God's work, and one part for one's own use. Pandurang Shastri Athavale, the leader of Swaadhyaya, has a commentary on ShriSutam, a series of prayers offered to Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, in which he develops a spiritual approach to wealth. This spiritual approach to wealth where one is required to be related to wealth in anon-possessive, non-proprietary, and impersonal way, one has a potential to overcome the limitations of private capital in the creation of a good society, a tasks which has remained unfinished in the agenda of modernity. Marxian socialism and abolition of private property was a step in this direction but it did not succeed. A spiritual relationship with wealth accompanied by a project of radial democracy in society where social institutions are governed by Rawlsian principles of justice and Habermasian spirit of moral argumentation may provide us a way out of the continued problem of rapacious private capital as a source of obstacle to realization of full human potential and many distortions and exploitations in society.

Trust and social capital are two important constitutions of the discourse of social and economic reconstruction at present. They also point to new ways of manifesting social responsibility on the part of business communities and political leaders. Both these can be enriched by a dialogue with the vision and experiments of Swaadhyaya, namely the experiments of Bhaktipheri and different prayogas of generation of impersonal wealth.

The contemporary discourse of social capital points to a relational view of economy and society. For James S. Coleman, “Unlike other forms of capital, social inheres in the structure of relations between actors and among actors.” Voluntaru cooperation and trust are important elements of social capital. For Robert D. Putnam, “social networks allow trust to become transitive and spread.. “ Furthermore, “Most forms of social capital .are more resources’ that is, resource whose supply increases rather than decreases through use and which become depleted if not a public good, unlike conventional capital, which is ordinarily a private good.”

Social capital is neither a static concept nor a state of existence; it is an aspect of creative production and generation in society. As Putnam argues; “Social capital, unlike other forms of capital, must often be produced as a by-product of other social activities.” But this generation of social capital is related to values that participants have. As Norman Uphoff argues: “Social capital arises from the human activity to think and act generously and phenomena associated with social capital.” But the link between social capital and values, especially spiritual values, has not received much attention in the contemporary discourse and ethnography of the vision and experiment of Swaadhyaya can make this link much clearer.

In the contemporary discourse, social capital is primarily thought of in rational terms; rationality, social rationality, is the foundation of social capital. Coleman himself tells us that introduction of the concept of social capital into social theory is “part of a theoretical strategy that involves the paradigm of rational action. But rationality alone is not enough in tacking the problem of individualism, atomism, and the tendency to free ride in contemporary societies and a dialogue with Swaadhyaya can help us to understand the significance of spirituality, namely practical spirituality, in the generation and renewal of social capital.

The limits of contemporary discourse and its need for a spiritual supplement and trasmulation become clear when we deal with the issue of trust. There is an integral link between trust and social capital. But as Ronald Dore quite rightly argues,” trust as a condition for high quality of life is not what most of the academic writing about trust is about. It is mostly about economic efficiency; how more trust can make your organization more efficient and make bigger profits; how, according to Fukuyama, different cultural tradition and institutions set-ups, generating different trust levels, affect the competitiveness of nations. Trust is now primarily seen from the vantage point of rational choice strategy but Dore clearly articulates the challenge before us in this field thus: “I would rather wish public policy were framed by people who believe that the density of trust relationships is a public good worth maintaining in its own right, than by people who think that maintaining trust relationships might be a useful way of solving social conflicts or enhancing economic efficiency.” But in Swaadhyaya trust is a value itself, a value which is generated and strengthened in networks of divine relationships and different activities of embodied sharing and labour such as a vision can transform the contemporary articulation of trust as an adjunct to rational calculation and profit maximization.

Source: Gandhi Marg, Volume-24, Number-2, July-September-2002