There is a deep-seated desire for wealth in every individual and sastras accept wealth as a legitimate aspiration. It is included in the four main goals of life (Purusharthas) — righteousness (Dharma), wealth (Artha), desire (Kama) and liberation (Moksha). Scriptures teach us to evaluate wealth in philosophical and secular terms, said Srimati Prema Pandurang in a lecture.
Though renunciation is the ideal to be practised in one's lifetime for the attainment of salvation, wealth is shown as necessary for worldly upkeep. Scriptures teach us that wealth has to be earned by rightful means and warn us of its dangers. An excess of wealth can make one inebriate, become a constant worry and, if put to wrong uses, can destroy one's peace of mind.
When Bali began an Asvamedha Yaga to gain mastery over the worlds, the Lord incarnated as Vamana and approached Him for alms. Bali was impressed by the handsome youth and was willing to give him whatever he wanted. The boy wanted only that much of land he could cover with three paces. Sukracharya warned Bali not to give all in haste. His insightful advice at this juncture is practical and teaches us how to use wealth in a wise manner. Charity should not endanger one's life and livelihood.
Wealth has to be used for the practice of one's religion. A part of our earnings has to be set aside for selfless acts that will bring us fame even after we die — such as protection of the scriptures, cows, etc. Acts of charity for the purpose of people's welfare, for the family and for the needy are also encouraged. This paves the way for the growth of a welfare society. There are long-term benefits as well for those who engage in such deeds — for their generous acts take care of their well-being in this world and hereafter. Such is the power of righteous deeds.
But Bali had already committed himself to the youth and found himself shorn of the immense wealth that had been his just a minute ago. He had to offer his head in all humility to fulfil his promise. This shows that wealth is slippery especially when one lacks humility.