Question: Why do people try to make more money than what they actually need?

Thank you for writing with your question. It is described in the text known as Upadeshamrita (“Nectar of Instruction”) that there are six activities that spoil one’s spiritual life:

atyaharah prayasash ca
prajalpo niyamagrahah
jana-sangash ca laulyam ca
shadbhir bhaktir vinashyati

“One’s spiritual advancement is spoiled when he becomes too entangled in the following six activities: (1) eating more than necessary or collecting more funds than required; (2) overendeavoring for mundane things that are very difficult to obtain; (3) talking unnecessarily about mundane subject matters; (4) practicing the scriptural rules only for the sake of following them and not for the sake of spiritual advancement, or rejecting the rules and regulations of the scriptures and working independently or whimsically; (5) associating with materialistic people who have no interest in spiritual life; and (6) being greedy for mundane achievements.”

From this we see the very first block on the path of spiritual advancement is atyahara, or accumulating more than necessary. This must be avoided, as it is born from greed within the heart. Human life is meant for simple living and high thinking. But in modern times, people refuse to live according to this principle. We find in nature this principle of simple living is automatically followed by all living entities. There is no over-accumulation of food in the animal kingdom, and consequently there is generally no case of starvation amongst them. If someone were to leave a bag of rice in a public place, a bird will come and take a few grains and go. But a human will come and take the entire bag, eat what he can and store the rest. If there are multiple bags, the human will somehow arrange to collect them all, not taking into account what his actual needs are. This is the symptom of greed.

Today, due to uncontrolled greed and desire, people work harder and harder to accumulate money, possessions, and prestige without knowing what is in their ultimate self-interest. Every day death is chasing us in the form of time, and when we are finally caught, we lose all our accumulated money and possessions. What is the ultimate result? We have spent our valuable time chasing after illusory shadows.

The Isha Upanishad therefore instructs us on this principle as follows:

ishavasyam idam sarvam
yat kincha jagatyam jagat
tena tyaktena bhunjitha
ma gridhah kasya svid dhanam

“Everything within this universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.”

This is in line with the Gita’s statement that we have a right to perform our duty, but we have no right to the results. We must learn how to offer the results of our activities to the Supreme in the form of sacrifice. This will keep us free from the bondage of work and ultimately purify our existence from the contamination of lust (kama), anger (krodha) and greed (lobha).