Lakshmi: spirituality in the material domain

Image: Geoffrey Dunn

Lakshmi is everybody’s favourite goddess. She appears benign, generous and modest. Rather than the challenging setting aside of our usual material obsessions, Lakshmi seems to invite us to enjoy them. Indeed, she appears to promise wealth, power, fertility and all those things which we identify as the source of our happiness and contentment in life. The adoration of her as the goddess of domesticity upholds the fundamental structures of our current social domains—the family and its aspirations for wealth and comfort. We breathe a sigh of relief that there is indeed a goddess that applauds the beauty and glitter of this world and our desire for these worldly things.

If only the Lakshmi space was so simple! Lakshmi is correctly the goddess of wealth, power, fertility and abundance in this material domain. However, the symbolic dimensions of her space suggest that the practice is to transform our perspective on our lives in this domain so that our life here becomes a sadhana or spiritual practice. An ancient story about Lakshmi narrates how when she appeared the gods were overcome by jealousy because she had everything they wanted—wealth, power and beauty. They were allowed to take these attributes from her by Prajapathi, the creator. He then asked gods to return the attributes to her. The message in the story is that Lakshmi gives abundantly, but her gifts are transient. At some point, those gifts will be returned to her not because she wants them back, but it is so decreed by the laws of this reality. The practice in the Lakshmi space is to recognise that the glitter and abundance of materiality is inherently unstable in its transience.

The Lakshmi space does not ask us to escape from our lives, work and obligations in the material realm. It offers an opportunity to consider life itself as the sadhana. The symbol of the lotus, on which Lakshmi is shown standing or seated, is at the heart of this practice. The lotus is a flower that requires the dirt of the swamp or the water to rise above and bloom in beauty. Our lives which encompass money, power and family, are exactly what is necessary for us to become the lotus bloom. The trick is to be as gracious, light-hearted and generous as Lakshmi in handling these addictive and overpowering attributes of our material lives so that we do not become slaves to them.

Padma Menon