We define it mostly in terms of money and the things that money allows us to obtain and enjoy. Even if we live relatively modestly, money and the things it brings us are very important to our feeling of dignity, for without those things … if for example we were as poor as a church mouse and forced to live in the circumstances of poverty … we cannot imagine a dignified existence. Partly because of what we are used to, partly because most of the poor people we see do not lead a dignified existence. (Of course, from a spiritual perspective, neither do people with money.)
But that is a failure of the ego-mind. We have all come upon people who were poor who had the radiance and spirit of angels. Spiritually, “prosperity and abundance” refers to a richness in life that has nothing to do with money and is not dependent on money. It refers to our loving relationship with ourselves, to our love of beauty in all forms … nature, music, art … to being in touch with the joy and positive energy in our heart and radiating it out to everything we come in contact with. It refers to a richness of spirit.
Regarding dignity, another important aspect of spiritual practice and being in touch with your true Buddha self is knowing that you have everything you need inside yourself to be at peace and happy and that therefore you will be ok, safe, regardless what life throws your way. You will always have your dignity, it can never be taken away from you.
As I’ve written in Making Your Way in Life as a Buddhist and in posts, even when truly devastating or humiliating things befall you, when dark things happen, those things cannot take away your dignity unless you allow them to. Even, for example, in the violent experience of rape, one will not lose one’s dignity because your true Buddha self knows, even if others question, that this was forced upon you. (It’s your ego-mind as well as others who question whether you in some way encouraged the act.) Regardless what the police, courts, or neighborhood people think, if you are steadfast in your connection with your true Buddha nature, your dignity cannot be taken away from you. The same is true for people in concentration camps, prison, or living in typically degrading circumstances, such as being homeless.
If we have lived a middle class life, far from the horrors of war or the degradation of the ghetto, this is hard for us to imagine. And that is the point, to imagine is to give our power over to our ego-mind. This is rather a matter of faith, faith in our true Buddha self. Bach wrote a hymn titled, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Our Buddhist faith, our ability to take refuge in Buddha, dharma, and sangha is our might fortress. This is the true source of prosperity and abundance. And dignity.