As long as you are able to acquire wealth, your retinue will follow you. Afterwards, when your body is worn out, nobody will so much as speak to you in your own home.
Shankara, in this verse, speaks about the transitory nature of wealth, name and fame. We command respect in our corresponding circles of influence as long as we are of use to those around. When our “utility factor” wanes, so does the respect we command.
Many of us acquire great wealth, name, fame, reputation and respect. We become CEOs, superlative athletes, great singers and seem to know all the “right” people. But when the titles are taken away from us or the process of time diminishes our abilities, fewer people seem to remember us anymore. But that is the nature of the world isn’t it? One moment you will be hailed as a great leader of men, put on a pedestal, decorated and in the very same breath people will make you the villain of the piece.
This is why Shankara asks us to temper the value we place on these frills of life. This is not to say that we must shun wealth and fame. In fact we must enjoy it while it we have it. But we must derive our sense of value and self-worth from something deeper and more permanent. We must find our worth from pursuing our goal of self-development and self-purification. Because the only thing that remains with us is are our spiritual assets which are gained through introspection, reflection and contemplation on the higher values of life.
In the final analysis, wealth and fame are toys to be enjoyed. But there must always be the vision of that something beyond, of something more permanent, of the one thing that never leaves us. That Atman or Divinity within.