In Ferengi culture the Great Material Continuum is a spiritual term used to describe the binding force of life and material in a universe with "millions of worlds, all with too much of one, and not enough of the other". Though not a strongly religious species, the Ferengi do harbor some spiritual beliefs embodied by the concept of the Continuum.
Similar to the economic law of supply and demand and the economic concept of scarcity, the Continuum is described metaphorically as a river. In this metaphor the current of the river flows from those who want to those who have. Truly a market system, the amount of present wealth and material in the continuum is finite; not everyone can accumulate infinitely. Material taken from one area must be replaced or paid for through another means. This in turn means that the successful interpretation to the wants and needs of others is essential to navigating the "Great River" of the Continuum. It also stresses the explicit materialistic life-view of the Ferengi: success in interpreting the needs and wants of others embodied by the Continuum is entirely based on the wealth and material accumulated, and not by more generalized benevolent gestures of compassion or good will as espoused by other species.
A skilled Ferengi, one who applies the Rules of Acquisition and profits by them, is said to be one who navigates this river successfully while avoiding the many obstacles and pitfalls inherent to such a life. If the Ferengi navigates the river successfully he accumulates wealth along the way, gathering it throughout the Continuum. This in turn leads to a profitable life, which is rewarded in the afterlife by access to the Divine Treasury; failure is punished by banishment to the Vault of Eternal Destitution.
Ferengi are taught about the Continuum from an early age and it may be their first initiation into the profit-driven existence of the culture. (DS9: "Treachery, Faith and the Great River", "The Dogs of War")