August 19, 2016

Let’s try to control the greed for superlatives


AS social animals that can only survive with the strength of numbers, humans are both altruistic and selfish. They are altruistic towards members of their group so that they can be part of the membership and they are selfish for their own individual survival and success.  Humans have basic needs which are traditionally defined as food, clothing and shelter.  But, they also have basic wants such as material possessions, affection, success, fairness, respect and freedom.  In striving to fulfil their individual needs and wants, humans have been striving to be the best among the group.
This strong desire to excel has given rise to many traits in human beings, some good, and some bad. Due to the desire to improve their conditions, individually and in groups, they have achieved much progress regarding their basic needs as well as the quality of life, their intellectual development and the capacity to innovate.  On the other hand, the passion to excel has intensified their selfish trait to the extent that at certain points in history, they have enslaved, exploited and exterminated their own species and other species to possess the best of things. Civilization has taught human beings to restrain many of their wild traits. With the passing of time, and the influence of civilization and religious teachings, outwardly, have made their acquisitive nature and greed less transparent. However, in their heart of hearts, these do not appear to have diminished very much.  In fact, with the progress in all fields related to the physical and mental well being of humans, the growth of commerce, and the need to make profit through increased sales, new products and models, their greed has probably multiplied. The strong desire of someone to have uninterrupted access to more of something is not just limited to food and money, immovable things like real property (land) and moveable things like personal property (e.g. jewellery), but also extends to other tangible and intangible things as well as persons. Much lusted for is power which has many dimensions; it can be used to influence persons and events, exert control over resources and capabilities of humans as well as non-humans, and it can also serve as a status symbol. Equally desired by many is wealth which rightly, or wrongly, many feel as mattering most in the world, and many will spend their whole life slaving or enslaving others for it. Other things that people are greedy for are fame and attention, and some may go to great length to achieve them, even sacrificing health, wealth and reputation. Another group of persons known as workaholics, who like alcoholics, suffer from an addiction. They are obsessed with their work and find it difficult to stay away from it. Some people covert knowledge so much that they may spend their lifetime attending one course after another and working for one degree after another, ignoring their responsibilities towards family and society. There are also those who are greedy, not for themselves, but for others who are less fortunate than themselves, or for religious causes. They will spend their time and fortune working untiringly to get the necessary funds to help others. The last group of greedy people consists of those who hunger for companionship, affection and sensual pleasure and enjoys spending a vast amount of their time and money being amused by a retinue of hangers-on, entertainers and so-called friends.
In Buddhism, loba (greed) is regarded as one of the three main roots of evil, the other two being dosa (anger), and moha (delusion), and they lead to evil deeds, evil speech, and evil mind.  Hence, greed of all kinds leads to actions and feelings such as anger, delusion, dissatisfaction, obsession, envy, insanity, dishonesty, theft, robbery, murder, inhuman acts, etc.  In brief, blinded by greed, some people lose their humanity and will resort to anything to satisfy their insatiable greed.  They become worse than animals, as animals do not cause senseless destruction or death.  Animals may kill or attack others due to necessity for food, security and self-preservation, but rarely out of greed or pleasure-seeking. As taught by Lord Buddha, greed causes suffering, and unfortunately, in most cases, a person’s greed not only enflames himself/herself, but also those who are connected to the object of his/her greed causing them untold suffering.   No doubt, man’s life has improved because of the greed to improve his lot.  But ambition based on greed alone will not always be realized and even if realized, it cannot guarantee peace of mind. Unbridled greed can also be self-destructing as well as causing destruction to others. Many realize only before their last breath that amounts and numbers of things that they have accumulated do not matter. What matters most, when we are about to depart this world, is not the amount of worldly possessions we leave behind for our offspring, but the possession of a tranquil mind which is based on the knowledge that one has not caused harm to others in satisfying one’s greed.  It is true that as a human being one will have innate needs as well as wants, such as food, shelter, clothing, security, peace of mind, affection, respect, justice, freedom, and dignity. However, these can all be gained by balancing one’s needs with the needs of others. As Lord Buddha has expounded, treading the middle path will lead to liberation from suffering. The right dose of greed like the right dose of medicine can be beneficial for a person’s progress, but if it is a dose, much larger than necessary, it will either kill a person instantaneously, or cause a kind of cancer that will grow insidiously within him/her and bring about immeasurable suffering.


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