2021-07-19-Greed (1 of 5) Non-Greed as a Reference
7:57AM Jul 20, 2021
Good morning again, and welcome to the beginning of the week and the beginning of a series. The series for this week, and actually for the next three weeks, addresses an issue which is huge for human beings, both personally and socially, in terms of an illness that spreads within and without. This issue has a big bearing on the Buddhist spiritual life. This topic is greed, hatred, and delusion.
There was a time in my life where I would hesitate to spend so much time talking about this. Maybe that will support some of you for whom it's maybe not inspiring to hear that this is going to be the topic for the next few weeks. The plan is to have the same pattern of five talks each week. We will see if the plan works out.
The idea is to talk on Monday about the opposites – the absence of greed or hatred or delusion, and the wonderfulness of the medicine of non-greed, non-hate, and non-delusion – the value of these as reference points for studying this topic. Then on Tuesday, I'll talk about the particular topic itself. I've done this recently, and hopefully we can do it in a different way. Then on Wednesday, I'll talk about the basic vipassanā practice in relationship to each of these. On Thursday, I'll talk about composting each one – composting greed, hatred, and delusion, and what composting means in terms of transformation.
Then on Friday, I'll talk about liberation from each one, and living a life that promotes the ending of greed, hate and delusion – in others as well. How to support others in this world of ours, in order to diminish the greed and hatred and delusion which are rampant and need to be addressed. Maybe we can be agents of change using this particular focus.
So, for this week, the topic is greed. I want to start with the idea of non-greed. Part of the value or importance of this, for me personally, is that when I was younger – when I first encountered Theravadan Buddhism, there were lots of talks and references to greed, hate and delusion. At that time, when I heard these, I saw this topic as being reductionistic. I felt like I was being reduced to this. It felt puritanical and moralistic, and as if who I was was being reduced to this very limited, unsavory kind of thing: someone who has a lot of greed, hate and delusion. And you were supposed to uproot it. It just didn't resonate with me. In fact, it was a little off-putting for me to have this emphasis.
But I went along and did the practice of mindfulness. Now, in retrospect, I can say I discovered non-greed, non-hatred, and non- delusion. I discovered a capacity for inner health and well-being that became a very important reference point for understanding myself in my life. To have a strong capacity for, or touch in strongly to, a non-agitated mind – a mind that is peaceful and calm, that seems to be operating in a healthy way. To tap into a capacity for a confident and clear mind, a loving mind and heart. I discovered this wealth of beauty that we have within that is not reductionistic, but which is actually enhancing or fulfilling.
There was a nun in the early Buddhist tradition – her name was Punna, which meant 'full'. She said she was full, like the full moon – suggesting this idea of becoming full of beautiful things and radiance.
So I started to do the practice, and began discovering these wellsprings within of well-being. Then this is what happened to me: I started recognizing that when I had greed, 'that' was what was reductionistic – 'that' was diminishing me. When I had hate, it would eclipse this beauty and I would lose it, and be diminished. I would be reduced to something that was not very pleasant. And if I got caught in delusion, that that also limited me. In some ways, it was very alienating to be in delusion. It separated me from myself and separated me from the world around me.
Understanding non-greed helped me to understand the the shortcomings and the danger of having greed. Then the teachings on greed, hatred and delusion became much more interesting. It became more interesting to understand greed in a deeper way. It became interesting to practice with greed – practicing to overcome it, and learning how to compost it and how to live a life liberated from it. Because I could recognize the limitations, the suffering – the dukkha, the distress – and the way in which I was shortchanging myself when I got pulled into greed or hatred and delusion.
That is not an easy thing to see, because these forces are very compelling. Any resistance, any restraint to allowing them to flow through us freely can feel uncomfortable, like our freedom is limited – as if we're supposed to be free, so let these things roll – let them flow through us. Greed is so valued in much of our society that seems like it's all good to be greedy, and certain kinds of greed are not recognized as greed.
It seems like every 10 years or so – in the 80s, late 90s, and the first decade of this century, and maybe now – there were huge economic collapses in this country. We discovered that there were bankers and others who were operating with tremendous avarice and illegally or unethically acquiring huge wealth at the expense of other people. But we did we see it as greed? Did they see themselves as being greedy? Or was it just the American way to get more – acquire more and more and more wealth and material things.
To begin understanding how the unabated, unrestrained giving yourself over to greed, to hatred and to delusion is not an expression of real freedom. It is actually an expression of being in bondage – being caught, being enslaved by forces inside of us that have taken control and are pushing us. What we are looking for is how to not be on automatic pilot – to not be compelled by these strong human instincts or drives. But also not to hold them in or restrain them in a way that can feel uncomfortable and is a lot of work. But rather, to learn how to allow them to just dissipate. Or to enter in to the opposite side of them, where there is peace, and the inner beauty begins to shine forth – where we feel full and enhanced.
Now, one of the reasons why people might be resistant to the idea of non-greed, non-hate and non-delusion is that the drive – the compulsion for desires – for wanting, for pushing away, and for being hostile – is there for a reason: to try to get what we want. With the idea of not having these desires, people can feel like there's no motivation – that we cannot take care of ourselves or get what we need or protect ourselves from the encroaching masses, which are going to destroy our life or something.
But when we start discovering this beautiful capacity for peace, calm, and inner well-being, what we also start discovering is that we 'can' take care of ourselves, and we 'can' act beneficially in the world without greed. There can be wholesome desires. There can be desires to do good, to be generous. It is said that faith in Buddhism is a kind of desire, because Buddhist faith is the desire to develop the fullness and the freedom that we can have. There can be tremendously beautiful motivations coming from a peaceful heart – a heart of well-being that is not agitated, not pushing, not resisting, not fighting this world of ours, and not feeling we have to fight for everything we can get. There is a kind of Aikido movement of not resisting, not fighting, but discovering the wellsprings of a different kind of wisdom, generosity, and love or compassion. And a sense of peace where there is a tremendous capacity for creativity and engagement.
It is not so centered on self – on 'me, myself and mine' – the idea of personal identity – who I am, what I need, what I have to do, what I have to do to care for myself and protect myself: the excessive focus on 'I'. The excessive focus on one's personal identity and maintaining it is part of the what complicates greed, hate and delusion, and makes them really mucky – and dangerous, even.
To discover there are beautiful motivations within that are not self-centric. They are certainly within us, so, in that sense, they are part of our selves. But they are not centered on the egotism, the conceit or the selfishness that often go along with greed, hatred, and delusion. So one of the reasons to not want to give up greed, hate and delusion is that it seems like we are giving up self – giving up self-identity – because people may be rooted in some contracted sense of self and self-identity.
But to discover, rather, that which is not-self within – a non-contracted self, a place of non-preoccupation with identity. To discover a beauty and fullness inside where motivations can well up from the wellsprings of goodness and beauty within, without this preoccupation with self. This is a fantastic thing. This inner beauty is one reference point for becoming interested in studying and understanding greed, and hatred and delusion. Because then we really understand how greed and hatred, delusion diminish us, reduce us, and limit us, and how much more wonderful than this we are – and, oddly enough, the world also is – when we live without greed, hatred and delusion.
We will continue tomorrow on the topic of greed, and we'll take our five-day journey through these three topics. Hopefully, you will appreciate why this is such a valuable topic in Buddhism, and how liberation from greed and hate and delusion is one of the most potent expressions of what liberation is in Buddhism. Thank you very much.