Some Thoughts on Greed

The outcome of greed is the accumulation and hoarding of resources. This process is based on the belief that the more objects, money or possessions one has the happier one becomes. The other outcome of greed is that in a society dominated by a materialistic world-view it creates a hierarchy that bestows power on the ones who possess the most.

 The fact is that these beliefs are erroneous; often the excessive accumulation of possessions leaves one restless and unhappy. That is so because there is no thing, being or event, which can provide lasting happiness. In fact, the mad pursuit after objects creates this discord, restlessness, and sustains a continuous hunger for more and more possessions. The value that a materialistic society attaches to material things gives the ones who have the most great power, which is most often misused to acquire even more possessions at the expense of those who are not as powerful. It is important to remember though, that this power in the hands of the rich is sustained only by the prevailing social paradigm and it would vanish like a mirage, with the changing of social values.

 The disharmonious hoarding of resources is unsustainable. In nature, which we are part of there is a continuous tendency toward balance in each and every biosphere. Humans are part of a large number of interconnected biospheres, which human society is but one such environment. This abnormal plot against nature’s way depletes the resources and contaminates the physical as well as mental environments; this can be observed and discerned from the state of our ailing planet, social discontent and personal suffering born of greed.

 The information mentioned above is not new to the educated and open minds of many, yet there seem to be a lack of a solution, an antidote to this malady. The yogi masters do offer an advice, which is a comprehensive remedy to problem of greed. First, one must recognize the fact that he/she participates in the belief that ‘the more one has - the happier one becomes’ and reflect on its validity. “Is this belief true? Does the accumulation of possessions bring me lasting happiness? And if not why is this so?” The answers need to come from one’s own observations and be based on clear, rational and unbiased thinking. This kind of thinking will free one from any erroneous notions and pave the way to making better choices.

 Secondly, the actual remedy is simplifying one’s life by reducing to some degree one’s wants and cravings; the advice is to adopt “simple living and high thinking”. One is not urged to give up material comforts, but rather to reduce need for and the mad chase after them; this will result in a much more contented life. This advice does not advocate complacency; on the contrary, it urges all to participate fully in life, though it would be a life that will not yield to the social pressure of greed. It is a way of living that is based on freeing oneself from bias; it is a life in the light of moral values that are rooted both in reason and in good intentions.  It is easier said then done, one may think, but with reflection on the problems greediness brings to the planet, society and every individual, it becomes easier to follow this advice. 

 There are various ways of reducing one’s wants of which one of the loveliest is the practice of Gratitude. This does not require a religious belief, only an acknowledgement of the fact that this universe provides great opportunities and much riches that are often taken for granted; this body, this mind, these friends, this grocery store, that book, etc. The universe provides all that is needed for one’s spiritual evolution into a realm of greater peace and contentment.

 The daily practice of encountering our discontent with gratitude, our sense of lack with the openness to see the wondrous aspects of life even in the midst of daily struggles is a great way of transforming greed. The practice of living more simply and cheerfully will slowly transform society as well. The current human trajectory is unsustainable and will eventually lead to our planet’s demise. It is worthwhile to invest in this transformation; it will not happen overnight, but it is the correct path for humanity at this time and at this evolutionary stage.

Loneliness, Togetherness and Oneness

The opposite of loneliness is togetherness, but the true cure for loneliness is Oneness. The need for togetherness, close bonds, a loving relationship, or friendship is one of the strongest motive forces in the human mind. When the impulse for togetherness is unfulfilled, then it becomes a mighty force in the psyche. Human beings do not thrive alone; seeking each other’s company is as natural as eating or drinking. It is so very essential and habitual that most do not attempt to investigate this need’s origin. The preoccupation with, the longing for, the exalted position of romantic love in many cultures is but an example of how important is togetherness. 

In fact, the worst punishment that prisoners have to endure is what is called solitary confinement. Isolation is toughest punishment to endure. People who are subjected to long periods of isolation will likely suffer from mental-emotional difficulties or may go insane. 

Even during times when the human mind craves solitude, one finds this need arising in different guises. A person retiring to live in the wilderness may find companionship with a dog; a person stricken by grief over the loss of a loved one may isolate themselves, but will keep longing for the company of the departed person; a person seeking solitude in nature may find himself communing with trees, flowers animals etc.; a person in need of some alone time after a long day at work may read a book (engaging in imaginary company) or watch some TV observing other humans interact.

Thus, companionship is the sought after salve to sooth the suffering born of loneliness. But does this desired connectedness truly satisfy the heart? Is it truly the antidote to the ailment of loneliness? For the pain caused by the sense of alienation, estrangement, abandonment, rejection and isolation is often waiting in the shadows only inches away from the light cast by companionship. 

To make the subject even more complex, the feelings of togetherness or loneliness are not objective experiences, rather they are mind states. This means that one could feel lonely even while being surrounded by loved ones and vs. versa, one can do well even while deprived of close bonds with other humans. Good examples for the first are the lives of many a famous people who have fame, fortune, numerous admirers and yet often feel isolated and friendless. On the other hand, one hears stories of POWs or political prisoners who have survived torture, depravation and isolation only by keeping their inner flame lit focusing their mind on their goal, ideal, loved ones or hope for a better future.

The last paragraph might be viewed as contradicting the statements made previously, but is it? The fact is that all of human thoughts, attitudes, feelings, views, impulses, and even sense perceptions are within the domain of the mind. They may originate in circumstances external to the individual or in conditioned patterns of the mind, i.e. internal. Whether the origin of loneliness or connectedness is subjective, objective or a combination of both, the condition of the human mind is such that it thrives when if feels connected and supported and declines when not. 

All human relationship are subject to ups and downs. There is no permanence in any connection; it will flourish at times and wither at others. Moreover, all relationship have their expiration date, whether it is the doing of the people involved, circumstances or death. Accordingly the need for togetherness is at times fulfilled bringing joy, while at other times denied and one is left wanting. History, literature, movies, plays, songs, paintings and such are a testament to the changeable and often fickle nature of relationship of all kinds. Most tragedies and comedies are about or derived from this complex and unsteady nature of human connections.

The above statements are not a pessimistic, negative view of the subject; they are but an observation of the human condition. Throughout human history many wise observations were made about this state of affairs; art, psychology and philosophy have all contributed to illuminating the subject. So, why is love, relationship, connectedness and also their opposite so very unstable? In essence and without going into detail - all things and circumstances are subject to constant change. Internally, all mind states, thoughts, feelings, moods, attitudes etc. are ever changing, consequently all that they support is subject to change. Therefore, togetherness and loneliness are bound to interplay and alternate.  

According to the yogi masters the actual ‘remedy’ for the emotional and existential loneliness that plagues the human mind is the experience of Oneness. They state that our own True Nature is one, homogenous, indivisible, Being, knowledge and Bliss (or love). This claim that they make is based on their explorations and not on a mere whim, speculation or faith, and it can be verified by reason and one’s first hand experience. They tell us that our desire for togetherness is but a shadow cast by our profound desire for Oneness. It is our essential Oneness of being, the indivisibility of the universe, the homogenous nature of Reality that beckons us back into Itself. We long to be together, we thrive on affection and love because our natural condition is not of isolation or togetherness, but rather a Being that transcends both. This Oneness of being is not somewhere else outside of ourselves, but rather it is our True Self. In other words, the desire for love is the desire for union with the beloved. Union in its true sense is a state of completion where there are not two (or more), but one indivisible being. This desire for love is but a natural extension of our longing for our True Self, Wholeness or Oneness (synonymous terms).

This brief essay is not meant to discredit the merit of togetherness or to undermine the importance of human connection. It is only an attempt to put things in a perspective that may be useful for avoiding unnecessary suffering. A spiritual master may recommend to a seeker a period of solitude, yet not for all and certainly they don’t advocate forced isolation. The way recommended is not one of avoidance (of relationship), but one of a changed attitude. Instead of seeking togetherness in order to avoid loneliness, they may recommend using togetherness as well as loneliness to realize Oneness. The path of seeking through human connection for our core that is Oneness may be a beneficial one for most of us bringing us within reach of the goal. We can transform our relationships by our spiritual intention and practice into a journey toward Oneness.

A modest greeting on the path

A little flower popping it’s head through the hard, dry soil of a well trodden path reminded me of the exuberance and tenacity of life and how it finds its expression despite what we consider difficult circumstances. After taking its photo, as I continued to amble down the trail recalling the image, my thoughts turned to the greater story of life the one that is currently hidden from the scope of western science, but affirmed by the spiritual traditions of the world.

Because western science limits its view to consider all phenomena to be materially based, it sees life as originating from carbon based molecules that somehow have the capacity to replicate themselves, or reproduce creating variations. This is an arbitrary choice which cannot resolve many questions about the universality of life, about the amazing interconnectedness of things and beings, about its amazing complexity etc. But beyond these questions and the speculations of the intellect, there is a sense or a whisper in the background of most people’s minds. It’s a feeling that you get when spending time in nature; a feeling that life is much grander than organic molecules doing their little dance. 

Luckily, spiritual teachings remind us that this sense is not incorrect, that Life is not restricted but all inclusive. It is not that this little flower is alive and it’s surrounding is inert, but rather that All is alive or that Life is the whole of existence. There is no real separation between alive and inert, sentient and insentient, alive or dead. Life does not belong to the organism, rather life expresses itself through organisms as well as through matter, energy and thought. The spiritual masters experience this and inform us that what we consider to be the death of an organism is nothing but a change and not a loss of life; it is only a transition from one form to another within Life.

The most reassuring aspect of the teachings is that this is not a belief, an irrational whim of those who lack ‘scientific’ training. It is a Knowledge that can be known or ‘experienced’ by anyone who is seriously interested in knowing, moreover, this Knowledge of Life is confirmed by solid reason. Yet, it is not merely intellectual knowledge; it is a direct intuitive knowledge.

This flower, the soil, the sun, the breeze, the observer and his thoughts, the interconnectedness of all beings in its biosphere, the space in which it exists are various expressions is Life. Life does not start or end with a tenacious little flower, in fact, it does not start or end, it Is. Life expresses itself through all there is, but it is a mystery because our minds can not comprehend its scope, as they are part of it. This is the wonderful message of the spiritual teachings. The one who walked by the flower, the cracked soil, the flower and the reader are expressions of the One Life.