I used to think we could all be less greedy – that if we wanted less “stuff” we would be happier, and some of that wealth would be shared with the poor. Apparently this simple shift has the power to end world hunger – the rich do with less, so the poor can have more. More recently I have realised that when I contemplate greed I have been wondering if it is actually a human problem that we have the ability to change? Or is greed simple a part of all life’s struggle to survive?
In a universe that (at least at present) is constantly expanding, getting more and more complex, and consuming more and more space, could greed be a universal constant? Is greed embedded in our DNA?
Check out this greedy monkey!
Maybe greed is so deep in our nature, it’s not something that can be fought? Maybe we humans are just greedy monkeys, so we just have to accept ourselves and allow greed to be?
If we accept greed, and hence accept that humans will always want more and better, should we give up on dealing with this elephant? While reading a book on religions in Nepal, I noted a Taoist teaching: “DO NOT QUIT”. So let us take their advice, and continue.
Also in Nepal, I met some travelers who were happily living a nomadic non-attached way of life.
“Money will come when, and if, I need it,” the cool collected hippy explained. She had been traveling for over 15 years or more, living on nothing yet living in abundance. “When you are traveling cheap you really don’t need much.” At $3 a roof over your head, and $2 for a massive meal, you are talking $1500 a year, so if you spent a few years working to save up $100,000 you could retire for life. We really don’t need much to survive. Especially if, like this hippy’s neighbor, you paraglide from place to place! Now that’s seriously “following the wind”. And no footprint whatsoever.
“Desire nothing, enjoy everything.” I think there is something in this Buddhist-approach to life – I definitely prefer life when I’m not fussing over money.
But how about non-attachment to other things? Do we really want to give up our desires?
Isn’t some attachment is what life is all about? Isn’t it the desire for something we don’t have, what keeps us going?
Be it attachment to people you love, attachment to a job you enjoy, attachment to a computer that carries hours upon hours worth of writing on it, or attachment to life itself, I’m not so sure I want to let that part of life go… There is something to be said for life’s dynamism – for the highs and lows, for the enjoyment that comes from pain and fear that adjoins attachment – it keeps things interesting. A life lived completely without attachment may contain no suffering, but it also (in my opinion) doesn’t contain much joy.
Of this book on religion the Taoist philosophies really resonated with me, mainly because Taoism values the opposites, the ups and downs, the yin and yang, rather than wishing them away. Taoists describe“Ziran” – state of “self-so” which means living in a state of being that ‘allows things and circumstances to unfold’. I really like this idea – connecting to everything, and allowing the most desirable scenarios manifest in reality.
Taoists describe the universe as our body, and the universe our nature; and they recommend we ‘keep in mind both the manifested and the unrevealed sides of the ultimate reality’ – I like these ideas too. We know the many things we know, but we must never forget there is SO SO SOOOO MUCH THAT WE DO NOT, AND CANNOT KNOW.
According to the Taoists, ‘The Way” is found in balance, in knowing what is enough – and they say that learning to say “enough” is achieved through an ‘intuitive observation of oneself and the universe’.
Coming back to my question from yesterday: can Buddha help us deal with the elephant in the room? Can finding inner peace help us do something about the population problem? I guess feeling peaceful inside ourselves can open the channels to creative solutions (like that magic biodegradable bag they put my underwear in), so I wonder, if we combine this with the idea of learning how to say “enough”, can we start to shrink the elephant?
References on Taoism:
Bede Bidlock, Why I Am A Believer: Personal Reflections On Nine World Religions – edited by Arvind Sharma (2007) p.200.