Presidents Guidance

From Kosei,
September 2023

Greed Is a Source of Troubles

Greedy Desire Beckons Disaster

As noted by the Chinese poet Du Shenyan (645–708), autumn is a time “of skies clear and blue, and horses growing stout.” Autumn is also said to be the season of a good appetite. It is a blessing that as the heat eases up, our appetites increase, and we can relish everything we eat. Of course, we should try to remember moderation so that we do not regret overeating.

If you have a good appetite and are worried about gaining a little weight, you should be able to lose it by reducing the amount you eat, but to use Shakyamuni’s expression, “People who greedily pursue their various worldly desires are beaten down by many delusions and trampled on by danger and disaster,” which tells us how much damage strong desires, such as greed, do to our bodies and minds. Indeed, people who are too greedy will be “trampled on by danger and disaster,” which is hardly a trifling matter.

According to this passage from the Sutta Nipata, because people have a “greedy desire for their fields and houses; [men,] women, and relatives; and various other things,” their obsessions with excessive desire for money and assets, as well as love and affection, give rise to envy, anger, and hatred of themselves and others, and that is the source of falling prey to the disaster we call “trouble.” Another possibility is that disaster takes the form of the stress of being shunned by people who think you are greedy, which can affect your physical health.

Shakyamuni also said, “When people who give rise to greed are unable to fulfill their desires, they worry and suffer as though they were shot by arrows.” In his own day, Shakyamuni must have actually seen and heard about people who were suffering like this and there may have been those who at times suffered the “disaster” of being harmed violently because their excessive greed made them constantly fight with others around them. Shakyamuni must have felt firsthand that people who greedily pursued their desires were quite remote from a healthy lifestyle and had nothing but suffering lying in wait for them.

We human beings are said to be social animals, but unlike other animals that do not eat more than they need, sometimes we are unable to hold our desires in check. Therefore, it is essential that in the spirit of benefiting others, we practice daily diligence in order to keep our desires moderate.

The Happiness of Enjoying Satisfaction

It is not a bad thing, though, that we human beings have desires. Shakyamuni had the great desire to liberate all people from suffering. Grounded in the mind of compassion and benefiting others, he pursued this great desire and finally revealed the Truth, or the Dharma, that brings happiness to everyone. Of course, this same desire of Shakyamuni’s is embedded in our lives and has become the wellspring for developing and improving humanity.

When greed is out of control, however, it turns into delusions that become troubles and worries. People suffer when things do not happen as they wish, and they are tormented all the more by suffering if, in order to satisfy themselves, their recklessness damages their personal relationships. To prevent this from happening, Buddhism teaches us the importance of “having little desire and knowing satisfaction”—that is, knowing how to keep our desires in check. If we can put this teaching into practice, we can avoid the physical and mental pain caused by unbridled desires. But even though we know this, we cannot always do it.

Therefore, I would like to mention another phrase, “small desires and knowing satisfaction,” in which the word “little” is changed to “small.” The impression it gives is almost the same as “having little desire and knowing satisfaction,” but according to the Pali meaning of the words corresponding to “small desires” and “knowing satisfaction,” the phrase “small desires and knowing satisfaction” means something like “being happy with the necessary and sufficient amount.” The Chinese Buddhist scholar and translator Xuanzang (602–664), known in Japan as Sanzo Hoshi, had a profound grasp of the meaning of “knowing satisfaction,” which he rephrased as “enjoying satisfaction”—in other words, to be satisfied is to be happy. If you know that happiness means satisfying the necessary and sufficient amount of your desire, you will want to experience the joy of being satisfied, and then you will naturally be able to control your desire. Moreover, because this is easier to accept than being told to know what it means to be satisfied, you can relax and control your desires, can’t you?

Most of all, I believe there is no healthier, happier way to live than being happy with the necessary and sufficient amount of anything in life.