The three poisons part one: greed

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  • #2645

    This week in Malvern, I’m taking each of the three poisons as the basis for one of my short dharma talks in services. Three services, three poisons. Yesterday evening I talked about greed.

    There are a few different Sanskrit and Pali words that are translated as ‘greed’. Most of us understand greed to be not just satisfying the hunger that keeps us alive, but a wanting that goes beyond that. There are a few other English words and terms that give shade and colour to the meaning of greed, in the way the variety of Sanskrit terms might have done back in the Buddha’s day: craving, thirst, wanting-unwholesome things, compulsion, addiction…

    Why is greed one of the three poisons? It is one of the fundamental impulses or behaviours that gets in the way of wellbeing, and spiritual growth and practice. It distances us from others and from love.

    Capitalism is the social version of greed. Each person fighting to get as much as they can for themselves. Yesterday, the writer Urusla K. Le Guin died, and a friend of mine shared one of her quotes on Facebook:

    “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any Human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words”

    Perhaps there are words other than ‘I want’, that we can ground ourselves in, in order to begin this change.

    Traditionally, in Buddhism, there are two different qualities that are identified as the antidotes to greed: generosity and equanimity.

    From one point of view I can see that deliberately going out of ones way to be generous can lift one’s mood and spirit, as can telling oneself to take the rough with the smooth. From another, I know that in my own experience, if I am in the midst of feeling greedy telling myself to be generous often triggers resistance and resentment.

    I think that generosity and equanimity are what greed transforms into as the result of spiritual practice. They are the result, not the path.

    I’d like to mention ‘contentment’ – another fruit of spiritual practice. I think that contentment is the opposite of greed, rather than abstinence or austerity.  I think contentment also begins to suggest alternatives to ‘I want’.

    Grounding ourselves in ‘I enjoy’, ‘I am thankful for’ and ‘I am already supported’ begins the transformation from greed to contentment and generosity. We already have enough, or more than enough.

    In the documentary Minimalism a sociologist (Gail Stekee, I think) said that we need to be more materialistic. Not in the sense that the word is usually used, but in the sense of appreciating the true value of material things. How was this made? What is it made from? What was the cost to the Earth? How much time does this object represent?

    The more we come to appreciate what we have the less we need, the less imbalanced the wealth in the world becomes, and greed becomes enjoyment.

    Paying attention to what we have received spiritually is just as important, if not more, as paying attention to what we have receded materially. We should give our attention to the blessings of dharma that we have already received. The Buddha’s light is already shining upon us. We are already supported. Amida’s vow is complete. There is nothing else to add.

    When we act from mindfulness of the Buddha, there is no place for greed. When we are full of faith, the insecurities that drive craving are taken care of.

    Nembutsu, remembering we are already received by Amida, gives rise to contentment, which gives rise to generosity and equanimity.

  • #2654

    Vajrapala Moerman

    Thank you Kaspalita!!!! Very nice.

    Grateful for all there is already evolving to a kind off calm abiding in equanimity and generosity.

    Namo Amida Bu

  • #2662


    Thank you Kaspalita

    Namo Amida Bu

  • #2665

    Thank you, Kaspa. I particularly appreciated the last bit.

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