Giving and Taking

Greed,

Aversion,

Delusion,

Anger,

Contempt, and

Conceit

I recently gave a Dhamma talk at a friend’s Sangha where I was asked the same question I am usually asked when I teach at Christian and secular events. It always seems that the same question arises, “Why are we here?” I then have to ask for clarification, “Do you mean what is the meaning of life or do you mean what was the cause of your birth?”

The answer to the “meaning of life” question is always easy – there is no meaning inherent in life. You decide what meaning you believe you have to your life. This is the great secret of the universe. Philosophers, especially in the West have been pondering this question for thousands of years. Why waste your time pondering when all you have to do is open your eyes.

The answer to the second question requires more thought. I don’t think many people are interested in the mechanism that brought us into existence at the time of our conception, if indeed, that is when we come into existence. The Catholic Church as late as 1954 thought we gained a “soul” (whatever that really means) three days after our expulsion from our mother’s womb. God seems to have changed his mind about that. What the question seems to beg is an answer to what causes us to be born in the first place. From the Buddhist perspective the answer is a mixed bag of good news and bad news revolving around the law of kamma.

We are born in this realm because the kamma that propels consciousness from one plane of existence to another was pretty good. It landed us in the perfect spot to gain enlightenment in a single lifetime. On the other hand, our kamma is going to keep us here unless we do something about. In other words, most of us have the kamma not to become enlightened.

The Buddha’s main topic in the Itivuttaka is kamma. He tells us exactly why we are here in the first six sections of the work. He lists the proclivity towards greed, aversion, delusion, anger, contempt, and conceit as the reasons we have not reached the state of awakening. It’s a little like saying, “you have not yet awakened because you have issues.” Well, we do have issues and they all revolve around delusion, greed and ill will.

The six hindrances mentioned by the Buddha is an elaboration of the basic three: passion (lobha), aversion (dosa), and delusion (moha). In § 15 the Buddha says, “Monks, I don’t envision even one other fetter — fettered by which beings conjoined go wandering & transmigrating on for a long, long time — like the fetter of craving (tanha). Fettered with the fetter of craving, beings conjoined go wandering & transmigrating on for a long, long time.” If craving, called greed in § 1, is abandoned then non-returning is guaranteed. A non-returner (anagami) has achieved the third of the four levels of Awakening. On reaching this level, one will never be reborn in this world. A non-returner who does not go on to attain arahantship in this lifetime will be reborn in the Brahma worlds called the Pure Abodes and will attain nibbana there.

As human beings we can crave a lot of things. Because we are in the West and highly materialistic, greed and craving usually bring to mind things like money, good food, living somewhere other than the cold and damp Midwest, and generally things we think will make us feel better about ourselves and give us pleasure. But there are other things that give us pleasure as well, and we crave them even more. These are things like good health, beauty, youth, self-esteem, the “need to be heard” even when we have nothing of value to say. We crave these things with all our might and they are harder to let go.

When we believe in our own self-image we want others to believe it too. If a person sees himself or herself as a great organizer they want others to value their organizational skills. It doesn’t matter that when they come home they find three weeks worth of laundry scattered all over the house because they could not put them in the closet. It doesn’t matter that they are days or weeks behind in paying their bills. It doesn’t matter that they never seem to have enough time to finish the jobs they start. They still see themselves as a great organizer and demand others believe they are too, even though they have demonstrated they are not.

Wanting to be seen is a craving. Wanting to be seen as something specific or special is normal but still delusional. There are a lot of things that are normal in our culture and lives that are swollen by forms of mental illness. That we seemingly take for granted.  All of them fall into one of three classes of hindrances passion (lobha), aversion (dosa), and delusion (moha) and these have their roots in delusion alone.

“It’s only natural to want to be loved” we tell ourselves, but we have sold ourselves a bill of goods. We crave love because we feel incomplete. We feel incomplete because we do not appreciate ourselves. We have been told from the moment of our birth that we need intimacy but we are rarely told that we have to be intimate with ourselves first. We really don’t spend anytime exploring our nature, our origins, our thoughts and the un-reality of our emotions, aka “feelings.”  We worship our feelings, we have made them idols and the marketplace has capitalized on this form of insanity. Whatever it is that you desire it is because you deserve it and for a price they will provide it. We become obsessed with it even if we can only experience it vicariously. This is one of the reasons we crave to be entertained. We cannot be America’s Idol so we vicariously become America’s Idol by watching and voting for persons on the TV. We applaud them and some even constructs cults around them. We do the same with sports figures. I cannot be the quarterback for a winning team so I will be a fan of a quarterback for a winning team. I cannot be president of the United States but I can vote for the person I want to be president, the one that thinks most like me.

We believe our feelings are truth. One feels that things should be run differently at the company they work for. They would be a better executive director than the director they have. They tell the whole world that the executive director is wrong and he or she should do it differently. But the complainer is not the executive director but the complainer craves to be the executive director.

I am always struck by the fact that employers hire professionals to do jobs the employer is incapable of doing. Eventually the employer will inevitably tell the professional how to do their job when the employer doesn’t have a clue of how to do the job ­– that’s why they hired the professional in the first place. It starts with the idea “I can do the job” and then believing it and then wanting others to believe it.

We no longer present ourselves to others. Today we sell ourselves to others.

These are examples of greed. We have bought into a myth of what life ought to be like and the myth is bogus leading to greater stress and sorrow in our lives. Our materialistic culture supports unhappiness. The more unhappy a person is the more he or she is likely to go in search of something that will make him or her happy. Greed and unhappiness are both supported by the marketplace. The unhappier you are the richer the predators will be. Oh, did I say predator? Yes, I did. That’s all the marketers are. For $19.99 they will sell you something to make you feel happier about yourself or your life. Then they’ll sell you a new and improved version of the same thing that didn’t work before. Oh, did I mention that too is greed?

That too is greed.

The very thought, “I want to be . . . “ or “I wish I had . . . “ or “If only . . .” is a sign of greed entering your life. But it is also sign that you are buying into a delusion. The delusion is that you cannot be happy unless something that is outside of you is brought to you. It’s like the young man who cannot be happy unless Salma Heyak falls in love with him. What are the chances of that happening? Slim to none, I would imagine so we can welcome the young man to a continued life of misery.

The good news is that reality is available to us. We tend to avoid reality because it doesn’t fit into our wishful thinking. If we can let go of the wishful thinking then we can actually be happier. We have want in our lives because we don’t want what we have but want what we don’t have. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we operated the other way around?

Because we have we crave we also have aversion. It’s a cosmic law. If you are grasping at something then you are also pushing something else away. We often don’t notice that. If I desire something it is because I don’t want something I already have or think I have. We don’t desire things just because we don’t have them. Take the Salma Heyak fan. The young man desires her love and companionship not because he does not have her love and companionship. He grasps at her because there is something else in his life to which he is experiencing aversion. He doesn’t want to be lonely, or unattractive, or unpopular, or any number of things but he “feels” that if he has Salma Heyak all these other things will go away. They won’t. The things that he has aversion to will still be in his life until he lets go of them. Until he lets go of his craving for Salma Heyak he will never find what it is he thinks he is lacking and wake up every morning and find his aversions still waking up with him.

If we are trying to go somewhere we are also trying to get away from somewhere.  In truth, there is nowhere to go. Life will not change if we continue to take our baggage with us..

From the Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones

§ 1. This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon greed as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return.” This is the meaning of what the Blessed One said. So with regard to this it was said:  The greed with which
beings go to a bad destination,

coveting:
from rightly discerning that greed,
those who see clearly

let go.

Letting go,

they never come to this world

again.
This, too, was the meaning of what was said by the Blessed One, so I have heard.

§ 2. This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard:

“Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon aversion as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return.”
The aversion with which
beings go to a bad destination,

upset:
from rightly discerning that aversion,
those who see clearly

let go.

Letting go,

they never come to this world

again.

§ 3. This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon delusion as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return.”
The delusion with which
beings go to a bad destination,

confused:
from rightly discerning that delusion,
those who see clearly

let go.

Letting go,
they never come to this world

again.

§ 4.  This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon anger as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return.”
The anger with which
beings go to a bad destination,

enraged:
from rightly discerning that anger,
those who see clearly

let go.

Letting go,
they never come to this world

again.
§ 5.  This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon contempt as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return.”
The contempt with which
beings go to a bad destination,

disdainful:
from rightly discerning that contempt,
those who see clearly

let go.

Letting go, they never come to this world

again.

§ 6.  This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon conceit as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return.”
The conceit with which
beings go to a bad destination,

proud:
from rightly discerning that conceit,
those who see clearly

let go.

Letting go, they never come to this world

again.

§ 7.    This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Monks, one who has not fully known & fully understood the All, 1whose mind has not been cleansed of passion for it, has not abandoned it, is incapable of putting an end to stress. But one who has fully known & fully understood the All, whose mind has been cleansed of passion for it, has abandoned it, is capable of putting an end to stress.”
Knowing the All

from all around,
not stirred by passion

for anything at all:
he, having comprehended

the All,
has gone beyond

all stress.

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About Sensei Mui

Sensei Mui (officially Venerable Shaku Mui Shin Shi, aka Bhikkhu Anadabhaya), is not a Theravada monk nor a Mahayana monk. He is a Buddhist monk who took formal refuge and bhikkhu ordination as a Theravada monk in Thailand in the Dhammayuttika Tradition, in 1971. He remained in Thailand until 1975, he received his doctorate in Buddhist Studies, specializing in the Abhidhamma, in 1976. He returned to the United States in thereafter. He spent two years studying Pure Land Buddhism and took ordination as a Dharma Teacher. He also studied Soto Zen for two years and underwent unsai tokudo as a Zen monk. Later he was ordained as a Tendai monk. He is the Spiritual and Executive Director of the Hongaku Jodo Compassionate Lotus Tendai Tradition and the Director of Buddhist Education for the Hongaku Institute of Buddhist Studies. He has been the author of a dozen courses including, Pali Canon Studies, Abhidhamma Studies, Death and Dying: a Buddhist Perspective, Taming the Monkey, and The Way of the Mind. Sometimes called a Theravadin disguised as a Mahayana monk, Sensei filters the Mahayana Canon and teachings through the lens of the Pali Canon teaching only the core teaching of the Buddha.
Aside | This entry was posted in Buddhism, Core Teaching of the Buddha and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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