—— © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
Note: The following article was originally part of the required readings for the “Advanced Certificate in Integral Yoga” course that the author taught in Sydney , Australia from September 2005 to August 2006 .
Most of us have a natural tendency to enjoy material pleasures perceived through the senses. We do not see anything wrong in this, but believe that the goal of life is to enjoy comforts. Therefore, we attempt to gather more and more riches, and thereby power as well. Possessing all types of luxuries, acquiring name and power are natural goals to seek, so it seems. Simplicity and frugality are seen by some of us as the attributes of lowly lethargic people- the dull and the ignorant.
Money by itself is not bad. We need money to make life better. And money is Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth). So how can there be anything wrong in wishing for prosperity? Contrary to what some religious preachers would have us believe, money is not the root of all evil; it is not even the root of any evil. It is excessive and insatiable DESIRE that is the source of all problems. Desire by itself is not wrong, especially when grounded in and guided by dharma (values). It is excessive and insatiable desire that plunges us into suffering.
Why are we so greedy? Why do we want to covet more? What do we hope to attain with all this wealth? Is it wealth that we are after? Or is it something else that we hope money will get for us? It is necessary to understand the roots of our desires, why we crave for something. We see everything as a means to something else. Even career choices are made by many largely based on their desire to earn a lot of money. If one were to ask oneself what one plans to do with the money by trading one’s time, talent and other resources on the basis of money, perhaps it may clarify the question further. Is it for a car, to move out of the parents’ house, for a house, for retirement, to be able to see or do new things, or for the power? If I can track my motives to this point, it becomes clear that the issue is no longer about money. It isn’t really even about what money can buy. It is more about our fears and insecurities in life, about our values nested within our motives. Perhaps we hope that all this wealth will bring a sense of security, or even independence in life.
Getting to the core of our desires will reveal the key values burning in the core of our desires. Why do we want what we want? Are there other ways to address these motives and values, to satisfy these desires? If one does this reflection honestly and critically we may even let go of some of the desires (of course many will still persist). For all those remaining desires, there is a struggle between what we have and what more we want to have. We suffer when we don’t have what we want to have. So how can this suffering be eradicated or even reduced?
There are two ways to not suffer from want of what we don’t have. The first is to acquire more of what we don’t have, by obtaining what we desire. The second is to limit our desires. The first is not always within our power, but surely the second is. One can change one’s mind, one’s beliefs about what we think we need in order to live the lives we want. What are my beliefs about money, power, name, fame, social life etc? Reflecting on our beliefs about these things is important as most of our beliefs go unquestioned. My life is eventually going to be shaped by my beliefs, values and thoughts. My relationship with everything- parents, spouse, children, even my relationship with self- is going to be based on this. My beliefs and values largely influence my choices in marriage, career, residence etc. What is the package that will make me happy, or content? What is my belief about this? What does this package contain? What combination of things will make me happy? How many houses? How many children? How many achievements? Put some time into reflecting on a few of these combinations and what they are comprised of. Such a reflection will shed some light on the key desires, values and beliefs operating in one’s life.
Now, can I prioritize what I want? After all, we have only so much time, life, money, and energy to work with while our craving is insatiable. No matter what we become, gain, or achieve, we want more. Our craving is like the ghee (clarified butter) fuelling the fire; the more ghee we pour, the more intense the sacrificial fire. What is the result? Since we can’t have everything we want, frustration and unhappiness are the result unless we learn how to curb our craving, our greed.
“From craving arises grief, from craving arises fear.
To one free of craving, there is no grief, whence then fear”
—- Dhammapada, 215
Greed, avarice, covetousness, craving, this is the cause of much of our suffering as well as our misplaced values in life. What might be the source of this greed, this intense craving? Perhaps our mistaken association between happiness and accumulation of things; perhaps fear; perhaps both. Although fear can cause greed, ironically, greed causes more fear. As the wise one guides “He who considers wealth a good thing can never bear to give up his income; he who considers eminence a good thing can never bear to give up his fame. He who has a taste for power can never bear to hand over authority to others. Holding tight to these things, such men shiver with fear; should they let them go, they would pine in sorrow.”
Isn’t it true that if our desires are endless, our cares and fears too will be endless? As for becoming richer, a greedy person can never be rich. For the poor are not those who have little, but those who crave much. Our greed and craving is endless. Can we ever rest long enough on our laurels? Can we rest long enough after our achievements? Within a few moments of experiencing the greatest achievements, many of us are busy setting our sights on a new horizon that promises to deliver more! In the very fulfillment of desire, is engendered passion, with the pleasure and the pain of it. We always ask for more, far more, plenty more. Sadly we fail to see the simplest of all truths. Greed destroys so many things. It is the origin of many other evils too. It leads to envy. It leads to over-indulgence, to lack of self control. It leads one to neglect other important things in life, among which relationships are foremost. Greed destroys our relationships, our peace, our happiness, our health, in fact everything. Most important it restricts our true potential. It destroys our ability to actualize the greatest possibilities of being a human being. We sacrifice the highest to attain more of the ordinary. Am I just living out an old formula of what should make me happy (that too someone else’s formula), or am I responding to the true blossoming of my heart’s yearning? Awareness of the roots of my desires is crucial not only to being content, but also to the unfolding and blossoming of my true potential.
How do I hear the voice of the true yearnings of my heart amidst the clattering of everyday needs and habitual cravings? In the face of perpetual and ever-increasing wants, can I really discern what I truly long for? – Can I recognize that which is truly worthy of the investment of my time, talent and devotion? Can I release myself from the chains of habitual wanting? Can I free myself from the prison of my own mind so that I can fully concentrate the powers of my being to a grander vision, a vision that perhaps has my name written on it?
Some may argue that all this philosophy is okay for a monk or a bachelor, but not for one with a family. I believe that it really doesn’t matter whether one is married or not, whether one has children or not. On the contrary it maybe all the more, more important for a person with children because we have an additional responsibility of setting precept through our lives, our choices and our values in life, to our children. Today’s children are born into and live in an atmosphere of consumerism and commercialism, that it is all the more a concern. The television has replaced age-old family rituals such as family dinners. Family bonding is low as each of us is glued to the television. The TV has nearly replaced sacred rituals and chanting long back. Even prayers are done by using videos and tapes. The television along with the advertisements shapes our world-view, our cosmology. One of the cliches for how to construct an ad captures the point succinctly: “An ad’s job is to make them unhappy with what they have.” We are blind to the fact that consumerism has become the dominant world faith now. Consumerism is a kind of religion now alongside scientific materialism.
We need to teach our children at an early age, how to deal with endless desire, endless craving for more. And there is only one way to teach little children- by precept than by preaching. Our children’s beliefs are shaped in part by our own beliefs and values. This is more important than we can ever imagine. Our beliefs and values shape our will, what we quest for, and this shapes our destiny. As the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad tells us, “As is a man’s will, so is his action; as is his action, so he becomes’ (V 4.5).
Some may resist by asserting that it is easy to preach but hard to practice. Numerous householder seers and saints have set the example by precept. Almost all of the vedic seers were householders. Vasishta, Parasara, Vyasa, Agastya, Yajnavalkya- the list is endless. Many of the siddhas too were householders. Likewise the Sikh gurus. Nanak, Kabir, Tukaram, and most of the Vaisnava acaryas, were all householders. In more modern times there are many like Vasishta Ganapati muni, Lahiri Mahasay, Mahendranath Gupta (the biographer of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna), and Yogi Sivananda Murthy (who is still alive) to name a few. A sincere study of their lives will illustrate that craving has more to do with our world view than with a stage of life.
In today’s world of consumerism and show-off, the younger generation has fatal attraction to western cultural values, American to be more precise. The role of the ancient yogic virtue of contentment is grossly underrated even by long time aspirants on the spiritual path. As if material consumerism were not enough, we have now what is called ‘spiritual consumerism’ too. Spirituality is also a commodity today! Before it is too late, let us teach ourselves and our children the true spirit behind the yogic virtue of contentment. Yoga starts with a change of our life-values, our world-view.