Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Livelihood of Greed and Wisdom

Its no secret the financial markets of much of the world, especially in the United States, are tipping dangerously close to a modern day global crisis. Inflation is soaring, unemployment is rising and currency is being devalued faster than a VHS tape of Hee Haw at a flee market. No question that some poor government policies and a looooong leash given to investment firms and banks via deregulation have created a quagmire of worthless debt and a spidering earthquake of financial instability.

Greed is such a powerful force. Like a Heroin addict in a poppy field, greed will leave a highway of destruction through the hearts of the most righteous men. Money and power can drive us to do such selfish and shameful actions, we can get blinded by want, unmindful of those it affects. The only thing that trickles down from the top is pain, suffering and despair. Weather does not discriminate again the homeless man and hunger does not wait for payday.

What we do in our lives, the livelihood we choose, affects everyone and everything in some fashion. Even today, especially these events of the last couple of weeks, remind us that what we choice to make our money at still holds great importance in our practice. This does not mean we need to renounce money and material things or good paying jobs. It means we, as Buddhists, need to be mindful of greed and the golden mouse trap of treasure it offers.

We should enjoy the abundance earned by our hard work and the material comforts this modern world offers, as long as we are mindful. Go to Orlando, see that giant damned mouse and play Put-Put in Bermuda shorts and knee high socks, but remember to be mindful. Live in this world knowing what we do is not ultimately separate from all things, even from a family left homeless in Kansas City, Missouri or a single mother of three struggling to feed her family tonight in Dublin, Ireland.

"There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”
~Oscar Wilde


  1. Greed is really interesting to think about in these times of financial meltdown.

    On the one hand, there is definitely a certain amount of personal greed. Let's call it subjective greed, greed that is most visible in terms of a definite actor and things they are trying to have for themselves---largely dependent on subjective tastes and wants. On the other hand, there's a kind of excessive greed that exceeds all human proportions. Let's call it objective greed, because it is most visible as a systemic problem.

    I think we need to break greed down like this, because this second kind of greed is almost not greed at all, but something worse. It is the inertia that carries investment firms to create bubbles of hundreds of billions of dollars that doesn't really exist and thereby threaten all the money, real and otherwise, any of those involved have. It is responsible for the gap between a business person who seeks one billion dollars and one who seeks hundreds of billions of dollars. Particularly in the realm of high finance, it is a kind of greed that doesn't care about personal cares or wants or tastes. If we want to give this kind of greed a more familiar shape, we can call it "the profit-motive," and by so doing so we realize the cause of all this inertia: it exists for its own sake.

    When we begin to think of greed and avarice in these terms, we can start to see how widespread progressive change that is to be effective must be approached. There's a way in which we can move around and negotiate our subjective greed. I think the bigger challenge is to operate within a bigger picture that accounts for the way greed has become or arguably always been a force organizing our social life. It ultimately means rethinking buddhist practice within the realm of political organization and vice versa.

  2. Again, excellent comment Joe! You make some great points about the different manifestations of greed within our society.

    You bring up a very charged subject in Buddhism and Politics. I was thinking about doing a post about this, but I don't think i could write about it intelligently enough not to make it partisan.

    I can't say how I'd approach that because, as with our usual dualistic mind, I see it from two points of view.

    Maybe you could make a front page post about it, you write much more expressive than I.

    Thanks again for the comments Joe!