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Poor yet Spiritually Rich Is Rare;Rich but Spiritually Poor Is Common

January 1st, 2015

Insatiable greed leads to poverty because a greedy person always lives in a state of insufficiency, and often attempts to maximize his means to satisfy his wants. As he is constantly hungry for more, his wants will never be satisfied and that would lead to unhappiness. On the other hand, although some people are lacking in materials, their minds are calm. With a sense of contentment, they are spiritually fulfilled, thus they are not greedy at all.

One who leads a splendid life would normally not realize any crisis around easily. It is like a person concentrating only on a jar of honey he is carrying as he moves hastily, and fails to notice a deep pit. This is described in the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching. People only see the interest and benefits, but not the trap and crisis ahead of them. When we crave for sensual pleasures, we are deluded by the desires for wealth, beauty, fame, food and even sleep, and are oblivious to the crisis everywhere. Although we live a very materially-rich life, our spiritual life is gradually lacking and eventually becomes empty. This is the phenomenon in the modern era of turbidity. Thus, poor but spiritually rich people are rare, whereas, rich people with low dignity are abundant.

Our desires will never be satisfied as the more we pursue, the more we want. But, if we learn to reduce our wants, these unrealistic desires will be eradicated one day. Most people work hard to earn more money, hoping for a better life. On the contrary, if we take things easy, earn a bit less and reduce our desires, we may lead a happier life. Some people do not earn much but lead a frugal and simple life, hence are worry-free. There are some who are highly-paid yet they are still being bothered by insufficient money to spend; and their lives are very stressful due to very costly expenses.

 

Master Cheng Yen has promoted the concept of “simple living as the way to richness” to enable us to realize that contentment and gratitude are our greatest wealth while understanding and accommodation are our greatest wisdom.

 

Why do we live a busy life? What is the meaning of life? What do we benefit even if we gain the whole world? We cannot take wealth along with us when we leave this world. At times, we may be too engrossed in pleasure to be prepared for any crisis in advance due to our lack of foresight. We are spiritually lost, like the children playing happily in a house that is on fire.

Insatiable greed leads to poverty because a greedy person always lives in a state of insufficiency, and often attempts to maximize his means to satisfy his wants. As he is constantly hungry for more, his wants will never be satisfied and that would lead to unhappiness. On the other hand, although some people are lacking in materials, their minds are calm. With a sense of contentment, they are spiritually fulfilled, thus they are not greedy at all.

Confucius once praised his student, Yan Hui (颜回) for his virtues in observing a frugal life and enduring extreme distress, and yet remained joyful. Another student, Zi Gong (子贡), once asked, “Poor but not obsequious; wealthy but not arrogant. What is your thought on this?” Confucius replied, “Better still if poor but content; wealthy but well-mannered.” Hence, to be one who is poor but not toady, or one who is rich but not proud is not good enough. We should strive to be one who is poor but happy, and someone who is rich but humble.

In general, the poor would try very hard to earn more while the rich would search for fame; and those who are rich and famous would yearn for more power. During the process, if one is overcome by greed, his sense of values will change, and wrong actions will follow, resulting in bad consequences. Some become a slave to money; and in severe cases, some may inadvertently break the law and fall from grace. It all begins with just a single thought. As the saying goes, “Men will die for money just like birds will die for food”.

In mid-2014, a series of bribery cases involving construction contractors, and issues of food safety in Taiwan led to the prosecution and sentencing of officials and manufactures. The whole of Taiwan was shrouded in fear and worries. Regardless of consumers, manufacturers or officials, if we get to the root cause, it all boils down to greed.

A thief would be punished by law, with sentence served only in the present life. However, the harm from the plundering act through the five senses brings karma, which extends for many lives. Due to the serious consequences, one practises restraint. For this reason, wise people never leave the five senses – eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body – unguarded.

In early 2014, numerous Taiwanese factories in Vietnam were sabotaged and broken into as the Vietnamese Government was dissatisfied with China for oil exploration in their territorial waters. So, this is an act of revenge. Taiwanese entrepreneurs became victims of the conflict between China and Vietnam. As a matter of fact, the clashes between these two countries were also originated from greed.

 

A person’s nobility is not determined by his possessions, whether poor or rich; but by his character, whether proud or humble. Many people are greedy not because they are lacking but because they are not contented. Some people live happily on less because they are contented. These are the rich among the poor, heading from darkness to light.

 

There are some very well-to-do people, who despite owning everything are still dissatisfied. This is because greed makes them feel lacking and empty all the time, despite looking impressive and glamorous. These are the poor among the rich, moving away from light towards darkness. In Chinese language, the word “poor” (贫) and “greed” (贪) is only differentiated by one stroke. In fact, the difference is only in the mind. Stinginess is the main cause of poverty, thus we must be vigilant constantly.

Actually, each of us does possess the attributes of a Buddha or Bodhisattva in nature, but the mind becomes agitated due to the impurities that have entered through the senses. To prevent this, we have to guard our senses namely, eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. Our eyes are the window to the soul, and also the window to our desires.

Confucius once said, “Look not at what is contrary to propriety”, which means, see no wrong in things and one’s doings. Very often, we hear conflicts, gossips or negative and incorrect remarks of others. We should not hold on to what we hear. Therefore, Confucius said, “Listen not to what is contrary to propriety”, meaning hear no wrong. If we can “look, listen, speak, and act not what is contrary to propriety”, we stop reacting emotionally to what we perceive and focus on the experience within. This helps us to think rationally and act wisely, hence we can be successful in every endeavour.

In-sight and dispassion are keys to happiness. When one’s mind is turned inwards, one gains in-sight into the realities of life. Life is a dynamic process of change, as everything that exists depends on necessary conditions. However, human beings become attached to it and end in much suffering. With in-sight, it makes one dispassionate and unshaken by the vicissitudes of life. Both in-sight and dispassion are indeed the wisdom of life to live by.

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