Chairs homily July 2022
A little while ago, there was laid out before me, a vast array of food, a veritable buffet for the gods. You may be able to imagine that the chance and pressure to be greedy was strong. I was on holiday, one of the all-inclusive kinds, and the chefs had set out a great spread of tasty morsels for us guests.
This was definitely Greed, one of the three Kleshas or poisons at the heart of the Buddha’s understanding of the cause of our dissatisfaction with our lives. The central driving force of the wheel of life, keeping us repeating the same old mistakes, time and time again. The Buddha also referred to these three, ‘Greed Hatred and Delusion’ as fires, to really make sure we understood the burning passion with which we, and those around us, engage with these them.
So at every mealtime, I was presented with a seemingly limitless array of delicious treats. Greed kicked in very quickly. Easily overriding my bodies already stomach-full state. In its own way, each of these plates of delight was offered to make my world better. To satisfy my feeling that the world, my world, is not quite right and just by eating this small plate of food it would be fixed. But I do know that as soon as that plate has been eaten, then I will not be satisfied and the next desirable plate will come into focus. Bright and full of promise that it cannot possibly meet.
I notice that within my experience there is also a subtle form of hate. Being vegetarian much of the buffet is out of bounds. But instead of feeling grateful that my choice and therefore temptation is reduced, I am angry that my choice has been limited. Don’t the chefs know I need a limitless array of different foods? Don’t they know how important it is that I need to be as greedy as greedy can be!
I cannot win! And in fact, just make it more and more difficult for myself. My perception of the world is clothed in ignorance; my ignorance about how I am continually looking for opportunities to be greedy or hateful. I must continually correct my view, I must be continually on guard for my own ignorant way of looking at things, rather than the real world around me.
During the Buddha’s time he also had to draw attention to his disciple’s tendency to overeat. It is interesting to note that in the list of 15 qualities that someone who has already obtained Real Going for Refuge (traditionally called stream-entry), needs to develop to become fully awakened; is still the simple practice of not overeating. So I am in good company, but I must be vigilant.
If you would like the full list then see ‘The Practice for One in Training’ – (Sekha-paṭipadā Sutta (MN 53)).
This list finishes with the four Dhyanas, which ties nicely together meditation and awareness of what is happening in our experience. So we become aware of how we are habitually and negatively reacting to situations in which we find ourselves. As we practice more meditation not only do we become aware but we are also able to stop ourselves from falling into old habits and patterns of behavior, such as greed.
I realise that the greed I am feeling when confronted by a large buffet is an ancient one, far older even than me. It is a reaction of someone who is just surviving so if food is plentiful then I need to eat whilst it’s available for tomorrow I may be starving. But on this holiday I won’t be starving, so my greed is unnecessary and I need to match my needs to my real level of hunger.
A modern take on greed is the acronym FOMO, fear of missing out. To stave off any sense of lack in our lives we want everything. So in my example, I feel I must try everything on the buffet so that I do not miss a thing.
But sometimes greed is not simple, it can be that the thing that you grasp after is only a distraction from the thing that you are really greedy for. So you might go shopping and buy clothes you don’t need, thus creating a greed so that you don’t feel the pain of not having, or fulfilling the greed you have for, say, someone’s affection.
And there is greed for just experience, a craving for novel events to enrich your life. Unfortunately, this also has the effect of creating a stronger, more permanent sense of self. We think how can this being that has experienced so much die? The poignant lines from the film Blade Runner come to mind:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… Time to die”.
The simple life that the Buddha advocated, is the opposite of a life of continually seeking experiences but a life that gets the most from any experience, irrespective of the nature of that experience.
As the Buddha said, in his last words “diligently strive on”, and as it is dinner time again, so I must go and face another of life’s opportunities to practice.
July is another full month at the Buddhist Centre, we have another festival, Dharma Day, where we celebrate and enjoy the Buddha’s teachings that reach us across thousands of years yet still speak to us with a fresh voice if we are prepared to listen.
And talking of voices we have the first meeting of the Centre’s choir on Saturday. So do come along to that and support Sue Double and team. Singing is a great way to improve mental and physical health and a unique way to engage with the dharma.
So I look forward to seeing you at the Centre soon.