On relationships, greed and generosity

- through Francois Leclercq

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Once upon a time there was a man who gave away his children in order to prove that he could master letting go. When his wife returned home, she thought his approach made sense. But does he?

Earlier this year, during a discussion on the Death Dhamma podcast, Dr. Seth Zuihō Segall reminded me of the importance of our relationships with others. Specifically, he mentioned the fact that we need other humans to thrive. He said:

Our relationships with our parents and our spouses, our children, our friends, those who would give the most meaning and the most fulfillment to our lives. If we give them up, we are giving up a major area where we could actually create well-being for ourselves. And I will also say that it is in this area of ​​relationships that it is the most crucial place to practice mindfulness, fairness, compassion and loving kindness. All the virtues we try to develop along the Buddhist path.

There are monks and nuns who practice in solitude and attain enlightenment. There are also monks and nuns who live side by side with others, teach the rest of us, and achieve enlightenment. The rest of us are lucky because we benefit from the meditations and goodwill generated by solo practitioners and lessons from our teachers. As lay people, we are meant to interact with others. It is important for us to discern how we spend our time and with whom we spend our time. In these relationships there is attachment. And that's neither wrong nor bad.

What are we attached to? We cling to sensual pleasures, ideas and views, rites and rituals, and our view of ourselves. You are going to have human relations. You are going to want to eat and stay hydrated. It's the lobha, greed, which brings us to unskillful attachment or unskillful desire. In the book or list of three you will find:

“Monks, there are these three roots of what is unskillful. Which three? Greed is a root of unskillful, aversion is a root of unskillful, delusion is a root of unskillful.

(AN 3.69)

Clumsy. It is a useful and useful word. It's not wrong to want something. You're going to look for time with friends, you're going to want to eat certain foods. Your body will trick you into being thirsty and quenching that thirst. When you've had enough and want more, it can lead to awkward behavior. When you accumulate resources that others need. And you try to collect more of these resources. Or when you're trying to monopolize someone's time. You enjoy being with this person and you don't want to share it with others.

Whenever you want something so badly that you lie, cheat, or steal to get it. It is clearly an unskillful attachment and it is greed. Sometimes, in order to secure other people's time and attention, we may invent false emergencies to keep that person focused on us. Or try to get them to commit to dates well in advance so we know their time is ours.

Relentlessly wishing for your time with loved ones is endless, that's greed.

After my family members died, I remember some of my friends telling me that I had received a gift in terms of opportunity for practice and spiritual growth. Initially, I understood their point of view, but it took me a while to recognize the truth behind their words. And I wouldn't have grown through the experience of grief without the loss of my loved ones. And they wouldn't have been my loved ones without some form of attachment to them, to those relationships, and to my sense of how those relationships defined me.

During this time, one of my teachers encouraged me to meditate on the loss of others. Consider the fact that I wasn't the only one whose family had died. And contemplate the suffering of others. As part of this meditation, I sent loving kindness to all who were currently grief stricken, then to all who would be grief stricken, with the eventual realization that everyone has been or will be visited by grief. It helped me develop context, maybe even equanimity, about my situation. It's not unfair to think that my grief came from an element of greed. There would be no more time spent with the deceased. It was difficult for me to accept the end of these relations.

The teachings don't say never want anything. The teachings do not say never to love someone. That's how you to really want to or create hooked for those humans who help us on the way. And for those who have not yet been enlightened, we will likely have experiences of craving or clumsy attachment in our relationships with ourselves and others. The way to overcome greed is generosity.

Overcome anger
with lack of anger;
bad, with good;
avarice, with a gift;
a liar, with the truth.

(Dbh 223)

By teaching me to meditate on the losses of others and sending them loving kindness, my teacher helped me find a way to practice generosity at a time when I would have said I was too weak to help others.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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