Greed is such a harsh word. Who me? I want to say, I’m not greedy! Yet below the surface I’m familiar with that inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than I need, even deserve. In Catholic language, greed is seen as an rapacious desire, considered a vice, one of the seven deadly sins. To St. Thomas Aquinas it was “a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.”
All very heavy and difficult to brush aside. Greed pervades every aspect of my existence. For instance:
• In a short while my tenure at hospice is coming to an end. At first I was unable (and unwilling) to imagine life without the daily opportunities to be of service and to bathe in the loving company of coworkers. “It’s so unfair,” I thought more than once, “and so wrong.”
• Two weeks ago my stepmother gave me a sum of cash as an inheritance. When I saw the bundles of US dollars she’d kept in a deposit box, I realized that they’d lost value over the years. If only she’d given me Euros, my thoughts went, I’d have so much more.
• A friend and I recently reaffirmed our love for each other. Because of circumstances, we cannot be together. More than once the thought has occurred to me that “knowing she loves me is wonderful, but ‘having her’ would be so much better.”
Zen teacher Ruben Habito says that “greed works in each of us in very subtle ways, more subtle than we can detect perhaps. That sense of wanting something in particular, because ‘if I don’t have this, then I am not OK,’ can gnaw at us and propel us to act in greedy or needy kinds of ways.”
The antidote to greed is generosity. Shunryu Suzuki describes it as “true wisdom of living,” a deep non-attachment to any and everything we label as “mine.” Looking at my partial greed list above, it’s quite easy to flip things around and be filled with gratitude for what has been given to me and to extend my hands of generosity to whatever may come.