Greed obstruct spiritual growth
The Art of Living
Good morning everyone. This is the Dharma Espresso for today.
Today I will talk about the art of living.
There are three levels of living. The first level manifests in the mastery of living skills. In the second stage, life is an art. At the third level, we master the art of living, so that every breath, every act, every word becomes the Tao, the Truth, and emits love and wisdom.
What are living skills?
They are the specialized skills or knowledge necessary to get a specific job and to execute it with competency. Technical skills bring security. First, in term of materials, they help maintain a home, a family, and stable employment. Technical skills are essential in life because we need to have knowledge and wisdom. Whatever your line of work, you need the unique skills and education in your area of expertise to achieve security in this survival stage. Therefore, technical skills are critical, and often, they require training from elementary school to high school and college. That is great.
However, it is not enough that we have the technical skills or IQ, which is the intelligence required for the job; we also need EQ, the wisdom to understand and manage emotions. Emotional intelligence is not intellectual intelligence; the heart also has its knowledge.
For example, when a friend is in trouble, we will help wholeheartedly. That is emotional intelligence, a wisdom of the heart. Otherwise, often we know our friends run into difficulties, but we do nothing because we think it would be a waste of time.
Thus, to live skillfully requires emotional intelligence, besides intellectual intelligence, or wisdom of the heart in addition to wisdom of the mind. Also, there is another kind of wisdom, that is social intelligence. It is the wisdom to know when is the right time and place to do the right thing to better our community. It is essential because often we don't think about the group, the community, or people around us. We only care about our family and ourselves. Social intelligence is the wisdom in engaging with society. It is another skill we need to learn, understand, and master.
These are living skills, now let us talk about the art of living.
Before talking about the art of living, let’s examine an important aspect that prevents us from mastering the art of living. It is something that the Buddha mentioned two or three thousand years ago. It is greed.
Greed means wanting more and more. The desire for more turns our clean, beautiful house into a storehouse. We just accumulate more things instead of beautifying the place. Then we are surprised when we walk in the house and cannot find anywhere to place our steps without hitting something; our view is no longer clear and unobstructed because there is so much stuff in the way. Sometimes we are amazed when we open our closet and see what is inside. It has turned into a storage area for tons of things. The same for the garage. If they are useful, then it might be acceptable, but often they are useless objects.
You may tell me: “I am not greedy at all. I have no particular attachment to anything I own,” but we often buy things we don't need, extra items, discounted things. Can you imagine someone having six storage units for her unused items? Incredible! Keeping too many books you will never read again, saving old documents and bills that seemed important but you haven't touched in years. Boxes of them that you can neither throw away nor have any use for. Do you believe the government will come to your house to look through them? Not really. Do you think they will inspect your properties? Not at all, but you still save them.
Those are things and books, now let's see about the clothes. There are clothes you bought that have never worn. You keep collecting them but never find an occasion to wear them or perhaps you might wear them once or twice at the most. Women like clothing, but men like to collect gadgets, computer, things they might have used once or twice before the novelties wore off but they have already paid for them, so they keep them.
These are terrible habits. Both men and women have these patterns of buying things they don't need and then leave them unused, expensive habits. Costly but they will pay for these unnecessary items instead of giving money to those in need, like the victims of floods or other unfortunate events.
Let us now talk about medicine. We buy and store drugs because they are on sale. Online sites now make getting them even easier. Then one day, you realize that they are expired, and you don't know what to do with them. You don't throw them away, and they become dangerous substances; hazardous because tonic will turn into poison after a long time, true for soaps and shampoos.
I can relate an unhappy personal experience. I often traveled to Europe or Asia; I collect the little soaps and shampoo bottles from the hotel where I stayed (even though I don't have hair). Little harmless things, sometimes toothbrush or toothpaste, I brought them home and left them in my bag in the corner of my room, never looked at them again. A few years later, I happened to open them, oh la la, such nasty smell, the rotten stench of deteriorated plastic and outdated chemical, so toxic. It took my breath away; I couldn't breathe. The compound has turned into toxin when left unused for a long time - past their expiration date, tonic would turn into poison.
Not only that, gadgets, computers left unused for an extended period also turn toxic. Silverfish, moth, and other clothes eating insects will put holes in your clothes that left undisturbed for years and create toxicity in the process. Bookworms and molds will appear in dusty, forgotten books and produce another form of poison.
Leftover food in a few days would be contaminated. Last week, a young person said: "Why is there so much food in the refrigerator? It would be better if you clean it out, Thay." He is right, food left in the refrigerator for months is another issue, vegetarian or not. I know another person who has all kinds of food in her refrigerator, chicken, and pork left in the freezer for months, eggs lying around untouched. I asked her why she did not throw the food away when she didn't use them? She said because a mouse got in there once and she hasn’t dared touch anything since.
So what is greed? It means wanting to have more than you need, accumulating more than you can use, then the stuff you stored up will turn into poisonous substances. Greed is a toxin. The useful things left unused will become useless.
These examples also apply to thoughts and emotions and will drive you to exhaustion. The best thing to do is if you don't need something, don't acquire it. There is a saying: "To know when is enough is happiness." What is knowing when is enough? It is to understand what you need. Only get and use what you need; otherwise, you will keep on buying.
Now in this situation: my students keep buying and giving me all these things they think I would like, even clothing. No, I don't like it at all. It is very dangerous because if each of them gives me something, eventually they will become such a huge burden for me.
I talked too much today. I hope you are listening, and we will continue with this topic later. Have a happy and wakeful day.
Dharma Master Heng Chang
(Translated and transcribed by Compassionate Service Society)
It's no longer morning but almost midday now, and we will have a double Dharma Espresso to make up for the day I missed. Just like drinking coffee: Some days we skip drinking it and some days we drink two cups! So this is a Dharma Express.
Today's topic is about evolution, how to evolve from the technicality of living to the art of living, and then to the Tao of living. From the technicality to the art, there are many obstacles, and the biggest among them is greed. Greed pushes us to want more and more things. When we keep buying medications, they eventually expire and turn to poison. If we are careless and take them, our sickness may get worse. So we should periodically check our medicine cabinet and throw out expired items. There's one item that you may not notice, like eucalyptus oil or tiger balm. Don't think that you can keep it for ten years or so. No, nothing lasts forever. We can only use it for a period of time. That is the law of impermanence which means if there is life, there is death; with creation, comes destruction.
However, there's no thought of death or destruction in our mind. Once we buy the tiger balm jar, we keep using it until one day we realize it doesn't generate heat any more. How come? It turns out that it's way past the expiration date. In other words, our brain can't think or visualize future outcome. Therefore, we get stuck in greed of the present. When we see a pretty dress, we want to buy it without thinking when we can wear it. If it's for a special occasion, we don't know when we're going to wear it again. So it stays in our closet for many months and years.
We should first differentiate what we need and what we want. Our wisdom can tell the difference between need and desire. This is the necessary wisdom for us to attain the art of living. Those who know how to live artfully certainly know what they want and what they need.
Once I visited a man's house with very artistically designed bonsai trees and beautiful flower bushes outside. Inside, it was spotlessly clean. His wife told me, "Dear Master, my husband loves gardening outdoors and takes care of those trees all day long. He hasn't bought any new plants for decades, though. I'd like to have more trees, like the woods. Please tell him to buy and plant more trees." I smiled and said to her, "No, auntie, this is the wisdom of living. He's planted enough trees for the garden, and they are very beautiful. There's no need for more trees. He spends time taking care of them and enjoying them, not for the number of trees, but for the lovely garden with beautiful space. That is the art of living. He has no need to bring home more precious trees to impress people. No, he has enough, and they are magnificent." Without wisdom to know what we need and what we want, our life will be tied up and pulled by our greed which we can't resist.
To develop the wisdom for need and want, we have to develop the wisdom for letting go. Letting go is the third of the six qualities we need to practice: love and lovability, forgiveness, letting go, flexibility, openness, and connectedness. Letting go is the art of knowing when to stop what we want. When we can tell the difference between need and want, then we are able to stop wanting. What we want sometimes is so strong that we can't resist. So we have to practice letting go.
In Buddhism of the old days, letting go meant going up to a mountain for a cultivation retreat, severing all ties. Today, letting go doesn't mean dropping everything. Dropping everything is throwing away everything for solitary retreat up in the mountain. People may become monastics and shave their heads, but they have to drop all things. Letting go means we still live in this mundane world but have developed the wisdom to know the difference between need and want, and can let go of excessive things.
Instead of letting go which means throwing things away, we should switch to giving. Giving has recipients and we can give them what they need. Don't give them what they don't need. If they need a refrigerator, don't give them our old and ugly one. I have seen this happen quite often. I've received many used fridges and sofas. People really shouldn't give those old things, like tables or chairs with torn covers to the temple. It's a big headache just to get those chairs reupholstered. Sometimes they gave kitchen tools such as spoons, pots, and pans which were very old and dirty. They used a pot to make a bowl of soup for temple offering, and then left it behind. So the temple kitchen was full of junk that people purposely forgot to bring home, like old and ugly pots, pans, spoons, and forks, etc. That put the temple in a bind, not knowing what to do with these things since they came from temple donors. Therefore, we should know what our people need before giving. Do not give them what they don't want.
Different from giving, offering should be done with respect. We should offer what is our best and most valuable, not what we have extra or too much. Offering is usually an action similar to us kneeling down to make a present to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Sometimes giving to parents, spouse, children, siblings, and friends is also called offering since we give the most precious things with sincerity and respect. While giving doesn't require much, offering requires our sincerity and respect.
Providing is giving what people need but with compassion and the wish to see them happy and smiling. When we supply things they need, there is no compassion involved, but we need to show respect.
When people have accidents or disasters, we donate what they need. We can do so through a third person or an agency instead of having to be there in person. Sometimes we can just donate money.
Finally, serving is giving our labor and time. Very often we just give time by calling and listening to someone who's suffering. We listen without discussing or adding comments that would make the other party more upset or feel that they can unload by gossiping. When giving services, we help others relieve their suffering and feel anew.
Thus, can you see clearly what prevents us from evolving to the art of living? It's the greedy mind. What is the solution? --Develop the wisdom that can distinguish need from want, and develop the virtue and energy of letting go. Letting go is putting an end to things that our ego and desire keep wanting more and more. Know what we need, and turn the things we have into the things we can give, offer, provide, donate, or serve.
That is a very important lesson for us so our house can always be beautiful and people want to stay when they come. We don't want our house to become a storage bin.
With Double Espresso today, I hope it helps you become more awake and happier to have a very gentle day.
Thank you for listening.
Dharma Master Heng Chang
(Translated and transcribed by Compassionate Service Society)