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To Refrain from Greed

A talk given and translated by Jennifer Lin on June 4, 2004 in the Buddha Hall
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas




In Buddhism, it is said that one should “renounce the three poisons.” The three poisons are greed, hatred and delusion. The Venererable Master also guides us to follow the Six Great Principles of “no fighting, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no pursuing personal advantage, no lying.” In fact, greed is the most deep-rooted poison among these three and all six principles are based on the one of not being greedy. Because all evil deeds result from being greedy, greed is the most important one. It is also the most difficult one to refrain from.

In ancient China, there was a person who had little courage but a lot of greed. He never studied hard, rather he just wished to make money. So after he grew up, he paid some money to become an official, assuming it was the easiest way to make a fortune. It seemed that he got his way and before long he not only got his “capital investment” back but also built a big mansion and took three concubines. Everyday he feasted and enjoyed himself. He was extremely “efficient” in his position of authority and did not bother to investigate the cases that came before him. Instead, he decided each case by weighing the bribes. He had the valuables given to him as bribes weighed on the scale. The person who sent the heavier bribe would win the case.

Unfortunately, these good times did not last long because King Yama invited him to the hells. After reviewing his life record, King Yama said, “You corrupt official! You are supposed to go to hell; however, you never engaged in the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. Okay, you can go be reborn as a dog.” This greedy official said immediately, “That’s fine, as long as I get to choose what kind of dog I will be.” King Yama said, ‘Ha! You still wish to be so picky. Okay, what kind of dog do you wish to become?” All of you may also wish to guess what kind of dog he wished to become. Ha! This greedy official said, “I wish to be reborn as a female dog.” “Why?” King Yama said in surprise. This greedy official said, “ Isn’t it said in the books of the sages? ‘When facing money, let the mother dog have it first. When facing disasters, let the mother dog run away first.” King Yama stared at him wide-eyed, “Huh? Which sage ever said these words?”

The fact is that the original saying is, “When facing money, do not acquire it illicitly. When facing disasters, do not escape illicitly.” It is teaching people not to be greedy for money, nor to escape imminent disaster by living a dishonorable life.” This saying exhorts people not to be greedy. However, this greedy official misunderstood it as saying that one should be greedier for money. How come he thought this way?

The Chinese character meaning “do not” looks like the character meaning “female.” The Chinese character for “illicit” is pronounced gou which sounds the same as the word for “dog.” That’s why he mistook the phrase to mean “female dog.” He thought, it is not bad to be reborn as a female dog, because he could then have money while avoiding all disasters.

Although it is just a joke, we can see that greed follows one even to one’s grave. Maybe you think, “I’m not greedy for money.” Then are you greedy for beautiful forms? This “form” does not just refer to “lust”; all “nice colors” or “pretty features” are included. One says, “I am greedy for neither money nor form.” Then maybe you’re greedy for fame and always wish that others know that you are a good cultivator or have great abilities? “No, I am not greedy for fame, either,” you might say. Then you might very likely be greedy for nutritious or tasty food. Or, maybe you desire to sleep more? Anyway, this greed has a large scope; it can apply to clothes, food, transportation, dwelling, sitting and bedding. Greed can be found behind everything that people do. If we do not always guard our own mind, we may not recognize the seed of greed which has sprouted out quietly inside our hearts.

When we recognize it, we may be tightly bound by it. What can be even worse, is we may become totally entrapped by it so that it follows us into our grave.

It is said that “money, form, fame, food, sleep are the five roots that lead us to the hells.” Because we cannot distinguish the truth, we think that these five desires will benefit us. We do not realize that these five desires are in fact illusory, without a true nature. So we keep repeating the cycle of “giving rise to delusion, creating karma and undergoing the retribution of suffering.” Therefore, we wander about on the path of birth and death for so long and cannot transcend this sea of suffering of love and desire.


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