A Yogi’s Lessons on Greed
Greed. Envy. Arrogance. These are the three enemies of humanity according to world-renowned spiritual leader Radhanath Swami at Jivamukti Yoga studio on a recent summer evening.
What kind of disease does greed inflict on the soul and what exactly is greed anyway?
A former investment banking securities salesman whose business was obliterated in the mortgage market meltdown lamented that the greed of others destroys many economic lives. Greed is simply the desire to want more than you have, he explained. “It’s a natural state.” He is right of course. But for some, so is murder and rape. The evolution of our species necessitates we don’t give into every natural desire.
The continuing economic struggle of millions of unemployed, the unending tragedy of massive foreclosures, the vicious battle in Congress over the debt ceiling reveal that greed continues to be a complex force in our society. Much of our current economic hardship can be directly tied to the excessive acts of greed by a few thousand mortgage bankers. Their natural state of wanting and pursuing more has deeply damaged the financial future of the modern world. Yet greed is an old story that has virtually shaped every period in human history. How we can transform its power into a constructive rather than destructive force is the dilemma for 21stcentury finance.
Is that all there is to greed – just wanting more? Doesn’t everyone want more? Is anyone satisfied with what they have? Among our first thoughts upon waking is the desire to eat breakfast. We wake up every day wanting more. We eat and are satisfied only until our next meal. As entrepreneurs and business persons, there is little sense that we can cease pursuing material gain. We are always looking at tomorrow, next week, next year. Each of us is locked in the frenzy of battle for market share. Because we know, we will always need more.
The beautiful Jivamukti Yoga Center just south of New York’s Union Square under the warm welcome of manager Carlos Menjivar and my host Joshua Greene, was the perfect setting to find serenity among cosmopolitan exuberance. Whisked away to vegan gourmet meals and smiling humility, one felt far away from the envy and arrogance of capitalism’s heartbeat. But the reality of the local economy was never too far.
Most people in New York are in a constant state of enterprise. The relentless pursuit of money permeates much activity in the city that never sleeps. Is it greed or simply the instinct to survive? Have we gotten so far away from our core selves that we think only of material wealth as a barometer for success? I ask these questions of myself as much as of others: How much is enough? When do we know if it is greed or simply necessity?
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