Imperfection #1: Covetousness and unrighteous greed
As Bhikkhu Bodhi points out in his note to the Vatthupama Sutta (MN7), there is no such thing as righteous greed (what would it be?). So, covetousness and greed are synonyms here, with covetousness having the the additional meaning of wanting something that someone else has.
In a nutshell, this imperfection is:
– Wanting what we don’t have, and/or
– Wanting what others have
We could think of this as wanting what we see advertised or for sale somewhere, and wanting what we see in the possession of others.
It sometimes shocks me to observe my own response to advertising. Here I sit, perfectly contented, then I see an ad for a beautiful piece of jewellery, or an exotic vacation, and the desire springs up in a nanosecond. I hardly ever wear jewellery and I like to stay at home. And yet…It makes no sense, but there it is.
Wanting things can make people do all sorts of unethical actions. Wanting a job can make people lie; wanting money can make people steal; wanting a child can make people obsessed and unbalanced. But not necessarily. We can want all these things and more without losing our way.
The trick is to know within ourselves when our desires are wholesome, or at least neutral, and when they become motivations for harmful behavior. Wanting to be a better person is a wholesome desire. Wanting to help others is a wholesome desire. Wanting to have more than other people is an unwholesome desire. Feeling that we MUST HAVE this food or piece of clothing, or mode of comfort (car, home) will lead to distress.
Contemplation is a form of meditation. If we contemplate on this imperfection of covetousness/greed, how well do we understand it? Do we recognise it when others get themselves into strife through wanting something in an unwholesome way? What are the sticking points of greed in our own daily rounds?