The three great agendas: #2

The three great agendas: #2

Greed and "self-snugness"

The second great agenda is Greed.

This is the one I had most problems identifying. I could sheepishly get in contact with my inner Nazi, even if it felt grisly to do so, but I could never quite see myself as a greedy, acquisitive person.

I’ve never really craved material things particularly and have been blessed with a fairly (only fairly, mind you) non-addictive personality. I’m quite good at self-denial and never object to a bit of simplicity. So when in my daily chants I remember the suffering beings who “drown in the putrid swamps of passion” then I never felt it really applied to me.

But just as with aggression, what we need to recognise is that sneaky back-door grasping that works just at the corner of vision, queasily experienced only in moments of growing shame.

The truth is that I am extremely territorial when it comes to things like comfort, like being left alone when I want it, like having my own space.

Being greedy for solitude and freedom from pesky people is a form of grasping.

Wanting that particularly kind of tea and being pissed off if a cafe or a - heaven forfend - a friend doesn’t have it is grasping.

Wanting my husband to be in a good mood when I’m in a good mood - and engineering an excuse to go out on my own if he’s not. That’s greed.

Taking a four-person set on a train and feeling hard-done-by if someone joins. This is a form of the territoriality that covers greed.

Noticing a greed for approval when someone accidentally garners all the praise for something you’ve done.

Not listening to your colleague’s problem because you are really, really wanting chocolate. This is greed.

This fundamental desire to get hold of something better, to want something that isn’t there is another “sin against reality”. In a sense it’s the flip-side of aggression which is the desire to push away something that is there. A pull and push that almost feels the same: dissatisfying.

And this is why greed is at the bottom of addiction. Addiction is really a distraction from an uncomfortable present. It’s a rancorous longing for the present moment to not be like it is (which is a form of aggression) and to be something other: for example, drunk or high or orgasming or in a meditative bliss-state.

As Gabor Mate often points out, addiction is not about the substance we flee to but the experience we flee from. The greed for something different is the flip-side of our violence towards what is actually there in our experience: usually childhood pain.

This often works its way out in our emotional greed. That endless, hungry-ghost longing for the perfect embrace of the faultless lover - an impossible stand-in for an imaginary parent who never existed. When we snarl at our love and think, “Don’t do that because I want all your love and attention”, then that’s greed too.

It doesn’t have to be so grand.

Our everyday neuroses about cleanliness, efficiency and productivity are really forms of greed. Greed for a feeling of worth, of order or of validation that we feel will obliterate our inherent or subcutaneous discontent. It’s a potent obsession. And woe-betide anyone who leaves dirty dishes in our way or thwarts us attaining our to-do list nirvana.

The ultimate greed is the spiritual greed of “good mind states”. Trungpa talks about the danger involved in using spiritual practices to enhance our sense of “self-snugness or self-delight”.

“Self-snugness” seems a particularly blessed coinage by this Tibetan master of English neologisms. Echoing a smugness, the idea of a life that is snug to our idea of self, that panders to our self-image is a potent form of greed. And if any of you have lived or spent time in a spiritual community, you know how territorial practitioners can be about their cushions, their rituals and their special practices. The greed for a certain sort of incense-scented comfort bubble can be the most ferocious appetite of all.