Are Americans More Greedy than Ever?

The code of ethics in yoga is called yamas and niyamas.  Yamas are restraints and are 5 in number. In previous posts,  I have discussed yamas 1 -4.  The fifth yama is Aparigraha, the absence of greed.  This may be a very timely post as many are claiming that excessive greed caused the melt down of the American economy, which began  in 2008.  And a significant political protest movement grew out of the need to draw attention to the huge economic schism, that exists in the U.S. today, between the haves and the have nots.  This movement grew into what became Occupy Wall Street,  a grassroots endeavor which lists excessive greed as one of the many evils that needs to be brought to light.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Occupy Wall Street, it’s difficult not to notice that we’ve become a country of over consumers.  All you have to do is look at the paper cup sizes in a fast food restaurant, to see that something is really out of whack!  I remember the days when 8 ounces was the standard size for a drink – period!  And perhaps there were 2 choices ,  small and large.  But now it seems that they’ve done away with small completely,  and you now have to choose between large, larger and largest!  Can someone tell me what’s wrong with this picture?

The yogis believed that attachment to possessions was in direct conflict with the attainment of enlightenment.  To be “non-greedy” was to not care about having “stuff.”  But let’s be honest.   In 200 AD when Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutra, there really was not that much stuff to be had!  So perhaps for today’s yogi, renouncing all worldly attachments is just plain impractical if not impossible!

Most of us cannot afford to run off to the mountains and live off the land.  We have bills to pay! So the question then becomes, how can we weave this important ethical concept into the fabric of our lives?

For me,  as with most of the yamas,  it becomes a question of degree.  Yes we need stuff.  The basics for today look very different than even 20 years ago.  As Bob Dylan once eloquently stated: “The Times They are A-Changin.”

Here is My Basic List of What It Seems Most People Own:

  • Car
  • Wrist Watch
  • Alarm Clock
  • Toaster, Microwave, Washing Machine / Dryer, Dishwasher
  •  Furniture
  • TV Set
  • Computer / Laptop
  • Cell Phone
  • Land Line Phone
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Various things for fun and hobbies
  • Books / Magazines / Kindles and the like
  • Camera
  • Home Stereo
  • I Pod
  • Bicycle
  • Athletic Equipment
  • Home Gym
  • House or Apartment
  • Toiletries, Makeup, Skin Care

Please let me know if  I omitted any of  your personal necessities of life.  But as we look over this list, it becomes alarmingly clear that many of us have acquisitions that go far above and beyond these so called basic necessities.  What used to be the basic home TV set, (you know the kind with the antennae on top?) has now become the super duper BIG Screen TV (takes up a whole wall in your living room) with high definition picture and surround sound stereo.   And lest we not forget the plethora of video games attached to the TV set as well.  Oh yeah and the thingy that records the TV programs and yada, yada, yada.

You can see that as  a result of our overly consumer driven economy,  many of us have become both addicted to spending money and addicted to the acquisition of stuff.  And believe me,  I am no exception to this rule!  I enjoy a good dose of shop therapy,  more than I care to admit.  But I do believe there is some benefit to asking yourself, “Do I really need that 108th pair of shoes?”

One way that aparigraha has proven useful to me, is when it comes to my own recycling habits.  I do my best to dutifully recycle whatever I can,  whenever I can.  And in those moments when I notice myself feeling too lazy to walk the 8 or so yards to the recycling bin, I remember this yama and I tell myself  ”its not all about me!”

So for me, the ultimate greedy sin would be to take more than my share of something, if it resulted in someone else having to take less.  In my opinion, that is just plain wrong.  If 2 people are dying of thirst in the desert,  and we stumble upon 8 oz of water, would it not be greedy for me to take 7 and leave 1 oz for my fellow traveler?

One key point to remember.  Mainly when we act out from greediness, it stems from a deep feeling of deprivation.  When we feel deprived, we start grasping for anything and everything.  So the trick here is to learn to fill up your own cup with exactly what you need in all areas of life.  Once the basics are taken care of, we are so much less likely to be greedy.

Yoga teaches you how to do just that.  The practice is to take time each day to contemplate and purify the mind to the point where you know exactly what your body, mind and spirit need to function optimally.  It is the less than optimal functioning, that causes the deep void, that causes the greed.  Therefore yoga, when practiced in earnest, is a great preventative for greed.

The answer of course is to fill yourself with Yoga, Spirit, God and Love!  By keeping your own cup full, you will be less likely to take from someone else!

And if  you’re serious about making changes . . . . .

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