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Greed!

Tuesday, 12 March 2019 / Published in Recent Media / 136 views

Greed!
The following is a chapter from Modern Culture–a Dangerous Experiment by DAYANANDA DAS ADHIKARY.
This section discusses human greed as the root cause of environmental disasters. Many consider the problem to be systemic,[1] and they advocate changing fundamental values to those that would provide genuine reverence toward nature.
The solution presented in this book is to adopt the essential values and practices of Vaishnava culture, specifically those related to yajna.
The Bhagavad Gita encapsulates the fundamental values of that culture. Krishna, who taught the Gita several thousand years ago, summarized much older values—ancient Indo-European principles including yajna—that were predominant long before the Gita.
Thus, this book quotes from Krishna’s Gita extensively, since it expresses the ideals of the culture.
For example, while discussing the undesirable qualities of this world, Krishna explains that greed leads to destruction.[2] Greed and the Environment
Throughout the world, there are many intelligent people concerned about the severe problems we have with the environment, like polluted air, contaminated water, global warming, overexploitation of the Earth’s resources, out-of-control waste management, deforestation, species annihilation, ozone depletion, and more.
Many thoughtful scientists, politicians, economists, and others have presented numerous measures to deal with these disasters. And some have identified human greed as a fundamental issue that we must address.
On January 12, 2010, The Guardian, a UK newspaper, published a piece entitled: “US cult of greed is now a global environmental threat.” The article cites a report from the Worldwatch Institute, founded in 1974 to provide a “vision for a sustainable world.” Erik Assadourian, the project director who led a team of 35 people that produced the report, said: “Until we recognize that our environmental problems, from climate change to deforestation to species loss, are driven by unsustainable habits, we will not be able to solve the ecological crises that threaten to wash over civilisation.”[3] Professor Stephen Hawking, widely regarded as one of the foremost minds of our times, said on a few occasions that greed will kill off humans.[4] Echoing Stephen Hawking, Pope Francis said on November 20, 2014, “God always forgives mankind, but the earth does not.” He further commented that if men continue to be greedy about abusing natural resources to make a profit, the earth will eventually take her revenge.[5] Thus, many of the wisest among us have recognized greed as the root cause of our environmental disasters.
Unfortunately, most solutions intended to counter greed are unsustainable, especially on a large scale, and certainly not without revolutionizing the global consumer culture.
But Krishna presents a practical solution in His Gita. He not only speaks at length about greed, but He also maps out a realistic way in which it we can overcome it on an individual and societal level.
Greed
The dictionary defines greed as intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food. Greed is synonymous with overconsumption and self-indulgence.[6]Throughout history, great thinkers have been in general agreement on this definition.
Jesus said, “Be on your guard against greed; life doesn’t consist of an abundance of possessions.”[7] The Koran indicates that one who is greedy has embarked on the path to evil.[8] In Buddhism, illusion, greed, and hate are the three poisons that cause suffering and rebirth.[9] Karl Marx wrote that greed is synonymous with injustice and inequality.[10]Thomas Jefferson said, “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”[11]
Thus, Marx and Jefferson viewed greed as evil, but their impressions of it were in relation to humankind. Unfortunately, their solutions, like those of other political ideologists, were, in general, limited to restricting the kind of greed that impacts only humans.
Those mentioned above have presented solutions. Religious perspectives generally focus on individual practices that will control one’s animal nature and allow one to rise to a higher, more compassionate, less greedy state of being. Political ideologists usually favor societal solutions—that is, they favor restricting greed through government and laws.
All these cautions about greed and their respective remedies may work to a degree. However, a more practical approach would be first to analyze the workings of greed and then propose a solution based on that analysis.
As far as the mechanics of greed are concerned, Socrates hinted at it when he posited that we are greedy because of the body, because we are slaves in its service.[12] Interestingly, this observation is very close to that of Krishna in His Bhagavad Gita, wherein He states that the bodily organs, those of seeing, hearing, and so on, are powerfully attracted to their objects—form, color, sound, objects of touch, etc.
He indicates that these organs, including the working apparatus like arms and legs, plus the mind are fundamentally what comprise the body.
He explains that when the mind contemplates the objects that are connected to sense organs—that is, form, color, sound, etc.—then desire for those objects arises, and the intensification of that desire is greed.[13]
In other words, like Socrates, Krishna says that we are slaves to these organs and the mind, which in effect constitute the body.
He goes on to say that the way to free the mind from such slavery is to redirect it to the soul. Throughout the Gita, He elaborates on the process of connecting to the soul starting with the age-old concept of yajna, developed in the next section.
Unlike modern solutions, His remedy has proven itself to be effective and is meant to be implemented on a societal level, because greed is not merely an individual problem, but it affects social bodies as well.
When Greed Is Good
Greed is not good. As stated above, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Marx, Jefferson, and Socrates all agree that it’s not good.
Regrettably, most people have rationalized modern thinking on greed.
In 2014, The Atlantic published an article by Professor John Paul Rollert under the heading, “Greed Is Good: A 300-Year History of a Dangerous Idea.”[14] In his article is a discussion of how attitudes toward greed have changed.
He quotes fourth century St. Jerome to establish his argument that greed was condemned early in the history of Christianity: “A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God.”
Of course, this concept of greed is a Christian one, indicating that money is fundamentally evil. And in general, the Western notion of greed derives from Christian values, which form the basis of modern thinking, even that which rejects Christianity.[15]
After establishing that in the context of Christian values, greed was previously considered to be bad, Rollert writes that a few hundred years ago this attitude began to change.
He says that a specific rationalization about greed began to emerge—that is, when humans are greedy as individuals, it may be a vice, but when they work collectively, their greed may have good results, such as preventing hunger.
As an example, Rollert points to Benjamin Franklin, who found nothing to be ashamed of in riches, provided one used them for some broader purpose. Thus, men like Carnegie and Rockefeller, although greedy, ruthless, and abusive in business, have been accepted as great men largely due to their philanthropy.
Rollert explains that with the rise of large corporations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, those corporations became influenced by a kind of soft socialism, wherein they felt the need to support the communities in which they thrived.
He further writes that in the 1960s and 70s, however, many business schools rejected this concept and taught that corporations were “collections of self-serving individuals whose interests could be aligned with those of shareholders.”
Note that I’m presenting Rollert here, because he’s describing the current attitude on greed, even among non-capitalists, and how it evolved over recent centuries.
Rollert concludes with the observation that greedy behavior is tolerated, even encouraged, but only if it eliminates worse offenses like starvation, exposure, and idiocy. In sum, his explanation of currently prevailing attitudes about greed are reasonably accurate.
But within the Vaishnava culture, there are fundamental differences with the perspectives above. Unlike St. Jerome, Krishna did not condemn business and money.
He taught that the gods, or the higher powers who control nature, supply everything to humanity. Moreover, those who truly honor the gods and the God of gods, Vishnu, are not greedy, because they’re not attached to wealth for their own enjoyment.
Krishna encouraged mercantile behavior and the use of money, but He taught that they should be for the benefit of all beings as well as Nature.
That is yajna.[16] [1] It is systemic, because there are no social systems in place to address greed and because modern societies have lost the deep reverence for nature.
[2] Bhagavad Gita (BG) 16.21
[3] January 12, 2010, The Guardian, https://goo.gl/Yo11cF
[4] Stephen Hawking: Greed will kill off humanity, https://goo.gl/WztPHB
[5]Pope Francis: https://goo.gl/dZjaU9
[6] Google’s definition, “define greed:” https://goo.gl/tbMeMn
[7] Jesus in Luke 12:15
[8] Koran: Surah Al-Lail 92:8-11
[9] The three poisons: https://goo.gl/KS1rpH
[10] Marx: https://goo.gl/A1C1VN
[11] Jefferson: https://goo.gl/aZyCE1
[12] Socrates: https://goo.gl/njjC4w
[13] BG 2.62, 15.9
[14]Rollert, “Greed is Good:” https://goo.gl/mxsZQP
[15] “Certainly the forms of our thinking and language have largely ceased to be Christian, but to my eye the substance often remains amazingly akin to that of the past. […] We continue today to live, as we have lived for about 1700 years, very largely in a context of Christian axioms.” From “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Lynn White, Jr., Science, New Series, available online.
[16] BG 3.10-11, 16.2, 16.21, 18.27; 3.7-9
For other chapters: https://goo.gl/a2YkaJ

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