Ideals and Values/Lobha (Greed) The Third Inner Enemy
“This world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for a single man’s greed.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Yudhishthira said – "Anger is an enemy that is difficult to conquer whereas greed is an endless sickness. He alone is a saint who is engaged in doing the welfare of all living creatures. He who has no compassion is an evil man."
"Just as the horns of a cattle grow as they age, in the same way, the greed of men grows as they become richer."
- 1 What is Greed?
- 2 What are the Harms of Greed?
- 3 Conquering our Greed
What is Greed?
Our desires never really end. Once we have a Lexus, we’d want an expensive Mercedes car. Once we have the latter, we’d want a private helicopter. When our first desire gets fulfilled, we develop a second desire. And then a third one. One just keeps running after desires all the time. When these uncontrolled and excessive desires are for material objects they are called ‘greed’. Sanskrit word for Greed is LOBHA. Greed is the condition of the mind in which one is not satisfied even after gaining what one wants. Absence of contentment even after having gained the object of desire means the individual is greedy. Unfortunately greed in human beings is not based upon how much one has.
Most animals are programmed to take what is necessary. Occasionally some may store for the next meal or for the winter. Human beings hoard far more than they really need. One with 10 dollars wants 100; one with 100 wants 1000 and so forth! Greed expresses as wanting more of one already has; it may express as having difficulty in parting what we have or as wanting what others have. Greed is born out of an inner sense of deprivation and insecurity which can be frequently traced to the childhood.
- Emotional deprivation: Real or perceived
- Deprivation of food, clothing or toys: Real or perceived
- Erroneous conclusions that one's needs are not met.
- One may fear losing what one has: Material objects/wealth/Power/Relationships
What are the Harms of Greed?
We forget the difference between our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’
Sometimes, we all become a little greedy. We need only 1 or 2 toys to play with at one time. So we should not be greedy and ask our parents to buy us new toys every week. When we go to a restaurant, we can eat only one ice cream. But because of our lobha, we start fighting with our parents to buy us an ice-cream and also a candy. Now do we really need a new toy every week?
We spoil our friendships and family relationships
No one likes a greedy child. He makes no friends, because he does not want to share his toys or games with anyone. A greedy child sometimes even steals things from others. He snatches things with which others are playing. When he becomes older, his greedy behavior becomes worse. He starts taking other people’s money unfairly. Because of our greed, others can become sad and poor. Therefore, we should give up the habit of lobha. Instead, we should share our extra things with others.
Story: How a Greedy Miser became a great Saint This is a story of Puranadara Dāsa who is traditionally considered the founder of Carnatic music. Puranadara was born to a very kind trader and jeweler Varadappa Naik and his wife after the couple prayed to Lord Venkateshvara for a child. Varadappa was very wealthy, but he was also very kind towards the poor and needy. In his old age, he handed over his shop of gems and pawning to his son Sreenivasa and married him to a very pious wife Saraswati. Sreenivasa completely changed the nature of the business. He was a very business minded and a hard heated person. He cared only about maximizing his profits, and did not give anything from his income in charity to the poor and the needy. He stuck very hard bargains with poor and had no pity over their condition. As a result of his miserliness and his business acumen, the family business greatly prospered. Sarasvati, on the other hand, was a very kind hearted woman who liked to help the poor. But Sreenivasa forbade her to give anything in charity to anyone. Varadappa tried to make his son see the virtues of sharing and caring, but without success.
One day, Varadappa fell very sick. The physician suggested giving Varadappa the ash of some burned precious gems. But the miser son Sreenivasa simply rejected the idea of spending a lot of money to procure the gems. Saraswati tried to reason with her husband that his father’s life was more precious than any gem, but he merely said – “Father is very old and will die one day anyway. Why waste money on the gems for getting the medicinal ash?” Varadappa soon died. Sreenivasa continued his old ways of being a merciless pawn shop and amassed so much wealth that people gave him the nickname ‘navakoti’ or “the owner of 90 million.”
One day, a poor Brāhmaṇa came to beg some money at Sreenivasa’s shop for performing the thread ceremony of his son. Sreenivasa was by now a notorious miser. So he was surprised that some had actually come to ask him for money! Instead of declining any help, he merely told the Brāhmaṇa to come the following day. When the Brāhmaṇa came the next day, Sreenivasa asked him to come later. This kept repeating day after day, but the miser Sreenivasa would just not relent.
One day, while cleaning his shop, Sreenivasa found a box of fake and worthless coins. When the Brāhmaṇa came the next time, he gave that box of coins to him say – “This should be enough money for you to perform the thread ceremony.”
The Brāhmaṇa of course found out that the coins were fake and worthless. He decided to be elsewhere and coincidentally, landed up at Sreenivasa’s home. Sreenivasa was away in his shop, and the Brāhmaṇa said to Saraswati – “I went for six months day after day to this miser and heartless merchant begging for a small amount of money which I needed to perform my son’s thread ceremony. Finally, the cheat gave me a box of fake coins which were worthless. Could you help me?”
Saraswati of course realized who the poor Brāhmaṇa was referring too. She felt really ashamed at her husband’s niggardliness. But she had been forbidden by Sreenivasa to give anything in charity. Suddenly, she realized that the diamond nose-ring that she wore was gifted by her own mother. Therefore, it was not the property of husband and she could gift it to the Brāhmaṇa.
The Brāhmaṇa thanked the gracious lady with tears in his eyes. Then, he went to Sreenivasa’s hop and asked him to pawn it and give him some money instead for his son’s ceremony. When Sreenivasa saw the expensive nose-ring, he was perplexed because it was identical to what his wife wore. So he told the Brāhmaṇa to come the following day, giving the excuse that he needed a day to evaluate its price before he could pawn it and give money in return. He locked the nose-ring in his shop and went home for dinner.
At home, he asked his wife to produce her nose-ring. Saraswati was terrified. She was already disgusted with her husband’s miserly behavior. Now she was worried that he might scold her for gifting away her expensive gold ring. Under the pretext of getting it from the bed-room, Saraswati went to the kitchen. She decided to commit suicide by grinding the diamonds of her bracelet and eating them with water. So she ground diamonds in a pestle-mortar and was mixed them with water in a glass. Just as she was about to drink the poison, she heard something fall from the ceiling into the glass. It was the nose-ring! She was overjoyed and bowed to the mūrti of Lord Viṣṇu for the miracle.
But when she took the nose-ring to Sreenivasa, it was his turn to get shocked. He thought that someone must have stolen it from the shop. He rushed to the shop and found that the nose-ring was missing from the safe. He returned home and asked Saraswati to tell the truth. She told him how she had gifted the ornament to a poor Brāhmaṇa who had been cheated with fake coins and how she was about to commit suicide for the fear of her husband when a miracle saved her.
That night, Sreenivasa could not sleep. He concluded that it could have been only Lord Viṣṇu who had appeared as the Brāhmaṇa. The following morning, he said to his wife – “Saraswati, you have opened my eyes. I had been blinded by the love of wealth. This greed made me kill my own father. I also ill-treated Bhagavān Viṣṇu who came to my hut in the guise of a Brāhmaṇa. And then due to the same greed, I was going to lose you – my wonderful wife. What a sinner I am, whereas how blessed my wife is. She conducted herself so much more graciously and honorably than I!”
From that day, Sreenivasa, who was 30 years of age then, had a change of heart. He decided to donate all his wealth to the poor and the needy. His wife was overjoyed. Together, the couple and their children decided to roam from one pilgrim center to another inside the Vijayanagara Empire in S India, singing the praises of God. Ten years later, during his travel, Sreenivasa met Saint Vyasatīrtha, a scholar who followed the philosophy of Saint Madhvācārya (13th cent. CE). Vyasatīrtha initiated Sreenivasa to Sannyāsa, giving him the name ‘Purandara Dāsa’.
Purandara Dāsa composed thousands of soul-stirring and melodious songs in praise of Lord Viṣṇu and his various forms. Almost 1000 of these survive today. He systematized the method of teaching Carnatic music which is followed to this day. One of his disciples, Swami Haridasa, became a famous Hindustani classical musician, and was the guru of Tansen, the legendary musician of north India. So, Purandara Dāsa influenced the musical tradition of the entire Indian subcontinent. His very first musical composition starts with the words of lament for having wasted his earlier years in material indulgences.
Sreenivasa Naik realized that true happiness can never result from pursuing wealth as the ultimate goal in our life. Doing this makes us so greedy and heartless that we lose all love and respect for even our near and dear ones. True happiness results only when we pursue God as our final goal in our life. This realization made the heartless miser a saint, and gave him the eternal peace that he was searching for.
We do wrong things
Greed makes us do inappropriate things. Very often, we read about people shop-lifting things from a store. What is interesting is that sometimes, the thief is not a poor person! Rather, he is a rich man who just could not resist the temptation of possessing an expensive shirt. He certainly had the money to buy it, but it exceeded his monthly budget. Not being able to overcome his greed, he decided to steal it, and got caught! We also read about people who are in reality millionaires but they are so greedy that they do not hesitate to cheat their customers to make an extra buck.
The Bhagavad Gitā says: "Desire, Anger and Greed are the three gates to Hell."
The story based on the Mahābhārata below illustrates how greed made Bheeshma turn a blind eye towards the evil actions of King Duryodhana:
Story on Greed – The Laughter of Draupadi When the Mahābhārata war was over, the victorious Pāṇdavas approached Bheeshma, who was lying on a bed of arrows, to give them advise on politics, spirituality, Dharma and so on. While they were listening to his instructive words, a thought suddenly crossed Draupadi’s mind and she started laughing loudly. Everyone got distracted and thought that it was quite rude of Draupadi to start laughing loudly when they were all listening to serious advice on Dharma from Bheeshma, who was himself such a respected and elderly person.
But Bheeshma understood that Draupadi must have an important reason to laugh, and asked her to explain to everyone the cause of her laughter. Draupadi then said to Bheeshma – “I laughed because I thought it was really funny that you should teach Dharma to Pāṇdavas, who are very virtuous and dutiful themselves. You never taught Dharma to evil Duryodhana when he tried to kill the Pāṇdavas. You never tried to teach Dharma to Duryodhana when he cheated in the game of dice and snatched our kingdom, forcing us to live in the forest. When the Kauravas tried to disrobe me in front of everyone, you never tried to stop them by teaching them about Dharma. It is therefore hypocritical now that you should teach the meaning of Dharma and Mokṣa to my husbands.”
The Pāṇdavas were aghast that their wife should be so impertinent so as to question the character of their great grandfather, who was so well respected by everyone. But Bheeshma intervened and asked the Pāṇdavas not to get angry. He said – “Draupadi has indeed raised the correct doubts about my wrong behavior. And the answer to her question will be especially relevant in the Kaliyuga, when Dharma will decline and Adharma will become stronger. Draupadi is correct in alleging that I did not stop Duryodhana from doing evil when I indeed should have. This is because I was working for him, he was my King, and I was dependent on him for my livelihood. Therefore, I could never gather the courage to stop him from treading the path of Adharma. But when Arjuna’s arrows hit me and drained my blood, bringing me to close to inevitable death, all the food and luxuries that I had enjoyed under Duryodhana have now become irrelevant and I have realized my folly. Therefore, now I shall only instruct about Dharma so that people should learn from my example and never side with Adharma for the sake of protecting their livelihood.”
The story teaches us that when we earn our salary by serving dishonest and evil people, or by working for businesses that have unfair, discriminatory practices or which produce substandard products, we might be forced to compromise our own honesty and fairness from time to time. This is because while serving such people or employers, we cannot criticize their wrong practices fearlessly for the danger of losing our own jobs and livelihood. Life offers choices, and as far as possible, we should try to disassociate ourselves from dependence on evil people so that we can practice Dharma more easily. This might involve some sacrifices such as getting a lower salary; but that is still better than eventually coming to complete ruin because of supporting people who follow Adharma.
List 3 employers for which you should not work even if you do not commit evil actions yourself –
We land up harming ourselves
The story below shows how lobha can harm us and even kill us.
Story: The Greedy Traveler There lived a tiger in a jungle. He fed himself by hunting. But when the tiger grew old, he could not run and catch deer. He had to go hungry many days. So he thought of a plan. He had once eaten a lady wearing a golden bangle. So the tiger took that bangle in his paw. Whenever any human being passed by, the tiger would say aloud, “Here is a free gold bangle for anyone who wants to take it.” Most people were just too scared of the tiger and did not go close to him.
One day, a very greedy traveler was walking by when he saw the tiger with the bangle. The tiger again shouted, “Here is a free gold bangle for anyone who wants to take it.” The man shouted back. “I want the gold bangle. But how can I trust you? If I come close to you, you will kill me and eat me up.” But the tiger replied, “I have killed many animals and human beings in the past. But now I am sorry for what I did. Therefore, I am giving this bangle free. If you come and take it, I will feel less sorry for killing other animals. Please come and take it as a gift.”
The traveler was so greedy that he did not use his brains. How can a tiger become so nice suddenly? The tiger must kill and eat other animals or human beings to live. But because the traveler was greedy, he went close to the tiger to get that gold bangle. And suddenly, the tiger jumped at him and killed him. Then the tiger ate him up! This story teaches us a very good message. Sometimes, wicked people offer us candy, toys and other gifts. If we are greedy, we will go close to them to get these gifts. The wicked people can then grab us, kidnap us, throw us into their car and take us away from our parents. Therefore, we should never have lobha in our mind.
Story: The greedy monkey is caught and killed A parable illustrating the harms of greed is given below:
“In India, hunters had a proven way of catching monkeys. A half coconut would be hollowed out and a hole made that was only large enough to let a monkey’s open hand pass through. The coconut was then pinned to the ground and tempting food placed beneath. A monkey would approach, intent on getting hold of the food beneath the coconut, but alas as soon as it grasped the foot in its fist, it found itself unable to pull its hand and the food free of the coconut. Imprisoned it would stay caught by its own unwillingness to open the fist.”
Swami Ramakṛṣṇa Paramahañsa used to narrate this example to explain how greed can bring us death. The fact is that greed does not take us to any good condition or to a good place. We harm ourselves with our greed. Therefore, Ṛṣi Parāśara says in the Mahābhārata: Sage Parāśara said – “The wise man should not abandon the rules of Dharma to earn wealth by questionable means because wealth obtained in this manner is not said to lead to one’s welfare.”
Conquering our Greed
Distinguish between ‘Need’ and ‘Want’
We can conquer greed in the same ways by which we can overcome our desires. But a very practical way to overpower greed is to learn how to distinguish between our needs and wants. We want a lot of things in our life every day, but do we really need all those things?
Thing of this example – Sometimes, we go to a Mall and just buy a lot of things like there is no tomorrow. We carry home bags and bags of clothes, shoes, electronics etc. But after a day or two, we realize that we did not really need more than half of those things. So we make another trip to the Mall to return these things that we did not really want!
How could we have prevented this useless trip and this immature behavior? One way is to make a list what you really want before going to the Mall. While making the list, think why you need that thing and will you be fine even if you did not have that thing. Put that item down on the list only if you conclude after some logical thinking that you really need it, and you will suffer if you do not buy it. This simple habit of getting only things that are on a list created beforehand will curb the bad habit of buying on impulse due to greed. Our Ṛṣis have narrated the following story of a man who did not differentiate his needs and his greedy wants. Finally, Bhagavān Viṣṇu made him realize that his greed was only landing him into trouble, and that what he really needed was very different from what he wanted.
Story: The Greatest Boon of Bhagavān Viṣṇu A householder was in the habit of asking newer and newer things from Bhagavān Vishnu in his prayers every day. Finally fed up, Viṣṇu appeared in front of the man and said, “Look, for one last time, I will grant you three wishes. Just three. Think and ask me those three wishes. I will not grant you any more wish again. You can ask them in as much time as you like.”
The householder was happy but also nervous. He could ask for any 3 things. But what should those three things be. However, he had no difficulty asking for the first one! He immediately asked, “Lord, I am sick and tired of my wife. I want you to take her soul so that she is dead.” Viṣṇu granted that wish and said, “When you want the other two wishes to be granted, remember me and I will be back.”
The householder was performing the funeral of his late wife. He was smiling within. But all the mourners were weeping. His children were inconsolable. They all narrated what a good lady she had been. She dutifully did all the household tasks, was a diligent mother and was very respectful and loving towards everyone. The man realized that perhaps, he had not realized her real worth. He felt very guilty as to what he had done. So he thought of Bhagavān Viṣṇu and asked for his second wish to come true, “May my wife come back to me.” A miracle happened and his wife was alive. Everyone was overjoyed!
Later, when he was with his close confidants and friends, he revealed how Bhagavān Viṣṇu had granted him a few wishes. But, he lamented that he had only one wish left and did not know how he should use it! “Perhaps, I should ask for immortality,” he said to them. “Of what use is immortality if you keep sick? So ask for good health,” one of his friends said. The second friend said, “Of what use is a long life or good health if your friends die before you? So ask that your friends are with you forever.” The third friend said, “May be, you should ask for a lot of wealth. Because sometimes even friends can desert you if you are not wealthy.”
The householder got many more opinions and was even more confused than ever. That night he could not sleep. He went out for a walk and prayed to Bhagavān Viṣṇu and said, “Only you know how I should use my last wish. Please suggest the best thing that I could ask for.” Lord Viṣṇu appeared before him and said smilingly, “My son, learn to be content what you get from your hard work. Do not keep yearning for what you do not get from your efforts. I will give you the gift of contentment with the results of your labor, because that is the most precious treasure that you can have.” The householder learned his lesson. He bowed to God in reverence and saw Him for one last time before He disappeared.
Practice the Virtues of Non-Hoarding and Contentment
Our Ṛṣis have said – Sage Śaunaka said – The thirst for riches never ends. Therefore, contentment alone is real happiness. For this reason, the wise perceive contentment as the best wealth.  Later, we will learn more about these virtues which are fit antidotes for Greed.
Give examples to discuss the statement – “No number of laws to punish swindling, cheating, or stealing can work if people are greedy.”
 Zevah, p. 345.
Notes & References
- Mahābhārata 3.313.92
- Mahābhārata 11.268
- It refers to cars, video games, homes etc.
- It means daanam in Sanskrit.
- He lived from 1484-1564.
- It is south Indian music.
- He did not know that she was his wife or that it was his home.
- Gitā 16.21
- Mahābhārata 12.294.25
- Mahābhārata 3.2.46