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Stranglehold Of Greed On The Human Mind Is Destroying Mother Earth

Sometimes the passion of human beings to acquire and hoard seems really pathological. The Hindu epics describe to what extremities of wickedness they can go to mulct fellow human beings and aggrandize themselves. This acquisitive trait of the human psyche shows an unbroken continuity through the ages. History is replete with sordid episodes that would not have sullied its pages but for man’s acquisitive passion. If any, the madness has only escalated with the passage of time, for today the lunacy has acquired gargantuan proportions.

The acquisitive craze of the modern age is all-consuming and all-pervasive. The poor work overtime and demean themselves, yet walk into the debt-trap trying to earn a few more coins. The middle class seems to have only one motto: ‘Accumulate by hook or by crook.’ As for the rich, nothing is wrong if it can help them line their already bursting wallets. Alas, the steamroller of acquisition seems able to flatten anything — ethics, morals, values!

How to explain this stranglehold of greed on the human mind? A close look at the anatomy of greed (lobha) will help us unravel the mystery. Basically, greed is of the stuff of desire (kama); it is only a variant of desire, which, as Sri Krishna shows in the Bhagavad Gita, is born of rajas (rajo – guna - samudbhavae). If desire is the ravenous and sinful river, greed is its insidious and obnoxious tributary. In Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings, greed is the wicked sibling of vulgar lust.

Four reasons make people greedy.

First, wealth is amassed not for its own sake but for the immense purchasing power it represents. The more one earns and hoards, the greater is one’s command over creature comforts. Thus, it is the lure of sense enjoyment that feeds and sustains the love of lucre. This is what makes the treasure hunt such exciting fun.

Second, money is believed to provide economic security in times of uncertainty or distress. A man is only wise in proportion to his ability in piling up money, because that is his best insurance against future contingencies. So niggardliness is a virtue.

Third, riches are meant not only to ensure one’s own prestige and social status; they become necessary when one is concerned for the safety and well-being of one’s dependants (and descendants). Often greed is a good index of a man’s attachment to his kinsmen. As long as he is attached to his relatives and friends he cannot extricate himself from the rat race.

Last, there is an odd set of people who regard money not just as a means of procuring creature comforts but as the be-all and end-all of life; they run after it for its own sake. To these money-mad people, miserliness is next to godliness.

Source - excerpts from an article titled 'Greed' by N Hariharan in the May 2004 edition of Prabuddha Bharata magazine.