May 18 : The Chains of Miserliness

“Binding embodied beings in the unbearable prison of cyclic existence with no freedom, it locks them in craving’s tight embrace. The chain of miserliness — please protect us from this danger.”

We must acknowledge that craving and miserliness keep us locked up in the prison of cyclic existence if we are to get anywhere in our practice. Our usual assessment of our situation is more like, “What’s cyclic existence? I have no idea. Why am I alive? Well, I never thought of it. What’s the purpose of my life? I haven’t thought about that either. What happens after death? I don’t want to think about that; it’s too scary.” Some people conclude that life’s purpose is to eat, drink and be merry, or sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Many just live on in an automatic manner.

One of the first things we must do in our Dharma practice is to examine our situation in order to counteract our usual view of “Yes, there’s samsara, but as long as I have a good life and I’m comfortable and people like me, a little bit of suffering is okay. I’m not in an unbearable prison because I have lots of freedom — I can say anything I want, do anything I want, and have anything I want. Sometimes there are problems, but they’re all the fault of others, and since there’s nothing much I can do, I’ll just enjoy myself.” Even if we have been practising the Dharma for a while, our view can be, “Well, live day-byday, try and avoid suffering, have happiness, say a few mantras, and that’s good enough.”

We have to develop a new self-image of somebody born into cyclic existence due to ignorance, anger and attachment, who thinks he or she is truly existent rather than merely imputed, and who wants only happiness and not suffering but does not take much interest in others or how one’s actions affect others. We do not think of ourselves as somebody who could die today. Instead, we figure that our death will be planned-out, easy, and perfect when it comes. Until we change our image of who we are and what our situation is, miserliness would not be seen as much of a problem. We figure that the more we keep for ourselves, the more we will have, though we will give just enough so that we do not look like a cheapskate. To see miserliness and craving as a problem, we should reflect on what cyclic existence means and how to go about getting out of this situation.

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