Every moment of every day we face a choice in terms of our strategy for engaging with the world. It all turns on what we are trying to do at any given moment. The choice is between contributing to the world in some way or seeking to take from the world in some way. The former accumulates merit and creates the causes for a future of abundance (material, emotional and spiritual). The latter burns up our merit and creates the causes for a future of impoverishment (material, emotional and spiritual).
The question we should ask ourselves in every situation is “how can I add value?” Normally, however, the question we are asking ourselves is “how can I get what I want?” Sometimes we are tring to get somebody to do something for us. Sometimes we are cleverly not doing what we should be doing in the hopes that others will do it for us. Sometimes we are chasing after some pleasure. Sometimes we go fishing for compliments or affirmations that others see value in us. Sometimes we are trying to steal the limelight or the credit for what was in fact the work of a team. Sometimes we are seeking for everybody to be in agreement that we are the best, and that those we are threatened by are morons. If we are not adding value to the world, but instead are constantly trying to harvest samsara’s goodies, how will we know anything but destitution in the future?
In our relationships, we are constantly trying to manipulate others into doing what we want – sometimes what we want is for them to like us, sometimes we want them to just leave us alone, sometimes we want them to do some work for us, sometimes we are trying to get them to live up to our expectations for them. Often times we just want to feel loved. But the more we grasp at these things, the more elusive they become, leaving us feeling despondent, frustrated, needy and bitter. What kind of life is that?
John F. Kennedy famously said, “ask now what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. In his prayer, St. Fancis of Asisis said “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.” In the Tao Te Ching it says “if you want to be given everything, give everything up.” Ghandi sought to place zero demands on the world, but to only give. Shantideva said considering ourselves important is the root of all suffering and considering others important is the root of all happiness. What are all these poining to? In every moment we need to seek to give, not get; to contribute, not take; to invest in the future, not consume our future now.
Of course the choice is ours. The reason why we choose to take instead of to contribute is because we value our happiness now more than our happiness in the future. The irony is the satisfaction, even in the present, that comes from investing in a better future far outstrips the temporary pleasure that comes from taking now. It is hard to make this switch in life strategy, but all of the holy beings guarrantee us it is worth the effort!
Your turn: Give an example of how you are currently taking from the world. What are you going to do differently now?