(8.79) We should realize that a preoccupation with wealth leads to endless problems
Because acquiring it, protecting it, and losing it all involve pain.
Those who allow themselves to become distracted out of attachment to wealth
Will find no opportunity to escape from the miseries of samsara.
Fear of poverty is an overwhelming fear for many. I had a strange experience growing up. My father had millions, but he was extremely miserly. We had all the latest toys, a lake cabin, everything. But my mother was a single mom, who worked as a secretary for most of my time growing up. My father hated my mother more than he loved us, and so he couldn’t see to provide my mother with anything but the absolute minimum he could get away with – and he had very good lawyers who made sure he hardly paid anything. When we were with my mother during the school year, we wore second hand clothes and shopped for food at Valu Village and other thrift stores. We had nothing, and often had to go without heat because we could not afford the heating oil. But then in the summers, I would go to my Dad’s, where we would experience a very privileged life. Living poor with my mom made me very fearful of ever being poor again; being influenced by my father’s habits, I learned miserliness. Together, these have caused me to have deep attachment to wealth (or specifically, not being poor) and tendencies to be miserly.
Venerable Tharchin provided for me the keys to breaking out of this. He said, “mentally give away everything you have nothing, so that you don’t consider anything as belonging to you, but still maintain custodianship over certain things – keeping them in safe keeping until eventually you actually transfer possession to others. In your mind, others ‘own’ everything, but you still have possession until it is appropriate to transfer over.”
Ultimately, we should follow the example of people like Geshe Langri Tangpa. Every time Geshe Langri Tangpa left some place, he gave away everything he acquired there. He had no interest in wealth, possessions, at all, other than to help others with it. He gave everything he had away to others. Absolutely everything. He left nothing to call his own. Geshe-la once said that he never bought anything just for himself.
(8.80) People attached to a worldly life
Experience many such problems, and for little reward.
They are like a horse forced to pull a cart,
Who can grab only an occasional mouthful of grass to eat.
(8.81) Those who are driven by uncontrolled desires
Waste this precious freedom and endowment, so hard to find,
For the sake of a few petty rewards that are in no way rare,
For even animals can obtain them.
(8.82) Our objects of desire will definitely perish,
And then we shall fall into the lower realms.
If we consider all the hardships we have endured since beginningless time
In pursuing meaningless worldly pleasures,
(8.83) We could have attained the state of a Buddha
For a fraction of the difficulty!
Worldly beings experience much greater suffering than those who follow the path to enlightenment –
And yet they do not attain enlightenment as a result!
(8.84) If we consider the sufferings of hell and so on,
We shall see that the discomforts endured by worldly people in this life –
Such as those caused by weapons, poison, enemies, or treacherous places –
Bear no comparison in their severity.
These verses really strike a chord for me. We have had to experience so many hardships in our pursuit of worldly pleasures, not only in this life but in our countless previous lives. And what do we have to show for it? Almost nothing.
What do we want from our life, really? Do we want to just be blown by the winds of our ordinary desires until we die or do we want to make a real difference, both for ourself and for others, and change this situation.
Shantideva is saying if only we had put as much effort into Dharma practice as we had pursuing worldly desires, we would be enlightened already! Think about that. Enlightenment often seems impossible, but it is easier to attain enlightenment than it is to stay in samsara. Of course we can’t go back and redo our past, but we can decide what our future will be. Going forward, we have a choice: remain in samsara or attain enlightenment. Which of these two paths is easier? Normally, we think following our delusions is easier, but Shantideva is saying it is far easier to attain enlightenment. If we are truly lazy and want things to be easy, we would be wise to pour ourselves into attaining enlightenment. Then, everything will not only be easy, it will be effortless. Putting effort into samsara is wasted effort because it has no chance of succeeding. But putting effort into our Dharma practice is guaranteed. It is much easier to attain enlightenment than it is to find happiness in samsara.