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International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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The Practice of Being Satisfied with Little

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

Desire as Morally Neutral
President Nichiko Niwano
These days, things are so overly abundant that
we seem to be part of a consumer culture that puts
anything we want into our hands, whether we
really need it or not.

Family finances are tight for many of us because of the present economic downturn, but we still cannot easily change our habit of satisfying ourselves by obtaining the things we want. Our minds thus never have a moment’s rest, and we fret about the things that we do not have. Unable to have certain things even though they are right before our very eyes leaves us feeling dissatisfied.

In Buddhism, greed is one of the three poisons (the other two are anger and ignorance) that produce human suffering. And yet, desires are intrinsic to human nature. Because we have desires, knowledge comes into play, and that has
led to the development of varied cultures and civilizations. Therefore, we cannot categorically
declare that all desire is not good. Rather we
should think of it as morally neutral, neither right
nor wrong.

In fact, Shakyamuni’s enlightenment directly tells us so. Shakyamuni, who undertook austere religious practices, realized that extreme physical anguish and the total denial of intrinsic desires were both impossible and futile, and achieved enlightenment through quiet meditation. In other words, rather than trying to eliminate desire, we should put it to work, since all of us as human beings are blessed with the capacity to do so.

There is an old saying that people with the capability for great evil are also capable of great good. Even desire-plagued burglars who target empty houses can decide to reform themselves and use their experience to help prevent such crimes in the future. They can turn their past wrongdoing to good as home security experts.

By controlling desire and putting it to work, we can demonstrate our rich diversity as human
beings.

The Merits of Knowing Satisfaction

The teaching of learning to be satisfied with little has existed since long ago. Basically, it means having few desires and still being satisfied. Being good at controlling our desires leads to spiritual richness, because it makes us more aware of what we have already received and the blessings we continue to receive.

When we take for granted a lifestyle that can give us everything we want, we yield to the illusion that we are living by our own power alone. But when we experience life that is short of material things, we can awaken to the law of dependent origination, in other words, that we are caused to live thanks to countless other people and things.

For instance, when we face reduced work schedules and our pay decreases, for the first time
we sharply feel how our own lives are connected to changes in the world economic situation. At the same time, a lower income will make us get by with less, and through an awareness of this, we can once again resolve to face the reality of life and regain our sense of gratitude for being caused to live.

In this way, the realization of being able to be satisfied with what is close at hand and sharing
those things with others can be training for us to control our ego. By reining in our desires and
sometimes yearning for more, we can nurture a consideration for the poverty and hardships that others may face. From this, some people go on to learn endurance, and some of them even to perceive the truth.

In other words, we could say that when we realize the value of being satisfied with little, we
grow rich spiritually, much more so than when we suffer no deprivations of any kind.

When the phrase “being satisfied with little” is written in Japanese, the kanji character for “foot” is used in conveying the sense of satisfaction, which I find most intriguing.

With the widespread development of modern public transportation systems together with an
increasing dependence on private automobiles, most people no longer do much walking. Actually, it is both more economical and much better for one’s health to walk more instead of using other means of transportation. The physical activity of walking can help to increase our appreciation for being caused to live.

Although we are living in somewhat difficult economic times, if we open our wisdom-eye
and change our values from material wealth to spiritual riches, we will know that there are many sources of happiness all around us. The spiritual richness behind being able to say, “even if everybody’s pay goes down, at least we can all learn to lead lives of sharing”—being satisfied with little is a practical teaching that brings true happiness and is the wisdom needed for our times.

March 2010
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.



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