The Practice of Being Satisfied with Little
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Desire as Morally Neutral
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
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
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.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.