Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nirlobh: The Shortfalls of Self-Reward

Can wealth improve happiness? Better yet, can Ben Franklin crack a smile on your face?

Maybe, but what you can buy with him can certainly make entire nations crack smiles! Check out this study featured in the New York Times.

It turns out that as a country's GDP (wealth) increases so too does the overall level of life satisfaction (happiness) - these results challenge a study performed much earlier. This 1974 study by Richard Easterlin claimed that once we had enough money to pay for our basic needs (e.g. food, clothing, shelter), then we couldn't be any more happier.

However, there is more to this picture than meets the eye.

Think about it - as a nation's wealth increases, its standard-of-living improves. Problems like food/water shortages, random hoodlums causing trouble, or even general lawlessness are hard to find. The time we would have spent fighting criminals or scavenging for food or protecting our shelter is better spent on other things.

So we are saying that greediness is great - against this week's topic of nirlobh and what we learn in mandir - right?

Nope, we are saying that greediness is incomplete. I mean the recent financial crash should be a clear reminder that greediness never amounts in any good.

Greediness is all about me, me, me - the center of many problems in our world today. Oddly enough, when we spend time with others, build stronger ties with friends and family, and engage in helping others out, we are rewarding not only ourselves but others. Therein lies the key to happiness - what the people in these wealthier nations are coming to realize.

Think about it - when was the last time you got a present and the last time you gave a present? Hands down, we felt better in the second circumstance than the first one. While it may be in our nature to seek self gain, it's also within us to want to give ourselves over to others - not as slaves, but as sevaks.

Even great moneymakers of our time - the ones we would figure to be full of greed - have come to this realization. Let's take a look at the top three moneymakers of Forbes's List of Billionaires.
  1. Carlos Slim Helu who is worth $53.5 billion "donated $65 million to fund a research project in genomic medicine with American billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad."
  2. Bill Gates, worth  $53 billion, founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1994 whose goal was to contribute at least $1.5 billion to helping the world's poor every year.
  3. Warren Buffet, worth $47 billion, auctioned his 2001 Lincoln Town Car on eBay to raise money for Girls, Inc, a non-profit involved in education and advocacy for girls, back in 2006. In the same year, he donated about $30.7 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. If that wasn't enough, he raised $650,100 for a charity just by auctioning off a luncheon with himself in 2007. 
The icing on this cake is our guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj. His material wealth is next to nothing, yet his face resonates with nothing but smile after smile because he lives his life in the service of others. The prasangs in the presentation speak to just - the fact that Swamishri conserves the things he uses, like using only a bit of a napkin to wipe his mouth, reflects how much he cares about not wasting the resources of other satsangis who are capable of offering blank checks. Such thoughtfulness on the part of Swamishri downplays any short-lived satisfaction from greed.

Thus, when we look at greed from this lens - the perspective of seeking self-reward - we realize that we may have much to learn. One aspect of greed is craving material wealth, and we may have control in this regard but what about the other aspect?

While many of us may not be craving intense material wealth, we also do not fully grasp the long-lasting sense of fulfillment gained from selfless seva. Mandal activities engage us, mold us, inspire us through serving our fellow satsangis, and we feel a greater sense of community and well-being for it than anywhere else. The time we take to ourselves in unproductive ways - like excessively watching TV or aimlessly wandering on Facebook or fickle flirtation with the opposite sex - are not being put to fulfilling purposes.

So let's remember - Greed is the search for self-reward, and satisfaction lies in the opposite direction in the search for selflessness.

1 comment:

  1. I used this to tie up my presentation and transition into Swamishri's nirlobh/virakti and selfless nature. I used a slide that showed two poles -- selfishness and selflessness -- and placed different individuals along the line. Happier ones were toward the selfless side, even if they were rich. Thanks!