This is continued from this article for the holiday season. So, what’s wrong with miserliness. Well, for starters:
Due to miserliness we sometimes wish to hold onto our possessions forever, but since this is impossible we experience much suffering. If our possessions dwindle, or we are forced to give them away, we experience great pain. The more miserly we are, the more concerned we are about our possessions and the more worry and anxiety we suffer ~ Understanding the Mind
With miserliness, we are tied to externals. We are tied to our things. They become like dead weights — we’re worried about them, anxious about them, holding onto them tightly, weighing ourselves down. But possessions do not equal happiness. Wealth doesn’t equal happiness. Happiness comes from a peaceful, positive, happy mind. There is nothing actually out there that has the power from its own side to make us happy. They’re just things.
What does it mean to be a generous person?
Happiness is a state of mind, so its real causes lie within the mind. Buddha Shakyamuni said in one Sutra that if people only understood the incredible good results of not clinging so tightly to their things but instead sharing them with others, then even if they had only a few scraps of food left to eat they’d still want to share it. If they could find someone to share it with, they would.
Even though there is a recession on, we still actually have an awful lot of things, don’t we, compared to many people in our world? These great resources are due, karmically speaking, to generosity we’ve practiced in the past. One question is, are we holding tightly onto a lot of things that we don’t necessarily need?
No one is suggesting you rush out and sell your house (if you still have one) or empty your bank account, because being homeless would just cause a whole lot of problems for a lot of other people. When we talk about “giving” in Buddhism, we are really talking about just that wish to help others through our resources, that wish to share, the wish to give when the time is right, and so on. (There is actually a type of giving that’s called “keeping”, where we don’t rush off and give everything away but instead look after resources like a custodian so as to help people most effectively when the time is right. The great Tibetan Yogi Marpa practiced this type of giving, and you can read about it in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.)
When people who are very generous go into a situation, such as walking into a room, they think to themselves: “What can I contribute here? What can I do to help? What can I give — can I give my time, my enthusiasm, my love, my attention, my support, any of my possessions?” This is the practice of giving.
With miserliness, if we walk into a room, it’s like: “What can I get out of this situation? Who here can help me get what I want?”
I think this kind of sums up the difference between miserliness and the spirit of generosity, which is what we’re actually talking about here, not actually giving away our last cent. I’m trying to make this clear because otherwise people can start getting nervous when they hear advice on giving! (Though at this time of year we at least are more predisposed to it, hence the timing of these articles ;-))
The one-year rule
So if we are really holding tightly onto things we don’t actually want to use, we might want to ask ourselves why that is the case. (I’m actually talking to myself here.) Perhaps we’re holding onto things that we feel might come in handy fifteen years down the road — a bunch of stuff we know we’re never going to use but still there’s a sense of, “Ooh! What if I give it away, I might need it one day!” I know people who subscribe to the “one year rule” – if they haven’t used something in a year, the chances are they’re not going to use it, so they give it away. (One good friend of mine is down to pretty much two suitcases! And it makes him feel very light on his feet, free and flexible). But with our miserliness we get anxious at the thought of even giving something small away. We think “Maybe I’ll have a two year rule. Or maybe a ten year rule. Or how about a death rule – I’ll give it away when I die.” (It is a bit late by then – as Milarepa pointed out, it is far better to give stuff away while we’ve still got the choice to do so, before it is ripped from us.)
“Heck, why did I give that away?!”
Miserliness is the opposite of the mind of giving. Sometimes miserliness prevents us from giving at all, and at other times it causes us to develop a sense of loss or regret when we do give.
Have you ever had the experience of managing to give something away but then thinking: “Heck, what did I do that for?!”
Although miserliness might appear to be a prudent attitude that assures our material security in this life, from a long term point of view it is very foolish. By preventing the wish to practice giving from arising, miserliness causes poverty in future lives. ~ Understanding the Mind
From a Buddhist point of view, we talk about past and future lives and about karma, that all our actions have consequences. In the short term they have consequences, and in the long term they have consequences. Buddha Shakyamuni explained that from giving comes wealth whereas from miserliness comes poverty.
Even psychologically speaking, if we’re holding tightly onto our things and not giving them away, we can sense that we’re not really creating the cause to get things back, are we? But when we give, we’re creating the cause to receive.
If you have any observations or questions, please share these in the comments so I can try and address them.
And please do share this article for Christmas :-)
(I wrote this last Christmas, but I think it still applies… ;-)