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"Greed", decadence, opulence.

Hi there everyone. I've been practising for about 18 months now, with an almost-daily 10 minute meditation practice (following mostly Theravadin teachings with a sprinkling of other bits and bobs from the other schools that I find helpful). I have always been a naturally frugal person, not eating more than I really need, not spending money just for the sake of it and have recently been shifting gradually to a vegan lifestyle. Recently my partner and I celebrated his birthday at a "Friday night feast" run by a well-known chef here in the UK, where you pay a set price and you're served several courses of food cooked using only the ingredients grown in a 5km radius, either on the property itself, and if not from very nearby. Whilst the food was beautiful, thoughtfully prepared and clearly produced in a very sustainable way (meat and fish was served, but from the farm itself or from the sea just down the road!) I am sad to say I spent the whole meal thinking "This is so unnecessary and greedy, to eat four courses of food where one would be perfectly enough". I was quite shocked by this reaction as previously, before starting my practice I would simply have sat there and thought "Wow, this is beautiful, healthy, local food, how wonderful!". And I find this first reaction echoes in other parts of life as well. I have become less internally tolerant of "wasteful" or "Greedy" attitudes and practices and I find that nearly every experience is tempered by over-analysis and what I think at the time is mindfulness but is actually probably just self-judgement or judgement of others. I guess I'm finding it hard to separate the neutral observer from the critic, and it's leaching into my character a tension and reluctance to enjoy experiences, as I perceive enjoyment as somewhat selfish or greedy or as just ego-massage. I can feel myself becoming this mean, puritanical person which I know is not the point of the practice. I do try to counter any thoughts like this with a gratitude practice, but so far the grumpy old woman is winning. Compassion, patience and understanding have never been my strong suit which is ironically what drew me to the practice in the first place. Any tips on navigating this from others who might have experienced a similar thing would be greatly appreciated. Thank you =)



  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    Hi @LittleAl,

    I have definitely experienced this too. I wish I could offer my own advice based on the experience of overcoming it, but it’s still something I encounter almost every day.

    For example, during Vassa this year I have been trying to give up cheese. This is possible when I’m cooking for myself, but when I visit my parents and they carefully prepare a vegetarian meal for me which happens to include cheese, I let myself enjoy it without feeling guilty. (At least that’s the plan.)

    It’s easy to be absolute with these things: “If I eat just one piece of cheese, that makes me a terrible Buddhist.” But it’s not true. Maybe try to see that there were many positive things about this birthday meal, and that one night of indulgence does not make you an indulgent person. (One swallow does not make a summer.)

    I just read this last night, which I had to mark with a post-it note:

    The Buddha asked the monk Sona, “Is it true that before you became a monk you were a musician?” Sona replied that it was so. The Buddha asked, “What happens if the string of your instrument is too loose?”
    “When you pluck it, there will be no sound,” Sona replied.
    “What happens when the string is too taut?”
    “It will break.”
    “The practice of the Way is the same,” the Buddha said. “Maintain your health. Be joyful. Do not force yourself to do things you cannot do.” We need to know our physical and psychological limits. We shouldn’t force ourselves to do ascetic practices or lose ourselves in sensual pleasures. Right Diligence lies in the Middle Way, between the extremes of austerity and sensual indulgence.

    —Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

    I hope there’s something in there that helps.

    Be well :)

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    Tenzin Palmo says this about her life in London, before she travelled to India to be ordained.

    On the one side I was this frivolous, fun-loving young woman and on the other I was serious and “spiritual”. I would vacillate between putting on my flared skirt and petticoats and the black stockings and flat shoes. Those two sides were at war. At the same time I was frightened the frivolous side would win.


    I had friends who belonged to each side and who never mixed. One day I went to a gathering where I’d invited both sets. I arrived late, and by the time I walked through the door they were totally confused because the only thing they had in common was me and it seemed as though they were talking about entirely different people. That gave me a real sense of crisis. How am I going to resolve this, I wondered. And at that moment I heard this voice inside me again saying: “Don’t worry about it. When the time comes to renounce, you will renounce. You’re young, enjoy yourself! Then when the time comes you’ll really have something to give up.” Hearing that, I relaxed.

    —Tenzin Palmo, Cave in the Snow

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Do you have too much? This too shall pass.
    Do you have too little? This too shall pass.

    Stay in the moment.
    Am I enjoying this? Fine, that's good. I shall continue to enjoy this, because everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.
    Let's be brutally frank: Whether you eat one dish or 5, you still pass it through and get rid of it eventually.

    The Buddha had a lengthy period of opulence, plenty and luxury.
    He left this all behind.
    He also had a period of extreme deprivation, asceticism and self-denial.
    It nearly killed him, so he left that all behind too.

    There is nothing written anywhere that says you are forbidden to enjoy what you experience.
    The important thing is to not attach or cling to the experience. And that includes aversion, distaste and guilt.

    Whether you love it, and cling to that love, or you hate it and cling to that hate, you're clinging.

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    As @federica mentioned...

    "This too shall pass" ...

    The line of thoughts you are having will run their course as you progress along the Path...

  • "Greed", decadence, opulence.

    Ah yes ... my favourite hobbies ...
    Greedy for progress, even the decadents ... and in the opulence of simple indulgence.

    In other words do more meditation, perhaps adding metta bhavna and the mantra of an indulgent Buddha ...


  • LittleAlLittleAl France New

    Hi everyone and thank you for taking the time to provide these thoughtful replies.

    @adamcrossley : "One swallow does not make a summer" - that's a good way of looking at it and rings true for me - I definitely have a tendency to be too absolutist about things. The excerpt you mentioned from TNH is helpful too - I do have that book but hadn't got round to reading it yet so will make a start. I think my natural character tends to dramatise and always assume the worst in situations, which is why recognising as you said that "Diligence lies in the Middle Way" is so apt.

    @Kerome : You're so right about the shackles and about "sliding into" over-discipline. Strangely I find discipline very comforting and familiar, but need to be on the look-out for it becoming a prison! Perhaps I need to ask myself, "Is this helpful / skilful?" more often.

    @federica and @Shoshin : You're right in that there's nothing written that says you're forbidden to enjoy what you experience. And "aversion" is the key thing in the dinner situation I think - maybe I just need to take a step back and see the "aversion" arising and just be ok with that. It's just aversion. Like you said it will pass.

    @lobster : I definitely need to do more meditation! No quibbles on that one.


  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Here's something that actually helped me: When you notice a negative thought arise (and I'm merely suggesting you be the one to decide what a 'negative' thought is; only you can decide that...) notice the thought - and the first thing you should do is - Drop Your Shoulders.

    I have discovered for myself that when I get a worrisome or stressful mind, my body tenses in sympathy.

    Unclench. Relax. Drop the shoulders, flex the neck a little...

    You may then find it easier to assess the thought and deal with it skilfully...

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    You're so right about the shackles and about "sliding into" over-discipline. Strangely I find discipline very comforting and familiar, but need to be on the look-out for it becoming a prison! Perhaps I need to ask myself, "Is this helpful / skilful?" more often.

    I’ve found in the past that this finding discipline comfortable is a form of being negative towards yourself, it is a way of punishing yourself. A kind of asceticism, if you will. It can be difficult to find a balance between it and freedom and celebration.

    Meditating on kindness can help. I have heard it said of the practice of Chenrezig in the Tibetan tradition that brings so much kindness and compassion that in the end it completely finishes all kinds of self-accusing.

  • LittleAlLittleAl France New

    @federica : That's a great tip. I'll try it.

    @Kerome : I have to say I struggle to see how eating carefully and trying to live a non-wasteful lifestyle is punishing myself from a purely practical point of view, (although I do see where you're coming from and no doubt there is something in that on a psychological level). However in the end if more people were a bit less "kind" to themselves (spending money they don't have on rubbish, sitting on the sofa all day and eating too much chocolate) then the world might look slightly different but that's maybe just my warped point of view! I think in the West we are so wrapped up in individualistic self-reward that we fail to think of how our actions may be impacting the world at large - if we all "disciplined" ourselves a bit more there would be less harm caused to the environment for example. BUT there is a good balance to be struck as you say. I suppose it's the balance between being practically kind and psychologically kind that needs to be struck as well. I'll look into kindness meditations - I listened to a dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm the other day where he says "Love yourself like a dog loves you" - that's a great way of looking at it too.

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @littleal said:
    However in the end if more people were a bit less "kind" to themselves (spending money they don't have on rubbish, sitting on the sofa all day and eating too much chocolate) then the world might look slightly different

    No I do agree with you, one should try to live a minimalist life, buying what you need instead of giving in to every impulse. If we consume less then we help the planet bear the burden of its 7 billion humans. But I do think it’s important that we don’t forget how to celebrate.

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran
    edited August 2019

    This conversation reminds me of something Yanai Postelnik said. I can’t remember the quote exactly, so I’ll paraphrase: There’s nothing wrong with nice experiences. I like them too. But they don’t quite do it for us, do they?

    Self-compassion, according to Yanai, isn’t about giving ourselves nice experiences. It’s about offering ourselves a compassionate attitude.

    This really resonated with me. The culture of “treat yourself” isn’t essentially bad. It just doesn’t understand what it would mean to really treat ourselves. It would mean offering ourselves forgiveness and patience, not new clothes and sugary food.

    That distinction is really important, I think. @LittleAl, does it help you at all?

  • NamadaNamada Veteran
    edited August 2019

    Its the same as for all of us, its nothing special to feel like you do, just rest in the moment with awarnes, just stop and watch and recognize whats happening. Dont beat yourself up with I should/shouldnt think like this. Its just your monkey mind speaking/judging.
    Rest in the awarness, just be the observer and dont attach to it..

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    I think an important contributor to puritanism is a level of conviction in your way of viewing the world as being the "correct" way.

    It's not that there aren't better and worse ways of being. It's more that there is more than one way to be skillful and almost always more than one way to look at a situation.

    For example eating locally grown, organic food. Very good in terms of your environmental impact, but if you were someone that was mainly concerned with feeding the world, local and organic won't get enough food to some areas and lower crop yields of organic vs conventional would require a lot more land to be converted to agriculture.

  • Exactly @person

    For some people in their rigidity, it is important to understand being wrong may be right.
    In terms of spirituality, the blameworthy path is quite an advanced strategy/being ...

  • LittleAlLittleAl France New

    @adamcrossley : that's exactly it. In a way, deep down, frugality is a kind of self-compassion because we're avoiding the financially and physically costly habits that could be very detrimental to us down the road! But as you say that must be coupled with real self-compassion which is kindness and patience. It's a lot clearer to me now.

    @person : you make a very good point. There are many viewpoints and purposes to take into consideration!

    @Namada : that's reassuring to know it's a common feeling. Regarding the "monkey mind", yes, that's totally what it is - I've also heard it called the "survival brain" which isn't actually that helpful for us in today's safe and plentiful world (at least for those of us lucky enough to live in the safe and plentiful areas!).

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