2016-06-30
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Greed may be big in the news now, but the major religions have been dealing with the problems caused by greed for centuries. Most religions eschew greed, though for different reasons. Use this guide to see where the five major religions stand on that sin of sins, greed.



Buddhism
Buddhists believe they must keep themselves from clinging to material things. Attachment to material possessions keeps a person in state of samsara, or continual rebirths. One must overcome desire for and attachment to material things in order to stop the cycle of rebirths.

Greed is seen as the opposite of this renunciation of material things. Buddhist texts do warn specifically against greed. As the Buddha says in the Sutta Nipata, "Greed, I say, is a great flood; it is a whirlpool sucking one down, a constant yearning, seeking a hold, continually in movement; difficult to cross is the morass of sensual desire. A sage does not deviate from truth, a brahmana stands on firm ground; renouncing all, he is truly called 'calmed.'" Those that have reached a calm nature and have renounced material things are free from this world of difficulty and constant yearning.

Buddha spoke elsewhere about greed: "Greed is an imperfection that defiles the mind," says "The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha."

Buddhists also believe in the samyojana, the "ten fetters of existence," which bind people to the cycle of rebirths. Greed is an important part of the list of fetters-both greed for, or attachment to, a higher material existence and greed for immaterial existence are included among the ten fetters.

Christianity
Both Western and Orthodox Christians believe greed was instilled in human beings after the Fall, and the Ten Commandments inherited from Judaism include not one but two prohibitions against covetousness, often interpreted by Christians as greed.

Jesus is famous for living in poverty and warning against having or wanting too much money. The Gospel states, "Then he [Jesus] said, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15).'"

Other books in the New Testament explain further that worldly passions run counter to righteousness. The book of James says, "What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (4:1-3)."

Both Catholicism and the Church of Latter-day Saints have strong positions against greed. Catholicism defines greed, or avarice, as excessive love for riches. Greed can become so overwhelming that the pursuit of money becomes a primary purpose of life. Basic desires, such as wanting food when hungry or clothing when cold are not in themselves sinful; it is when these desires become the overwhelming force of a person's life, or when they cause a person to want what is not rightfully theirs, that they are considered sins. The Catholic Catechism states, "The tenth commandment forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power," and "Detachment from riches is necessary for entering the Kingdom of heaven. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.'"

Mormon texts also describe true riches as being immaterial: "Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich," the Doctrine & Covenant states. "Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich."

Hinduism
Hindu teachings about greed are similar to those of Buddhism. As in Buddhism, Hindus regard greed as dangerous and believe that it results in a cycle of rebirth. The law of karma, furthermore, says that greed is one of the primary causes of suffering in the world. Avoiding greed, therefore, is one of Hinduism's yamas, the restraints that Hindus observe in following Hindu dharma.

"A person is what his deep desire is. It is the deepest desire in this life that shapes the life to come," the Chandogya Upanishad says, warning that greed influences future rebirths. The Bhagavad Gita also warns against greed: "For the man who forsakes all desires and abandons all pride of possession and of self reaches the goal of peace supreme."

Avoiding greed helps a person lead a virtuous life in this lifetime. The Holy Kural, a first-century Hindu text, teaches that the virtuous shun greed, among other qualities. " Virtue is living in such a way that one does not fall into these four: Envy, anger, greed and unsavory speech (4:35)." The Kural also says, " Do not seek the fortune that greed gathers, for its fruit is bitter in the day of enjoyment. To protect his own prosperity from decline, one must not crave the property held by others (18:177-178)."

Islam
Muslims are required to pay zakat, a mandatory donation to charity. Zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is meant to keep Muslims free of greed. Islam teaches that it's alright to have some possessions, but the payment of zakat helps keep one's wealth in check.

Greed is seen as a distraction from God. The Qur'an states, " The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things) (102:1)."

At the same time, Islam, like Catholicism and Judaism, understands that some material things are necessary-it is only when they mislead that they become harmful. One hadith, or saying of the prophet, states, "Eat what you want and dress up as you desire, as long as extravagance and pride do not mislead you (The Prophet Muhammad, as reported by Abd'Allah ibn Abbas)."

Judaism
There is no direct admonition in Judaism about being greedy, though the Torah includes many prohibitions against obtaining money wrongfully. Judaism does not encourage poverty or asceticism and instead understands that desire for money or material possessions is often necessary. The Midrash explains, "were it not for the yetzer hara (the evil urge), a man would not build a house, take a wife, beget children, or engage in commerce."

Money, as long as it helps one secure a living and aid others less fortunate, is a good thing. But desire for money becomes problematic when one is greedy for property that is not one's own. As Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, says, "Let your fellow's property be as dear to you as your own." Instead of being greedy, Judaism teaches it is better to be happy with what one has, as Ben Zoma said, "Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot."

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the great 18th-century Ukrainian rabbi, taught that people help control desire for money by giving charity. He wrote that when the messiah comes, there will be no more desire for money.

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