World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Selfish Desire, Lust, And Greed

Passion, greed, covetousness, hatred, lust: these emotions dominate the soul, causing blindness and leading to destruction. Every major religion recognizes that suffering and evil are caused by excessive desires or desires directed toward a selfish purpose. Buddhism has summed up this principle in the second of the Four Noble Truths and denotes these desires by the term "craving." Craving is a fetter: poisoning the heart, deluding the mind, and binding people to evil courses of action.

While all religions view selfish desire as baneful and the cause of much suffering, they differ in explaining these selfish desires in relation to human psychology. Buddhism, and similarly Jainism, reject desire of all kinds, even the grasping for existence itself, as harmful and a source of bondage. In the monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and in some texts from Sikhism and Hinduism, the passions of the flesh--which are evil--are distinguished from the healthy ambition for goodness and the passion for God. Chinese religion condemns only excessive desire and selfish desire: Desires themselves may be good if they are in harmony with the Tao. Similarly, Hinduism honors desire when it takes its rightful place within the dharma of family and society; this ambivalence is illustrated from a passage which identifies Kama, the god of desire, with the generative forces of nature.

To these condemnations of selfish desires, the reader may add many additional passages concerned with their renunciation, which may be found in Chapter 18.

The Noble Truth of the Origin of suffering is this: It is craving that leads back to birth, bound up with passionate greed. It finds fresh delight now here and now there, namely, craving for sense pleasures, craving for existence and becoming, and craving for non-existence.

Buddhism. Samyutta Nikaya lvi.11: Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth

Have you seen him who makes his desire his god, and God sends him astray purposely, and seals up his hearing and his heart, and sets on his sight a covering? Who, then, will lead him after God [has condemned him]? Will you not then heed?

Islam. Qur'an 45.23

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.

Christianity. James 4.1-3

The man who gathers flowers [of sensual pleasure], whose mind is distracted and who is insatiate in desires, the Destroyer brings under his sway.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 48

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God;" for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.

Christianity. James 1.13-15

In desire is man born; >From desire he consumes objects of various tastes; By desire is he led away bound, Buffeted across the face. Bound by evil qualities is he chastised--

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri Raga Ashtpadi, M.1, p. 61

Envy and desire and ambition drive a man out of the world.

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 4.28

Samyutta Nikaya lvi.11: Cf. Dhammapada 212-16, p. 927. James 4.1-3: Cf. 1 Peter 2.11, p. 926; also Great Learning 7, p. 928; Maitri Upanishad 6.28, p. 1054. Abot 4.28: Cf. Itivuttaka 45, p. 390; Uttaradhyayana Sutra 23.38, p. 390; Sorath, M.3, p. 390.

There are three gates to self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 16.21

If a man fails to overcome illicit lustful desires, and pursues them, he will bring ruin upon himself. In the end, he will bring destruction to this world and universe.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 1-3-86

Arjuna: What is the force that binds us to selfish deeds, O Krishna? What power moves us, even against our will, as if forcing us?

Krishna: It is selfish desire and anger, arising from the state of being known as passion; these are the appetites and evils which threaten a person in this life.

Just as a fire is covered by smoke and a mirror is obscured by dust, just as an embryo is enveloped deep within the womb, knowledge is hidden by selfish desire--hidden, Arjuna, by this unquenchable fire for self-satisfaction, the inveterate enemy of the wise.

Selfish desire is found in the senses, mind, and intellect, misleading them and burying wisdom in delusion. Fight with all your strength, Arjuna! Controlling your senses, conquer your enemy, the destroyer of knowledge and realization.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 3.36-41

Clinging, in bondage to desires, not seeing in bondage any fault, thus bound and fettered, never can they cross the flood so wide and mighty.

Blinded are beings by their sense desires spread over them like a net; covered are they by cloak of craving; by their heedless ways caught as a fish in the mouth of a funnel-net. Decrepitude and death they journey to, just as a sucking calf goes to its mother.

Buddhism. Udana 75-76

Bhagavad Gita 3.36-41: Cf. Maitri Upanishad 6.34, p. 389. Udana 75-76: Cf. Udana 72, p. 401.

The fish that is excessively attached to water, without water dies. For love of the lotus is the humming-bee destroyed, Finding not the way of escape... Subdued by lust is the elephant caught, Helpless under others' power. For the love of sound the deer bows his head, Thereby torn to pieces. Beholding his family, by greed is man attracted, With wealth involved: Deeply in wealth involved, regarding it as his own, Which inevitably he must leave behind. Whoever with other than the Lord forms love, Know him to be eternally the sufferer.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Dhanasari, M.5, pp. 670-71

Just as a tree with roots unharmed and firm, though hewn down, sprouts again, even so while latent craving is not rooted out, this sorrow springs up again and again.

If in anyone the thirty-six streams of craving that rush towards pleasureable thoughts are strong, such a deluded person torrential thoughts of lust carry off.

The streams of craving flow everywhere. The creeper sprouts and stands. Seeing the creeper that has sprung up, with wisdom cut off the root.

In beings there arise pleasures that rush towards sense-objects, and such beings are steeped in craving. Bent on happiness, they seek happiness. Verily, such men come to birth and decay.

Folk enwrapt in craving are terrified like a captive hare. Held fast by fetters and bonds, for long they come to sorrow again and again....

That which is made of iron, wood, or hemp, is not a strong bond, say the wise; the longing for jewels, ornaments, children, and wives is a far greater attachment. That bond is strong, say the wise. It hurls down, is supple, and is hard to loosen. This too the wise cut off, and leave the world, with no longing, renouncing sensual pleasures.

Those who are infatuated with lust fall back into the stream, as does a spider into the web spun by itself. This too the wise cut off, and wander, with no longing, released from all sorrow.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 338-47

Dhanasari, M.5: Cf. Gauri Purabi, Ravi Das, p. 401. Dhammapada 338-47: Vv. 338-42, 345-47. Cf. Dhammapada 334-37, pp. 927f.; Itivuttaka 114-15, p. 542.

Confucius said, "I have never seen anyone whose desire to build up his moral power was as strong as sexual desire."

Confucianism. Analects 9.17

There is no crime greater than having too many desires; There is no disaster greater than not being content; There is no misfortune greater than being covetous.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 46

They say that woman is an enticement. No, No, she is not so. They say that money is an enticement. No, No, it is not so. They say that landed property is an enticement. No, No, it is not so. The real enticement is the insatiable appetite of the mind, O Lord Guheswara!

Hinduism. Allama Prabhu, Vacana 91

All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

Judaism and Christianity. Ecclesiastes 1.8

Desire never rests by enjoyment of lusts, as fire surely increases the more butter is offered to it.

Hinduism. Laws of Manu 2.94

Not by a shower of gold coins does contentment arise in sensual pleasures.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 186

Passion makes the bones rot.

Judaism and Christianity. Proverbs 14.30

Analects 9.17: Repeated at Analects 15.12. Allama Prabhu, Vacana 91: Allama Prabhu was a Shaivite contemporary of Basavanna. This passage opposes the tendency to despise women as responsible for men's downfall. Rather, men are at fault for their self-begotten lusts. Guheswara is a name of Shiva.

The ignorant one craves for a life of luxury and repeatedly hankers after pleasures. Haunted by his own desires he gets benumbed and is rewarded only with suffering.

The benighted one is incompetent to assuage sufferings, because he is attached to desires and is lecherous. Oppressed by physical and mental pain, he keeps rotating in a whirlpool of agony. I say so.

Jainism. Acarangasutra 2.60, 74

The love of money is the root of all evils.

Christianity. 1 Timothy 6.10

Wealth is the fountainhead of inordinate craving.

Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Saying 56

What is that love which is based on greed? When there is greed, the love is false.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Shalok, Farid, p. 1378

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain: this also is vanity.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Ecclesiastes 5.10

Even were the wealth of the entire world bestowed lavishly on a man, he would not be happy: contentment is difficult to attain.

Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 8.16

O my wealth-coveting and foolish soul, when will you succeed in emancipating yourself from the desire for wealth? Shame on my foolishness! I have been your toy! It is thus that one becomes a slave of others. No one born on earth did ever attain to the end of desire.... Without doubt, O Desire, your heart is as hard as adamant, since though affected by a hundred distresses, you do not break into pieces! I know you, O Desire, and all those things that are dear to you! The desire for wealth can never bring happiness.

Hinduism. Mahabharata, Santi Parva 177

1 Timothy 6.10: This is frequently misquoted. It states that it is the love of money, not money itself, which is the root of all evils. Cf. Matthew 4.4, p. 937; 6.24, p. 937; 19.21-24, p. 837; Deuteronomy 32.15, p. 409. Shalok, Farid: Cf. Asa-ki-Var, M.2, p. 1000.

He who considers wealth a good thing can never bear to give up his income; he who considers eminence a good thing can never bear to give up his fame. He who has a taste for power can never bear to hand over authority to others. Holding tight to these things, such men shiver with fear; should they let them go, they would pine in sorrow. They never stop for a moment of reflection, never cease to gaze with greedy eyes--they are men punished by Heaven.

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 14

Carnality is nothing but mundane existence, and mundane existence is nothing but carnality. Stupefied by the acute torments caused by tempting passions, a sensual person dwells in mundane existence, uttering, "My mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my wife, my son, my daughter, my daughter-in-law, my friend, my kith and kin, my vast property and means, my food and clothes." Infatuated by deep attachments to these, he dwells with them. He lives constantly tormented by avidity; he endeavors to amass wealth in season and out of season; being desirous of sensual pleasures, he is avid for money, so much so that he becomes an out and out rogue committing theft or injury.... Such a man repeatedly becomes a killer of living beings.

Jainism. Acarangasutra 2.1-3

Do men delight in what they see?--they are corrupted by colors. Do they delight in what they hear?--they are corrupted by sounds. Do they delight in benevolence?--they bring confusion to virtue. Do they delight in righteous- ness?--they turn their backs on reason. Do they delight in rites?--they are aiding artificiality. Do they delight in music?--they are aiding dissolution. Do they delight in sageliness?--they are assisting artifice. Do they delight in knowledge?--they are assisting the fault-finders. As long as the world rests in the true form of its inborn nature and fate, it makes no difference whether these eight delights exist or not. But if the world does not rest in the true form of its nature and fate, then these eight delights will begin to grow warped and crooked, jumbled and deranged, and will bring confusion to the world. And if on top of that the world begins to honor them and cherish them, then the delusion of the world is great indeed!

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 11

The gods asked Shiva to revive Kama [Desire], and they said, "Without Desire the whole universe will be destroyed. How can you exist without Desire?" But Shiva replied in anger, "The universe must continue without Desire, for it was he who caused all the gods, including Indra, to fall from their places and become humble, and it is Desire who leads all creatures to hell. Without Desire a man can do no evil.... I burnt Desire in order to give peace to all creatures, and I will not revive him, since he is the evil at the root of all misery. Now all of you should set your minds on asceticism." The gods and sages said, "What you have said, Shiva, is no doubt the very best thing for us, but nevertheless, all of this universe was created by means of Desire, and all of it is the form of Desire, and that Desire cannot be killed. How can you have burnt Kama? You yourself made him and gave him the ability he has just used." But Shiva merely scowled and vanished.

Hinduism. Skanda Purana 1.1.21

Acarangasutra 2.1-3: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 16.7-16, p. 397. Chuang Tzu 11: Cf. Tao Te Ching 12, p. 934; Great Learning 7, p. 928. Skanda Purana 1.1.21: Kama, here personified, is the principle of desire. Later, Shiva accedes to the gods' request and revives Kama. The tension between asceticism and desire is a theme which continues throughout the cycle of Shiva myths. Pure asceticism, by whose ardor (tapas) the gods and sages sustain their divinity, and desire, whose energy engenders all life, are apparently irreconcilable, yet both are necessary. Kama (love) is praised as the divine source of all creation in Atharva Veda 9.2.19-20, p. 138.

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