‘Nature has enough for everyone’s needs, but not enough for everyone’s greed,’ said Mahatma Gandhi. But how do we, lesser mortals, distinguish between the two?
Every one of us experiences needs. They arise at birth and continue to linger with us till the end of our days. As none can escape their hold, it is important for us to understand their role in life and also recognise when they turn into greed.
Abraham Maslow, the eminent psychologist, has categorised needs in an ascending order.
First come bodily needs of food, shelter and clothes. Next come the mental requirements of self-esteem and respect. The last is the highest position and is occupied by self-actualisation.
It is when bodily needs are met that the individual feels safe and secure.
He is then enabled to move to the next stage, which is that of building good relationships and winning the respect and approval of others.
In order to do this, he has to consider the needs of others. Only by accepting the other and offering service can he hope to win acceptance for himself. Sooner or later, the individual learns that needs are mutual and will endure only through mutual fulfillment.
This is true of all relationships, whether they concern children, spouses or friends. Going beyond this is the spiritual need of self-actualisation. The aim here is not so much that of reward but of inner growth and satisfaction.
The joys of reaching out to others in need are felt and seen to be greater than any mental or material gain.
Greed, on the other hand, is satisfaction of the needs of one’s own self. It pays no attention to others, intent as it is on selfish gain.
Needs, wisely used, can lead us to the highest goals that one can conceive.
It is an uphill road, one that is full of hurdles, but it promises peace and progress. The life of Gautama Buddha bears clear testimony to this. Born a prince, he grew surrounded by opulence.
However, he found this to be another name for greed. Leaving it all behind, he went in search of truth. Then began a period of self-denial, when he deprived his body of many elemental needs.
It did nothing though to take him closer to his goal. At last he gave up his rigorous practice of renunciation and broke his fast by accepting a bowl of gruel.
The realisation that needs have a place in life struck him forcefully. Enlightenment dawned and he saw clearly the wisdom of needs.
It is embodied in The Middle Way that he advocated. Stated briefly, it runs, ‘There are two extremes from which a person must abstain. One is a life of pleasures, driven by desires and greed. Such a life is ignoble and unworthy.
The other is a life of mortification. Such a life is also gloomy and unworthy. The way lies between them.... It is The Middle Way. It leads to peace, to wisdom and Enlightenment.’