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Verse 39: The poorest of all beings

A multi-part course based on Open Heart, Clear Mind given at Sravasti Abbey’s monthly Sharing the Dharma Day from April 2007 to December 2008. You can also study the book in depth through the Sravasti Abbey Friends Education (SAFE) online learning program.

  • Attachment to wealth brings fear of losing what we have
  • Sometimes when we have less we don’t cling to it so much
  • How we create identities based on our possessions

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 39 (download)

We’re on Verse 39 of the Dalai Lama’s text Gems of Wisdom. “Who are the most poor [poorest] of all beings in this world? Those so attached to their wealth that they know no satisfaction.”

Who are the poorest of all beings in this world?
Those who are so attached to their wealth that they know no satisfaction.

When we’re attached to our wealth…. Here it’s clearly talking about material wealth. But it could be talking about our reputation. It could be talking about the number of friends we have. Or how we gauge our “popularity,” or whatever you want to call it. It could be any of the different kinds of wealth that we have. But whenever we’re very attached to it then the attachment itself brings the mind of dissatisfaction. Because we never have enough. Never. When we’re attached to something, impossible to feel satisfied with what we have. And all we have to do is just look at our own experience.

How many people have financial security? Even people who are very wealthy do not have financial security. They do not feel secure. At all. No matter how much they have. Because there’s this constant kind of dissatisfaction that comes from being attached to the wealth. And then also when we’re attached to it we’re very stingy and miserly and we don’t want to share it.

We all know this. I mean you look in our own experience, look in the lives of the people around us. How much we actually have has nothing to do with how rich we feel. Or how poor we feel. Feeling wealthy or feeling impoverished is really a state of mind.

And I really saw that in many ways when I lived in India. How the poor people in the community had a sense of wealth in that they would share their things with other people without fear of “if I share it, if I give it, I won’t have it.” Whereas so many people in the States, when I came back, people who have middle class lives were complaining to me how poor they were…. And they had tons more stuff than the people in India had. But what they didn’t have was the mind of satisfaction, because of all the attachment to the stuff.

Sometimes when we have less we don’t cling to it as much. It’s strange. Depends on the mind, of course. Sometimes if you’ve grown up with a lot, then when you have less, it’s [mimes grasping]. But sometimes when you don’t grow up with so much, then it’s just kind of normal, there’s a feeling of satisfaction, and life goes on.

But we can really see, when there’s a stinginess, fear of losing what we have, fear of “what are people going to think about us if we don’t have this?” You know? All this kind of stuff…. Then actually, we’re quite poor. Inside.

And it’s interesting to notice, like when…. A few years ago when the economy kind of went down I was getting a lot of freaked out emails from people about, “Ahh! The economy has gone down and what am I going to do?” And none of them were people who had a chance to be out on the street by Tuesday. You know? They weren’t going to be living on the street by Tuesday. Even Tuesday in a few months from now. But the mind was so tight and so fearful, creating all these stories unnecessarily about “if I don’t have this then what’s going to happen here and what’s going to happen there? And it’s all going to fall apart and I’m going to be a bag lady.” When I really…. It didn’t look like that at all to me.

The thing is to reduce our attachment to whatever it is we consider our wealth. Be it material wealth or our reputation, our social status. Or whatever it is. If we’re unattached to it then we can share it and we have a sense of satisfaction.

This actually applies to knowledge as well. Because some people can be very stingy about what they know. I’ve heard at some of the elite universities the students go and check out the important text books from the library and don’t return them so that other students can’t go and learn from those text books. So people being so stingy about knowledge.

Or not wanting to teach others out of fear that if you teach somebody something they may become better than you. Actually, any teacher who is worth anything should want their students to better than they are. But how many teachers are holding onto their knowledge and their reputation and “you’re good as long as you’re not better than me. But don’t you dare be better than me.” So it comes down to that same stinginess and attachment, dissatisfaction that’s not going to go away by changing the amoung of knowledge that one has or any kind of external situation. That kind of internal pain only goes away when we change our mind.

And that’s where the practice of developing contentment comes in. And the practice of cultivating generosity and taking delight in being generous.

[In response to audience] Okay, when you moved here you knew you had to get rid of a lot of stuff, and you had accumulated a lot of stuff. And at first this sense of fear of, “If I don’t have it surely I’m going to need it.” But then the actual reality was, as you got rid of it you felt lighter and lighter.

[In response to audience] How much we’re encouraged to cultivate and identity around what we own. And who we are, and what we know and what our social status is. And that actually has very little to do with who we really are.

[In response to audience] Yes. Our things own us. We don’t own them.

[In response to audience] So people feel impoverished in terms of opportunities. That they don’t have the chance to do something. And as a result they don’t build their self-confidence. Yes.

[In response to audience] You’re talking about seeing impoverished children in certain circumstances where they had the opportunity that she’s talking about and how they were really happy. Yes. For sure.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Albert Gerome Ramos was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He has been incarcerated since 2005 and is currently enrolled in the North Carolina Field Minister Program. Upon graduation he plans to start programs that help incarcerated people with mental health issues, drug dependency, and those who struggle from childhood trauma. He is the author of the children's book Gavin Discovers the Secret to Happiness.