In my last dharma talk I described the first practice of awakening that Buddha taught just before he died, “Have few desires.” This week, I discuss the second practice of awakening. “Know how much is enough.”
The Buddha said, “If you want to be free from suffering, contemplate knowing how much is enough. By knowing it, you enter the place of enjoyment and peacefulness and will be contented even when you sleep on the ground. If you don’t know how much enough is, you will feel poor even if you have much wealth, and you will be constantly pulled by desire.”
Not knowing how much is enough is the root of addiction. In fact, it is the very nature of addiction to turn off our capacity to know when we have had enough. This is why a major emphasis in mindful eating is learning to recognize when we have had enough. In truth, it is enough to have one or two potato chips, but so many of us don’t know that, so instead of having a brief enjoyable nibble, we don’t stop eating until the bag of potato chips is empty. It’s the same with all forms of addiction.
It’s not only substance addiction that blocks our knowledge of when we have had enough. Anything that distracts us from the intensity of daily life can become an addiction. We get hooked into mindless activity at the computer and waste precious hours in front of the screen. When we don’t know how much is enough our lives get completely out of balance.
We live in a world where nobody feels they have enough. We are taught to increase our income, our possessions, our friendships, and our knowledge. Nations strive to “grow their economy.” The wealthy busy themselves with amassing more wealth. And yet, so much suffering comes from not knowing when we have enough. Wars are fought for more territory and resources and pristine valleys are destroyed to make more ski resorts. Individuals who can’t set a limit to eating, drinking and amassing wealth know only discontent. When we know we have enough we can spend less money and avoid supporting an economic system that exploits workers and destroys the environment.
There are so many benefits to realizing when we have enough. Feeling satisfied with few possessions destroys greed and makes us content with being healthy and strong enough to nourish our spiritual lives. Knowing when we have enough cuts through the trap of satisfying excessive desires and give us an opportunity to attain peace of body and mind. When we are content with little, we can develop our capacity for generosity and use our abundant material goods to help others. Free of greed, we can realize the highest goal – enlightenment.
Suggested Practice: Notice when your thoughts, words and actions are rooted in a feeling that you need more than what you already have: a thinner body, more money, more friends, a bigger house, a better car.