There is a force so strong it threatens to destroy our nation, society, and the Earth itself. Many of the major religions have warned us against this force and offered advice on how to avoid this pitfall. In many of these religions, there have been dedicated groups of persons who lived outside the reach of this force, calling us back to another way of living.
This force is discontentment.
In the United States, our society is fueled by discontent. Marketing and advertising are honed and engineered to drive us to feel that we are incomplete without whatever product is being advertised. If we could only have that appliance or that gadget, our life would be complete, and we would be better people. If we only go and pay to partake in this social event we can enjoy ourselves. If we only do x, y, and z thing we can finally have the perfect life we want.
Discontentment fuels our economy. However, it also causes us to forsake our family and loved ones. It causes us to bring destruction to our Earth. Discontentment causes us to partake in systems that enslave and oppress others.
Many of the world’s religious have a gift for us, though. They speak wise words of contentment.
The foundations of Buddhism are found in the four noble truths. The four noble truths revolve around the realization that life involves suffering and that suffering originates in desire. The only way for suffering to cease is for desire to cease. Buddhists hope to cease desire through following the Eightfold Path.
We can see similar struggles all over the world, where one person’s desire causes suffering not only in their own life but in the lives of so many others as well.
In the Quran, there are many surahs that speak of God as the giver of contentment, that one who lives righteously will be made content by God, not by other men. One is not made content by buying objects or achieving status. In fact, putting faith in objects or status in this way could be seen as a form of idolatry.
In the shared Hebrew scriptures of Christianity and Judaism, we find examples of contentment in the story of the Israelites in the desert. One specific example is a story found in both Exodus 16 and Numbers 11. In this story, God provides for the Israelites in the wilderness, but they are not content; they want more. In Exodus, when they try to gather more than they need, the excess rots. In Numbers, God punishes those who are discontented with so much excess that those who were discontented are destroyed by their greed.
In many of the world’s religions, there are monastic traditions. Monastics commonly live a simple life set apart from society. They provide an example of how little it takes to be content. They call us to lay down our destructive desire and seek contentment where we are, here and now.
Some would rightfully remind me that this argument for contentment has been perverted to tell the oppressed that they should simply be content in their oppression. Liberation theologians remind us that their situation of oppression is created out of the greed and discontent of others with too much excess in their lives. When I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I say, “give us our daily bread:” only what I need for today. For when I seek more, not only does my excess rot, not only am I destroyed by my own greed, but my neighbor is denied their daily bread.
Part of confronting our discontent and greed is an increase of righteous discontent with the lack of justice, an increase of desire for equality.
If we learn to practice contentment, it is possible for all to be content and for all to receive their daily bread.
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