The word lobha is translated in English as greed. In the yogic tradition lobha is differentiated from kama, or desire. Kama is the drive that motivates you to interact in the world for personal gain and is a necessary aspect of life. Without the driving force of kama there would be no creation. Lobha is something different; the inordinate desire for excess. Excess is never necessary and therefore lobha, unlike kama, is an unnecessary reaction to life. It is also harmful and detrimental. Why then are people greedy and always wanting more? Why is it so difficult to be satisfied and content with what we have?
There are two explanations for lobha. One is indulgence or bhoga and the other is bhaya or fear. Lobha is the pursuit of excess combined with the inability to discriminate between necessity and indulgence. This lack of discrimination is caused by fear that underlies and stimulates lobha. According to yoga, there are four instincts: ahara, craving for fulfilment and satisfaction; nidra, desire for relaxation, disconnection, sleep and comfort; bhaya, insecurity and fear; and maithuna or sensual passion. Bhaya is the catalyst or the ignition switch for lobha. Lobha is the vritti, or the frequency of mental energy and pattern of thoughts arising in response to subterranean currents of fear that are generally unacknowledged. The desire for more alleviates fear and insecurity and this is the only positive contribution that lobha makes to the personality.
At a psychological level the inability to discriminate between need and desire is driven by a fundamental sense of deprivation. When this feeling of lack is particularly strong, a person can become utterly fixated on seeking what they ‘need’, always trying to get hold of the one thing that will finally eliminate the deep-rooted feeling of not having enough. The concept of something lacking in life can be sourced in early childhood experiences that have affected negatively upon the personality, or a lack of love or attention. Lobha becomes the mechanism to protect the self and hide the feelings of insecurity and weakness by projecting the ego as successful, competent, powerful and in control.
The problem is this mechanism does not work. Firstly, there is no evidence to suggest that earning more money and having more things actually makes you happier. Recent studies show that people are happier as they earn more money only up to a certain point. There is no doubt that the ability to satisfy the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, education, comfort and stability contribute greatly to levels of happiness. But after that point, there is a clear case of diminishing returns in terms of happiness, and a new set of feelings, such as anxiety, stress, insecurity and loneliness caused by social isolation set in. This is called the ‘Futility Limit.’
Secondly, the imbalance created by lobha exacerbates the underlying feeling of need and insecurity. Lobha can never bring about a feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment. Lobha exhausts the energy and positive qualities in a person through an endless effort to compensate for something, without ever attaining satisfaction. Objects which are pursued out of lobha are temporary and devoid of intrinsic value. In themselves, objects do not bring happiness, and they do not change the basic programming of the mind which keeps seeking something it does not have.
The focus of lobha can be anything: money, power, status, sex, food, attention, love, knowledge, something concrete or abstract, real or symbolic. At the emotional level the focus is in relation to other people, and expressed as a parasitic need for constant attention and support. Emotional manipulation, excessive demands, hypochondria, lies, threats, and histrionics to get attention, recognition and preferential treatment are all examples of lobha at the emotional level. In the short term emotional lobha may get results in terms of eliciting extra attention, but in the long term it is not likely to be sustained. When the support is withdrawn the result is crisis and a return to the perpetual cycle of lack and longing.
At the mental level, lobha expresses through self-oriented interaction in the world in order to feel secure and stable, or through ambitions and a competitive attitude in life. Everyone and everything is seen in comparison to oneself. ‘Does that person have more than me? I should have more than they do.’ Lobha is like a goad that keeps poking and pushing, and the individual is repeatedly propelled into action to fulfil the self-oriented desires. To obtain the external trappings of material success requires more and more wealth, and financial gain becomes the obsession in life. Spending time with family and friends, emotional connection through experiences of love, kindness, and compassion are relegated to the background, and lobha takes over the lifestyle.
We need to recognize the impact that greed has upon the world we live in. Put simply, the environmental crisis has lobha at its source. Unsustainable resource consumption is nothing other than greed. Humans are the species that experiences and expresses lobha. A tree does not eat its own fruit. Seasonal abundance is shared with all freely and balance is maintained. Animals do not take more than they need. The human species is responsible for the unprecedented consumption and destruction of resources, because of our selfishness and inability to restrain greed.
Unrestrained lobha is poisoning the planet. For life to continue, lobha has to be restrained. Restraint of lobha has to happen in a way that will have a positive impact on the planet before it is too late. That means every individual has to make a decision about how to live life. Whether it is climate change, water scarcity, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, or any aspect of environmental degradation, ultimately the future will be determined by the attitudes we have towards nature and the choices we make. As long as greed is the paramount motivation, there will always be manipulation, exploitation and destruction.
The tendency to collect and amass property gives rise to wrong conduct; it leads to undesirable thought processes and unholy attitudes. However, the tendency to give brings about a complete change in our behaviour, our way of thinking, our way of expression. This is the statement of our sages and seers.
—Swami Satyananda Saraswati