“Do Not Covet”

Charlie Holles

I have recently been considering the third of the 10 Great Precepts, perhaps due to challenges that my life is giving me at present. The definition of covet is ‘to crave or long for something, especially that which belongs to someone else – even to lust after’. In general, I think of coveting as cravings, perhaps jealousy, of material things owned by another or perhaps jealousy of their status or achievements.
I wonder if coveting could be extended to include health? Currently I am experiencing difficult health challenges, which are in part due to age. At times I can look at others (especially people of my age or older) who seem to be in much better health and feel a little frustrated at my situation. This is particularly so because at times things impact quite a lot on the many commitments I have.
Yet this coveting of the state of someone else takes me away from exactly what my life is right now. It is a lack of acceptance, a clinging to how I would like things to be and this causes further mental suffering on top of the physical difficulties. Of course, accepting does not mean that I should not do what I can to work with medical and health practitioners to improve things. But as the Buddha taught, the source of our peace of mind is completely within the mind and I am coming to accept that it is possible that there might not be a lot of improvement.
I have friends who enquire about my health, knowing that things are pretty hard for me at the moment. Of course, they do this out of concern and I am grateful for that but there is a danger that they and I can begin to define me by my illness. That is not who I am. Now I try to respond by saying that ‘it is what it is’ rather than saying that I have had a bad few days or week.
It seems to me that most dissatisfaction stems from a lack of acceptance of conditions as they are. This does not mean we should be fatalistic and not try to make positive changes if appropriate. Yet, in many ways, life happens to us and we have very little control over much of what comes our way. Over the last couple of years, I have come to a greater understanding of what acceptance means for me. This has been a great relief as I have always been someone who has gone out to plough my own patch; to do things, often against the odds. As a result, I have led a rich and varied life (for which I am grateful) but if I am honest it has often been far from a peaceful and contented one. Difficult though things are at the moment I am also finding gratitude as I can learn much from how my life is and acceptance of the conditions can help me find greater peace of mind. After all, ‘the koan arises in daily life’. The bedrock and practice of our Buddhist training is in all that comes our way each day.

2 Replies to ““Do Not Covet””

  1. Another nice piece, Charlie. I can identify with everything you say, more in relation to my husband’s illness and my life as a carer than due to any illness of my own. Speaking only for myself, though, I have tried saying ‘it is what it is’ in answer to people’s concerned comments and I often find that the phrase is a way of squashing down the sadness that I am feeling. I’ve started to say something else that better reflects how I am actually feeling, such as, ‘Yes, it’s poop’ or ‘It’s not easy’. This is usually followed by natural laughter, which eases or releases the tension. Again, this is very personal but I ‘watch’, with curiosity, my responses to words, mine and other people’s. To move out of the suffering, I find being honest with myself and others about how difficult it actually is, acts as a catalyst for change, which is not at all the same as feeling sorry for oneself. I really enjoyed your post, Charlie – keep them coming!
  2. Thank you for your comment Karen. I appreciate what you say about changing the words in response to people’s enquiry after my health. Although I have used that response (to avoid being sucked into identifying with my challenges) it is perhaps not as gentle or compassionate as it could be. Friends could feel rebuffed by it. I will explore responding in a different way. I really enjoy being part of this site as it is a great way to share and learn from one another.

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