S17.5 Laabhasakkaarasa.myutta, Connected discourses on Gains and Honour translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
At Saavatthii. “Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honour, and praise, bitter, vile, obstructive to achieving the unsurpassed security from bondage. Suppose there was a beetle, a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of her was a large dunghill. Because of this she would despise the other beetles, thinking: ‘I am a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of me there is a large dunghill.’ So too, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honour and praise dresses in the morning and taking bowl and robe, enters a village or town for alms. There he would eat as much as he wants, he would be invited for the next day’s meal, and his almsfood would be plentiful. When he goes back to the monastery, he boasts before a group of bhikkhus: ‘I have eaten as much as I want, I have been invited for tomorrow’s meal, and my almsfood is plentiful. I am one who gains robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites, but these other bhikkhus have little merit and influence, and they do not gain robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites.’ Thus, because his mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honour and praise, he despises the other well-behaved bhikkhus. That will lead to the harm and suffering of this senseless person for a long time. So dreadful, bhikkhus, are gain, honour and praise, so bitter, vile, obstructive to achieving the unsurpassed security from bondage. Therefore, bhikkhus you should train yourselves thus: ‘”We will abandon the arisen gain, honour, and praise, and we will not let the arisen gain, honour and praise persist in obsessing our minds.’ Thus you should train yourselves.”
The simile of the dung beetle and the dung hill is interesting since it shows the true value of material requisites such as food, clothing, lodging and medicines. These are useful to provide the conditions for life but are not to be clung to or obsessed over. These items are simply a means to support life so that we may develop higher faculties and overcome suffering once and for all.
The hindrance here is the maana-conceit of comparing oneself with others. Although the Blessed One has pointed out the case of someone who believes they are superior to others, there is also the harm caused by someone who thinks they are inferior to others. Both people are at fault for judging themselves and others and comparing criteria that are not important. This latter point indicates the source of the problem is a type of wrong view. For those who consider themselves superior or inferior by assessing material possessions are implying that material possessions are important and may even go as far as assuming a permanent self that is superior to others that also have a permanent self or soul. It is a short step to then construing a view that a deity may have blessed them with gain, honour and praise because of their inherent and enduring superiority or alternatively cursed them on account of their inherent inferiority.
For those obsessed with gain, honour and praise are more likely to kill, steal, lie, sexually misbehave and do other evil deeds in order to satisfy their desires. Being obsessed and overcome with gain, honour and praise is distracting and spoils concentration. With a mind easily distracted and concentration weakened, a person is unlikely to develop wisdom and find liberation from suffering. In fact, with low concentration and being easily distracted, one is likely to find pain and suffering in this life.
The following sutta includes a reference to those who are obsessed by a lack of honour…
At Saavatthii. “Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honour, and praise…. Bhikkhus, I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by honour, with the breakup of the body, after death, reborn in a state of misery, in a bad desitnation, in the netherworld, in hell. Then I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by lack of honour… reborn in a state of misery… Then I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by both honour and lack of honour, with the breakup of the body, after death, reborn in a state of misery, in a bad destination, in the netherworld, in hell. So dreadful, bhikkhus are gain, honour, and praise… Thus you should train yourselves.”
This is what the Blessed One said. Having said this, the Fortunate One, the Teacher, further said this:
“Whether he is showered with honour,
Shown dishonour, or offered both,
His concentration does not vacillate
As he dwells in the measureless state.
When he meditates with perseverance,
An insight-seer of subtle view
Delighting in the destruction of clinging,
They call him truly are superior man.”
Perhaps a person obsessed by gain, honour and praise would seek to protect or increase existing levels by committing various crimes. Others who are obsessed by an apparent lack of gain, honour and praise may give up trying to increase their own gain, honour and praise, and instead through jealousy, work hard to reduce their rivals’ gain, honour and praise. They may also commit various crimes in the process. Either way, anyone obsessed in this way will take the dark path and increase suffering for themselves.