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Wants and Needs

The actual needs of men are few, their wants are many. Alexander weeps for more worlds to conquer, and dies in his drunkeness because he wants so much.

Life is rendered often almost insupportable by the multiplication of its wants, when its needs are so few that modest comfort might be fully enjoyed. As Carlyle says, “Life can be increased in value not so much by increasing your numerator as by decreasing your denominator…“ Art thou nothing other than a vulture, then, that fliest through the universe seeking after something to eat, and shrieking dolefully because carrion enough is not given thee ?” Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard; he needed the power to do right. Seven-eighths of all the misery of mankind comes out of its inordinate wants and desires, for wants beyond needs can be created under every kind of external condition, and great sorrow and suffering comes to those who multiply their wants till they find it difficult to obtain that which is absolutely needful for decency or comfort; so true is it that “He that Soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.” The restless, unsatisfied desires of the lower animal life lead only to ultimate sorrow and decay; whilst obedience to the spiritual laws of the universe, so far as human thought can under- stand them, brings a growing sense of freedom, and vigorous, helpful, and undying power.

But the greatest needs of the human soul consist of those things which are other than material. The needs of the body are few and can be readily obtained by steady application to work in almost any path of life, but the needs of the soul—the desire for the better life— should be cultivated instead of the craving for a multitude of merely animal wants. All that newness of life which Paul felt when he said “for me to live is Christ,” or when he said, “When I am weak, then I am strong," may become a common everyday experience on the part of men and women who have “overcome the world” in any true sense, and who love goodness and walk in the light. We read of the country vicar who was “passing rich on forty pounds a year,” and we have all known many of the happiest and most useful people who so far as money-wealth went were very poor. By exalting the inward above the outward, and by making the value of everything consist in the use we can make of it for ripening our own characters, and for the opening of channels of good to others, we become able to live above the common craving for riches. A wise writer has said that “a truly religious man feels little difficulty in understanding Paul when he says:—“I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content,” not exactly content with that state; but content with the fact that every state supplies abundant opportunities— many more than we are likely to use well—for pursuing the great end of life, and so making the best of this world as we pass through it. It is a common delusion to imagine that the rich alone can be great benefactors, and give help to their fellows. Many a poor workman may be useful and happy, as Well as modest in his simple generosity of soul. If a man is conscious of that true light which strives within he feels a need only for a more perfect righteousness and a more universal divine love, and his wants, which once were many and artificial are reduced to a natural simplicity which affords a peace hitherto unknown.

The idolatry of money very much complicates the question of what we need and, what we want. The accumulation of money, and the reckless and unwise expenditure of money, alike tend to distract thought, and divert labor from its legitimate channels. Recently within a mile of my residence, a race meeting was held, and hundreds of people passed my door on foot, in motor-cars, and every kind of conveyance, all eager, all intent, to supply the passing want of pleasure or possible gain; it would be difficult for any thoughtful man to discover one real need of the human soul, either helped or satisfied by such an energetic pursuit of externals, and it is certain that no real need of life was satisfied by all the hundreds who spent their day at this scene of so-called amusement. The one need of fresh air and exercise might have been obtained without cost and by means much more rational and wholesome. In a stage of evolution and civilization such as ours of the twentieth century—which differs so widely from the older civilizations, and yet so curiously resembles them when the fundamental principles are compared—the guides and teachers of mankind cannot too constantly proclaim the necessity for simplicity of life and ordered obedience to all the best and holiest precepts of wisdom, such as are found in “the sermon on the mount" of Jesus, or in “Buddha’s first sermon." Such obedience, and such a reduction of our wants to the simple but highest needs of the soul of man would bring us to that time of which Tennyson sings:—

“When wealth no more shall rest in mounded heaps,
But, smit with freer light, shall slowly melt
In many streams to fatten lower lands,
And light shall spread, and man be liker man
Through all the season of the golden year.”

This “golden year” will come to all who can flee from false pleasures, put down all foolish desires, and learn to satisfy the deep eternal needs of the soul at the fountains of perfect wisdom, perfect love, and Infinite Goodness.

A religious man shrinks from each of two extremes—a life of pleasure, ignoble, unspiritual, and unreal; and a life of mortification, gloomy, unworthy, and also unreal.
—Buddha

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