Photo: Phil W Shirley.
How to work with Buddhism’s Eight Worldly Concerns.
In everyone’s life, the loss of money through theft, a break-in or bankruptcy; the break-up of a live-in relationship or the loss of a loved one through death; the pain of aging and falling apart; or the experience of insult—any of these “bummers” may occur.
Given impermanence, everything changes. That is the most fundamental teaching of the buddhadharma.
Kleshas or conflicting emotions fly if we are not able to stay with the soft spot of sadness when experiencing loss or pain. Then anger and blame create the drama of a bad movie or soap opera in our lives.
What kind of active ignoring or carelessness led to this? How did we miss the signs?
Denial and ignorance happen when we want to believe, when we hope so much that life is going to live up to our projections. When we believe that we will be upwardly mobile, marry the spouse of our dreams, maintain our youthful appearance and vitality throughout our lives and encounter only praise. But when hope turns to attachment for these worldly concerns, we miss all the signs in our fixation that such things bring genuine happiness and contentment.
In those times when we are blinded by applause, love or gambling for profit, we tend to forget equanimity and inquisitiveness. We don’t want to take the time to slow down, to pause and actually pay attention to the quiet, intuitive voice inside.
Instead, we want to be swept off our feet. In doing so, we have switched allegiance from sanity to excitement.
There often is a gradual lead up to this shift in allegiance, one so gradual that it seems imperceptible. And all of us can fall prey to this shift when our hope becomes attachment to praise, gain, fame and pleasure. This is the beginning of what are called the Worldly Dharmas or Concerns taking root.
Obviously we all enjoy compliments, and have an aversion to blame. And who wouldn’t choose pleasure over pain? Likewise in business we prefer profit to loss, and in public life we choose fame over shame.
But when the conditions of life begin to deceive us into thinking that our basic nature—our Buddha nature or intrinsic basic goodness—increases or decreases with the positive or negative worldly conditions, we need to wake up and realize that this is a fallacy.
Our Buddha nature, our basic goodness is always present. When seduced by hope into attachment to gain, pleasure, praise and fame; or overcome by fear and aversion to loss, pain, blame and poor reputation—we not only lose touch with our true nature, but we lose touch with what is genuine or not in others.
It is then that disappointment, loss, pain and disrepute—as sad as these are, and as much as they hurt—open us up to the possibility of seeing things the way they really are. The pitfalls to avoid at this time are anger, depression and blame. When smacked with negative conditions, suddenly we know who our real friends are and appreciate them more than ever. And, if we do not fall into one of the pitfalls, we actually want to and can begin to see and hear the truth—which has been resonating inside of us all along, but to which we were blind, deaf and dumb.
The four “positive” worldly concerns—gain, pleasure, praise and fame.
The four “positive” worldly concerns are often called devaputra mara, literally “son of god deception.” It is said that right before the Buddha’s Enlightenment that Mara and his daughters— none-other than Buddha’s own thoughts—tried to seduce him away from the earth-shaking moment of awake. But Buddha saw through the illusion of Mara’s weapons of mass destruction and there was no gain, pleasure, praise or fame that could move Buddha from his seat. He remained undistracted and immovable.
There is also a famous Tibetan folk tale that points out how sometimes seemingly “good” conditions are detrimental, while seemingly “bad” conditions wind up being quite helpful. The story goes something like this:
A poor father and his son live on the Eastern plains of Tibet in the province then known as Kham. One day the son finds a young stray colt, is able to capture it and, overjoyed, brings the young horse home to his father.
His father, though a poor farmer, has achieved a great deal of equanimity through the practice of meditation. He smiles and says to his son, “We shall see.”
The boy trains the horse and as it matures, they bond. But in his blind love the boy is so swept away with his horse that he neglects the more ordinary aspects of his life, like helping his father harvest the barley.
And one day the boy falls, breaks his leg, and his horse runs away.
Limping home, he cries out to his father, “Oh look what tragedy has befallen me!”
But the father again simply replies, “We shall see.” At the same time a civil war breaks out further to the East and many young men from Kham are pulled into the conflict, only to lose their lives. But the boy, unable to join the fight, mends and survives. And like his father, he begins to have less attachment to gain and pleasure, and less aversion to pain and loss.
In Tibetan, the Eight Worldly Concerns are called jik ten chos gyed.
Jik means destroyable, ten refers to the basis; and together jikten means world—literally, the basis that can be destroyed. Chos means dharma, the truth and gyed means eight.
So the teachings on the Eight Worldly Dharmas, Concerns or Facts of Life point to the reality that everything in the world is impermanent and is capable of breaking down or breaking up.
The non-theistic approach of the buddhadharma encourages us to free ourselves from being victims of conditionality. We do not need to be a “feather for every wind that blows,” as Shakespeare put it.
Self-liberation is up to each one of us. We have to do our own homework, mixing our meditation and the dharma with our experience. This requires having sympathy and warmth toward ourselves, particularly during the tough times. When loss, pain, blame or poor reputation hit us hard, we can emulate the example and be inspired by the teachings of the great lineage figures or the great teachers of the present day. And when we tend to get swept away by pleasure, praise, gain or fame, the Buddha—who sat immovable through it all—is a helpful reminder. We are not helpless. We can hold our seat.
This comes down to trusting in our Buddha Nature, our awake nature. Being open and vulnerable is great. Letting go becomes fruitional. How we handle the present journey of personal experience is more to the point than any goal or target in the future.
The Vidyadhara Trungpa Rinpoche said,
“The example of Lord Buddha himself is one of taking elephant steps, one step, two steps, walking surely and precisely in the jungle. The Buddhist national animal is not the road runner…
We actually work step by step, very simply and directly, in a way that is dignified, precise, glorious and fantastic.”*
*Quoted from Talk 5 of “Ego and Its Projections”, February 23, 1975
Linda Lewis met the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 and, following Rinpoche’s invitation, immediately moved to Boulder, Colorado to be a part of his young and vital sangha.
The predominant themes in her life have been teaching in contemplative schools–Vidya, Naropa, and the Shambhala School in Halifax, Nova Scotia–and studying, practicing, or teaching his Shambhala Buddhadharma wherever she finds herself.