The Eight Worldly Concerns
As a first step along the path to liberation, we need to cultivate our motivation to escape from cyclic existence. Letting go of our preoccupation with the things of this life, i.e., the craving and clinging for this life, boils down to the eight worldly concerns.
- The eight worldly concerns can create a lot of problems for us in our lives and in our Dharma practice.
- They are so important because, as long as you're subject to them, these considerations will influence your feelings and actions.
- Put another way, when we do an action that's motivated by one of these concerns, that action produces the result of cyclic existence (as opposed to a result of liberation and enlightenment).
- Even to get a good rebirth, we need to give up the eight worldly concerns.
The Four Pairs
The eight worldly concerns are divided into four pairs of opposites: gain and loss, praise and blame, good reputation and bad reputation, and pleasure and pain.
Gain and Loss
- The more attached we are to money and material possessions, the more we suffer.
- We're happy when we get material things or money, and we're unhappy when we don't get them or lose them.
- We often think we're not that attached to material things, but we find out the truth when somebody takes something that belongs to us or when somebody asks for something. We find it hard to give away even the things we don't use.
- The more attached we are to something, the more upset and angry we are when we lose it.
- We worry about having and keeping enough, and that causes unhappiness now.
- Because of that unhappiness, because of the attachment and aversion, we commit various negative actions to procure and protect our money and possessions.
- These actions create negative karma, bringing more suffering in the future in addition to the present unhappiness.
Praise and Blame
- The more we seek praise and approval, the unhappier we are.
- We're happy when people speak nicely about and to us; we're unhappy when we're disapproved of, criticized or blamed.
- Our moods can swing wildly even within one day, depending upon how people speak to us or about us.
- We can be so reactive, so quick to anger or depression.
- Here we have this precious human life, and we can waste so much of it just ruminating on what this person said and what we should have said back and what we will say the next time we see them to put them in their place, etc.
- In order to get praise or approval, we might compromise our ethical principles, nag or pester people, say insincere things, etc.
- Or if somebody blames us, we might retaliate by engaging in any of the four negative actions of speech: lying, divisive words, harsh speech, or gossip.
- Again, we create all that negative karma, adding to present suffering and bringing ourselves future suffering.
Good Reputation and Bad Reputation (Fame and Shame)
NOTE: This is different from praise and blame, which pertains to what an individual says to us or about us. This one is about our image among a whole group of people.
- The more we're attached to our reputation, the more suffering we have in this life.
- We're happy when we have a good reputation/image and unhappy when we have a bad one.
- Some people even commit suicide over their ruined reputations, their suffering due to this attachment is so great.
- We may think this one doesn't apply to us because we have no desire for fame. But we all want to have a good reputation within our own little spheres of influence.
- We become very upset if something stains our reputation in our little groups; this is due to our attachment to reputation.
- Think of all the things we do to get a good reputation: buttering up people, trying to earn "brownie points," doing something insincerely so somebody will praise us, or other forms of lying, deceiving, or manipulating.
- When we get a bad reputation, we might tear down others or do other negative things, creating negative karma, and increasing our present and future suffering.
Pleasure and Pain
- We do all sorts of things because of our attachment to sense pleasures, too.
- We're happy when we have pleasant sense experiences and unhappy when we have unpleasant ones.
- We are lazy, or we are greedy, or we take it out on others when we don't get the pleasure we want.
- We want to see pretty things, smell pretty smells; we don't want the temperature too hot or too cold, the bed too hard or too soft; and we are very attached to food.
- How much of our mental energy is consumed with arranging our life so we can get these pleasures?
- Again, we engage in negative actions to avoid pain or seek pleasure, and increase our own suffering, both now and in the future.
Our mind can get very sneaky and contort our motivation so that we can get the four worldly concerns we want and avoid the other four.
- We get so wrapped up in these things and forget that this is just the attachment to the happiness of this life, and these pleasures are so short.
- That's why this topic is so important, and also why it is so embarrassing when we get caught with an insincere motivation.
- It is essential to break the habit of thinking, "If only I could have this, everything would be fine."
Thus, the eight worldly concerns are the first level of things we really have to deal with in our practice.
- Practicing Dharma means transforming our mind.
- These eight are the foundation we have to work with, and there's plenty of work to do there.
- These are also the eight that tend to interfere with our meditation, so if we want to develop concentration, we have to work with them.