Strategies for Dealing with the Eight Worldly Concerns

The Eight Worldly Concerns

The eight worldly concerns are about the eight transitory things in life ('jig-rten-pa'i chos-brgyad, the eight worldly Dharmas). Listed in four pairs, the eight are:

  • Praise or criticism
  • Hearing good or bad news
  • Gains or losses
  • Things going well or poorly.

Being disturbed, upset, or uncomfortable with them is feeling overly excited when experiencing the first of each pair, and overly depressed when experiencing the second. We can understand this in terms of the Four Noble Truths.

The First Noble Truth

  • The problem of suffering – we receive criticism, bad news, losses, or things go poorly. Another aspect, depending on whether we have high or low self-esteem, is that we experience receiving either this set or the first set – praise, etc. – with unhappiness.
  • Fleeting happiness – we receive praise, good news, gains, or things going well. Another aspect, depending on whether we have high or low self-esteem, is that we experience either this set or the second set – blame, etc – with happiness. That happiness, however, does not last and does not satisfy us or solve all our problems.
  • Uncontrollably recurring aggregate experiences – the eight transitory things happen over and again; there is no telling which will happen next; and we have no control over them. Our experience is always going up and down.

The Second Noble Truth

Problems come from karma and disturbing emotions. Karma refers to the urges to act in a certain way, based on feeling like repeating past karmic actions. Experiencing this with grasping at "solid" (true) existence – "I" feel like doing this – then when we act out the urge, the action functions as a negative (sdig-pa, sin) or positive karmic force (bsod-nams, merit). Consequently, our mental continuums flow with their karmic aftermaths: networks (tshogs, accumulations) of karmic forces, karmic legacies (sa-bon, seeds, tendencies), and karmic constant habits (bag-chags).

Triggered by grasping for solid existence and craving:

  • Karmic legacies ripen into experiencing things happening similar to what we did in the past - being praised or criticized, etc.
  • The network of karmic forces ripens into experiencing them with unhappiness or happiness.
  • Karmic constant habits ripen into grasping at them in terms of solid existence. We trifurcate the experience and inflate each of the three aspect into something monumental – solid "me," solid "you," solid "experience." Then come the disturbing emotions of attachment or repulsion, craving not to be separated and to have more, or craving to be separated. These cause more ripenings of karmic aftermaths.

The Workings of Karma

Karmic legacies ripen into experiencing things happening similar to what we did in the past.

  • From praising or criticizing others with grasping for solid existence, we experience receiving praise and criticism or blame. Sometimes, of course, we need to praise or criticize – the point is doing so without grasping for solid existence (non-self-consciously).
  • From giving good news or bad news to others with grasping for solid existence, or from yelling at others or speaking nicely, or from disturbing others with noise or refraining from disturbing others with noise, we experience the same thing happening to us.
  • From refraining from taking what is not ours, from giving to others with grasping for solid existence, or from stealing or taking things away from someone with grasping for solid existence, we experience gains or losses.
  • From acting constructively or destructively in general, with grasping for solid existence, we experience things going well or poorly, success or failure.

Networks of positive or negative karmic forces, from acting constructively or destructively with grasping for solid existence, ripen into experiencing happiness or unhappiness during these eight experiences. At receiving praise, we may feel happy or unhappy (uncomfortable, e.g., "I do not deserve it."), and the same with receiving criticism or blame.

From karmic constant habits, we experience all of these ripenings in terms of believing in a solid "me" – "I" am so great, or "I" do not deserve this. Belief in a solid "you" – "you" are so wonderful or so terrible. Belief in a solid "experience" – this praise is so great or this criticism is so terrible, it will really damage "me" and "my" reputation, etc.

Then, on the basis of this grasping for solid existence, we have the disturbing emotions of attachment and overexcitement, or anger and depression. This triggers more karmic ripenings, and thus samsara, with its ups and downs.

The Third Noble Truth

True stoppings. True stopping actually means gaining total liberation from samsara, such that we no longer experience tainted feelings of happiness and unhappiness going up and down. We feel the constant bliss of enlightenment instead. Moreover, we no longer experience things happening to us similar to our past actions, going up and down.

Nevertheless, even before achieving true stoppings, when we still experience being praised or blamed, etc., and things going well or poorly, and when we still naturally feel happy or sad with these experiences, we can achieve at least a provisional stopping of feeling attached and overexcited, or of feeling completely depressed and miserable or angry. Thus, we can achieve some type of equanimity (btang-snyoms) and some type of mental and emotional stability (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana).

Equanimity at these experiences does not mean feeling nothing – no happiness at receiving a pay raise, or no sadness when a loved one dies. It does not mean suppressing feelings, although the feelings become quite subtle. Suppression and feeling nothing is not healthy. It means not being disturbed by or upset with the feelings, not being attached or repelled, not being overexcited or depressed or angry – not being uncomfortable with the experiences or the feelings that accompany them.

This allows us to respond in appropriate ways. For example, we can calmly evaluate the praise or criticism to see if it is correct and if there is something we can learn from it.

The Fourth Noble Truth

The true pathway of mind that brings about this true stopping is understanding of voidness, so that we stop trifurcating and inflating the three aspects of the experience. However, there are many provisional paths that bring about a provisional stopping – many are from Shantideva's Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (sPyod-'jug, Skt. Bodhicaryavatara).

How to Gain a Provisional Stopping: Perspective

Put experiences into perspective.

  • When we hear praise or criticism, we can remember that we have both praiseworthy points and blameworthy points – why is one more important than the other? Why do we identify with one and not the other? Feel disgust and renunciation.
  • Do the same with hearing good news and bad news, gains and losses, things going well or poorly.

Put experiences into the perspective of our entire lives, not just the limited perspective of the present moment.

  • When praised, recall that there are always others who criticize.
  • Recall being praised, and then recall having been criticized in the past. Think: There will be others who will criticize me again in the future. Focus on the realization that the experience is nothing special.
  • Do the same with being criticized.
  • Turn to renunciation – disgust with these emotional ups and downs, and the sincere wish to be free from them.
  • Repeat these steps with hearing good news or bad news (with someone communicating with us or not communicating, acting nicely or not acting nicely, etc.), gains and losses, and things going well or poorly.

Is the Present Experience More True?

  • When we receive criticism or blame, we can contemplate what makes the words of this person truer than words of praise received from others. What gives them more reality and importance? Why is this person correct and the others not?
  • Even with the same person, what makes this person's present words seem to reflect his or her true feelings toward us? What makes them more important, true, and real than when he or she praised us in the past? Or, what makes them less important, true, and real than when he or she praised us in the past so that we ignore them? Focus on disgust and renunciation.
  • Do the same with praise, hearing bad or good news, losses or gains, things going poorly or well.

What Do I Expect from Samsara?

  • Even Buddha could not please everyone and not everyone praised or liked Buddha, so what do I expect for myself?
  • What do I expect from samsara? So long as I do not purify all my karma, I will receive good and bad news, gains and losses – things will go well and poorly. If we are going to be upset by that, transform the feeling into disgust and renunciation.

Popping the Balloon of Fantasy

  • Praise, blame, good news, bad news, gain, losses, things going well or poorly are only vibrations of air. They are only appearances. How can they have the power to make "me" into a truly wonderful person or a truly terrible person?
  • Even more so, how can they have the power to make a seemingly concrete "me" into a truly wonderful or a truly terrible person? For example, "I" deserve this. After all, the conventional "me" is merely what can be labeled onto a stream of continuity of ever-changing aggregate factors of experience, and the same is true of a conventional "you."
  • How can receiving a present from someone threaten the independence of such a "me"? How can things going poorly or receiving a loss establish a seemingly concrete "me" as guilty and deserving of pain or punishment?
  • Consider how such misguided thoughts and beliefs can cause us unconsciously to block ourselves from enjoying pleasure and happiness when things go well or someone loves us? Imagine that these insights pop the balloon of such fantasy and imagine enjoying the happiness.