Seeing the Eight Worldly Concerns Like an Illusion

Verse Eight: The Final Verse

(8) Through a mind untarnished by stains of conceptions concerning the eight passing things, throughout all of this, and that knows all phenomena as an illusion, may I break free from my bondage, without any clinging.

The Eight Worldly Dharmas                                                   

The phrase, throughout all of this, refers to all the practices involved in the preceding seven verses. Further, the eight passing things concern the eight transitory things in life, or the eight worldly dharmas: receiving praise or criticism, hearing good or bad news, receiving gains or experiencing losses, or having things go well or go poorly. The verse describes a mind untarnished by the stains of conceptions about these eight transitory things.

In other words, we don’t feel overly excited when we receive praise or hear good news, or when we’re given or gain something. And we don’t get all depressed and upset when we hear criticism, receive bad news, suffer losses, or have things go poorly, thinking, “poor me.” The way we get free of this emotional rollercoaster is by knowing that all phenomena are like an illusion. This knowledge comes from our understanding of voidness. Thus, we can eventually be free of our bondage, the bondage to samsara, without any clinging. When this occurs, there will be no more clinging to “me” and no identification with the eight worldly dharmas.

There are many quotations from Shantideva that express a similar type of thinking:

(VIII.3) Worldly concerns are not discarded because of sticky attachments and thirst for material gain and the like; therefore, to set these things aside, someone with knowledge would discern like this:

(VIII.4) "An exceptionally perceptive state of mind, joined onto a stilled and settled state, completely destroys the disturbing emotions." Having understood this, first I shall seek a stilled and settled mind; and that's achieved through delight in detachment from worldly concerns.

In this last verse, “disturbing emotions” are attachment to gains and repulsion and anger at suffering losses, and so on. An exceptionally perceptive state of mind refers to a state of vipashyana, and a stilled and settled state of mind refers to a state of shamatha.

Shantideva further mentions:

(VIII.20) There've been many people with material wealth and there've been many with fame and reputation. But it's never been known that they've passed on to some place where their amassed wealth and fame have come with them.

(VIII.21) If there are others who belittle me, what pleasure is there when I'm being praised? And if there are others who praise me, what displeasure is there when I'm being belittled?

We need a combination of shamatha, a mind that’s stilled and focused, and an exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana that can understand the true nature of the eight transitory things. With the joined pair of these two states of mind, we can break through the ups and downs of these eight worldly feelings and see everything like an illusion. 

Seeing Everything Like an Illusion or a Dream                                                

Shantideva describes this ability as seeing things like a dream:

(VI.57) Someone who wakes up after having experienced a hundred years of happiness in a dream and another who wakes up after having experienced just a moment of happiness:

(VI.58) Once they've awakened, that happiness doesn't return, after all, to either of the two. (Similarly,) it comes down to exactly the same for someone who's lived for long and someone who's lived for a short while.

(VI.59) Though I may have obtained great material gain and even have enjoyed many pleasures for long, I shall still go forth empty-handed and naked, like having been robbed by a thief.

If we are praised and things go well for a short time, or even for a long time, when it is over, it’s as if it were a dream. In the end, what deep significance does it bring? We can also question if there is any real benefit. Is there any underlying essence to praise and fame?

Shantideva further says:

(VI.90) Praise and fame, (these) shows of respect, won't bring positive force, won't bring a long life, won't bring bodily strength, nor freedom from sickness; they won't bring physical pleasure either.

(VI.91) If I were aware of what's in my self-interest, what in my self-interest would there be in them? If just mental happiness were what I wanted, I should devote myself to gambling and so on, and to alcohol too.

(VI.92) For the sake of fame, (people) would give away wealth or would get themselves killed; but what use is there with words (of fame)? Once they've died, to whom will they bring pleasure?

(VI.93) At the collapse of his sandcastle, a child wails in despair; similarly, at the loss of praise and fame, my mind shows the face of a child.

For instance, when a relationship we’re in falls apart, we lose our job, or something else goes bad in our life, it’s like our sandcastle has collapsed. This is because we made something or someone into a big thing and became all excited; then, when things collapse, we get all upset. The point is not to make a big deal out of either things going well or things going badly. We need to see them both like a dream or like an illusion. To truly develop this deep level of understanding, we need to do voidness meditation.

Shantideva analyzes these eight worldly dharmas, the eight transitory things at the end of chapter nine of his text:

(IX.151) With all phenomena devoid in that way, what is there that would've been received; what is there that would've been taken away? Who is there who'll become shown respect or contempt, and by whom?

(IX.152) What is there, from which there's pleasure or pain? What is there, to be disliked or liked? What craving is there, that's searching for an actual (findable) nature, and what is it for, that there's craving?

The ability to see things like an illusion comes from voidness analysis of the things that we get so excited about, examining what we like and dislike, as well as who it is that’s doing the liking and disliking. In this way, I break free from my bondage, without any clinging.

In the Seven Point Mind Training, Geshe Chekawa summarizes as well: “Think of all phenomena as in a dream.”

Understanding Voidness to Practice Tonglen                                       

This discussion about the eight transitory things in life ties in very well with what we’ve discussed in the earlier part of the text. That’s why this eighth verse says throughout all of this. For example, “Accepting the loss on ourselves and giving the victory to others” is taking on loss and then giving gain to others. The giving and taking practice also entails taking on bad news, criticism and so on, and giving others what they might like: gains, praise.etc.

So, in order to practice tonglen, taking the loss on ourselves and giving the victory to others, it’s very important to understand that the negative things we’re taking on and the positive things we’re giving are like an illusion. That’s why the understanding of voidness is in fact very important for all of these practices.

Daily Practice

This concludes our discussion of the Eight Verses of Mind Training by Langri Tangpa. It’s very helpful to read or recite these eight verses each day as part of our daily practice, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama does. We need to reflect on them each day and try to incorporate them into our daily lives. The mind training practices taught in them summarize so wonderfully the bodhisattva practices, as we’ve seen from all the references to other essential texts that indicate where these teachings came from and what they developed into. It certainly doesn’t take very long to read or recite these eight verses, so it’s truly worth including it into our daily practice.

Dedication

We end with a dedication. We think, whatever positive force and understanding that has come from our discussion, may this truly act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.

Read and listen to the original text "Eight Verses of Mind Training" by Langri Tangpa.

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