eight worldly winds

Ask yourself, “Am I showing love right now?”

loving touch

A little while ago, while I was in the shower, I had a series of realizations.

I was unmindfully mulling over a financial problem, because my bank had messed and moved all my money into someone else’s account, and then I became aware that I was caught up in unhelpful and distracted thinking.

My initial thought was that I was being blown around by one of the “four worldly winds” that Buddhism talks about: gain and loss. We often end up thinking that getting and having stuff is one of the most important things in life, and therefore think that losing stuff is important too.

As long as I’m not starving, loss isn’t really a problem. (I’ll get the money back, I’m told, although it seems to be taking a long time.) But the problem of money is fundamentally a practical one, and doesn’t have to be an emotional one. I don’t have to let loss affect my sense of wellbeing.

The other worldly winds are high and low status, approval and disapproval, and pleasure and pain. These are various things that we think are important. Sometimes in fact we think that they’re the most important things in life, because they’re where happiness comes from. But the Buddha didn’t think that.

I think of them as being a bit like “The Matrix” in the movie of the same name. They’re a virtual reality that we create and then live inside of. We become absolutely convinced that they’re real and important. It can be hard sometimes to imagine any other way of seeing our world.

Anyway, all of that flashed into my mind, and then I had my epiphany, which is probably nothing you haven’t heard before: The only important thing is to love.

This wasn’t something that came to me as a general statement, but as a personal one. The only important thing in my life is love. I need to take love as the central principle in my life—the one thing that I remember at all times. The worldly winds aren’t important. They’re things that we delude ourselves into thinking are important.

But it’s not always easy to be loving. We can realize things like “The only important thing is to love” and still behave like a jerk. I often do. The worldly winds are part of our genetic inheritance as mammals and they’re hard to set aside.

Our genetic inheritance sometimes makes us behave like assholes. There are circuits in our brains dedicated to tracking our importance in terms of loss and gain, high and low status, etc. The perception of loss of money, a risk to our status, and so on, triggers powerful feelings, which then lead to the brain’s resources being devoted to “fixing” the perceived problem. Those “fixes” sometimes make us treat others badly, because our worldly wind–driven habits are strong and fast. They often overwhelm us. And so while we may believe, on some level, that love is the most important thing, we still act as if it’s less important than things like status. (Think, for example, of when when we bicker with a partner and don’t want to admit we’re wrong. Status, in this case, trumps love, even though in the long term it’s much better to be loved than to be right.)

Then I realized I had a second thought to add to the first:

1. The only important thing is to love
2. And to remember to love.

But as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sang, “Love is not enough.” Actually, it’s the feeling of love that’s not enough. I can think of plenty of times in my marriage when I felt I loved my wife and told her so, but it wasn’t enough, because I wasn’t acting in ways that made her feel loved. Love is not enough.

So we need to learn to show love, and not just feel it. We need to learn what it is that people need in order to grow in happiness and to become free from suffering, and offer it to them. Usually that thing is empathy, and listening. Sometimes it’s a wider and wiser perspective.

Now I’m up to three things:

1. The only important thing is to love
2. And to remember to love
3. And to keep learning how to show love.

And then as I was soaping my self, I have another thing to add to those three. This is something to be done, not just thought, and so the fourth reflection is: “Am I being loving right now?”

Well, was I? No! I wasn’t being harsh, but I was washing my body in a rather unmindful way, because I’d been having all those thoughts. (It wasn’t a very long shower—thought is fast.) So I soaped myself with love. I felt the love in my heart. I let it fill my hands. I washed my body with kindness and affection. I took pleasure in the sensation of hot water splashing on my body. It felt like these realizations now meant something.

So now I had four things:

1. The only important thing is to love
2. And to remember to love
3. And to keep learning how to show love.
4. Am I showing love right now?

And then my shower was over.

Although the fourth thought came last, it actually seems like it’s the key one. It’s the one that the others are expressions of. It’s the question I need to keep returning to.

So these are the four things (which are really just one thing) I’m going to let rest in my mind. I’m going to keep coming back to these phrases over and over again. This is something I don’t want to forget.

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Compassion is not superiority (Day 42)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

It’s very easy for us to assume that the one who feels compassion is in some way superior to the one he or she feels compassion for. This is partly rooted, I presume, in the assumption that it’s weak to suffer, but that assumption in turn grows from our biological conditioning. We’re social animals, and one of the things a social animal has as part of its genetic makeup is a propensity to establish where it stands in a social hierarchy.

In Buddhist terms this is “seeking status,” which is one pair of the eight lokadhammas, which could be translated as “ways of the world,” although it’s often poetically rendered as the “eight worldly winds.” The eight ways of the world are pairs of preoccupations corresponding to four ways of seeking security in our insecure world. They are:

  1. Gain and loss (materialism).
  2. High status and low status.
  3. Approval and disapproval.
  4. Pleasure and pain (hedonism).

We tend to chase after one item in each pair, but with status our biological conditioning is usually not to seek the highest status, but to find a comfortable position in the hierarchy and to maintain it. We can be comfortable playing the victim, or feeling superior, depending on our individual inclinations. But we gain comfort from knowing where we are in a pecking order.

Of course we can never find true security within the eight ways of the world, and spiritual maturity means becoming less and less invested in the pursuit of any of these ways of being. As we mature, gain, loss, status, approval, and pleasure-seeking should become less and less meaningful to us. We see that these are all impermanent, and that we can seek status, but never hold onto it. And inherent in trying to hold on to status is a sense of fear that we’ll lose what we think we’ve gained. So what we initially pursue as a source of security turns out, in the end, to be a source of insecurity.

In all spiritual practice there’s something going on that I call “unselfing.” This takes various forms, including less selfishness and grasping, less self-preoccupation and an increased ability to empathize with others, greater kindness and compassion, an ability to mindfully and joyfully lose ourselves (although not our awareness) in the “flow” of our experience, whether that’s in meditation or elsewhere, and a “seeing through” of the concept that we actually have a thing called a self.

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In fact, from a Buddhist point of view “conceit” is regarded as thinking of oneself as higher, lower, or equal to others. So what does that leave? It means basically that we don’t think in terms of status at all. We just be, with no obsession about who we are. We just live in the moment, acting spontaneously with no thought of self or other.

The Buddha said of those who are awakened:

Not as higher, lower, nor equal
do they refer to themselves.

But this should start to happen well before awakening, even though the process isn’t complete until then. Even right now, we can have more of a sense that we’re all in it together — you suffer, I suffer — and a loss of any assumption that “I’m OK, you’re not.”

If you do start feeling that you’re “looking down” on people when you’re cultivating compassion for them, see if you can simply let go of the tightness of self-clinging, and relax into the experience. Go with the flow. Ultimately there is no you, no other. There is simply suffering and a response to suffering.

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Working with the Worldly Winds

A talk by Vajragupta for Day 2 of Triratna’s International Urban Retreat, in which he illustrates how we can create effective methods for working with the eight Worldly Winds — gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and infamy, and praise and blame — that blow about us all the time, and even turn them into spiritual opportunities.

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The “Worldly Winds” (video)

In this 20-minute talk, prepared for Day 1 of Triratna’s 2011 International Urban Retreat, Vajragupta introduces the eight Worldly Winds.

Known in traditional Buddhism as the Lokadhammas, they are eight ways in which the world can ‘blow us around’ – gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and infamy, and praise and blame.

The Urban Retreat runs worldwide from Saturday October 8th – 15th, for more details see theurbanretreat.org. Over 50 buddhist centres around the world are taking part, and many more individuals via the internet. All are welcome.

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Pleasure and pain: the worldly winds

Vidyamala talks about the worldly winds of pleasure and pain as part of the Triratna Buddhist Community’s International Urban Retreat, where for one week (8 – 15 October, 2011) people around the world at Triratna centers intensify their practice while staying their your home situation. The Urban Retreat is about learning to make Buddhist practice real and effective in daily life.

You can see more Triratna videos at from Vimeo.com.

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