Nobody’s life is perfect, we all have good and bad days. This is part and parcel of worldly conditions. Sometimes the world is like a rose, all beautiful and fragrant. Other times, it is like the stem of the rose, all thorny and prickly.
An optimist will see the world as rosy, whereas a pessimist sees it as thorny. But realistically, the world is both rosy and thorny. A person who understands this point will not be seduced by the rose, or become averse to the thorns. Gautama Buddha taught that there are eight worldly conditions and a realist will understand that the pendulum swings both ways, sometimes they will be under the sway of the four desirable conditions and sometimes the four undesirable conditions.
We have to accept that these eight worldly conditions are part of this human life. So what are the eight worldly conditions? The desirable ones are gain, status, praise and pleasure. The four undesirable being loss, obscurity, reproach and pain. It doesn’t matter if we see them as desirable or undesirable, they are all causes of our suffering.
We are all subject to gain and loss, not only of material things, such as money, but also of our friends and family. We may go out a buy a new 3D television and it makes us very happy, until one day it is stolen, we then become sad – gain and loss. If you are a business man you suffer from gain and loss on a regular basis. You may have, in the past, met a wonderful person who you get on really well with, but recently they died – gain and loss. These are some examples of what we are subject to in our lives.
Status and obscurity are another two worldly conditions that confront us in the course of our daily lives. Status comes in various forms, such as celebrities and politicians, or you may be highly regarded within your profession, or even a well respected Buddhist teacher. Whatever the status, you can become attach to your public image and the prestige that goes with it. Even if we do not want to be famous, we still like to be looked upon in the best possible light. I am sure, if we are honest, we all like a bit of status, because who wants to feel unimportant or overlooked?
I am sure we have all dreamt of our fifteen minutes of fame and there is nothing wrong with that. Some people are world superstars and others are just well known in their own backyards, but whatever your status, it is important to see it as a fleeting thing. Very few people stay famous all of their lives, for most it is only a few years. So to hold on to fame as though it is something tangible is going to bring you suffering.
When we reflect on our status and obscurity, we will be able to see that they are just projections and not something solid or permanent. This releases us from the suffering they can cause.
The next two pairs of worldly conditions are praise and reproach. We all like to be told, ‘Well done!’ when we do something right. It makes us feel happy and gives us a sense of pride. Praise is like some sort of a drug we quiet happily get addicted to. Whereas, no one enjoys being reproached, even if they have done something wrong.
If we are able to face reproach in an impassive way and remain calm even though people are saying some hurtful things about us, then we are dealing with this worldly condition in a proper way. If we give very little regard to whether we are held in high esteem or thought of as a person of no influence, then we can be said to be rising above worldly attachments.
If we are able to keep our composure when we lose out, or are glorified as being a very special, talented person, this is the sensible thing to do,even though it is not always that easy.
It is human nature to soak up praise and push away reproach. I know when someone says something nice about me I feel happy and proud, but if I am reproached I get all defensive and hurt. Through reflection on these states of mind we can understand them as one of the same; impermanent and fleeting. This will help us let them go, and in turn, reduce our suffering.
The final pair are pleasure and pain. This is were we are the same as animals; we chase after pleasure and run away from pain. I personally do not know anyone who prefers sorrow to laughter, or harm to happiness. This is just the way we are. It is like a bond that ties us all together.
Watching pleasure and pain arising in the mind, and remaining open to them without attaching to or rejecting them, enables us to let the conditions be, even in the most emotionally charged circumstances.
I believe we all strive for pleasure and push away pain, even animals. So it is clear pleasure is what we aim for in life and not pain. But they are both things that come into being for a short time and then disappear. So in that respect they are no different. So Gautama Buddha’s advice is to not welcome them or rebel against them, just let them arise and go.
When we start seeing the eight worldly conditions for what they are, and watching the mind’s reaction to them, we will be able to prevent them from causing us to suffer. This is not just a meditation practice, we have to take it into our day-to-day lives. We have to understand that life is full of gain, loss, status, obscurity, reproach, praise, pleasure and pain.
Someone is always going to profit and someone else will lose out; for every famous person, there are hundreds of others who are unknown; if one person is reproached, another will be praised; and what gives one person pleasure, will give another pain. This is the way of the world. It doesn’t matter if you are skilled in Gautama Buddha’s teachings or not. You will still be subject to the eight worldly conditions. It is how you deal with these conditions that differentiates you from others.