The Eight Worldly Winds (The Eight Vicissitudes)
From the Mungalla Sutta
This time of year in Tucson is daily filled with breezy or windy weather, which blows dust in the air, knocks over trash cans and carries them away, burns and stings eyes, and much more. It often makes a mess and causes us irritation; and, interestingly, some of us enjoy its impact, variability, spacious blowing, and unexpected outcomes.
We are all different and so how we relate to these life winds varies, as do the winds themselves.
The definition of vicissitude is “the quality or state of being changeable, mutability; natural change or mutation visible in nature or in human affairs” or “a favorable or unfavorable event or situation that occurs by chance; a fluctuation of state or condition the vicissitudes of daily life; a difficulty or hardship attendant on a way of life, a career, or a course of action and usually beyond one’s control; alternating change, succession.” These vicissitudes seem to be endless and out of our control; yet how we choose to respond to life’s conditions and events may be part of our path to cultivating happiness or being dragged down into a whirlwind of suffering.
The Eight Worldly Winds are Pleasure and Pain, Gain and Loss, Praise and Blame, and Fame and Disrepute. Look at your own life — how do you find security in a big storm? A large weather system unexpectedly moves in and, as it approaches, we may feel unstable, vulnerable. These forces arrive, and the best we can do is mentally prepare with the awareness that all things change and are impermanent. We can make a plan, but given the magnitude of the event, we are unable to predict the outcome. We can maintain our composure by cultivating an attitude that arises from practicing meditation, calm concentration, acceptance, and equanimity.
Pleasure and Pain, two aspects of our moment-by-moment existence in the Buddhist teachings, direct us to enjoy pleasure fully when it is present and to be prepared for it changing, with an attitude of letting go. It is known that the Buddha had an ability to enjoy life without an attachment to having it be a certain way. He was known as “Happy One” because of his ability to meet life head on, even when he suffered from a bad back. When we meet pain, we might not take it so personally. We are not a failure because pain is here. I may have an ache but it can change. Can we see clearly the comings and goings of life? Can we see that these forces exist independent of us? Not taking them personally is freedom. Can we find happiness independent of life’s unfolding condition? Recognizing this inevitability and accepting it is part of the journey.
Gain and Loss is directly related with the ownership of wealth or possessions and the removal or disappearance of this. It is about the ways economic security can come and go. When we recognize our attachments to gain, we can see how we may get lost in greed — the wanting mind that always needs more. In investing, we take a risk and it this has a precarious nature. Can we maintain some kind of mental neutrality when things get shaken up and we lose? Can we appreciate a gain without having to always win — enjoy it without attachment?
How do you relate to Praise and Blame? Have you noticed how our society and social media thrives on this? Each person brought before the public arena is endlessly scrutinized in ways that belittle and blame them for anything that goes wrong in their political, social, academic, or arts career. And we praise them ludicrously (for example, Trump’s being lauded in the Rose Garden for passing the “Health Freedom Act”) when they do something “we” approve of or like. This is a very rocky road, and it seems we are obsessed with it.
Fame and Disrepute are fluctuations in life that I can relate to personally. After writing a book in 2004, I was eager for some recognition and fame. I thought the publication would open some doors for me as a well, as a “known expert in tea and meditation.” When this did not easily occur, it felt as if I was experiencing a form of postpartum depression, having birthed this book and then been disappointed in the way it was received. I had expectations that set me up to stumble. Then, after several months, I realized how the center-of-attraction and notoriety need was lame compared to the making of the book, which was a labor of love. The gift came in the process of writing it and, when I realized this, I could accept that this was the way it was. I did not really experience disrepute, but I could understand how difficult it would be if something related to the book made me appear dishonorable or unworthy and the shame that would bring. It is similar to being “popular” and then losing that attractive force. I can see how others get stuck in this place when trends fade, fashions go out of style, scientific theories are replaced, and movie stars, pop culture idols, or elite athletes lose their fame do to a scandal.
During this time of snarly winds and dust devils, allow them to be a reminder of the Whirling Dervishes and notice how their spinning starts from their center, and how, without losing their balance, they twirl like the still point in the center of a cyclone. Getting to that clear center is how we can navigate these eight vicissitudes of life.
Please look at my current teachings for May and June so you may participate in the classes that will best help guide you in your practice and on your path.