An unexpected book arrived in the mail the other day. A gift from my friend’s at Wisdom Publications. Zen Master Raven: The Teachings of a Wise Old Bird. by Zen Master human form, Robert Aitken. Here the koans are told by and to animals of the forest: raven, porcupine, owl, woodpecker, badger, black bear, and […]
In the Pathamalokadhamma Sutta, the Buddha said,
Among humans, these things, namely,
Gain, loss, status, disrepute, blame, praise, pleasure, and pain
Naturally are impermanent, uncertain, and liable to change,
The wise, ever mindful, understand these things,
And contemplate them as always shifting and changing
Thus, delightful things cannot oppress their minds,
They have no reaction to disagreeable things,
They have abandoned all liking and disliking (for worldly concerns).
Further, they know the path of nirvana, dust-free and without sorrow,
They have reached the other shore of existence and know this correctly.
1) Taking delight in money, materials possession; Feeling distress when separated from these things
(2) Taking delight in praise and things that boost the ego; Feeling distress when receiving criticism or disapproval
(3) Taking delight in maintaining a good reputation or personal image; Feeling distress when image and reputation are diminished(4) taking delight when making contact with pleasurable things; Feeling distress when making contact with unpleasurable things.
What does the Buddha mean here? These are eight hooks for the mind and are thusly eight attitudes that make us vulnerable to dukkha (suffering; pervasive dissatisfaction, and so forth). The Buddha is not encouraging us to become zombie-like with no self-preserving instincts. Rather, he is cautioning against basing our self-worth, happiness, and well-being on their occurrence. In other words, beware of contingent self-worth. All things mentioned here are either not in our direct control (that is, it is something someone else does to us) or they cannot be controlled because they are always changing (that is, the fundamental truth of impermanence). He is not saying don’t enjoy things but he is saying that enjoyment might be a double-edged sword if not tempered by wisdom of impermanence. He is saying don’t take yourself so seriously. He is saying don’t invest so much energy into self-protection. Don’t base your self-worth on what other people think of you. In fact, spend less time on figuring out your self-worth and more time on paying attention to your experience (and while you’re at it, why not focus on helping others, or at least not doing harm to others).
Gain, loss, status, disrepute, blame, praise, pleasure, and pain are eight hooks to avoid and we are beset by them constantly. Inevitably we succumb to them on a regular basis. Alternatively, each moment is an opportunity to recognize the hook and to disentangle ourselves from its barbed grasp. Mindfulness practice helps us to disentangle. To be mindful is to see how we are hooked and allowing fear to overtake us. We can see how our sense of OK-ness has become contingent. If we breathe through the feelings that our emotional brain thro
ws at us, we can realize that while some problem may need to be solved, we are not in mortal peril and don’t require activation of our most primitive defenses. We can breathe into this moment with interest and a commitment to get off the hook or put our energy towards solving the problem in a practical matter. If the problem can’t be solved right away, we can breathe through the uncertainty. That, I think, is what the Buddha meant.