The Eight Winds

Profit and loss, defamation and fame, praise and blame, suffering and joy; all of these are impermanent; and thus why should any of them cause satisfaction or dissatisfaction?

— Mahasamghika Vinaya

The Eight Winds are the eight conditions mentioned in the first two lines of the verse above. The Buddha taught that these eight conditions are a natural part of life. All of us will experience each of these states many times in many lives. The Buddha also taught that we should not allow ourselves to be blown off course by any of the Eight Winds. Instead we should regard them as temporary conditions that present us with a chance to learn something new. As long as we feel unduly concerned about any of them, we can be sure we still have something to learn.

If we do not stop and think deeply about all of the Eight Winds, we will tend to believe that profit, fame, praise and joy are better than loss, defamation, blame and suffering. This tendency is a very good access point that can help us understand to just what degree we believe that the delusion of having a separate self is real.

The highest goal of Buddhism is to become fully enlightened within the perfect wisdom of our inherent Buddha nature. This wisdom completely transcends all delusions of selfhood. This state has been achieved many times by Buddhists in the past and there is no reason why it cannot be achieved by many of us who are alive today. Contemplating the impermanence and essential sameness of all of the Eight Winds is a very good method for helping us see beyond the delusions of the self-centered self.

The “joy” mentioned among the Eight Winds is samsaric joy, the transitory joy of the phenomenal world, not the joy that is a natural part of the enlightened mind. Think about the Eight Winds: is fame really so wonderful? Is profit all we want from life? Is praise always good for us? Deep analysis of any loss will always bring us to a higher level of wisdom. Would we really be stimulated to contemplate life’s inherent transience if everything went the way we wanted all the time? The Eight Winds are winds; they come and go. They arise like the weather. Tomorrow will always be different from today.

There is a Chinese text called Instructions Pertaining to the Royal Samadhi of Contemplating the Buddha. This text contains excellent advice on how to remain even-minded and balanced no matter which wind is blowing today. It teaches us to look deeply into our circumstances so that we will be able to derive the greatest benefit from them. This work contains the following ten points:

  1. Concerning the body: do not ask to be free of all illness for when the body is free of all illness, greed quickly arises. When greed has arisen, the precepts soon are broken and progress becomes regression.
  2. Concerning the management of worldly affairs: do not ask that any chore be an easy one for when things go too easily, pride soon is born in the mind. When pride is born in the mind, one soon becomes flippant and deceitful.
  3. Concerning thought: do not ask that thinking always be without obstruction for when thinking is without obstruction, it quickly becomes feverish and irregular. When thinking becomes feverish and irregular, one soon will become deluded and believe that the false is true and the true is false.
  4. Concerning the practice of Buddhism: do not ask that there be no trials for when one is never tried, one’s vows will not be strong. When one’s vows are not strong, one can easily be led into believing that one has achieved what one has not achieved.
  5. Concerning the making of plans: do not ask that they always be easily made for when plans are always easy to make, one’s will becomes weak and ineffectual. When the will is weak and ineffectual, one is easily led into believing that one’s abilities are less than they are.
  6. Concerning friendship: do not ask that matters always go your way for when one always gets one’s own way, one soon will lose a sense of right and wrong. When one loses a sense of right and wrong, one quickly slides into the tendency to blame others for anything that goes awry.
  7. Concerning people: do not ask that others always follow your lead for when others always follow one’s lead, one will soon become arrogant. When one has become arrogant, one will begin to grasp tightly the attachments of the ego.
  8. Concerning morality: do not ask for rewards for moral behavior for if one is always rewarded for moral behavior, one will soon become calculating in everything one does. Once one has become calculating, one will begin to crave fame and a good reputation.
  9. Concerning profits: do not always ask to obtain a part of them for when one always gets a part of all profits, one soon will become lazy and dull. Once one has become lazy and dull, one will quickly hurt oneself.
  10. Concerning false accusations: do not try to justify yourself or make explanations, for self-justifications only increase the illusion of having a separate self. Once this illusion of a separate self arises, thoughts of anger and revenge soon will follow.

Once we have learned to think in the ways described above, we will be much closer to being able to concentrate on what we are doing and not on what we are getting. The value of this life and of all our future lives is determined by what we are doing now and not by what we are getting now. This point is very important. Everything that happens to us should be perceived as an opportunity for growth.

All who cultivate themselves in Mahayana samadhi, and all who enter upon the bodhisattva path, begin with the ordinary and through that achieve nirvana.

— Lankavatara Sutra