There is a very interesting and useful teaching within Buddhism that explains eight different worldly desires that bind you to the never ending cycles of suffering and prevent you from achieving lasting happiness. Because everyone wants to be happy and no-one wants to suffer, this is a very important and universal teaching.
The idea comes from the first noble truth of Buddhism, which says that desire causes suffering. But what type of desire? The desires are all related to the ego and the false idea that by accumulating or ridding yourself of certain things, happiness can be attained. Essentially this comes under attachment and aversion which is the root cause of unhappiness according to Buddha.
The 8 Concerns That Prevent Happiness:
- Taking delight in having money and material possessions.
- Being disappointed, upset, angry when we lose possessions or don’t get them.
- Feeling delighted when people praise us and approve of us and tell us how wonderful we are.
- Feeling very upset and dejected when they criticize us and disapprove of us—even if they are telling us the truth!
- Feeling delighted when we have a good reputation and a good image.
- Being dejected and upset when we have a bad reputation.
- Feeling delighted when we experience sense pleasures—fantastic sights, sounds, odors, tastes and tactile sensations.
- Feeling dejected and upset when we have unpleasant sensations.
To give up these eight worldly concerns and focus on becoming enlightened is what it means to be a spiritual person. These days, the word ‘spiritual’ gets thrown around quiet a bit and has lost all meaning, but in ancient India there was a clear dividing line between a worldly person a spiritual person, and it revolves around what you give up and what you are trying to attain. Of course, you can try and be loving, kind and wise in your worldly life, but that is trying to have your cake and eat it too and has limited effects.
The Bruised and Battered Ego
Eckhart Tolle taught me something which helped enormously with this Buddhist teaching when he wrote about letting your ego take the beating. Eckhart said that when you feel embarrassed, offended or upset because you didn’t get something, it is probably your ego that is being bruised and battered, and that is exactly what you are trying to rid yourself of as a spiritual aspirant. So let yourself feel bad, let your ego be disappointed and destroy its grip on your life. Just like the old saying – stick and stones will break my bones (ego) but words can never hurt me (my true self).
The eight worldly concerns consume our life and, before long, they rule our world. We all try to get more and better possessions, we all care about our reputation, avoid criticism, and most of all, try and create pleasant sensations for ourselves, like eating good food, desiring good feelings and having great sex. I don’t like to generalise, but I think you understand my point – these concerns take up a lot of our time. Tibetan Buddhist, Master Lama Yeshe, calls it a constant yo-yo life:
“I get a present! I feel so happy!…I lost that wonderful gift. I’m so unhappy.” Somebody says, “You’re wonderful,” and we feel up; somebody says, “You made a mistake,” then our mood goes down.”
The Yo-Yo Mind
According to Buddha, this is a big mistake, and if it was true 2,500 years ago, it is even more true today. Our modern society sells and promotes these eight worldly concerns everyday. Advertising has been based on our basic desires since early last century when Edward Bernays, a student of Sigmund Freud, used Freud’s ideas of subconscious desires to sell and market commercial products. A great documentary called the The Century of the Self explains this brilliantly. Since then, we have been inundated with advertising that provokes our worldly concerns.
So what’s the problem with these worldly concerns? They are a trick. They are based on the subconscious and primitive drives that tell us that getting these things, or avoiding these things, will bring us happiness and satisfaction and this ignores and covers the realisation of where real happiness comes from. As Thubten Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, explains:
“This constant yo-yo mind is dependent on external objects and people and leaves us oblivious to how our mind is the actual source of our happiness and misery…Life becomes a battle with the environment and the people in it, as we try to be near everything we like and get far away from or destroy anything we dislike. This brings us so much grief and suffering because our mind is so reactive.”
The main point here is that external conditions are always changing, and when you try and manipulate the environment to get happiness, it is a never ending struggle. We cannot control the world but we can control our own minds and take responsibility for how we react and what states of mind we are encouraging. Ancient Buddhism and modern positive psychology both agree that it’s internal states of mind which are the primary cause of happiness. Virtuous states of mind, like love, generosity and patience, are major contributors to a happy life. Also mindfulness, an open mind, and caring for others, are all things that can be developed internally in relationship with the world and be the cause of a peaceful and happy person.
Without peace of mind, happiness can’t be found from money, fame or pleasure. There are rich people who are miserable and there are poor people who are happy. The state of the mind is definitely the primary cause of happiness. Buddha was a prince with all the luxury and wealth you can imagine and realised that it did not bring him lasting happiness. A modern example is Russell Brand, who was obsessed with – and had a never ending supply of – woman, money and drugs, but this is what he soon realised:
“When I was growing up, I thought I’d be a lot happier if I was famous and successful and if I had money…if you don’t have those things, you feel like you’re not enough… Increasingly I’ve realised…everybody has beauty within themselves, and if you find this and accept this, then you will be happy regardless of external attributes or material things.”