The day after sending a piece he wrote about the meditation on death, Giacomo sent some reflections on the eight worldly concerns. His insights about his motivation are very thoughtful.
Well, actually my motivation was very mixed when I sent you the previous piece I wrote. For many years I had this fantasy of being a Dharma teacher with many people listening to me. I struggled with it for so many years, but I was never able to focus on it properly and to see clearly that it is just the need to be special.
What’s interesting is that just after sending you that email with my thoughts on death, I meditated on the eight worldly concerns. I am not completely new to this topic, but this time I think I understood something new, especially about praise and blame. At a certain point, I suddenly understood how a lot of my life has been conditioned by delighting in praise and being dejected by blame. This was true even when I was a little child, something I had completely forgotten. This has gone on for so many years, particularly in school. Seeking praise and hating blame has conditioned so much of my Dharma practice, especially my relationship with Dharma friends. I had a lot of fear.
It’s interesting how this conditioning make me weak—very weak and fearful. I am happy to have discovered this because I have never uncovered such a net of related events before. This has been a kind of unveiling, something that happened all of a sudden. It’s not that everything is now okay, but at least I can see it. Even if it will take time to get rid of it, seeing it changes a lot.
I still have to work on my attachment to praise. Noticing my aversion to criticism was important because I have abandoned many Dharma situations because of criticism, and this behavior on my part has hampered my practice very much. I left situations where I could have learned a lot of Dharma just because I wasn’t able to handle any criticism, and until now I never found the right key to unlock this difficulty inside myself. Someone said just a few bad words mixed with a little bit of anger and misconception, and I let it affect me so much. That means my motivation was relatively weak and fragile and I identified with what the person said. Maybe we need some compassion for ourselves too, for letting our minds get derailed by a little criticism.
What really hit me in the meditation was reflecting on how praise and blame have affected my life and completely conditioned me—not for just days, but years! It is something so obvious but in all these years I never thought about it seriously. It is interesting—sometimes things are so obvious, so easy to see that we are actually completely blind to them!
But there is another aspect to my motivation, too. Even if it is presumptuous, my dreaming to be a Dharma teacher has a positive element. If we go to the heart of my hallucination of being a teacher, it is rooted in compassion. So instead of struggling with it and trying to suppress it, I think I need to also acknowledge that good root and take it seriously. In that way, I can nourish a strong determination to progress in a serious manner through all the stages of training on the path.
In thinking more about the eight worldly concerns, it seems to me that the first three pairs are related to how we want people to act toward us. The first pair (money and material possessions) is about how we want them to act physically towards us, i.e. to give us presents and material help and so on, not to steal from us, damage our things, and so on. The second one (praise and blame) is more related to speech, how we want others to speak to us. The third one (reputation) is more related to the mind, how we want them to think and feel about us. For example, we want them to think that we are special and wonderful, which is the root of our attachment to reputation. The last pair (pleasure and pain) is related to how we experience the world directly. Perhaps the reason these four pairs are pointed out separately has to do with this.
Since our self-centered thought is involved in the eight worldly concerns, we easily begin to manipulate others in order to attain material possessions, praise, reputation, and pleasure, and to avoid loss, blame, notoriety, and pain. Developing compassion involves a shift of focus from ourselves to others. It involves caring about others rather than just thinking about how others can satisfy our worldly concerns. However, given the fact we are not yet mature, there is danger that instead of having genuine compassion for others, we get stuck in our familiar ways of manipulating them instead.
This means that we want them to do something for us instead of really thinking what we can do for them. It is very easy to confuse the wish to serve others with this manipulating attitude. It’s very subtle. For me, at least, it’s difficult to notice the difference between when I help others because I genuinely care about then and when I help them because I want them to praise me or think of me in a certain way. So easily my focus goes to my fear that others will misunderstand me, that they will dislike all my very important analyses. I always want to be seen as intelligent. This kind of fear and attachment interferes with cultivating genuine compassion.
The whole point is quite simple. It entails changing our perspective. Instead of thinking about what other people can do for me (what they can give me, what they can say to me or about me, what they can think and feel about me), it’s about thinking, “How can I serve them?” That’s the essence of all these tensions that arise with mixed motivations.
This self-centered motivation and concern with the eight worldly concerns also interferes with my relationships with Dharma teachers and with the Buddhas. When I fear not getting material possessions, praise, good reputation, and pleasure, I get desperate and pray to my teachers, and to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, “Please help me! Please Tara help me! Please Buddhas of the ten directions help me.” I am not saying this is wrong—it’s better to pray to the Buddhas than to harm other people—but the holy beings are already unfailingly helping me. It’s enough to wait a little and help is always arriving! And that’s because they have compassion. They never abandon us!
However, now I understand that from my side the crucial point is to shift from “Buddhas, please help me” to “How can I serve you?” Buddhas, how can I serve you? Teachers, how can I serve you? Sentient beings, how can I serve you?