By Lama Zopa Rinpoche
As Nagarjuna explains in the verse that Dromtonpa often recited:
'Acquiring material things or not acquiring them; happiness or unhappiness; interesting or uninteresting sounds; praise or criticism: these eight worldly dharmas are not objects of my mind. They are all the same to me.'
It is easy to understand how it can be a problem not to acquire things, to be unhappy, to hear uninteresting sounds, to have a bad reputation, to be criticised. These are commonly recognised as problems. But you might not recognise acquiring things, having comfort and happiness, hearing interesting sounds, having a good reputation and being praised as problems. However, they are all the same; they are all problems.
But the object itself is not the problem. Having wealth is not the problem. So, what is the problem? The problem is the mind desiring and clinging to wealth - that is the problem. Having a friend is not the problem; the mind clinging to the friend makes having a friend a problem.
Desire makes having these four material things, comfort, interesting sounds, praise - a problem. If there's no desire, no worldly concern, having or not having these objects does not become a problem.
You might be sleeping comfortably one night when suddenly your sleep is disturbed by a mosquito biting you. If you have strong worldly concern, strong desire for comfort, you will be very annoyed at being bitten by the mosquito. Just being bitten, by just one mosquito. It is nothing dangerous, nothing that can cause any serious disease. The mosquito takes just a tiny, tiny drop of blood from your body. But seeing that mosquito's body filled with your own blood, you are shocked. You become angry at the mosquito and are upset all night. The next day, you complain about the mosquito all day long. "I couldn't sleep for hours last night!" Losing sleep for one night, or even a few hours, is like losing a precious jewel. You are as upset as somebody who has lost a million dollars. For some people, even such a small problem becomes huge.
There are also people who desire so much to be praised and respected by others. If you ignore such people and walk past them with your nose in the air, or say just one or two words disrespectfully, something that they don't expect to hear, it causes great pain in their minds. Or if you give them something in a disrespectful manner, whether purposely or not, again there is great pain. For such people with so much expectation, so much clinging, the pain from even a small physical action that they dislike is great. It feels like an arrow has been shot into their hearts.
Suddenly anger arises strongly. Suddenly their body becomes very tense. Their face, relaxed and peaceful before, now becomes kind of terrifying - swollen and tight, with their ears and nose turning red and the veins standing out on their forehead. Suddenly their whole character becomes very rough and unpleasant.
The greater people's desire to receive praise and respect, the greater the pain in their heart when they don't get it. It is similar with the other objects of desire. The stronger the desires for material things, comfort, interesting sounds, and praise, the greater the pain when they experience the opposite.
If you expect that a friend will always be pleasant, smiling, respectful, kind, and always do what you wish, but one day they unexpectedly do some small unpleasant thing, that tiny thing causes an incredible pain in your heart. All this is related to worldly concern, to how strongly you desire something. The less desire you have for the four desirable objects, the fewer problems you will have when you meet the four undesirable objects. Less desire means less pain. If you cut off clinging to this life, there is not hurt when you experience criticism or do not receive something, because there is no clinging to praise or receiving things.
In the same way, when you do not cling to the expectation that your friend will always be nice to you, always smile at you, always help you when asked, there is no hurt when your friend changes and does the opposite to what you desire. There is no pain in your heart. Your mind is calm and peaceful. By cutting off the desire that clings to the four desirable objects, you don't have a problem when the four undesirable situations happen. They cannot hurt you, cannot disturb your mind.
The thought of the worldly dharmas clings to the four desirable objects of this life. Without this thought, there is so much calmness and peace in your mind that meeting the four undesirable objects doesn't bother you. And meeting the four desirable objects also doesn't bother you. If someone praises you, it doesn't matter; if someone criticises you, it cannot disturb your mind. There is stability in your life, and peace of mind. There are no ups and downs. This is equalising the eight worldly dharmas.
How do you keep your mind peaceful when problems happen? How do you protect your mind so that experiencing the four undesirable things does not disturb you? By realising that clinging to these four desirable objects is the problem. You have to realise the shortcomings of these four desirable objects and abandon clinging to them. This is the basic psychology. If you use this method, undesirable situations will not disturb you.
Geshe Chen-ngawa would equalise the eight worldly dharmas by reciting this verse:
'Being happy when life is comfortable and unhappy when it is uncomfortable: all activities for the happiness of this life should be abandoned like poison. Virtue and non-virtue are functions only of the mind. Cut off non-virtuous motivations and those motivations that are neither virtuous nor non-virtuous.'
The latter refers to actions of body note speech with indeterminate motivations; these are called "unpredictable" actions.
The best way to train our mind is to expect the four undesirable objects rather than the four desirable ones. Expect to be criticised and disrespected. This practice of renunciation, which cuts off desire, is the best psychology. Having trained our mind to expect undesirable things, when something undesirable actually happens, it doesn't come as a shock to us; it doesn't hurt because we are expecting it.
Before knowing about Dharma, before practising meditation, you regarded discomfort, uninteresting sounds, criticism, and not acquiring things as undesirable problems. Now, if you examine well the nature of the mind that clings to material things, comfort, interesting sounds, praise, you won't find that it is happy; you will see that it too is suffering. It is not the happiness you thought it was before knowing about Dharma. It is not peaceful - it is painful.
The mind that clings gets stuck to the object of desire. When you receive praise "You are so intelligent," "You speak so well," "You understand Dharma so well" your mind gets stuck to the praise and is no longer free. Like a body fastened with chains, the mind is fastened with attachment. The mind is tied, controlled, chained by attachment. The mind is stuck like glue to the object. Or like a moth flying into melted candle wax: its whole body, wings, and limbs become completely soaked in candle wax. Its body and limbs are so fragile that it is extremely difficult to separate them from the wax. Or like a fly that gets stuck in a spider's web: its limbs get completely wrapped in the web, and it is very difficult to separate them from it. Or like ants in honey. Attachment is the mind stuck to an object.