An explanatory comment about the eight winds in modern era by Venerable Master Hsing Yun
Translator by Yinfang Huang
The eight winds mean the eight conditions that we encounter in our daily life including praise, ridicule, defamation, eulogy, gain, loss, suffering and joy, which are called "winds" because they could influence our emotions. Without realizing our original mind and living in the swing of the storm of delusions, how could it be possible to liberate the body and mind and be free?
Most worldly people usually push themselves into the suffering in the hell of rāksasī-dvīpa instantly with their mind being agitated like being stormed by hurricane or shook by earthquake for just a single eyesight, a facial expression or a gesture of others. For example, how many people pace about in an agitated state of mind for the ups and downs of the stocks? How many people feel extremely suffering for the promotion or degradation of their positions? Had you won the lottery or gotten promoted right now, will your mind be still or not? I am afraid that the so called "the eight winds cannot move me" in the past are now much more than eight in modern era: the wind of sea, the wind of the mountain, the wind of others' words, the wind of influence, and the wind of groundless rumors and baseless accident.....there are indeed too many winds that can fan our afflictions in this world!
The great scholar Su Shi from the Song Dynasty (1036-1101), also known as Su Dongpo was an avid student of Buddhist teachings. He was quick-witted and humorous; as a Zen Buddhism follower he was very serious and self-disciplined. He often discussed buddhism with his good friend, Zen Master Foyin. The two lived across the river from one another. One day, Su Dongpo felt inspired and wrote the following poem:
I bow my head to the heaven within heaven
Hairline rays illuminating the universe
The eight winds cannot move me
Sitting still upon the purple golden lotus
The “eight winds” in the poem referred to praise, ridicule, honor, disgrace, gain, loss, pleasure and misery – interpersonal forces of the material world that drive and influence the hearts of men. Su Dongpo was saying that he has attained a higher level of spirituality, where these forces no longer affect him.
Impressed by himself, Su Dongpo sent a servant to hand-carry this poem to Foyin. He was sure that his friend would be equally impressed. When Foyin read the poem, he immediately saw that it was both a tribute to the Buddha and a declaration of spiritual refinement. Smiling, the Zen Master wrote “fart” on the manuscript and had it returned to Su Dongpo.
Su Dongpo was expecting compliments and a seal of approval. When he saw “fart” written on the manuscript, he was shocked . He burst into anger: “How dare he insult me like this? Why that lousy old monk! He’s got a lot of explaining to do!”
Full of indignation, he rushed out of his house and ordered a boat to ferry him to the other shore as quickly as possible. He wanted to find Foyin and demand an apology. However, Foyin’s door was closed. On the door was a piece of paper, for Su Dongpo. The paper had following two lines:
The eight winds cannot move me
One fart blows me across the river
This stopped Su Dongpo cold. Foyin had anticipated this hot-headed visit. Su Dongpo’s anger suddenly drained away as he understood his friend’s meaning. If he really was a man of spiritual refinement, completely unaffected by the eight winds, then how could he be so easily provoked?
With a few strokes of the pen and minimal effort, Foyin showed that Su Dongpo was in fact not as spiritually advanced as he claimed to be. Ashamed but wiser, Su Dongpo departed quietly.
It is inevitable to encounter everything that may go as or against our wishes in life, and sometimes we are disgraced, sometimes we are praised. Therefore, I propose the philosophy "half-half" of life: where there is sunlight in half of the day, there will certainly be dark night in the other half; where there is temperate spring in which all flowers blossom, there will be the advent of harsh cold winter.
Once upon a time, Hanshan asked Shide: " how should I do if someone disgrace me, bully me, insult me, belittle me, denigrate me, hate me and cheat me?", Shide replied: "what you can do is only to tolerate him, let him be, avoid him, endure him, respect him and ignore him, see what he can do with you years later?" To tolerate and endure him is to cultivate the magnanimity of the mind; to avoid him and let him be is the wondrous tip to lessen disputes; to respect and ignore him is to respect your opponent and make you grow stronger. It's like the basketball game: it is impossible to hold a game without your opponent.
To live in this world, it is inevitable for us to face the challenges of honor, disgrace, gain and loss. We may feel honored when we are doing well; however, there is no need to worry about personal gains and losses or negate yourself when you are dejected. Because the world is impermanent, and the honor, disgrace, gain and loss are all temporary. With too much concern for the honor, disgrace, gain and loss we will be restrained by them. Therefore, we have to learn "
When the wind has passed through a grove of bamboo, the rattle of the stalks dies away. After the wild geese are gone their reflection in the deep pool disappears". We will be exactly the free and comfortable person that the eight winds cannot move when there are no vicious defamation that can hurt or destroy us and no disgrace or honor that can move us.
Q & A about the Eight Winds:
Q: How can we not be moved by the outside environment in our daily life?
A: In Buddhism we often say "absolutely immovable", and there is Acala or the Immovable One among the sacred statues of Buddhas and bodhisattvas of Buddhism. In addition, the name of Kṣitigarbha ( the Earth Store) who is well known to everyone means "be peaceful, tolerant and immovable as the huge earth; meditate as tranquilly and be still as profoundly as the secret store". As long as we can be of no rush nor presumptuous actions, that's exactly the wondrous tip of settling down and getting on with one's pursuit.
Here are four of my personal opinions:
1) The body will be safe and sound as long as you can keep immovable towards both joy and anger:
You will have an easy time if you can keep immovable constantly towards various kinds of states such as joy, anger, sorrow and happiness. I am neither necessarily good when someone praises me nor necessarily bad when someone disgraces me. Those who can keep immovable towards both disgrace and praise are indeed able to see through life; and those who won't show any emotions in joy or anger are indeed well cultured.
2) The dharma realm will be so vast as long as you can keep immovable towards both good and bad:
No one would never encounter good or bad states and even good or bad people in life. Never grumble when you are taken advantage of nor brag about when you give someone a favor; keep immovable no matter whether you are in rich or poverty and you will be able to show high ideals by simple living; keep peaceful and calm in the fickleness of the world and you will be able to lead a quiet life. You will never be hindered by the state whether it is good or bad and you will be able to roam freely in the vast dharma realm.
3) Be immovable towards gain and loss and you will be able to free your mind:
Sometimes we gain and sometimes we lose in our life. For example, we will feel joyous when the stock value you buy goes up and on the other hand feel dejected when it goes down. Between the gain and loss, we have to realize that where there is gain, there will be loss, and therefore we won't fear when we lose because it will go up again sometime in the future. As long as you can keep immovable towards both gain and loss, your mind won't get unsettled and you will certainly be free and easy.
4) The Buddha's land will reveal itself as long as you can keep immovable towards both praise and disgrace: Keep immovable no matter whether people praise or disgrace you, and that is exactly the state in which none of the so called eight winds: "praise, ridicule, defamation, eulogy, gain, loss, suffering and joy" can move you, and you will be able to "sit still upon the golden purple lotus". That is the display of truly peaceful Buddha's Pure Land.
Buddha made the vow under the bodhi tree that He would not move until He got enlightened, and finally He got enlightened by sitting still to observe the stars six years later; Bodhidharma faced the wall in Shaolin temple for nine years, and Huiko admired His high ideals, cut off his arm to show his seriousness in seeking dharma, hence the Chan school was founded.
In Chinese we say "to bear hardship with equanimity and remain unmoved". You can realize the subtlety of the immovability by practice in person.