The Eight Winds

Worthy persons deserve to be called so because they are not carried away by the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honour, praise, censure, suffering and pleasure. They are neither elated by prosperity nor grieved by decline. The heavenly gods will surely protect one who is unbending before the eight winds. But if you nurse an unreasonable grudge against your lord, they will not protect you, not for all your prayers.

(Passage from “The Eight Winds”, The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p794)

Around 1277, Nichiren Daishonin wrote a letter to one of his followers, Shijo Kingo, who was upset with his lord when he threatened to move Kingo and his family to a distant province. In this letter, “The Eight Winds,” The Daishonin encouraged Kingo that only by remaining unwavering in faith and letting go of an unreasonable grudge could he receive a satisfactory result.

When most of us begin practicing Buddhism, we are looking for something to make our lives better. Not just to take the stress off the day like a piece of cake or a cold beer, but something that can fundamentally improve our lives. And some of us, myself included, think it will provide an eradication of problems. The hard times will disappear; the good times will go unimpeded.

Yet the problems do not evaporate. They rarely do. And the good times we seek do not manifest the way we expected.

A dictionary’s definition of the eight winds reads: “Eight conditions that prevent people from advancing along the right path to enlightenment… People are often swayed either by their attachment to prosperity, honour, praise and pleasure (collectively known as ‘four favourites’), or by their aversion to decline, disgrace, censure and siffering (‘four dislikes’ or ‘four adverse winds’).” (The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, p151).

The eight winds are not things we can ignore. These winds, or conditions, are in our faces every day. We cannot avoid them. But we can learn how to navigate them, how to not let them take us off course.

It is human nature to gravitate towards the pursuit of prosperity or pleasure and shun decline and pain. It makes perfect sense. Prosperity means we get more stuff, decline means we do not. Pleasure feels good; pain does not.

But if we centre our lives on such an outlook, we are led away from true happiness. Happiness is not simply the abundance of pleasure in the absence of pain. Rather, it is to remain confident and optimistic in the face of everyday reality.

Second SGI President Josei Toda once wrote: “Absolute happiness is a state such that, whatever your situation, you feel an immense sense of worth and satisfaction; and whenever you are, to be alive is itself a joy… Even when we encounter situations that make us angry, we become angry joyfully. When we establish such a state of life, our life is one of boundless joy.” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol IV, p80)

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was trying to make it as an actor, getting very little work, even less money. At one point I got a national commercial eating hamburgers.

Got to the set, treated really well, my own trailer, etc. Got home after that first day, feeling pretty good about myself, and found an eviction notice waiting on my door. While the wind of pleasure had me in the morning, the wind of decline got me that evening. All I could do was continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and continue with my work.

Fortunately, the commercial went well, a bit of income arrived in time and I did not get evicted. I was given a wake-up call. Change can happen in a heartbeat – just keep your head on straight.

So how do we provide ourselves with the best opportunities for happiness and success? By always basing ourselves on our practice to the Gohonzon and forging ahead through each struggle.

In another letter to Shijo Kingo, the Daishonin wrote: “Muster your faith and pray to this Gohonzon. Then what is there that cannot be achieved?” (WND, p412)

No matter what we have gone through or what we have accomplished, another obstacle may be right around the corner. The important thing is to persevere with the knowledge that this practice is the means to progress. It is the key to make us all that we wish, and more.

SGI President Ikeda once stated: “Taking faith in the Daishonin’s Buddhism does not mean that all difficulties will disappear. Being alive means that we will have problems of one kind or another. But no matter what happens, it is important that we remain firm in our hearts.” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol V, p9)

This persistence, even in the face of defeat, makes us stronger, and therefore assures us of victory.

The goal of Buddhism is not to avoid problems, but to reach a state of life where problems do not define or defeat us. To become so strong that no matter how hard the eight winds blow, they cannot take us off course.

Adapted from an article written by Craig Green from World Tribune, SGI-USA weekly paper.