“Bhikkhus, these eight worldly conditions revolve around the world, and the world revolves around these eight worldly conditions. What eight? Gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, and pleasure and pain.
– from AN 8:6, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
The eight worldly conditions, taken together, might describe all of life as we know it, if it were not for the difference a bit of awareness can make.
The first point is that these conditions, the four pairs of opposites, make up the experience of the wise and the foolish, the lucky and the unlucky, in short, everyone. No one can have only gain, fame, praise and pleasure, though often we think that that would be only fair. It’s simply not the way anyone’s life unfolds.
So, given that we are also subject to loss, disrepute, blame and pain, what choices do we have? Certainly we can conduct ourselves in ways that are more likely to attract gain than loss, praise rather than blame and pleasure rather than pain. It’s only reasonable that if we live a wholesome and praiseworthy life, mostly we will reap the rewards of our efforts. But even if we could live up to our highest standards all the time, still things would not always go our way. People will be disappointed in us, think us haughty or difficult; people will disagree with our decisions and take our choices as negative judgments of their own choices.
What control do we have, then?
As the Buddha points out later in the sutta, we can remember, as things happen, that they are not final, are in the process of coming and going, are not reliable. Whether we are on the receiving end of praise or blame, gain or loss, etc., we would do well not take the rewards or penalties on as “me” or “mine”, but see them as experiences coming and going.
If we become obsessed with getting the things we like, and rebel against getting the things we don’t like, our emotions will run at full throttle all the time and exhaust us. If we can step back and see that both the gain and our reaction to it (and pain and our reaction to that) are impermanent, then we can live more easily with all the changes that come to us.
By working with this understanding we can develop a wiser and more workable frame for all of our experience.