Worthy persons deserve to be called so because they are not carried away by the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honor, 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.

–Nichiren Daishonin

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.

It is human nature to gravitate toward 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 center 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.

Adapted from the January 23, 2004 issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA’s weekly paper. 

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