There is a teaching in the Buddhist suttas about maintaining equanimity in the face of the eight worldly conditions, which are perpetually subject to change. These are presented as four pairs of polar opposites, namely: conditions of gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, pleasure and pain. The idea is that we should not become either elated by, or alarmed by, any of these conditions, because they are always changing. The language that is sometimes used is simply “living with the world as it has come to be.” I really like this phrase, “living with the world as it has come to be.” I think this phrase nicely sums up the goal of our practice, and more generally describes the basis for a skilful and happy life. To be happy this is what we must do: live with the world as it has come to be. It is the opposite of suffering.
“Living with the world as it has come to be,” conveys a matter-of-fact pragmatic orientation to our experience, which is quite different from how we habitually relate to the world. Without practice, we tend to see the world through the lens of how we wish it had come to be. We waste a lot of energy yearning for some alternative reality – bringing a lot of suffering down on ourselves. For example, I wish we had a different political situation in our country. I wish there was no racism. I wish we would acknowledge and address climate change. I wish my body would not have so much pain. All of these are natural wishes. The problem is that when we attach to these wishes, we create suffering for ourselves and are hindered from skillfully responding to the world as it has actually come to be.
“Living with the world as it has come to be” is not passivity. Often, the-world-as-it-has-come-to-be requires action on our part. The-world-as-it-has-come-to-be is calling for us to oppose systemic racism. It is calling for us to protect this planet that we, and all species, depend on. We need to address the problems that confront us, but it is possible to do this without bemoaning our present circumstances. The eight worldly conditions are constantly changing. Whatever is here in this moment is what has come to be. Our practice is simply to face it as it is. We can and should work to change things that are causing suffering for self and others, but pulling our hair and gnashing our teeth over the present reality doesn’t help us do that, and in fact, gets in our way. We can respond to what the world is asking of us without railing against the reality of what has come to be. Our active responses to the needs of the world are themselves part of the-world-as-it-has-come-to-be.
Our mindfulness and insight practice is a training ground for living with the world as it has come to be. As-the-world-has-come-to-be is constantly changing from moment to moment. We are practicing being aware of this changingness, and we are practicing facing it without reactivity.
When we sit in meditation, we are practicing being with this body and mind as they have come to be from moment to moment. Learning how to be with this body and mind as they have come to be is the starting point and foundation for living with the world as it has come to be. When we sit in meditation, sometimes our mind is running a mile a minute. Sometimes we have physical pain. Sometimes we are drowsy. This is simply how body and mind have come to be in that moment. Let go of all thoughts of how you wish things were, of wishing the mind was alert and calm and the body was without pain, wishing you could replicate that wonderful sitting experience you had last week. These wishes are meaningless obstacles to practice and happiness. We can try to simply face whatever is here whole-heartedly, bringing mindful awareness to it – not minding that it is here – not begrudging it. This itself is the opposite of suffering. If we can do this – if we can bring whole-hearted awareness to our experience moment after moment, we open the way for insight to arise and for our reactivity and suffering to fall away.