Walking back from the nature reserve near my house yesterday, I met a man who had attended my classes several years ago. We stopped and had a pleasant conversation about meditation. Several of the questions he raised were, ‘what is a spiritual practice’, ‘how can we practice a spiritual path’, and ‘do I have a spiritual practice?’
This question immediately led me to think about the eight worldly concerns. These concerns were introduced in the great Nagarjuna’s, Letter to a Friend, written in the 1st-2nd Century AD:
Hope for happiness and fear of suffering,
Hope for fame and fear of insignificance.
Hope for praise and fear of blame,
Hope for gain and fear of loss.
Due to being motivated by these concerns, we can live in a state of continuous anxiety and fear and a constant state of spiritual inertia.
If we can let go of these concerns, we have a chance to let go of the stress and worry in our lives and move towards a spiritual experience.
The advice for letting go of these concerns is by thinking about our own impermanence.
For example, ‘what difference does it make what people think about me if I have only a few days left to live?’
Reflecting on our death helps us to put life in perspective and prioritise what is essential in our life.
My answer to the question in our conversation was:
‘If we can work continually to let go of these eight worldly concerns, we will naturally move towards a more ‘spiritual life’, become a ‘spiritual person’, and follow a ‘spiritual path. Inner work. If we move mentally in this direction, we find ourselves letting go of the everyday worry’s and stress that inflict our mind, and discover space and time in our lives to practice meditation.’
This an evolving process. We never standstill. We are either moving forward or backwards; our worldly concerns are either increasing or decreasing.
He said that he had never considered a spiritual practice being based on a reduction of these concerns and that working with letting go of these concerns gives him a real opportunity for having insights everyday and a sense of being on a spiritual path.