One of the Buddha’s most poignant teachings applicable to daily life is the Eight Worldly Winds: Profit and Loss, Pleasure and Pain, Praise and Blame, and Fame and Disrepute (Shame). As you can see, each pair consists of two opposites; one tends to be desirable and the other undesirable.
Buddha’s original teaching on the Worldly Winds specified that all humans are subject to the change of these winds. Thus each of us is susceptible to experiencing both the desirable and undesirable tides. The Buddha himself had many episodes in his life where he was famous, sought after, destitute, unknown, blamed, and in great physical pain.
Of these eight winds, today’s exploration is on the pair Fame and Disrepute.
Fame and Disrepute
Many people look at this pair “fame and disrepute” and think it does not apply to them because they are not famous, nor are they in disrepute. But it does apply to everyone from a nuanced perspective.
Fame implies many things including that you are well-known, and maybe even famous. But it also means that you are liked, recognized, and approved of. It could be as subtle as your being accepted into some group or as a Facebook friend.
Disrepute, often also called Shame, is the opposite of Fame. It implies that we have somehow fallen out of favor. A good example of a famous person falling into disrepute would be the former politician Anthony Weiner, who was exposed for his addiction to inappropriate “sexting”. In your own life, perhaps your teacher has a new pet student and you are now being ignored. Or maybe one of our friends stopped liking your Instagram posts. Stinging hurt may come from a close friend deciding that he or she no longer wants to be friends with you.
How to Handle Fame and Disrepute
The first step in our practice is to recognize that we are experiencing either Fame or Disrepute and name it, “Yes, this is Fame” or “Yes, this is Disrepute.”
Try to open with curiosity to the feeling you experience with fame or disrepute. If it is fame, you are bound to enjoy being on the receiving end, and you may even secretly hope it doesn’t end. If, on the other hand, you are experiencing disrepute, you might be dealing with difficult emotions such as hurt and confusion. Allow yourself to feel whatever related physical, emotional, or mental phenomenon that arise.
Avoid getting attached to this Worldly Wind. You know you are attached to “fame” if you enjoy it to the point that you do not want it to go away. You are also attached if you allow this approval to build up your sense of identity. “Oh, I am a special person because these people say so.”
Signs that you are attached to “disrepute” may be evidenced by your inability to get beyond your hurt or angry reactions to a a more neutral, philosophical attitude. Or perhaps you have come to believe you are unworthy because others disapprove of you. Another sign is if you are trying hard to disprove, discredit, or get revenge on the source(s) of the disrepute. If you see signs that you are attached, this is an invitation to open to your felt sense of this wind more deeply.
Try to see the transient nature of this wind. Last year you were in great favor and everybody loved you. This year, people are no longer interested in you, and they are abandoning you for another more inspiring version. This is human nature. Now you’re in, now you are out. If you can view this as a normal part of the process, you will not get so rocked by the changing tides.
A few years ago, I went to visit another Buddhist group nearby which is quite different from AIM. I was shocked and hurt when I saw how many of our past sangha members, who were once very happy and committed to our group, were now attending this sangha. I recognized this as the stinging bite of “disrepute” and so I attended to this inner pain, which eventually subsided.
People may try to mentally push away their experience on an intellectual level by telling themselves “Well, people do change” or “Maybe I was not the right fit for them.” Although there may be truth to these statements, coming to such conclusions without attending to the internal pain first is known as spiritual bypassing. By shutting yourself off to pain using intellectual analysis, you bury emotions that will only fester and grow over time.
In some ways, it’s almost more important to attend closely to circumstances of “fame” because if you take this seriously, you are bound to adopt an inflated, superior view of yourself. Not pretty! Stay humble, as you will most likely be thrown over the edge of the bridge soon enough.
Being a human being in our modern culture can be quite grueling at times. It is crucial to maintain a direct link to what is most important to you while being blown about by these buffeting winds. Stay grounded with wholesome intentions for yourself and others, and have compassion for yourself when times get tough.