The Interminability Of Gain And Loss

Consider that our phenomenal experience is always changing and therefore that anicca–meaning impermanence–may be true. Then we can come to some ordinary ways in which impermanence shows up for us.

In Buddhism, these are called the Eight Vicissitudes, and they are:

  • Pleasure and pain
  • Gain and loss
  • Praise and blame
  • Fame and disrepute

We might think that these are obvious, but your actual beliefs, desires, and behaviors belie this presumed understanding.

Take gain and loss. We might think:

  • “Once I get over this hurdle, then everything will be easy.”
  • “I just need my big break.”
  • “This startup will scale in no time.”
  • “Getting married shall make me abidingly happy.”

Or whatever. We set markers, milestones, or signs of success on the assumption that the latter will somehow put us past the period of being subject to experiencing a succession of gains and losses (or a streak of losses). But is that really so? Consult your own actual experience. Did everything become easy once you leaped over the last hurdle? Did your life forever change after you got the big break? Did scaling the startup transform your entire life? Did getting married, on its own, make you abidingly happy?

Of course not. Because the law of anicca holds even, or especially, in the face of your desires.

You might think that the only problem with this picture is the threat of loss, but that’s not true from a Buddhist point of view. It’s instead the attachment as much to gain as it is the aversion to loss–that is, it is the entire dynamic–that is causing suffering.

We can turn to Advaita now. If phenomenal experience is subject to impermanence and if certain common ways of getting caught are spelled out nicely in the Eight Vicissitudes, then it’s worth asking: who is the one contemplating the painful and the pleasant experiences, the experiences of gain as well as those of loss? Who is that one seeing it all, quietly observing without judgment and in abiding peace?