Why do we put all that effort into gain, when in the end we are going to lose it? Indulging in gain and loss is like inducing amnesia. We're always finding something new to gain, which makes us forget about the last thing that we lost, just a few seconds ago. Fabricating this chain of desire is how we keep ourselves in samsara. Unlike anything we own, this pattern can last from lifetime to lifetime. Contemplation allows us to step back and see it from a deeper point of view, to be less mesmerized by it. Then we're less apt to work fervently toward gain.

The Buddha said that our existence is marked by impermanence, selflessness, and suffering. When we contemplate this insight in our morning meditation, we're letting the truth about existence penetrate our being. We're bringing that truth into our own experience: whatever we gather, we will lose. Even this body will dissolve. To contemplate gain and loss is not to say that we can escape this reality, but it helps us stop being fooled into thinking that worldly gain will bring permanent happiness. This is how we bring our mind into harmony with the truth about gain and loss. We realize that gain and loss is just an illusion - one that we've allowed to rule our lives. When we stop being baffled, surprised, or insulted by it, we will no longer experience the highs and lows that accompany gain and loss.

We often lose our perspective about gain and loss, because the modern world is very competitive. With that attitude, we are in a perpetual rub with our environment. We're playing the game of "What about me?": "If I gain something, I will be happy. If I lose something, I'll be miserable." That kind of friction simply wears us down. Competition doesn't enable us to accomplish what we want. It just adds the grind of trying to gain by outdoing somebody else. It makes us aggressive - unable to relax our own mind. We become susceptible to anger, which destroys any virtue that we've gathered.


Gain and loss are meaningless preoccupations that we use to foster the illusion of a permanent self. We have been preoccupied this way for many lifetimes, winning and losing the same game over and over again. The point of contemplating gain and loss is to stop wasting our time. This life is precious, our time is precious, and our mind is precious. True victory is not being caught by the illusion of permanence. It is not being hooked by negative emotions. It comes about when we free ourselves from the illusion of "me." That's why the Buddha is called "the victorious one" -- he is victorious over ignorance, desire, and self-infatuation. Unlike ourselves, the Buddha doesn't see the dreamlike quality of existence in hindsight. He sees it now. The Buddha sees now -- just like the past and the future -- as a dream, as an illusion.

Prajna -- "best knowledge" -- tells us that as long as we believe that aggression and competition can bring true gain, we will always be playing the game of samsara. If we can see through our own ignorance, we will no longer act out of attachment to conventional gain and loss. We'll no longer need to prove ourselves again each season. We can outwit the cycle of suffering by investing our energy in the cause of lasting happiness, which is letting go of "me."

Ancient meditation texts tell us that after becoming familiar with the truth of impermanence, we should practice as if our hair were on fire. What do we practice? We practice meditation, generosity, patience, humor, and helping others. When we really understand impermanence, we live with appreciation of our good fortune, as if it's our last day on earth. We wake up in the morning excited that we can use every moment of our life in a way that will lead to wisdom. When we do this, we become naturally and spontaneously light-hearted. We are not caught in the game of bad and good. We have what Tibetans call tropa -- delight. All that remains is to be totally outrageous and take a leap by helping others. This is how to be truly victorious.


This article, originally published by Shambhala Sun and reprinted with permission, can be read in its entirety here.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is spiritual director of Shambhala, an international network of meditation and retreat centers. He is the author of Turning the Mind into an Ally and Ruling Your World.