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Life is More Than Just Winning and Losing

Public Talk
By Khenpo Sodargye

Wisdom and Compassion Singapore Bodhi Society organised a public talk by Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche on 20 July 2016 at the Shine Auditorium. During the two-hour long teaching, Khenpo Sodargye expounded much how one can use Buddhist teachings in daily life and why life is more than just about winning and losing – practical ways to incorporate Buddhist philosophy of living and also facing the ups and downs in life using an attitude of impermanence and a deeper appreciation of one’s life brought on by different experiences, surroundings, people around beyond the competition for materialistic living and feeding ego with illusory perceptions.

The following is an extract from Chapter 1 of Youth is Cruel by Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche, translated by Pema Rinchen.


We will always meet with unpleasant and painful experiences, but once in pain, some people would deliberately brush it off and ‘let time heal the wound’ and refuse to acknowledge it. In fact, pain is part of a person’s life journey – a type of “vitamin”.

For those who are able to truly reflect, they would be able to find out the root(s) of the pain and having gone through the pain once is sufficient. On the other hand, those who are unwilling to accept the pain; they would continue to make the same mistake(s) time and again and suffer the “pain” and “misery” arising from the mistakes.

Why is youth cruel?

Why is youth cruel? Loss, frustration, anxiety and helplessness – what is the source? Is it really the external environment that is causing us misery? No, all these stem from oneself – one’s ego!

India’s great Shantideva once said, “I will only increase misery.” As long as one is still clinging to the notion of “I”, it will only bring pain and misery.

All the suffering of this world stems from one’s self-interest. Thus, as the Seven-Point Mind tells us: In life, regardless of what sort of misery one encounters, it should be attributed to oneself; “I” (ego), rather than pushing the blame elsewhere. If one can eradicate the ego, no matter how tough the going gets, life will eventually improve.

Since clinging (to the ego) is so dreadful, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to examine if the “I” (the ego) that everyone clings on to is real?

This question can be answered by an analogy from Plato’s Utopia: Once, there was a group of people who lived in a cave for generations. From the day they were born, they were chained to a fixed point with metal chains – their necks shackled and immobilised to a permanent position of facing the wall – just like captives.

Day after day, the captives got used to these projections and thought that they were real. They did not know that there was a world of light outside, and of course no one wanted leave the “plight” that they were in. This continued until one day, one of the captives accidentally freed himself. Once out of the chains and shackles, he walked out of the cave following the bright light from outside. Outside the cave, he was greeted with blinding luminosity – a sight he never saw since birth. After overcoming the initial glare of light, he saw reality in the brilliant sunlight and realised what he saw on the cave walls have always been an illusion – nothing but falsehood.

He rejoiced upon knowing the truth and soon felt nothing but pity for his fellow captives, and thus headed back to the cave. One by one, he freed them from the shackles and immediately told them the truth. Unsurprisingly, none of them believed him and all of them started to tease him thinking that he was mad. Eventually, he was clubbed to death…

What does this analogy tell us? What we have always thought is true (is the truth), may possibly and typically be untrue (is falsehood).

The person who walked out of the cave actually really saw reality, and why didn’t anyone believe him? This reflects what the allegory in The Red Chamber, ‘Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true, real becomes unreal when the unreal’s real’. Once we treat “fiction” as “reality”, “reality” as “fiction”, then “reality” becomes “unreal”, and “no” becomes “yes”, and “yes” becomes “no”.

Similarly, sentient beings’ clinging to the concept of “I” is the same. Though “I” exists, in reality, it is merely a projection on the wall.  So, let’s say “I” is unreal, then what is real? It is when there is no “I”.

In one’s life, particularly during the period of youth, one should contemplate more on the truth of “non-self”. It is impossible for life to be entirely smooth sailing or a bed of roses all the time, so when we meet with obstacles, frustrations and anxiety, why not consider looking for the root causes of the pain and slowly eradicate them (causes).

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Khenpo Sodargye

“Life is more than
just winning and losing.”

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