In the third theme
we go on to think about our state and the Buddha’s
great diagnosis to us of the first noble truth. — that
the unenlightened life is inevitably suffering. In
this lesson we focus on one aspect of suffering — the
suffering that results from the delusion of our sense
of our self as a separate being from the universe,
as intrinsically substantially and solidly here as
something apart from everything else is itself.
|Note: In a future Ashoka
course you will be able to study the Four Noble
Truths and examine the pervasiveness of suffering
in your life and the path to a mind of freedom.
people first hear the Buddha’s theme
of suffering, they often think it's the morbid. But
it's not gloomy;
it's merely realistic, a method of evaluating "what
is our actual experience?"
Remember that one
of the goals of the four thoughts that turn the
to see clearly and openly the truth of your - and
our - existence.
If we look about we see that
all around us is suffering.
Think of suffering you see in the
news. People in war zones, people in
car accidents, people with serious
illness, people aging, people dying.
Think of people you know personally
who have or are suffering with pain,
mental suffering, disaster…
When you reflect on these can you
imagine that you too could be in these
situations? Or do you live in denial
of the fact that the person suffering
from the pain of the automobile accident
was as removed from the possibility
that they could suffer in such a way
as you are now?
Reflect on some
of the ways you are suffering
or dissatisfied. You can focus
on physical suffering — sickness
or pain — or mental suffering
like anxiety, anger, and fear,
or suffering of loss, or suffering
of fear of loss.
Notice how difficult
it is to just steady the mind
such an inquiry. Does your internal
monologue constantly demand, "How
can I feel better?" Do you
constantly think: "When
I get there, then I'll feel good." "When
I wake up tomorrow I'll feel
good." "When I have
this food, that thing, that relationship—then
everything will be all right."
always seeking happiness, but we
very rarely experience it.
constantly in a state of vain hope, hoping
to get someplace where we'll finally be happy.
We're always seeking happiness, but we very
rarely experience it. We usually have a little
pain over here, a little strain over there,
we're miserable when the temperature is a little
off. Some internal or external thing is constantly
agitating us. Sometimes we have the experience
that we remember some past time as having been
good, but then if we really look back carefully
we realize that we were still trying, anxiously,
even then, to get to some other place. So our
actual daily existence is unsatisfactory.
all had many experiences of hoping to reach
some goal, and yet nothing ever seems
to work out if you really think about it. We
are dependent for our well-being on all kinds
of factors beyond our control, and life is
always frustrating. Our own reactions are not
under our control either. We can't accept hardship
with equanimity. We can't stay cheerful when
we're ill. On top of being in pain, we get
mad that we have the illness. This is a small
corner of the endless round of suffering called
Gradually, it becomes clear that internally
we're victims of emotions and desires that
constantly nag us, and externally we're the
victims of environment and circumstance. No
wonder we want to attain nirvana! Or at least
just get away from it all.
But why is life so
A few pages
back we were so grateful for
this precious human embodiment.
It's this: We think the world is not treating
us right. Our own body treats us abominably!
terrible; gravity is worse; our emotions are
we feel we have a right to be happy. We feel
we have a right to be calm and cool and to
feel bliss, even ecstasy. But the world is
to provide our ecstasy. So there's a struggle
between our expectation and what is.
As an experiment,
give up the pretension that you
constantly maintain to the world
and even to yourself, that just
over the next hill all will be
well. Stop saying: "If I
can just get to the next level,
I'll be happy. If I can just
get back home. Or if I can just
get away from home, move to another
state, it'll be OK." Realize
that's a delusion; that every
time you get one of these goodies,
it proves unsatisfactory. You
immediately want the next thing,
and then another, better one.
Begin to feel sympathy
for yourself in this very difficult
This is what the noble truth
of suffering means: We're habitually
out of balance, and all of our
experience will inevitably be
frustrating and unsatisfactory.
We have to acknowledge this and
accept the fact that we're off
balance. We're simply not going
to find happiness, the way we're
facing our situation, feeling
ourselves alone and struggling
in an alien world, trying to
get the better of it. Once we're
set apart in this way, in the
battle of self versus the world,
the self has got to lose. The
world is bigger and stronger;
it's inexhaustible, while we
get tired so easily?
But the Buddha’s teachings on the four
noble truths also teach us that a person who
has found a different way of relating to the
world, one who is no longer habitually self-centered
and no longer is pitted against the world comes
to see the process of self-preoccupation itself
as suffering, so our whole lives look like
suffering to them. Even what we think of as
temporary relief, a noble person sees as suffering:
Our temporary states of happiness seem pretty
good to us in relation to the immediately preceding
irritation, but they soon turn into new irritation,
and therefore are called the suffering of change.
The conditions we normally perceive as suffering
are called the suffering of suffering. And
our overall cosmic situation is called the
suffering of creation.
Do you have grand ambitions – to
become a billionaire, a president,
a king, a movie star, a famous
writer? A yogi? Do you fantasize
that if only you had the life
someone else has you’d
be happy? Can you go beyond your
fantasies and look at people
who have the things you think
you want. Look at the president
of the United States. You begin
to realize the guy has got a
permanent headache. Look at a
movie star, you see many of them
in complete misery. Look at famous
writers, many are alcoholics.
you reflect on this carefully and thoughtfully,
you begin to feel genuine sympathy for yourself,
you begin to excuse yourself from chasing your
illusions. You begin to turn that hope-for-happiness
in a more practical direction by shifting the
situation from you-versus-the-world.
Now meditate on the dark areas
of life. Think over the many
varieties of suffering.
Don't avoid these. Facing suffering realistically
has to do with developing a healthy prudence
and a concern to avoid future misery.