A Buddhist Perspective on Suffering

A Buddhist Perspective on Suffering

suffering 1

In western culture, suffering is generally defined as the experience of either somatic or psychological pain. Therefore, in the absence of such pain and whilst experiencing favourable socio-environmental conditions, individuals are generally not categorised as ‘suffering’ or ‘ill’ according to western medical conventions (e.g., as defined by the World Health Organization). However, within Buddhism, the term ‘suffering’ takes on a much more encompassing meaning. Irrespective of whether a sentient being is currently experiencing psychological or somatic pain, and irrespective of whether a sentient being considers itself to be suffering, Buddhism asserts that the very fact an unenlightened being exists means it suffers.

As we discussed in our recent post on Having Fun with the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha declared that ‘suffering exists’. In addition to representing the Buddha’s experiential understanding of the truth, these words were intended to represent a statement of fact. They were never meant to be ambiguous. ‘Suffering exists’ does not just mean that there is the potential for suffering to exist, it means that with the exception of those beings that have realised the third noble truth (i.e., the cessation of suffering), all beings suffer. Likewise, the noble truth of suffering does not mean that sentient beings suffer at certain times but not at other times, it means that sentient beings that have not transcended to liberation are continuously immersed in suffering.

This type of enduring latent suffering referred to above is known in Buddhism as ‘all-pervasive suffering’. In essence, it is the suffering that arises due to an individual’s ignorance as to the ultimate nature of self and reality. Since – as discussed in our post on Deconstructing the Self – unenlightened beings have a distorted perception of reality, Buddhism asserts that they are deluded. Accordingly, within Buddhism and to a certain extent, the words suffering, deluded and ignorant can all be used interchangeably.

One means of conceptualising the Buddhist interpretation of suffering as a form of delusion (or ignorance) is by drawing parallels between the two conditions of  ‘mindlessness’ and ‘hallucination’. Mindlessness refers to a lack of present moment awareness whereby the mind is preoccupied with future (i.e., fantasized) conjectures or past (i.e., bygone) occurrences. Therefore, an individual afflicted by mindlessness might be said to be engaging in the ‘non-perceiving of that which is’. Hallucination, on the other hand, can be described as being ‘the perceiving of that which is not’. Thus, given that both states involve an erroneous perception of the ‘here and now’, it could be argued that mindlessness is actually a form of ‘inverted hallucination’.

According to Buddhist thought, the population en masse is effectively deemed to be delusional (i.e., suffering) and in a permanent inverted-hallucinatory state. However, as the 12th century Tibetan Buddhist saint Gampopa aptly points out, although all unenlightened beings (human or otherwise) experience all-pervasive suffering, they are generally ignorant of this fact:

Ordinary people will not feel the all-pervasive suffering as, for example, when one is stricken with a serious plague and a small pain in the ears and so forth is not noticeable. But the saintly beings – the noble ones beyond samsara such as the stream enterers and so forth – will see the all-pervasive suffering as suffering …

In addition to all-pervasive suffering which might be described as a more subtle form of suffering, Buddhism recognises two other primary forms of suffering that are much more tangible. The first is known as the ‘suffering of change’ and refers to the fact that whatever temporary happiness there might be, it simply cannot endure. The Buddha stated that birth leads to the suffering of sickness and old age, and sickness and old age lead to suffering of death. Likewise, being in love leads to the suffering of separation, and having possessions (e.g., wealth, health, reputation, family, friends, etc.) leads to suffering when one is ultimately separated from such favourable circumstances. In short, suffering is ubiquitous to the human condition and the principle of impermanence means that just as with all phenomena, favourable circumstances are transient and are subject to dissolution.

The third primary form of suffering recognised in the Buddhist teachings is the ‘suffering of suffering’. This is the most palpable form of suffering and is typified by experiences such as somatic pain, psychological distress, hunger or starvation, thirst or dehydration, being too hot, and being too cold. Buddhism asserts that the human being comprises five aggregates (1. form, 2. feelings, 3. perceptions, 4. mental formations, and 5. consciousness; Sanskrit: skandhas; Pali: khandhas) and that each individual aggregate is likewise composite. For example, the first aggregate of form or the body in-turn comprises the five elements of water, wind (i.e., air), earth (i.e., food), sun (i.e., heat/energy), and space (i.e., in the bodily cavities and between molecules, etc.). Due to the fact the human body exists in reliance upon a delicate balance of innumerable causes, components and conditions, Buddhism asserts that even a slight imbalance in these elements and components results in both the suffering of suffering (e.g., pain and discomfort) and ultimately, the suffering of change (e.g., illness and death).

There is quite a lot more we could write about the Buddhist take on suffering, but the above provides a brief introduction to how Buddhism distinguishes between different types of suffering and why the Buddha stated that suffering exits. It is only by first recognising and coming to terms with the suffering within ourselves – including in all of its different guises – that we can fully appreciate the potency of the Buddha’s teachings and the need to earnestly apply ourselves towards spiritual development.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Bodhi, B. (1994). The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.

 

Dalai Lama. (1995). The Path to Enlightenment. New York: Snow Lion.

 

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of meditation: training the mind for wisdom. London: Rider.

 

Gampopa. (1998). The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. (A. K. Trinlay Chodron, Ed., & K. Konchong Gyaltsen, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

 

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 123-127.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 63, 654.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. (2015). Towards a second-generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 591-591.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161-1180.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2013). Searching for the present moment, Mindfulness, 5, 105-107.

Having Fun with the Four Noble Truths

Having Fun with the Four Noble Truths

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Arguably the most well-known of the Buddha’s teachings is that of The Four Noble Truths. The teaching of the four noble truths is recorded as being the first teaching given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. Due to this teaching’s significance and central role within Buddhism, it is not surprising that a great deal has been written about the four noble truths by both contemporary and historical Buddhist teachers and scholars. However, irrespective of how many commentaries or books have been written about a particular aspect of the Buddha’s teachings, more often than not, there is always some additional wisdom that can be gleaned by revisiting a particular teaching – especially if one is willing to do so with a fresh and open perspective. In today’s post, we take a fresh look at the four noble truths and offer what we believe is a slightly different perspective compared to what has already been written on this subject. In particular, we briefly look at the use of logic in the four noble truths and highlight how a greater understanding of some of the logical and experiential assertions made by the Buddha in this teaching can help us to enter and advance along the path of spiritual awareness.

For readers of our blog that are not aware of the four noble truths, they can be summarised as follows (to see a more detailed version of the Buddha’s teaching on the four noble truths, see the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – The Discourse That Sets the Wheel of Truth in Motion):

  1. Suffering exists
  2. There is a cause to suffering
  3. There is cessation of suffering
  4. There is a path that leads to the cessation of suffering

Basically, what the Buddha is saying with the teaching on the four noble truths is that until we attain spiritual liberation (the third truth), we are going to suffer (the first truth), and the only way to end this suffering is to walk the path (the fourth truth) that acts upon the causes of suffering (the second truth). With this teaching, the Buddha was just presenting some simple facts and making some basic logical assertions about suffering. For example, because Buddhism accepts the principle of causality (i.e., all effects are the result of a cause), the second and fourth truths follow on logically from the truths that immediately precede them. In other words, since in the first truth the Buddha has already stated that suffering exists, then it is logical to assert that this suffering has a cause (i.e., the second truth). Likewise, because in the third truth the Buddha states that there is an end to suffering, then it is logical to assert that this end to suffering also has a cause (the cause of the end of suffering is walking the path that eradicates suffering – the fourth truth).

Thus, if we really wanted to, we could actually condense the Buddha’s teaching on the four noble truths to a single phrase such as: ‘There is suffering which has a cause and there is liberation which has a cause’. However, because Buddhism accepts the principle of causality, even the above phrase could actually be further condensed. For example, if we state that there is suffering, then as discussed above, we actually don’t need to state that there is a cause to suffering because that is already implied. Likewise, since we know that suffering exists because of certain causes (principally ignorance, attachment, and aversion), then we know that by removing these causes, suffering will also be eradicated. Thus, when we state that suffering exists, not only is it implied that suffering has a cause, but it is also implied that removal of the causes of suffering will lead to the cessation of suffering.

Therefore, if you are somebody that likes to reduce things down to their simplest level, perhaps you could capture the entire meaning of the teaching on the four noble truths just by simply saying ‘suffering exists’. Alternatively, if you wanted to be less pessimistic, you could simply say that ‘liberation exists’. In fact, perhaps these phrases could be made use of in your meditation practice: with the in-breath you could quietly say to yourself that ‘suffering exists’, and with the out-breath you could quietly say ‘but so does liberation’.

A person might accept that the statement ‘suffering exists’ implies that suffering has a cause and that removing the cause will lead to cessation of suffering, but they might not accept that it can be logically inferred from the statement ‘suffering exists’ that a path exists (i.e., the forth noble truth) that can eradicate this suffering. However, such an objection can be easily overcome because just by stating that ‘suffering exists’, this automatically establishes the existence of ‘non-suffering’ (i.e., liberation). In other words, at the same time we accept the existence of something, we also have to accept the existence of its opposite. For example, if we accept that the ‘left’ exists, then we have to accept that the ‘right’ also exists. Left only exists because there is right – if we take away right, then we no longer have left.

Therefore, when we state or accept that suffering exists, we must also accept that liberation exists. Based on the principle of causality, having accepted that liberation exists, we can now make a logical deduction and accept that liberation has a cause. The cause of this liberation is none other than the path (i.e., the fourth truth) and we must now accept that the meaning and essence of all four of the Buddha’s noble truths is implicit within each truth individually. Of course, although the Buddha’s teaching on the noble truths is perfectly grounded in logic, when the Buddha gave this teaching, he wasn’t just making logical assertions, but was talking from his experience. Nevertheless, a good way to determine whether a discourse given by a spiritual teacher is authentic is to test whether it is logically grounded. This is because as a person moves closer to enlightenment, their ability to use logic and reasoning tends to dramatically increase. Therefore, in their expression of the truth, authentic spiritual teachers naturally and frequently resort to using logic – it happens naturally and without them having to think too hard.

There are examples of Buddhist teachers – such as the 2nd century Indian saint Nagarjuna – whose logical reasoning skills had developed to such an extent that a lot of modern-day scholars and philosophers have difficulty in keeping up with him. Because they can’t follow the logic utilised by Nagarjuna, they assert that his logic is flawed or that he leaps around too much in his argumentation. Of course, it is definitely possible for a person to get muddled-up when they are following a course of logic, but this wasn’t the case with Nagarjuna. Both Nagarjuna and the Buddha fully understood the limits of their logic and for this reason, they were able to use it effectively and were not in any way bound by it.

It is quite enjoyable examining the use of logic in the Buddha’s teaching on subjects such as the four noble truths, and it is also enjoyable to investigate whether such teachings can be condensed to a simpler form. However, unless we learn something that helps us in our spiritual practice, then there is really no point in doing this. One of the most important things we can learn by familiarising ourselves with the four noble truths in the manner described above is that this teaching has a very simple but profound message: ‘we will suffer – for an indefinite period – until such time that we choose to dedicate ourselves to spiritual development in order to stop creating the causes of suffering. It really is that simple. Life is fleeting and before we know it old age is upon us – so choose to embrace the path now, my dears. The Buddha taught that everything is impermanent, and this includes suffering. But in the case of suffering, bringing about its impermanence is something that rests entirely in our own hands. This is the quintessential message of the four noble truths.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

The Challenges and Rewards of Learning to Meditate at 83 Years of Age

The Challenges and Rewards of Learning to Meditate at 83 Years of Age

never too late 3

Today we have a guest blog written by Jacqi Sein who is a close friend of ours. Jacqi is 83 years of age and started to learn meditation a few years ago following the death of her husband. The theme of Jacqi’s post is the challenges and rewards of learning to meditate at 83 years of age.

I was born in 1931 in Victoria, Australia, on newly-settled land. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on top of a farm-gate, accompanied by some older children. The gate led into a paddock or enclosed patch of land that was used for holding cows and their new-born calves. In the paddock was a man driving an old T-model Ford truck – he was trying to catch his cow. She evaded him again and again, running in circles around the paddock. When he failed to catch her he started to lose his temper and he began to drive the truck faster. She ran until exhausted, but he kept on, driving her along by crashing into her backside when she slowed. Eventually she staggered and fell, covered in blood, foam, froth and dirt, and died an agonizing death. I watched.

Everyone went home to tea, but I sat on the gate in a misery of pity until someone came to find me. I never forgot the experience and a few years later, when I could read properly, I found a book in the school-library called The Youngest Disciple by Edward Thompson (published in 1938). It told the story of the Lord Buddha walking through the countryside with his disciples, practising compassion and kindness to man and beast alike, and teaching the Four Noble Truths of Suffering.

The First Truth stated that all life is suffering. Birth, sickness, pain, grief, loss, and death – these are all forms of suffering. To have what one does not want is suffering and not to have what one wants is suffering. The Second Truth refers to the causes of suffering. Craving, desire, attachment, the never-ending clutching after riches and pleasure – these are all the roots of suffering. The Third Truth refers to the end or cessation of suffering. If greed, craving and desire are annihilated, then the mind can finally find peace and stillness. Lastly, the Fourth Noble Truth teaches the path that leads to the end of suffering – the Noble Eightfold Path – which includes Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. The Buddha’s teaching on the Four Noble Truths made a great impression on me.

I took to heart the teachings that this book revealed to me, and as I grew up I developed an interest in Buddhist practice and also in Buddhist art and architecture. When I was twenty years of age I came to live in London, England. Here I met and married a young Burmese diplomat who was a practising Theravadan Buddhist. We had a daughter together and lived happily in England for the next 60 years.

It wasn’t until my husband died a few years ago (following many years’ illness) that I was in need of a Buddhist monk to officiate at my husband’s funeral. After making some enquiries, I was fortunate enough to find not one but two Buddhist monks living and teaching in the area. They could not only take care of the deceased but could also tend to the living. In addition to fulfilling an inconceivable number of roles and touching, on a daily basis, countless peoples’ lives with a never-ending torrent of compassionate and selfless acts, the two monks were giving bi-weekly meditation classes and lectures on Mahayana Buddhism, to which they invited me.

Although I had read numerous books on Buddhism and had been exposed to Buddhist culture through my husband, I decided to start at the very beginning. I was amazed at just how many books on Buddhism there are these days. This is very different from when I was young where there was only a handful of authors to choose from. However, something I have learned recently is that although books are useful, there is nothing as beneficial as having resident teachers, such as the two monks I met, who are always on hand to help explain things from their own experience.

A New Family

Over the course of the last few years I have gradually immersed myself in Sangha living. The Sangha is a group of people who live together, in order to practise the Buddha’s teachings. Spending time with the Sangha very quickly exposes one’s bad habits that have been acquired over a long, fully-lived life. These may need to be modified or even eliminated for the sake of the other Sangha members who are moving quietly and mindfully through their day. Noise can be distracting for others, as can slamming doors, clattering plates in the sink, humming a tune, or whistling mindlessly. Therefore, for people like me that are a bit hard-of-hearing, having an understanding Sangha is helpful, but one also needs to constantly remind oneself (and be reminded) to slow down and go gently.

The Sangha is a new spiritual family, a source of strength and calmness in a new and very fast-paced world. One needs to be able to graciously accept admonishment, which should not be seen as a personal criticism. Gentle censure of one’s actions can be a joy, especially if it is accepted in the right spirit – it helps not to argue back or make excuses (something that I am particularly good at). It also shows that others have confidence in one’s efforts to become a useful, acceptable member of the community. Thus, one must not allow failure in any task to affect one’s determination, and self-discouragement should be avoided.

If we consider the Sangha as a microcosm, and society in general as a macrocosm, then we can see that everything we think and do affects everything around us. A small number of practitioners living gently and in awareness creates an epicenter of peace and insight that begins to spread out into the community. There are lots of old-age people living in the wider community and it is important that they are also introduced to and nourished by this practice of happiness. In fact, one of the central messages of Sangha living is that everybody has something to offer. Age is not seen as a problem or a handicap. One does one’s best with the abilities and experience at one’s disposal. Everyone is able to offer something to somebody else. Everybody is everybody else’s teacher and everybody has a role.

Putting Up with Aches and Pains

When it comes to learning to meditate at eighty-three years of age, the first challenge is putting up with physical discomforts. One attempts to sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor but very soon, amidst creaks of protesting joints, the dreaded cramp sets in. The next thing that happens is that the back begins to ache and before long concentration is completely lost. Therefore, unlike myself who can be as stubborn as a mule, the best thing to do is to take on-board the teacher’s advice and sit in a chair. I find that if I make an effort to sit in a chair and keep a straight-back, relaxed but poised, then things work just fine. One sits calmly, mindfully breathing, and enters the world of stillness and inner reflection.

The dimming of faculties with age may make the task more difficult, but for me, time no longer holds any limit or threat. With compliance and a growing understanding, and love of one’s chosen path, it is not too difficult to acquire a sense of absolute freedom of the mind and spirit. This clarity of mind and purpose helps to intensify things that previously went unnoticed. For example, in the shopping-centre, one becomes aware of people endlessly rushing and pushing, frantic to get on with the business of acquiring more and more ‘things’. I must have done it myself in the not-too-distant past, but now I try to refrain from rushing and from buying things I don’t really need. I try to proceed through the day mindfully and gently. It isn’t easy, old habits die slowly, but we maintain vision and dedication to the task. At the close of the day, one should feel that it has passed profitably, with structure and purpose. Seeing one’s improvements clearly as well as areas still to be improved can bring joy, comfort and calm.

Thinking about the Future

I would say that choosing to commit to a spiritual and meditative way of life whilst in one’s eighties is not an easy thing to do. It causes all kinds of challenges – physical, mental, spiritual, and domestic. I suspect that some people think I’m losing my marbles and have difficulties in understanding why I am so passionate about learning to live and breathe the Buddha’s teachings when I am already well into old age. However, to even make a small amount of progress with meditation or have any chance of developing spiritual awareness, one needs absolute dedication to the task at hand. One also needs the support of a Sangha of like-minded people who are able to help and give comfort to each other on the path to ultimate spiritual freedom. To those who say that I am too old, that I haven’t time left for all this, I say yes I have, and I also say that I “hold infinity in the palm of my hand”.

Suffering Exists

suffering exists

The Pali word for suffering is Dukkha and is translated as dissatisfactoriness or dissatisfaction. In our most recent post entitled “How to become enlightened in 30 days”, we made reference to the Buddha’s teaching that ‘suffering exists’. We have since received a number of emails asking us to elucidate on this point further. Today’s post is therefore a brief introduction to the Buddhist teachings on suffering.

‘Suffering exists’ represents the first of what are commonly known as the ‘Four Noble Truths’ (Pali: cattāri ariyasaccāni). The Four Noble Truths was the subject of the first discourse given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. The teaching was given to the five ascetics (the Buddha’s former companions) whilst the Buddha was residing in the Deer Park in Isipatana (now called Sarnath). The teaching of the Four Noble Truths is that: (i) suffering exists, (ii) there is a cause to suffering, (iii) there is cessation of suffering, and (iv) there is a path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

Although there are (obviously) four components to the Buddha’s teaching on the Four Noble Truths, each of the noble truths contains the ‘truth’ of each of the other three components. For example, if we assert that suffering exists, then because of the law of causality, it is automatically implied that suffering has a cause (i.e., the second truth). The same applies to the third noble truth – if we assert that there is cessation of suffering (or Nirvana if you prefer), then it is likewise implied that Nirvana also has a cause (which is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering – the fourth noble truth).

Similarly, because suffering (and every other mentally designated concept) exists only as a relative notion, when we assert that suffering exists, the notion of non-suffering (i.e., Nirvana) is produced by default. The same applies to examples such as ‘here and there’, ‘this and that’, ‘high and low’, and ‘hot and cold’. ‘Over here’ exists in dependence on ‘over there’. If we take away ‘over here’, then we also take away ‘over there’. If there is suffering, there is also Nirvana. If there is no suffering, there is no Nirvana.

Thus, although we are not suggesting that this should be done, because all noble truths are implicit within each individual noble truth, we could actually condense the Buddha’s teaching on the Four Noble Truths down to just ‘suffering exists’.

Suffering Exists

This first noble truth of suffering exists contains three principal categories of suffering: (a) the suffering of suffering, (b) the suffering of change, and (c) all-pervasive suffering.

a)    The suffering of suffering

The suffering of suffering is the most obvious category of suffering and refers to discomforts such as poverty, hunger, disease, injury, and so forth. This human body is extremely fragile and even a small bump or cut can give rise to unbearable pain. This is suffering in its grossest aspect and even animals recognise this form of suffering. The majority of people have a tangible fear of this type of suffering and experience discomfort even at the thought of it! We are acutely aware of and sensitive to this first category of suffering – suffering definitely exists!

b)    The suffering of change

Unlike the suffering of suffering, people tend to be less aware of the suffering of change. Despite this, the general tendency seems to be that people make a conscious effort to underpin their whole life with this form of suffering. Few people are truly satisfied with their lot – people always desire more, something bigger, something better, or something different. For example, imagine that we start saving our pennies to buy our first little car. We’re young, money is tight, and car insurance is super expensive. However, we really need something to get us from A to B. We frequently comment to ourselves: “if only I had a little car, it would make all the difference”. Eventually we do a good job of convincing ourselves that life cannot function without the car and voila, we do it – our first and very own motor vehicle:

car

However, as we get a little older, we are influenced by our peers and before we know it, our beautiful little car isn’t so beautiful any more. We ‘need’ something better and we make excuses to justify this ‘need’. Then, before we know what’s happening, we’ve done it again – out with the old and in with the new:

car 2

Gosh, this is better, wait till my friends see this” we think to ourselves. However, once again, it doesn’t take too long before our mind starts telling us that we ‘need’ something even more comfortable. After all, we now have an ‘important’ job and must make the ‘right’ impression! Once again, we manage to convince ourselves to visit the car dealership and hey presto, we’ve done it again:

car 3

Wow, I’ve really done it this time – now people will understand who and what I am – this is really going to change my life – people can’t ignore me now”! However before long, the mind gets to work and begins to nag again: “Hey, this isn’t you after all – it’s not the image that suits you best. Perhaps it was at one time, but now people will think that you’re unimaginative and boring”. You resist for as long as you can but eventually the mind gets its own way: “People really are looking at me as though I am dull, stuffy, and boring – I really ‘need’ to change this car”:

car 5

Aaah – this is definitely me! At least for now”!

We play out this scenario with almost every aspect of our lives. Dominated by the conditioned mind, our desires, thoughts, and feelings get the better of us each and every time.

 

a)    All-pervasive suffering

All-pervasive suffering acts as the basis for the previous two types of suffering and is the root of all suffering. In general, people are totally unaware of this form of suffering. All-pervasive suffering comprises two basic elements: attachment and aversion.  Attachment and aversion govern all of our choices and decisions and arise because of a deeply-rooted belief that the ‘self’ or ‘I’ exist autonomously. With obstinate determination, people believe that the ‘self’ is fixed, unchanging, real, and unending. It is the ‘I’ that becomes attached to phenomena and it is the ‘I’ that has aversion toward phenomena. We, as human beings, cling to this ‘I’ and the reality that the ‘I’ creates. The ever present ‘I’ is inevitably followed by ‘me’ and ‘mine’! So we could say that the root of all suffering is the deluded mind – a mind that insists that the ‘self’ is real and independent. We discussed this in our recent post entitled “The Top Ten Mistakes made by Meditation Practitioners” (see the section entitled ‘Ontological Addiction’), and we will visit it again in forthcoming posts.

 

The wisdom of suffering

In order to progress on the spiritual path, we need to become deeply aware of both the existence and nature of suffering. This, in part, is the wisdom that we referred to in our post entitled “Meditation: A Three-fold Approach”. We should aim to see suffering in every aspect of human existence including birth (because birth gives rise to sickness, old age, and death). This is not an extreme attitude whereby a person becomes infatuated with suffering. Rather, it’s the case that if we want to let go of something, we first need to become aware of it. Becoming aware of our suffering means that we can begin to objectify it. We can begin to loosen up and even start to foster an appreciation and sense of humour towards the suffering that we experience. Without suffering (attachment and aversion), we could never attain liberation. Thus, although the spiritual practitioner certainly doesn’t go out of their way to experience suffering, they do their best to take it onto the path and use it to propel them forward.

 

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon