#10: Closing in on the truth of suffering

17 March 2010 - 2:38pm Comments Off

What is it we have in common with Queen Elizabeth or the homeless Ah Kow on Sultan Street? Suffering! It is a bond we have with each other, something we all understand. When we talk about our opinions, your thoughts or my views on politics or religion, it can create wars. However, when we talk about suffering it gives rise to compassion in us, an amazing quality that can lead us to permanent happiness. This is to dispel the doubts of those who still think Buddha’s teachings on suffering are negative.

To attempt to understand something, we need to go closer to the object in order to study it. However when it comes to pain and suffering, our instinctive response is to get rid of it as quickly as possible. If that is not possible, then our response is to avoid it or pretend it is not there. As discussed earlier, we become quite good at it until we develop a prisoner’s mindset.

Presently, when we have agitations, whether it is mental or physical, we are quick to put blame on external objects.

I was recently invited to a relative’s house party. He had just bought a super duper Hi-Def, Hi-Fi TV and sound system and couldn’t wait to show off the whole set-up to his guests. Unfortunately, he could not get the system to work although the sales guy had demonstrated it to him earlier and taught him how to operate it.

Guess what? He forgot about the party and his guests, and spent the evening trying to fix things, calling the sales guy who did not respond, rewiring the system, reading the instruction booklet which confused him even more, showing an even moodier face when someone commented maybe it was second-hand, etc etc.

It would have been okay if he had done all those things without swearing about the sales guy, blaming a colleague for recommending the brand and retailer, cursing the instruction books and those responsible for its confusing contents, etc etc…could any of us have done better under the circumstances?

What is going on here?

Let’s go slow motion like the Matrix guys and see what is happening whenever we have to deal with problems and situations like the above. The object that was supposed to give us pleasure did not perform as it should. We naturally feel let down and disappointed. This would have been contained if we had just accepted that even the most expensive things do break down. It is also not the end of the world if we miss using it for a few days until it gets fixed. We are not going to lose our friends if they miss a movie showing. Is there any basis for us going through an emotional upset whenever we face difficulties? Why do things seem worse than they really are? Is it the TV? Is it the sales guy? A TV does not have the power to make us angry. No salesperson, or any person in this world for that matter, has the power to disturb our mind.

We become agitated and angry, and show a moody face only because we allow ourselves.

We may experience some initial displeasure or discomfort, but it will disappear on its own if we do not focus on it, feed it and exaggerate it by adding and linking more and more negative stories and thoughts to it.

Why is it our habit to react… no, to overreact in this way? We do not have balance in our lives. We are so indulgent in sensory pleasures that when we encounter pain and discomfort, we like to push them away to somebody or something as quickly as possible because we cannot bear the painful thought that perhaps it has something to do with us. It is all very convenient. The only problem is, it does not work because the process of overreacting in this way is suffering itself.

We need to get real with life, with understanding suffering in all its different forms. It is not about never getting injured, making enemies disappear or wishing TVs always work. It is not about wanting rainbows or sunsets to remain forever. That is not the real world we are living in. Our world is an imperfect one. So is our body, which has a nervous system that is vulnerable and sensitive to pain. It is about our reaction to it.

If somebody is being nasty to you, and you think it is that person out there who is making you suffer, you still have not understood this First Truth. Even if Mike Tyson is biting your ear out; as long as you think that you are suffering because of him, you are still missing the point.

To understand suffering is to see clearly that it is our reaction to the person biting you; the moment you think, “I hate you“, that is suffering. The actual action is painful but the suffering involves “I hate you” and “How can you do this to me“, and “I’ll never forgive you“.

If you have gained some insight from the above, you will find that we can be more patient with suffering in all its various disguises. We can at least claim to have some understanding of true suffering.

Congratulations! Collect 100 bucks as you pass GO.


NEXT: True Causes – Nipping the Bud

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