#11: Nipping the bud: The true origin of suffering

24 March 2010 - 1:42pm Comments Off

According to Buddhism, our main mental problems or delusions are: ignorance, attachment and anger. Because of these delusions, we engage in actions that cause problems to ourselves and others. With every negative action we do, we create a potential for negative experiences which in turn reinforces these delusions.


How does ignorance bring us suffering?

Due to ignorance of suffering and its causes, we crave for things. We mistake fulfilling desires as being able to fulfil our needs. In doing so, we become a possessor of things.

A moth is attracted to the flame of a candle. It delights in it and believes that it will give pleasure. So real is this belief that it heads towards it and perishes. An ignorant mind, a mind holding wrong views, thinking that the flame is an object of happiness, inevitably leads one to suffering.

External objects which we take to be the sources of pleasure are merely triggers or conditions which support that experience.

Actual pleasure is experienced within our mind – the arising of the feeling of pleasure.

If we hold on to this mistaken view, we will experience immediate displeasure when these objects disappear or are not available to us the way we want it. Due to this ignorance, we easily develop attachment to these things like an addict to drugs. This attachment increases until we become obsessed with it. ‘I must have it‘. This obsession itself gives rise to displeasure. After awhile it quickly develops into the displeasure of boredom. This is the kind of mind that rely upon externals for pleasure.

Hence, the root reason that we experience suffering comes ultimately from our ignorant mind.


How can attachment bring us suffering?

Do you know how people in South India catch monkeys?


Not quite a coconut, but I think you get the idea!

First, they make a hole in a coconut, just big enough that a monkey can squeeze its hand in. Next, they tie down the coconut and place some food inside. What happens next is pure attachment. The monkey detects the food, pushes his hand in, grabs the food and… the hole is too small to get its fist out of the coconut. The last thing a monkey would consider is to let go of the food. It is literally tied down by its own attachment.

In our country Malaysia, some folks get hurt or killed when robbers in motorcycls snatch their handbags. The force of resisting makes them fall down clumsily because they refuse to let go of their bags. Sometimes the stuff in their bags is not even anything of value.

From attachment to things, we are also attached to this present life. This is the delusion that which ultimately keeps us in cyclic existence (or samsara), which does not bring us continuous happiness.

There is a difference between attachment and desire. Desire in itself is not a cause of suffering. As humans we have many different types of desires – the desire to eat, to do well to become a Buddha, etc. It is attachment to desires that is the cause of suffering. We all desire to see lovely sunsets. That is not a problem. But when we wish that the sunset will last forever, we have developed attachment to it. It is much harder to separate two magnets when they stick together.

When we have attachment, we will become unhappy when we cannot have the object of desire. Unhappiness is the quick path to anger.


How can anger bring us suffering?

This is easy – just have someone hold a mirror in front of you when you get angry before he smashes you on the head with it!


The pig, cockerel and snake are at the centre of the wheel, and central to our actions in samsara

The above delusions are also referred to as the three poisons of our mind. They are evil partners acting in unison, to unsettle and disturb our mind. Ignorance is the direct cause of our attachment to things, misleading us into thinking it will lead to happiness. If we are to examine carefully, attachment is the fuel for the development of greed, dissatisfaction and anger.

These three poisons are depicted as animals in the Tibetan Wheel of Life drawing.

A pig or wild boar represents ignorance. Pigs are stupid and short-sighted. When they clean themselves, they dig out the earth and throw it back on themselves. They are totally helpless to change the course of their fate. Unlike pigs (except Babe!), how sad it would be if we fully-endowed humans lived our lives in the same way.

A cockerel represents desire and greed. City folks may not figure this out! In a barnyard, although a cockerel is surrounded by hens, it is always jealous and always wanting more. We humans are not that different. We spent all our life competing, accumulating things and money, and indulging in sense gratification without fulfilment.

A snake represents anger and hatred. The venom of a snake has only one function – to inflict harm to its enemies as quickly as possible. When we get angry we behave in the same way. Through our body and speech we engage in harmful destructive actions against those who stand in the way of our happiness.

Nobody outside ourselves causes our suffering.

We, us, I is the physical and mental basis for samsara. Suffering is an unpleasant feeling inside us. This is where it actually arises, felt at our heart. It is not physical pain. It is mental pain.

Buddha said, ‘It is to mind that we must look for the ultimate cure and nowhere else.

NEXT: HALLEBUDDHAYA! The Cure and the Medicine

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