When we turn our life over to the Dharma, we surrender to the teachings of the Buddha. What are those teachings? There are many, and I encourage you to explore and see what resonates for you. They are all doorways onto the path of liberation, freedom and a new understanding of happiness.
Perhaps one of the most accessible teachings is the three Laksanas (The three marks of human existence.) In brief;
Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) – suffering comes up time and time and again in the Buddhist teachings, it is the back bone of the Four Noble truths – a teaching that connects all Buddhist traditions. The Buddha taught: (1) that there is suffering, (2) a path … Read more »
The great Tibetan yogi Milarepa spent many years living in isolation in a mountain cave. As part of his spiritual practice, he began to see the contents of his mind as visible projections. His inner demons of lust, passion, and aversion would appear before him as gorgeous seductive women and terrifying wrathful monsters. In face of these temptations and horrors, rather than being overwhelmed, Milarepa would sing out, “It is wonderful you came today, you should come again tomorrow … from time to time we should converse.”
Through his years of intensive training, Milarepa learns that suffering only comes from being seduced by the demons or from trying to fight them. To discover freedom in … Read more »
When I talk to people about how much they experience joy, most say, “Not so much.” Joy is not a frequent visitor, and when it does appear, it’s fleeting.
Joy arises when we are open to both the beauty and suffering inherent in living. Like a great sky that includes all different types of weather, joy is an expansive quality of presence. It says “Yes to life, no matter what!” Yet it’s infrequency lets us know our more habitual posture: resisting what’s happening, saying “No” to the life that is here and now. We tend to override our innate capacity for joy with our incessant inner dialogue, our chronic attempts to avoid unpleasantness and to … Read more »
In cultivating compassion we’re responding, with kindness, to the suffering we encounter in life — especially others’ suffering. And the essence of compassion is wishing that beings be free from suffering.
But what do we mean by suffering?
There’s an unfortunate tendency for us to think of suffering in grand terms: the person with terminal cancer or a broken leg, the refugee, the starving child in a third world country. So suffering seems to be a special event. But actually, all beings suffer. We all suffer, every day.
The other week I was walking to work after it had rained hard all night. The sidewalks and roads were covered with worms, who like to migrate when the weather is wet (no, it’s not because they would drown in their tunnels).
Now, almost exactly twenty years ago I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t walk past a worm without moving it to safety. Why? Well, I just don’t like the way I feel when I ignore another’s suffering, even if the other is a slimy invertebrate. And the sun was out, the sidewalks were starting to dry out, and it was obvious that many of these worms were going to die.… Read more »
If we believe that we are not responsible for our mental suffering then we are implying we are helpless.
If we believe everything is permanent then we are implying there is no room for change.
If we believe in a fixed self then we are implying we can not transform ourselves.
If we cling on to these thoughts and think they are facts we will continue to be swamped by the ocean of samsara.
If we can begin to see that our mental suffering arises out of our strong habitual behaviours we will begin to transform ourselves.
Where does it hurt?
We’re usually aware of our own suffering, which – broadly defined – includes the whole range of physical and mental discomfort, from mild headache or anxiety to the agony of bone cancer or the anguish of losing a child. (Certainly, there is more to life than suffering, including great joy and fulfillment; that said, we’ll sustain a single focus here.)
But seeing the suffering in others: that’s not so common. All the news and pictures of disaster, murder, and grief that bombard us each day can ironically numb us to suffering in our own country and across the planet. Close to home, it’s easy to tune out or simply miss the … Read more »
I’ve noticed that I have a tendency not to notice that I’m suffering, and I suspect that a lot of other people do this too.
When I get annoyed with someone, I’m suffering. When I crave an experience, I’m suffering. When I’m anxious, I’m suffering, and so on. In a way this may seem obvious, but actually very rarely do we find ourselves annoyed or craving or anxious and say to ourselves “I’m suffering right now.” We tend to focus more on the thing that’s annoying us, or that we want, or that we’re anxious about.
And so a lot of our suffering is “under the radar” and doesn’t get dealt with very skillfully. Our … Read more »
It astonishes me how much time I spend making judgements about people, but the truly surprising thing is that although it makes me feel bad, I keep doing it. And it leads to unfortunate interactions with people which ends up causing them suffering too.
One thing that protects us against this kind of self-imposed suffering is lovingkindness (metta) practice. Lovingkindness is an important complement to mindfulness practice.
To cultivate metta we can do something as simple as repeat to ourselves, “May you be well; may you be happy” as we see others. We can do this while walking or driving, for example.
We can take a more reflective approach to cultivating lovingkindness. I often consider … Read more »
Marge, a woman in our meditation community, was in a painful standoff with her teenage son. At fifteen, Micky was in a downward spiral of skipping classes and using drugs, and had just been suspended for smoking marijuana on school grounds. While Marge blamed herself — she was the parent, after all — she was also furious at him.
The piercings she hadn’t approved, the lies, stale smell of cigarettes, and earphones that kept him in his own removed world — every interaction with Micky left her feeling powerless, angry, and afraid. The more she tried to take control with her criticism, with “groundings” and other ways of setting limits, the more withdrawn and defiant … Read more »