Posts Tagged With: suffering

A daily dose of emptiness

A lot of the older teachings compare the teachings of Buddhism to medicine. Its an apt analogy for many reasons, if suffering is the sickness then the medicine would, logically, alleviate suffereing. The comparison works on another level as well, something that I only recently became aware of. Like medicine, Zazen and buddhism in general, seem to only be measurable in their results and not in the actual actions themselves. What I mean is that when you have a headache and take an aspirin the action of taking the pill does not bring instant relief (despite what the ads would have you believe), popping that pill does nothing for your headache at the instant you swallow it. Rather the medicine must be dissolved in your body and then travel throughout your bloodstream until it reaches the specific part you are trying to affect. After enough time has passed for all this to occur then you begin to feel the effects of the aspirin, you feel relief from your headache once the medicine has had time to be processed through you, not the second that you swallowed it.

I feel like it is safe to say that anyone doing Zazen (meditation) for more than a few months will develop doubts about it. After all, we are told over and over again that there is no goal to our sitting! Without a goal our normal, conditioned minds think “why the fuck am I bothering to sit here with my knees aching and my brain doing somersaults if there is no goal!?” Ive done it many, many times myself. At first I outwardly agreed with the “no goals” message while secretly hoping for some kind of pay-off like peace, or enlightenment, perhaps an end to my struggles or even just wishing for cessation of my desire for a goal! After awhile even those goals will go away and this then is when the “dark night” of the Buddhist soul begins, because once you stop secretly having goals the mind says “why bother?” and without that secret goal I think a lot of folks quit sitting all together, I quit a few times myself and thats when a funny thing happens…

See, the whole time you have been sitting “wrong” it has still been working on you. Like medicine you dont “feel” the effect at the moment of ingestion, the effects are only noticeable in how they affect the “symptoms”. If you have been sitting regularly and then skip a few days you will notice that a lot of old conditioning comes back, for myself that manifests as feeling very edgy and irritable, I begin thinking of scenarios and old grudges where I felt humiliated or attacked. The first time I quit meditation I was shocked at how quickly I turned into the same dissatisfied, frightened, angry person I had spent my whole life being. I was argumentative, unable to compromise or move passed a perceived slight, I just felt at odds with the world instead of in accord with it. Once I got my dumb ass back on the cushion all those negative habits and thought traps quickly disappeared. It still happens, I suppose I am “cursed” to meditate for the rest of my days but if all it takes to get my shit together is 10 or 20 minutes of meditation a day then I’m glad to do it.

The funny thing is that when I’m actually meditating, as in when I’m sitting on a cushion (called a zafu), I don’t feel any of this change occurring. It’s usually boring, often distracting as my monkey mind send one thought after another that I dutifully let go of and return to my breath. These days the knees don’t hurt anymore and I don’t find myself lost in a daydream for 8 of the 15 minutes I’m sitting for, but I also am not feeling more “peaceful, enlightened, or calm”, I just feel like I’m sitting and not much is going on. Now, however, I know that something is happening though I can’t feel it, the medicine of meditation is working on some level I can’t (or even care to) fathom. Amazingly, the years of doing “nothing” have produced something wonderful, a life I could never have imagined. I have learned to trust that when I take the pill by actually sitting daily that the suffering is alleviated, it’s not quick or “exciting” but it does work astoundingly well.

Even if I can’t feel it.

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The good news is that All life is suffering

The irony is that when we most crave stability and routine is when we cant have it. For the last month Ive been going crazy trying to get the shop open, watching a million fires and stamping out the ones which pose an immediate danger and stoking up the ones threatening to go out entirely. Its no different than billions of peoples lives every day, but for me this was an unusual amount of chaos. As a result I haven’t sat in meditation for weeks.

It shows.

For one thing I can literally feel my compassion and connection with the world changing, I find a run far more “scenarios” in my mind where I’m telling this or that person off, defending myself from imagined slights and attacks, and basically being a little quicker to anger and a little less likely to measure my words and actions. Fortunately its not like years of sitting have been erased over the course of a couple weeks. Far from it! In fact one of the benefits of all those years is the awareness of what I’m experiencing! Very few people want to be assholes (or suffering, if I have to get all Buddhist about it.), the great majority simply don’t know they are, or how they could stop hurting themselves because they are not aware there even is a problem. The 4 ‘noble’ truths are so short and so simple that many of us move right on past them after our first introduction to Buddhism. I know I did.

But they are incredibly important to be conscious of, in fact I found the first truth so important that I have it tattooed across both my hands.

All life is suffering.

by the way, lots of folks feel that that translation doesn’t carry the true nuances of what the Buddha meant, so they will say the same thing as “Suffering occurs” or “In life there is dissatisfaction”. But Ive always been partial to the more direct and punk rock sounding version. Some folks hear that and immediately assume that Buddhism is nihilism or pessimistic and fatalistic. As if Gautama (the Buddha) said “Life is suffering, oh well, I suppose that I had better go organise my Smiths records now. . . ” But the truth of Suffering is only the first truth, ole Buddha boy spent the next 4 decades of his life finding ways to end that suffering and came up with a way that doesn’t rely on anything but the stuff you came into the world with. No outside extras are necessary (and eventually you figure out there is no “outside” that isn’t you “inside” anyhow. . . ). When I see the words  “ALL life if suffering” I don’t take that “ALL” to mean that life is always and forever suffering, I take it to mean that Suffering occurs in my life AND your life . In my dogs life AND in the coral reefs life , in the president AND the moose in Saskatoon. ALL life means ALL life. Its only our egos that want to make that into something that says “mean ole Buddha said that My life is permanently full of suffering”, that’s not what the Buddha-man was saying. He was talking about everything and everyone, not just you (or me).

So the first truth is that suffering occurs. Its so important that Gautama didn’t add anything else to that first truth. Its so important that he said “LOOK at what I’m saying here. Even if you love your life, have a billion dollars, AND a harem of nymphomaniacs the fact is, pal, that suffering occurs!” Ask any drug addict or doctor, any abused wife or movie star and all of them will say some version of “I’m a happy person on the inside, but these terrible things happen to me and make me unhappy” Even that dumb redneck in a ford 150 yelling at you out of the window is human, and therefore, suffers. The fact that he is yelling out of his truck at you probably is an indication that he is suffering a great deal. The problem of the dumb redneck, the movie star, the addict and you and me cant be addressed until we first accept that we suffer. Its not easy!

No one wants to admit ‘weakness’ and admitting that life as we live it is basically unsatisfying seems to be the biggest weakness of all! Like Lao Tzu once said in his book, the Tao Te Ching, “everyone else seems so bright and clever! Only I seem dull and simple. Everyone walks straight and surely! only i seems cautious and tentative.” We compare our lives to how we perceive others and believe that they are free of suffering and only we are so sad and miserable. So we try to appear satisfied, we try to appear confident and strong when we feel small and scared. If we do this long enough we begin to believe our own fiction. Mostly.

Mostly, but not wholly. Our true selves know the real deal and the real deal is not up for discussion or compromise. the real deal wont be covered, convinced, or camouflaged. The real deal does whatever it wants and we can align ourselves with its natural flow and admit that suffering occurs because that’s a natural part of existing, or we can try to go against it. But that only causes more suffering. So our true selves know we are bullshitting and when that image of our lives mashes up against the reality of our lives there is friction, there is suffering. That redneck in the pick up probably has a ton of imagery slapped over his true self, so much that he cant let any of his real being show and he is miserable as shit. He might be married to Sally-Sue but really wants to be married to Jim Billy Bob at work. He might want to be soothed by calm jazz music and an nice episode of ‘what not to wear’  but instead he has to get shit-faced down at the Buckaroos Bar and fight his brother in law on the front lawn. He might be living one theatrical set-piece after another and never ever know why life just always seems so goddamn shitty. That’s why the first noble truth is so important.

In the deep treatise on philosophical existentialism known as “PeeWees Big Adventure” , Peewee meets a waitress working in a south western shithole town who dreams of going to Paris.  Simone (the waitress) dreams of it, has learned french, talks all day about Paris but she is still in that shithole town. Finally, peewee basically tells her that all her wanting and dreaming of Paris is useless unless she gets off her ass and goes to Paris. She has the tools to go, but she doesn’t know why she isn’t there yet. The first noble truth tells us that “Hey! there IS a problem. its NOT just you. Its not just in YOUR brain, and is going to go on as long as you EXIST because the very nature of existence includes suffering!” The rest of the truths spell out why we suffer, that there is a solution, and the way to end suffering, but without the first truth we wont even understand that we need the other 3.

Its not really the first ‘truth’, its the first step on a much happier road.

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