Presented by Jhampa Shaneman
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity. These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
Jhampa December 27,88
We have talked about the preciousness of life. Because we are all born and have to die we then moved into death and how one dies and takes one's rebirth. From there, into the law of cause and effect. Then we moved into the natural inclination of our mind to go for refuge, something to assist us in making our decisions and become more in touch consciously with that, more aware of the movement of our being. That finishes off one section, basically getting in touch with yourself, the essentials for being a buddhist, or at least being spiritually inclined.
Realizing the value of our existence makes us more aware that we are something valuable and that we should really rejoice in our existence as being human. Death is very good because taken in its proper context as a positive thing, helps us create a dividing line between the activities we have taken in the sense of being able to discriminate as in... "Are my activities creative or productive towards the evolution of my character?" And in this sense the "Evolution of my character" which is moving towards becoming enlightened. And so the awareness of death and having it's viewing things in the appreciation of our own personal demise is very positive, can be very positive.
From there we moved into the process of dying and the way the law of cause and effect works. We touched on it in general terms but it did give us a format to appreciate our own karma in the sense of how we magnetize ourselves or set ourselves up for particular experiences. And how we can become more conscious of that. And then finally taking refuge is just being conscious in our decisions. That we are our own creator, we create our own existence with each decision that we make. Taking refuge in an internal experience is that where our mind sort of seeks it's support or a way to work with the situation, the way our mind works. To become more in touch with it and realize consciously how to create ourselves by the decisions that we make. This way, rather than being defensive, working in sort of the normal unconscious way I do, "Well I can consciously create the situation by motivating myself."
Tonight I want to move into the next phase dealing with the four noble truths beginning with the noble truth of suffering. In Buddhism it is important to realize the full picture of life. In that way one has a more balanced approach to life. In talking of the noble truth of suffering, sometimes Buddhism is accused of being very pessimistic, like life is suffering, life is miserable, and this and that. Whereas it's really not. But if you want to have a fuller experience of life, not want to avoid issues, and want to really live yourself to be a full being, then it is important to appreciate that in life there is suffering. So Buddha in one of his first discourses taught the noble truth of suffering which is that life does have problems in it and that life always will have various ups and downs. And the more that we appreciate that, the better it is for us in the over all picture of ourself. We become a more real person.
Regarding this there are two styles of practice. And I want to touch on that philosophically. It is good to think about suffering. The reason is, in Buddhism you have what is called the lesser vehicle and the greater vehicle. Hinayana and Mahayana and in those, the vehicle is your own being.
The way that you motivate yourself is what you then create as your vehicle. The lesser vehicle is a person whose character or being says "I really want to be happy. I can't stand being unhappy any more because it is always a bummer! If it's not having to do this or that, then there is always something which brings me down. And I don't want that any more. I want to be free of all that!" For them, they seek for their own personal freedom or liberation, to be totally free of all the hassles. In seeking that, they dwell on the negative aspects of life as in they dwell on life is miserable, that in life you continually grow older, actually in each continuous moment that your life is getting shorter, that in life there is illness and when you are ill there is a lot of pain, suffering, discomfort and such. Also death in the sense that other people around one self dies, ultimately one's self has to die and all that one strives for in the material world is taken away by others... They dwell on all of this. And by dwelling on this and really getting into it, they then finally say, yuck! And they really then give it all up. And they don't want to do anything else other than meditate, free or liberate their mind, and in this way gain nirvana or ever lasting happiness. But it is very personally orientated in the sense of myself. My sufferings. The hassles in the world, and I want out! That is why it is called hinayana or small vehicle because it is like a motorcycle with only one seat. It is just you going out! And so you drive yourself out of samsara or existence into everlasting peace.
The greater vehicle, the mahayana Buddhism, is a style of practice which I was schooled in and the teachings you get are in that tradition which says that it is not appropriate to work for your own sake alone because everyone else is fully equal. Whether it is an animal or we as a human or spirits or such that we cannot see easily, we all want happiness, we all don't want suffering. So because we are all equally that way, "Just as much as I don't want to be unhappy, you don't want to be unhappy!"... all of us are equal that way. So if we have that underlying realization then it is really inappropriate to work for oneself alone. Everybody equally wants to be helped, everybody wants to become liberated or free. So it is only appropriate that we try to the best of our ability to help others.
In that there is love and compassion, the chief motivating forces. How does all of that... if someone is so called trying to be an altruistic person and run around helping other people... where on earth do you have to think about suffering?...."You shouldn't sort of try to avoid suffering, all you are ever trying to do is mend peoples suffering, at least that is the so called idea!" It seems that way. Really it is not. What you have to do is, if you really want to help another person, it's not easy. In fact it is almost impossible to help another person. I mean you can give a few words of advice and they might listen to it but even then they are going to take that advice and they are going to turn it their own way, because that is what people do! That's what I do when someone gives me advice! I'm sure you all do the same thing.
So where does realizing the noble truth of suffering play an important role for a person that is so called trying to be altruistic or full of love and compassion? What it does is, if you don't get in touch with your own suffering, you never can understand another person's suffering. That is the first point. It's knowing your own suffering is so important in being able to have at least a little empathy in feeling another person's pain.
Secondly, it is very important then to, because you know your own suffering, then when you are with other people even though they might not be conscious of the fact that they are unhappy or that they are suffering, you can sense it much easier because you are much more aware of that as an actual experience, as what is happening in the world around us. And so knowing the noble truth of suffering is important because when you interact with people, you can perhaps have that experience in yourself to appraise your relationships. So when someone is complaining, when someone is being difficult to get on with, someone is being overly friendly or something, if you take a step back and question what is happening, well obviously if someone is being crabby or unhappy, they are suffering! And they are not really identifying it and that is why they are letting it out on other people. It is sort of like trying to shove it onto other people.
And again, when people are being overly friendly, again, it can be, it is not always, I'm talking in generalities, but it can be because they are very unhappy and so they are looking for other people to sort of let them forget! So they will be very friendly and they try to get away from their own situations. So you have a little bit of added wisdom in your relationships in understanding suffering.
This is to give you a little overview that being aware of your own suffering and being aware of the suffering that is around us in other people is very, very, instrumental for you having more love, more compassion, having also a much more balanced existence for yourself. And so it doesn't have to be the negative side like in hinayana. It's emphasis is experience the suffering, the unsatisfactory suffering you have, and then if you realize it, go for nirvana! Well in the mahayana it is realize your suffering, because that fuels your compassion. Realize other peoples suffering because it helps you realize where they are coming from, how to interact with them, be more helpful with them. And also, finally it makes you a much more real person. A much more whole person. Because when you are in touch with your own sufferings, and you deal with them, your whole being becomes more full, more holistic.
In being aware of suffering, suffering is that which is unsatisfactory. And so they term one type of suffering is the suffering of change. For example, you are sitting in this room, comfortably, well things change. In a while, you get uncomfortable. For example, you might take the most comfortable position you can right now. Well, because things change. In a while you are not comfortable. That position has become unsatisfactory. It is not pleasant any more so you are suffering and you change. The nature of the suffering of change is that our basic nature is continuously pervaded with varieties or levels of suffering. It is like you can say we are continuously miserable but we do little things to make ourselves think that we are actually doing alright.
How it works is, in our existence we always try to change it or stimulate it because in that way we feel like we are really happy. And so when we are released from any suffering, from boredom... we are sitting around not doing anything and all of a sudden we come up with something to do, then we think "Ah, it is fantastic, I'm so enthused," and off we go running... We are actually still involved with suffering. And it is only because of the previous experience of miserable that we think that we think we are actually so happy. We think this is so good! We are happy and do our thing.
After awhile that inspiration dies down or we don't have the materials to be able to put together our trip, and so then it's no good any more and we have to find another thing, another trip to go on! And so, the suffering of change, it is said, pervades all activities because no matter how good something seems at one moment, at a later moment it will be unhappy, it will be unsatisfactory. Therefore, in all activities be should start to be aware of the suffering of change so we don't get attached to them. Like right now, I'm on the best pillow in this room, it is fantastic. Then after awhile I'll be unhappy with it, I won't be satisfied and it could be for a whole variety of reasons. One, it's not soft enough any more. Two, my greed makes me so agitated that I want her pillow! So then you see I am suffering. So change is always there. The point is to start to be aware in the movements of your being that there is this pervasive sort of sense of change. And it is the suffering of change. That when you go out in the warm sun, and it is so nice and cosy, that after awhile it is too blasted hot. Then you come in the shade. In the shade you are alright for awhile and then it gets too cold! And then you move. And then you say, I'm hungry. So you go and you eat. Then you eat a bit too much. Well, I don't want to eat food any more! So things change. What sort of starts off being bliss turns into a suffering. So, if you think about it, you just go after one thing to another, to another, to another.
Those are sort of like motivations which continuously push us. And that is what can be termed as suffering. Actually there are two varieties of suffering. One, you have the suffering that things are always changing and you are getting put off with the situation. And secondly, you have the suffering which is all unconscious anyway. Like you are never really realizing it. You are not in touch with yourself. Because of that you sort of bounce from one thing to another always wanting to be stimulated. Television and all of modern society is continuously feeding us that so we really think it is right, that "Yes, I should be continuously entertained!" Our kids are like that a lot! Sort of there always has to be something happening. Always have to be entertained. Finish an activity and then thirty seconds later, "I'm bored!"
It is that nature that they are continuously unconsciously looking for stimulation. In yourselves, it is sort of a downer to think about this stuff because it means that you have to sit down and realize that sometimes you are sort of like just on the upper surface of being unhappy, or another word, dissatisfied. "I'm not quite satisfied, I want to do something!" If you get in touch with that it brings you down. It makes you depressed. It makes you a little long faced, and you can get a headache and you can feel down and out about it. But, the think is, by knowing that you can also then become aware of that you don't always sort of unconsciously seek stimulation, and then always living in need for something to be happening. So you become a little more conscious of yourself, what has been motivating you, pushing you. And with that, just a little more awareness of yourself. So that is first phase which is that you have to become aware of your own suffering. And the pain of that suffering. It is unpleasant. It is not any fun. When you get a little in touch with that, maybe seeing that all you do is sort of ricochet off of one stimulating thing to another, then you can say, I'm not that happy with existence. And it brings you down to a little more even keel, so that the next time something more stimulating comes along, you don't just sort of grab it and go gung ho. You instead will say it is going to be fun but it is going to change after awhile.
You have, what you could say, is that little more wisdom, a bit more middle road in the sense that you don't get totally elated about things, nor do you get totally depressed about things. You have that sort of even keel about yourself. That is the first step of realization.
The second phase is that when you are with other people, you can start understanding them a little better in your relationships. That is always beneficial. Knowing what is going on. It doesn't mean that you do anything, but it means that at least when you are with other people and they are bouncing from one stimulation to another, they are always sort of complaining about the changes in their life and such, and if you can, you say something, but at least you are not going to get bugged by it. You are going to look at them as suffering beings. And that noble truth of suffering becomes more a part of your conscious awareness.
So you have an appreciation that that is sort of the underlying thing in life. They say that the only everlasting happiness, or true happiness is termed non contaminated happiness. It is happiness which arises from freedom in the mind, the mind not possessed by delusion. The mind is not grasped by a delusion or a projection or something like that. The mind is free. The mind is free of all it's projections and all it's illusions and things, then that mind is blissful. That mind is happy. It is free. Liberated.
So for our mind, we are always possessed by various delusions, projections about people, feelings which consume us and such. All the varieties of delusions. And if we become aware of that, tie it in with the noble truth of suffering, tie it in with for example one aspect of suffering which is the suffering of change, we just sort of become a little more low key about things. Just sort of going slowly and taking life as it comes. But in that, there comes a more inner happiness. Also your relationships with others become more real. You have a much more real way of relating. You just don't take somebody and stimulate them and get them all happy and excited and think that has been a good deed. Sometimes it's alright to let somebody wallow in their suffering because maybe they can learn from that. You can accept that.
That misconception that says if you have the bodhisattva intention, i.e that I want to help people, like even the prayer, "May all beings be free of suffering and the cause of suffering..." Well, on a superficial level you might think you have just got to make that person happy. "I'll give them a milk shake! Take away their pain or whatever!..." That is very superficial. What you really want to do is look a little deeper and say "Well, maybe their pain is alright. I'm going to let them suffer!" And actually you have better compassion that the one who tried to stimulate the person. Because hopefully if you have a long term relationship with that person, you can at certain times give them little bits of information and help them through their suffering. And maybe they grow from it, learn from it. So just pointing out that suffering is alright and wishing all beings to be free from suffering, and yet allowing someone to just grovel in their pain is also alright. It's part of a deeper wisdom that you develop from realizing yourself.
I remember when I used to do retreats. In one way it was very hard to get my energy going to do a retreat. Maybe it's a one month retreat, and you get very depressed and unhappy. It's no fun. And so what I used to do for the first three days was just sleep a lot. And not really care, even when I sat down to do my meditation,, to go to sleep. Because after about the third day I'd get fed up with that and then I would start to meditate quite earnestly. It was quite terrific. And so I'd let myself go into that because I knew that was what would happen to myself.
In that way you get experience about yourself, experience about your own suffering. i.e., like I had to suffer going through a retreat, but by allowing myself to really go into it and just suffer, well after awhile I came back out the other side and really had a lot of energy to meditate. Same thing for yourselves. I mean you don't have to tell everybody about it, but you just know your nature and when you know your nature you can use it for your own benefit. And I think it is really unrealistic to think you are always going to be on a high, or always filled with energy, or going to be a greatly compassionate person every moment of your existence. It's really unrealistic. You are going to be selfish and you're going to be self centered, and you are going to be happy and charitable and all sorts of things at different times. Sort of know those things happening in you, so when you have a good time you take advantage of it and you do good things for other people. And when you get melancholy or self centered then allow yourself to sort of see well, what comes out of this. To be conscious in that experience. And so the next time it comes around, you don't get into it so much. You have more experience and knowing how to handle yourself.
The point is that in the noble truth of suffering that suffering pervades our experiences, our existence. That our wanting to be free of suffering is a very strong motivation and to maybe get in touch with it. For example. Take that one type of suffering called the suffering of change. And become more conscious of it pushing you into various activities you are doing. And by being that, then you become a little more conscious. Maybe it hurts for awhile because you start realizing all your outpours just to sort of keep yourself happy, keep yourself out of getting too internalized and depressed, but if you allow yourself to go into it and to try to find a deeper base for yourself, then you will be more solid. As I say, the final thing that will come is that your relationships with others in appreciating that in having sensitivity, having empathy for your love and compassion, becomes much more real.
Next time I will talk about suffering again in a different way. Tonight I wanted to introduce the subject, the misery of life! It is always good to have that in mind that there are two sides to life. You can have a pervasive happiness in your existence, but have it always balanced that there is also bummers every so often.
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