Category Archives: Suffering

Dukkha

Dukkha is the Pali word originally translated as suffering.  Pali is the ancient Indian language, along with Sanskrit, used to write down the discourses of the Buddha.  Usage of Pali tended to move south to Sri Lanka and South Asia, while Sanskrit was incorporated in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism.

The Buddhist group I attend is  part of the Theravada tradition, most of those bringing it to the west studied in Sri Lanka or Thailand.  There are differences, but to me the differences can be compared to Lutherans and Baptists.  The essential message is the same.

Dukkha is central to Buddhism.  It can’t be precisely translated.  Discontent, craving, anxiety, dissatisfaction, suffering, and hopelessness are typical translations.  I’m sure you get the idea, we all experience dukkha.  The goal of Buddhism is the end of dukkha.  Without dukkha, a person is totally in the moment, seeing life as it is, not how our egos want it to be.   All our lives, we are attempting to shape our world into what we have decided it should be.  Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Therefore we live lives of striving or despair because things aren’t what we think they should be.  Well, things are what they are.  That’s all.  I want comfort, security, love, time for adventure, and no Japanese Beetles.  I have love, but the other things seem to be lacking somewhere.  Perhaps the best illustration is the difference between pain and suffering.  My knee hurts, my fingers are getting stiff, and I itch.  I’m human, that stuff is inevitable.  I don’t want it to be true.  I get upset when I itch, and the damn Japanese Beetles won’t go away.  I feel discontent.

Insight Meditation is the practice of sitting and following the breath.  Just the breath.  Not thinking about ice cream, the breath.  When thoughts about ice cream or anything else arise, simply return to the breath.  Later, when thoughts arise, observe them without engaging them and watch them pass away.  That itch in the left ear canal, observe it and note it goes away.  Or not.

The key is not getting involved with the itch.  It is an itch over which I have no control.  I want to stick a Q-tip in there, but it won’t help.  The itch does what it will.  Let it be.  Chill, dude.  Am I good at this?  Not so much.  That’s why it is called a practice.  I have noticed some progress, but it is slow.  I don’t get as irritated in traffic.  I am a bit better at putting up with Carol’s Hallmark Channel movies (not really), and I am a complete failure at accepting the beetles.

I have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  There is an ongoing, futile attempt to control one’s environment, so strong it becomes ritualized.  For me, the coffee maker has to be in it’s exact place WITHOUT ANYTHING IN FRONT OF IT.  When a cup is sitting there, my neck and shoulder muscles tense, and I utter a quiet oath.  So what’s the big deal anyway?  Nada.  That’s dukkha.  My day will go just fine if the cup stays there.  Surprisingly, it will probably get moved, and there was no need to get all uptight.

Breathe in, breathe out, watch the reaction, watch it pass away.  The world is as it is.

Let it Be

Let it Be.  “When in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it  be.”  Lennon-McCartney.   

I recently experienced a minor time of trouble.  Call it depression, a post-retreat counterattack, call it what you will, I was not in a good place for a while.  All my old bad habits and thoughts came roaring back.  Usually I keep that stuff at bay with prayer and meditation.  In the past I used alcohol and marijuana, but they only postpone things. 

During the bad period my meditations were all about the unhealthy stuff and I did not pray.  A spiral into depression ensued.  I have enough things to do in my daily life to keep myself from slipping into a major depression.  I just don’t have the time.  In a major depression all I want to do is lie in bed or the bathtub. 

This go-round I watched a lot of car, motorcycle, and airplane crashes on You Tube.  I also watched a lot of the violence scenes from Sons of Anarchy and boxing knockouts.   Fun, huh? 

The weekend went pretty well, we went to a good modern dance concert after dinner Friday evening, did some gardening Saturday, and the Sunday Insight Meditation dharma talk was a good one.  

Monday morning I woke up to a new world.  I felt good, the weather was fine, and I found myself praying and my meditations went where they should.  Why the change?  I have no idea. Maybe my meditation and prayer practice is working.  I am again able to let it be. 

I tend to have some obsessive thoughts about sex or violence. They arise, and if I pray a short prayer, they pass away.  Over time, they have diminished a great deal.  However, during my down periods, they come roaring back.  If I entertain them at all, they stick around.  A sort of feedback loop is generated.  The thought arises, I entertain it, it gets stronger, and I slip into unwise actions.  

What to do when the thought arises?  Let it be.  It, like all phenomena, will pass away.  Prayer helps.  I know people who hold on to unhealthy thinking most of the time.  They suffer.  The more they suffer, the more the unhealthy thinking stays with them.   

To live like this is a decision.  Unhealthy thoughts may arise from the labyrinth of the brain, but holding on to them is a choice.  The choice is self-reinforcing, so breaking the habit is tough.  We can, however, choose to break the pattern.  Not all days are bad days, even for someone in the depths of depression.  We have opportunities to break out. Almost everyone has opportunities to end their suffering.  Still, at times, the choice is to suffer.