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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
spring 2008| 34 |buddhadharma GAylOn ferGusOn: No, cessation says that the pain is not a given. Andrew Olendzki: Well, it’s a given in the sense that it’s a starting point and that’s the first noble truth, suffering is there. GAylOn ferGusOn: But it’s not given as a condition one is doomed to. BlAnche hArtmAn: Non-acceptance of basic pain is not a given. GAylOn ferGusOn: In fact, these kinds of pain are intertwined, and we can’t actually separate out a given physical pain from the resistance and struggle with it. If there were less struggle or no struggle, what would that original pain be like? We don’t know what an enlightened person expe- riences in terms of so-called physical pain. BlAnche hArtmAn: the famous koan of Baizhang’s Fox indicates that an enlightened person doesn’t ignore pain. I recall when Suzuki roshi was dying of cancer, I was with him and noticed that he gri- maced as if he were having some physical pain. When it subsided he said, “hmm, my karma is not so good” instead of saying, “oh my god, this is so terrible! Why me?” GAylOn ferGusOn: there are also similar stories of the Sixteenth karmapa. When he was dying of cancer in a hospital in Illinois, he seemed to transform the relationship to physical pain. It’s conceptual speculation on our part as to what that experience is, and throughout this discussion, particularly as we talk about cessation, we ought to acknowledge the limits of our conceptions. We are clearly not going to be talking about something that is fun- damentally conceptual. BuddhAdhArmA: Yet even fledgling practitioners could transform their relationship to pain to a certain degree, couldn’t they? GAylOn ferGusOn: of course, mindfulness-based stress reduction has shown that when mindfulness lessens the struggle with chronic pain, the pain is somehow lessened. Andrew Olendzki: Dharma practice is intended to help us to stop stabbing ourselves with the second arrow, rather than concerning ourselves with the arrow that has already penetrated us, as the tradi- tional analogy goes. the physical pain is inevitable, but as we resist it or feel sorry for ourselves or wish it were different, we continue to jab ourselves. that’s the emotional suffering we experience in the face of the pain. BuddhAdhArmA: You’ve all been talking about the first noble truth experientially, but the formula “all life is suffering” does make it sound like a philo- sophical pronouncement, doesn’t it? BlAnche hArtmAn: that way of saying it is maybe something that a missionary translated. all the Buddha said was, “there is dukkha.” We have unsatisfactoriness, unease. Andrew Olendzki: It says in the teachings, sarvam dukkham, all is suffering, or all conditioned events are flawed, unsatisfactory. It’s not “all life” or any- thing like that. Buddhism’s strong suit is inviting people to look closely at their own experience. It’s not so strong on the conceptual storyline, particu- larly as compared to other world religions. BuddhAdhArmA: “all conditioned events are unsatis- factory” does seem much more in concert with the meditator’s experience. It’s an empirical observa- tion, not a narrative about all of life, so to speak. Andrew Olendzki: Yes. BuddhAdhArmA: having discussed the nature of dukkha and of conditioned existence, how do we understand cessation in that context? Andrew Olendzki: the idea of cessation does obvi- ously invite the question, “Cessation of what?” collecTioNofThearTgalleryofNewsouThwales.phoTo:JeNNicarTerforagNsw Amitabha Buddha, Central Java, Indonesia 8th – 9th century