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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
41 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly acceptance and hope. In fact, acceptance and hope are con- nected. Acceptance is not resignation. Acceptance is a lively engagement with conditions as they are. Of course, there is a kind of hope that is really more like desperation: the sense that if something bad happens, you’ll be ruined forever, and so you hope desperately that there will be a good outcome. That’s the less effective kind of hope because there is only one outcome that is acceptable to you. So you mightily focus on it, shutting out everything else, including all fear and all sorrow. Then there’s the kind of hope built on acceptance, with some uplifted spirit, of conditions as they are. Acceptance strengthens this kind of hope. You still do everything you can, including all kinds of objective things such as looking at different treatments and making that per- son comfortable. You hope and pray for a good outcome. If you do this with the awareness and acceptance of suffering, you strengthen your ability to face with love whatever hap- pens next. Unnecessary Suffering There is suffering that is necessary, and there is a lot of suf- fering that is absolutely unnecessary. All of us cause ourselves unnecessary suffering. A huge percentage of the suffering that we feel on a daily basis is extra. We don’t need it. There’s plenty of suffering built in to human life; we can just wait for it. We don’t need to add more by unintentionally making choices that cause more suffering. We don’t need to add more by getting trapped in our mind’s attachment to past or future problems and potential pitfalls. We complicate our lives and we have a lot of desires. In this way we make more suffering than we need to. If I decide I’m going to accomplish fifteen important things today, and I only accomplish thirteen of them, then I am suffering—I am dissatisfied. But I made this up myself! Why not only ten? Or seven? If I have an idea about how my day is supposed to go, or my life, and my day or my life doesn’t go that way, I have a reason, it seems, to be unhappy. But I have created that reason myself. There are plenty of reasons to be unhappy without my creating more reasons. Maybe I could just pay attention to the basic and actual suffering that comes, rather than making more suffering than I need. The basic suffering, the actual suf- fering, is difficult, but it is useful. The extra suffering is usually trivial: it doesn’t illuminate my life; it only makes me crabby. In Zen we have koans to practice with, stories of the old masters that are sometimes hard to fathom. We can suffer over these stories; we can become miserable if we think we don’t understand. But we don’t need these stories to give us artificial problems. There are enough real problems to get our attention, like sickness, aging, and death; like loss. When real suffering comes, it gets our attention. We’re forced to go beyond crabbiness. If, in the face of suffering, we take up our spiritual practice and use the suffering to strengthen our motivation, then we can find some real benefit in the suffering. Meditation can help. The more we practice, the more awareness we have. The more awareness we have, the more we can notice when we’re creating the needless suffering, and we can decide to do something else. You can see all this quite clearly on your meditation cushion. Let’s say a pain comes into your back. There it is—it hurts! And then you begin to squirm, and you begin to complain, maybe about someone else whose fault it is that you are trapped in this body in this moment, or maybe about yourself. Your mind is raging all over the place. And this makes the pain much worse. If you are just willing to sit still and experience the pain, you see that it’s not so bad. You can endure it. It can even sometimes disappear. But even if it doesn’t, at least it’s real. There’s a dignity in bearing pain that must be borne. It is much better than squirming and complaining and making matters worse. You actually find that the more you squirm and try to improve things that cannot be improved, the worse it gets. The more you are willing to endure something that cannot be changed, the easier it is. When we stop creating the unnecessary suffering, we can notice all the real suffering around us. All the fake, unneces- sary suffering is actually distracting us, protecting us in a way, from the real suffering around us. The real suffering is much more intractable. It’s horribly painful. But it connects us to everyone else in the world, and so in that sense, the real suf- fering is okay. We become numb and isolated because we want to avoid the suffering, but it’s the numbness and isolation that feel the worst. When we break through the unnecessary suf- fering and connect with others, it’s hard and it’s painful, but it’s also better. When we open up to the real pain of caring for others, we do feel better. From Solid Ground © 2011 by unified Buddhist church, excerpted with permission of Parallax Press. If, in the face of suffering, we take up our spiritual practice and use the suffering to strengthen our motivation, then we can find some real benefit in the suffering. photo larry gloth