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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
36 any given period in your life. Nobody escapes tough times. Nobody escapes suffering. By suffering, I mean pain, whether physical or mental. I suppose a small minority of us might say, “I like suffering; I want more suffering.” But most of us don’t. When I’m in the presence of something I really don’t want, then I’m suffer- ing. Suffering seems to be the opposite of happiness. If there’s happiness, there is no suffering. If there’s suffering, there is no happiness. The most astonishing fact of human life is that most of us think it’s possible to minimize and even eliminate suffering. We actually think this, which is one reason why it’s so difficult for us when we’re suffering. We think, “This shouldn’t be this way,” or “I’m going to get rid of this somehow.” I think many of us believe that since suffering is so bad and so unpleasant, if we were really good and really smart, it wouldn’t arise in the first place. Somehow suffering is our own fault. If it’s not our fault, then it’s definitely someone else’s fault. But when suffering arises, we think we should surely be able to avoid it. We should be able to set it to one side and not dwell on it. We should “move on,” as they say, go on to positive things, do a little Buddhism, meditate, get around the suffering, and go forward. We shouldn’t allow the suffering to stop us, not allow it to mess us up. We believe that if only we play our cards right, we could have a positive life without much suffer- ing. We constantly come back to that way of thinking. It’s incredible that we would think such a thing. The more we look around us, the more we pay attention to what we’re feeling and what others around us are feeling, the more suf- fering we see. There is more suffering than we know. Anxiety is suffering, isn’t it? There is a lot of anxiety. Not getting what you want is suffering. How many of us don’t get what we want? Irritation is suffering. Anger is suffering. Having to put up with things you don’t like is suffering. Knowing that you’re going to have to die, and you really don’t want to—that’s suffering. Sickness is suffering. Old age is suffer- ing. Not having enough money is suffering. Losing your job is suffering. Having a bad marriage is suffering. Having no marriage can be suffering if you want to have a marriage. Fear is suffering. Knowing you could lose what you think you have is suffering. Being ashamed is suffering. Feeling disrespected is suffering. Feeling unloved is suffering. Feeling loved, but not loved enough, is suffering. Feeling lonely is suffering. Feeling bewildered is suffering. Being too cold, being too hot, being stuck in traffic, getting in the wrong line and the guy in the front is very, very slow, and the other line that you could have got into is going much faster, and you could have been in the Alan was really concerned about others. He would get agi- tated and upset if the people he loved weren’t doing well. If his family members were having troubles, he would tell me about it with anguish in his voice. His death made me want to care more for other people. It’s not something that comes naturally to me. When my friends are ill or in need of help, I have to put a real intention into thinking about them, calling them, and doing something, instead of just going about my business. I have far to go, but I think of Alan and I keep working at it. We think we’re trying to get rid of suffering. I want more suffering. I want to feel more suffering of the people who are suffering everywhere. I want to feel that suffering more, care about it more, and do something about it more. That’s my commitment to Alan and to myself. The other thing I learned from Alan’s death is that love will naturally rush into the vacuum that loss creates. Alan knew a lot of people, and we knew many people in common. Many people loved him, and when he was gone, I felt so much closer to those people. Even though we had been close before, the vacuum caused by the loss created much more love. Love cre- ates love. That feeling wasn’t something that came and went in a month or two. With loss, difficulty, and the total overturning of the plan you had for your life comes more love and more depth if you turn your heart in that direction. Loss, disappointment, and difficulty can be really devastat- ing. They can damage us permanently; they can even destroy our lives. But if we yield to our sadness and turn toward our difficult feelings, we can remember these lessons that I learned from Alan: there is always something to be done and there is always more love. I don’t know if you believe this already, but it is certainly true. Do We Have to Suffer? These are tough times, full of objective difficulties and anxieties. But times are always tough, and even when times in general aren’t tough, your time might be tough at Zoketsu NormaN Fischer is the founder and spiritual director of the everyday Zen Foundation, an organization dedicated to adapting Zen Buddhist teachings to Western culture. he is also a senior dharma teacher at the san Francisco Zen center, where he served as co-abbot from 1995 to 2000. a.jessejiryudavis