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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
37 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly front of that line by now, but if you joined it now, you’d be at the end—all this is suffering. Even without talking about the earthquakes, the wars, the deprivation, the oppression, the illness, and the hunger that is happening all over our world, suffering is really common. It’s not a special condition. Suf- fering is a daily experience. Even if we try to ignore it, we really don’t escape the suf- fering. It registers in our psyche and becomes a conditioning factor in our lives. We may find that we’re living in reaction to the suffering that we’re unwilling to see and think about. So the idea that suffering is some sort of mistake and a minor problem that we could overcome with a little bit of medita- tion and a positive attitude is the towering pinnacle of human self-deception. Dukkha Part of the problem might be that “suffering” is such a drastic word; it sounds like a rare thing. The idea of suffering is a central thought in Buddhist practice. The original word in Pali is dukkha, which is most often translated as suffering, but is sometimes translated simply as “unsatisfactoriness” or as “stress.” Dukkha refers to the psychological experience— sometimes conscious, sometimes not conscious—of the pro- found fact that everything is impermanent, ungraspable, and not really knowable. On some level, we all understand this. All the things we have, we know we don’t really have. All the things we see, we’re not entirely seeing. This is the nature of things, yet we think the opposite. We think that we can know and possess our lives, our loves, our identities, and even our possessions. We can’t. The gap between the reality and the basic human approach to life is dukkha, an experience of basic anxiety or frustration. Seen in this way, dukkha could actually be another name for human consciousness itself. Dukkha is not a mistake. It is not a correctible situation; it is human consciousness. Dukkha is every moment, every experience of our lives, not just the things that obviously seem to be dukkha, like pain, suffering, and loss. Pain, suffering, and loss are built into every moment of consciousness, even if they don’t appear on the surface to be pain, suffering, and loss. The great and beautiful secret of meditation practice is this: you can experience dukkha with equanimity. Isn’t equanimity the secret of happiness? If you tried to eliminate dukkha, it would be like trying to eliminate life. But if you can receive dukkha with equanimity, then, in a way, it’s no longer dukkha. Impermanence could be the most devastat- ing fact of life, and often it is. But impermanence could also be incredibly beautiful, if you receive it with equanimity. It could be peace itself. If we stop, perhaps for a moment we can see the beauty in this impermanence. But then we go back into our lives in the world of activity and desire. We go back to grasping things that aren’t really there and to operating in the world that we want, rather than the world as it is. Beneath our daily consciousness will be this anxiety and fear and this immense longing. Dukkha is this basic fact of our lives. When we are dying, our whole lifetime habit of denying dukkha will end, and dukkha will become inescapable. One way or the other, we’re going to have to grapple with it. So it’s good to get a head start. Our culture is so focused on consumerism and youth that we don’t have a good model for what aging and dying could be like. All we feel is the lack of things: we’re not as youthful as we were, we’re not as limber as we were, we’re not as this, we’re not as that. Almost everything that we hear and see in the media is about how to maintain your youth as long as possible. All this focus on stopping aging implies somebody made a big mistake in the universe. It’s as if we should be get- ting younger instead of older. But we’re missing a very important point. There’s some- thing beautiful about quiet and peace. There’s something beautiful about not trying to do anything, but simply, in some way, your heart joining the whole world. There’s a time in life when we should be running around doing things. We should go out dancing; there’s a time in life for that. There’s a time in life for building something up in this world, a family, an institution, a business, a creative life; there’s a time for that. There’s also a time for becoming quiet, a time for slow con- versations with people that we love, and a time for reflecting on all the things that we’ve seen in many years of living. When the time for those things comes, it’s beautiful. It’s not a terrible thing, it’s sweet. There’s also a time for letting go of our life, not “Damn, somebody’s snatching this away from me,” but “Yes, it’s beautiful to exhale after you inhale.” At the right time, when the chest is full, breathe out and let go. The most astonishing fact of human life is that most of us think it’s possible to minimize and even eliminate suffering. It’s incredible that we would think such a thing. a.jessejiryudavis