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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
forum | dukkha 65 desire to be free from that unbearable experience. If I don’t continually anchor my practice in awareness of that kind of dukkha, my practice isn’t touching the essence of what the Buddha was trying to get across. It limits practice to over- coming the unhappiness, confusion, and pain in this life, whereas dukkha really embraces the whole experience of uncon- trollable rebirth. I think that’s important for us to understand. marK unno: A practical way to think about that spectrum in the Shin tradition is that oftentimes one can take the more superficial level of suffering, with men- tal or physical pain, as a point of entry that leads the practitioner into a deeper awareness of the fundamental condition. The parallel to that in terms of karma is the relationship between individual and collective karma. As one’s practice deep- ens, one becomes increasingly aware that collective karma is actually not separate from one’s own individual karma, that all karmic suffering is realized as one’s own suffering. Konin Cardenas: I agree that present- ing dukkha as a spectrum is important. It helps the practitioner understand that even in the midst of a life that’s seemingly comfortable, there is still dukkha that can be addressed by our practice. There is another kind of liberation that isn’t about becoming more comfortable materially or psychologically. BhiKKhu Bodhi: If we don’t accept that deeper dimension, then when dukkha gets adapted to the Western mentality, we wind up with what I would call a psy- chologicalization of the Buddha’s teach- ing. That i s, dukkha becomes explained almost entirely as psychological or emo- tional suffering—distress, dissatisfaction, worry, anxiety, fear, concern, and so on. When it is explained in that way, one sees the aim of practice as overcoming those states of psychological uneasiness in order to live peacefully and happily in this present life. That seems to be the drift of what I would call the secularized mindfulness movement that has grown out from Buddhism. It presents a partial explanation of dukkha according to the Buddha’s teachings; if we take that to be a fully adequate explanation, then we are impoverishing the teaching and turning it into a kind of therapeutic discipline rather than a liberative one. Buddhadharma: Even when we talk about categories of dukkha that include physical pain, we still tend to talk about dukkha as an experience of the mind, such as a response to that pain. In light of concrete suffering—illness, poverty, the tragedies of war—how do we clarify that dukkha isn’t just in our heads? BhiKKhu Bodhi: This is something that has come to concern me very much over the last decade or so. The social dimen- sion of dukkha as real, concrete suffering if we don’t spend time considering what dukkha is, then we won’t seek liberation and awakening. instead, we’ll use the dharma only to make our samsaric life a little bit better. —thuBten ChoDron