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Understanding Suffering

Ashin Tejaniya said…

Lobha (greed, any kind of craving or liking) is more difficult, more subtle — and moha (delusion, ignorance, not understanding, not seeing reality) is hardest. The point I was making the other day was that we should better not use the word suffering when we talk about dukkha. Most yogis don’t understand the truth of dukkha but they understand suffering. Usually the only kind of suffering they understand is ‘feeling’ suffering (dukkha vedanā) and this interpretation of suffering will lead to aversion. Understanding dukkha is very different.

Many yogis have been told that because things are impermanent they are suffering. They also know that arising and passing away is a sign of impermanence. Because they are eager for progress, they also tend to try to see arising and passing away. When they do this, they will of course remember all the information they were given, and they will interpret whatever they see coming and going as suffering. Because they see this as a sign of progress, their minds will then start to lean towards suffering and they become fearful. Fear is passive dosa. Sometimes yogis become so frightened that they break down and cry.

The meaning of the word dukkha is much wider and deeper than just the experience of physical or mental suffering. Any kind of suffering, from the most obvious manifestations of pain or grief to the most subtle notions of discontent, uncertainty, unsatisfactoriness, unreliability, unpredictability, ambiguity, insecurity etc. All just refer to the grossest level of dukkha. According to Buddhist tradition, this level is called dukkha-dukkha. The pain of birth, getting sick, ageing and death as well as any emotional sorrow like anger, fear, despair, disappointment, anxiety, getting separated from loved ones, having to be with unpleasant people, not getting what we want or getting what we don’t want — all this is traditionally listed under the first level of dukkha.

The next level is called vipariṇāma-dukkha (the suffering in change). This is more subtle, more difficult to see. Any kind of sensual pleasure or mental rapture, in fact any kind of happiness whatsoever — however subtle and long-lasting — will sooner or later end. Doing something over and over again or trying to achieve something also belongs to this category of dukkha. You might be experiencing a lot of samādhi (calmness, stillness or stability of mind), pīti (joyful interest, enthusiasm, rapture), and passaddhi (tranquillity) every time you meditate but this too won’t last. Experiencing such states is also dukkha. Most people find it very difficult to understand that all happiness is dukkha.

The third and last level of dukkha is called saṅkhāra-dukkha (the unsatisfactory nature of all existence, of all conditioned phenomena), also referred to as existential dukkha. Nāma-rūpa (mental and physical processes) is dukkha; the sheer fact that we exist is dukkha.

It is really important to understand the difference between experiencing dukkha and understanding it. Physical or mental suffering – however gross or subtle – automatically comes with some form of aversion; dukkha vedanā or domanassa (any kind of unplesant mental feeling, mentally painful feeling) always arise together with dosa. All such experiences will lead to unwholesome states of mind and therefore to more suffering.

Understanding dukkha does not mean mental suffering. Understanding dukkha is very different; it is a wholesome quality of mind, a liberating and life transforming experience. Every little understanding of dukkha enables the mind to let go and therefore to experience more freedom. Understanding dukkha will lead to more wholesome states of mind; it will make the mind stronger.

In order to be able to understand dukkha we not only need to have this right information but we also need right thinking. The Buddha said that the one thing that keeps us trapped in this endless cycle of existence is not seeing and not understanding dukkha. If we don’t understand dukkha, we will keep hoping for better times and we will keep getting disappointed. Most people waste a lot of time trying to fight dukkha, trying to manipulate their world. This resistance to dukkha is not only exhausting but it also creates even more dukkha. Right thinking is accepting and acknowledging dukkha. Seeing and accepting dukkha means seeing and accepting how things are, and such a state of mind will free up a lot of energy which we can use to practise.

When we become more and more skilled at recognizing dukkha we will also more often see whenever we ‘create’ new dukkha. My teacher used to say that only when we understand the dukkha in becoming (jāti-dukkha), will the mind really strive towards Nibbāna. Everything that comes into existence is dukkha — and its passing away is dukkha too. It is because we don’t understand jāti-dukkha that we want to get something or to get rid of something. A mind that understands dukkha will neither want happiness nor will it resist anything it is experiencing; it will be completely at peace with whatever is happening.

All beings experience dukkha but only those who recognize dukkha can work towards freeing themselves from it. Clearly recognizing and accepting dukkha will lead to inner freedom. The Buddha said that those who see dukkha also see the end of dukkha. Only if dukkha is really understood, will striving for Nibbāna be seen as the only worthwhile thing to do.

~ Excepts from,

Awareness Alone is Not Enough, Questions & Answers with Ashin Tejaniya ~

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