In the third theme we go on to think about our state and the Buddha’s great diagnosis to us of the first noble truth. — that the unenlightened life is inevitably suffering. In this lesson we focus on one aspect of suffering — the suffering that results from the delusion of our sense of our self as a separate being from the universe, as intrinsically substantially and solidly here as something apart from everything else is itself.
When people first hear the Buddha’s theme of suffering, they often think it's the morbid. But it's not gloomy; it's merely realistic, a method of evaluating "what is our actual experience?"
Remember that one of the goals of the four thoughts that turn the mind is to see clearly and openly the truth of your - and our - existence.
If we look about we see that all around us is suffering.
We're constantly in a state of vain hope, hoping to get someplace where we'll finally be happy. We're always seeking happiness, but we very rarely experience it. We usually have a little pain over here, a little strain over there, we're miserable when the temperature is a little off. Some internal or external thing is constantly agitating us. Sometimes we have the experience that we remember some past time as having been good, but then if we really look back carefully we realize that we were still trying, anxiously, even then, to get to some other place. So our actual daily existence is unsatisfactory.
We've all had many experiences of hoping to reach some goal, and yet nothing ever seems to work out if you really think about it. We are dependent for our well-being on all kinds of factors beyond our control, and life is always frustrating. Our own reactions are not under our control either. We can't accept hardship with equanimity. We can't stay cheerful when we're ill. On top of being in pain, we get mad that we have the illness. This is a small corner of the endless round of suffering called samsara.
Gradually, it becomes clear that internally we're victims of emotions and desires that constantly nag us, and externally we're the victims of environment and circumstance. No wonder we want to attain nirvana! Or at least just get away from it all.
But why is life so unsatisfactory?
It's this: We think the world is not treating us right. Our own body treats us abominably! Time is terrible; gravity is worse; our emotions are toxic. Still, we feel we have a right to be happy. We feel we have a right to be calm and cool and to feel bliss, even ecstasy. But the world is not bustling to provide our ecstasy. So there's a struggle between our expectation and what is
But the Buddha’s teachings on the four noble truths also teach us that a person who has found a different way of relating to the world, one who is no longer habitually self-centered and no longer is pitted against the world comes to see the process of self-preoccupation itself as suffering, so our whole lives look like suffering to them. Even what we think of as temporary relief, a noble person sees as suffering: Our temporary states of happiness seem pretty good to us in relation to the immediately preceding irritation, but they soon turn into new irritation, and therefore are called the suffering of change. The conditions we normally perceive as suffering are called the suffering of suffering. And our overall cosmic situation is called the suffering of creation.
When you reflect on this carefully and thoughtfully, you begin to feel genuine sympathy for yourself, you begin to excuse yourself from chasing your illusions. You begin to turn that hope-for-happiness in a more practical direction by shifting the situation from you-versus-the-world.
Don't avoid these. Facing suffering realistically has to do with developing a healthy prudence and a concern to avoid future misery.
The cause of your suffering
With the second noble truth, the noble truth of causation, you begin to analyze the the cause of your suffering: the structure of self-versus-the-world. Anything you get in a normal, egocentric human life—any goal—will not be satisfactory. According to the insight of the Buddha, the root cause of all suffering is ignorance, which is the fundamental self-construction, the habitual assumption of being a separate, independent self.
Once you assume yourself apart from everything else, you feel a craving to connect with things, you want to increase the odds of winning against the universe by incorporating as much of it within yourself as you can. This is the first primal reaction of the alienated self—desire, greed, and attachment.
If we look about we see that all around us is suffering.
When the world won't give itself over to you, when it even comes to take things away from you, then you feel fear, anger, and hostility—the second primal reaction of the alienated self.
One of the great causes of our suffering is hatred and all of its variations: resentment, anger, bitterness, dislike, irritation, aggressiveness, hostility. These are so dangerous because they are difficult to control, and when we're gripped them we can end up smashing even the people whom we love, wives, husbands, children, parents.
Because rage is so dangerous and difficult to control, any force we can marshal within ourselves to prevent and forestall the explosive moment of rage is really beneficial. So let's look at rage.
The key thing that lets rage explode is precisely the sense of disconnection from the world—when we've "had enough," something just "pressed our button," someone just "crossed the line."
This is why we make a point of visualizing in vivid detail extreme states of violence, misery, and suffering. By meditating upon them, we can begin to feel a healthy fear of the possible negative consequences of our violent actions. We begin to see and to hold back our extreme emotional reactions.
When you realize the noble truth of suffering, you can develop a realistic sense of sympathy for yourself. You make a decision, thinking, "Why should I allow myself to go on being pushed around by these winds of emotion and the arbitrary actions of others? Why should I remain a hostage like this? I must free myself from this imprisonment." And when you understand the second noble truth of causation, you develop a creative insight into how you are trapped in suffering by your misconception of yourself, and you feel enthusiasm about seeing through this primal delusion about your self and your fundamental alienation from the world.
From the isolated self to interconnection
The key insight here is that everything is limitlessly interconnected, there is no independent part of evolution, no separate person disconnectedly involved who can ignore consequences. Knowing that the causal pattern of evolution is inexorable on the relative level helps you avoid both the irresponsibility of reckless activity and the hopelessness that arises from the fear of losing the positive results of good activity. This is crucially important.
So the theme of the suffering of an egocentric life leaves you with a slightly more realistic assessment of your state. Perhaps you'll notice that even acknowledging suffering makes you a little more tolerant of everything. We get a little relief just from beginning to face it.