Friday, January 24, 2014
Suffering as a starting point.
"I teach suffering and the cessation of suffering." (reportedly The Buddha)
"In this world, all things come into being and perish, therefore there is the repeated experience of sorrow." (Sri Vasistha)
"The settling of the mind in its goal by turning away from the mass of objects, through observing their defects again and again, is known as peace." (Sankara)
"Suffering has made you dull; unable to see its entirety and enormity. Your first task is to see the sorrow in you and around you." (Nisargadatta)
"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1)
The question often strikes me, when out and about mixing with society, 'How does one relate on a deeper level with those seeming 'others' we meet in our life? How can we relate to these strangers, apart from the concepts overlaid automatically by our own mind?'
Is there a way to relate to 'the other', which can bypass the conditioning and sabotaging of the ego that is only interested in obtaining something from others? Even altruism and so called self-less acts for others, in the end, seem empty, done usually for secret self-serving motives such as pleasant feelings, future rewards 'in heaven' etc.
One way which has been recommended by sages since time immemorial is that of recognising and working with suffering. We can find references to the use of suffering as a foundational base in many orthodox and esoteric spiritual traditions. The reason for this is manifold, but in essence, there are not so many other starting places which begin as close to the bone, ie. our ordinary, present experience as felt during our daily suffering existence.
This doesn't mean that one intentionally needs to find specific areas of suffering, such as physical pain, relationship conflicts and other problematic areas we all have, though it can include this. Rather, these teachings point to the UNIVERSALITY and all-pervasiveness of suffering and sorrow inherent in our very existence, which we all initially find ourselves, usually started from around age three; as separate physical entities living in a seemingly random universe. Despite our individual beliefs about the universe and our existence, the hard facts that we find when on the street or alone at home verify the truth that sages have taught in the past- life itself, and the body itself, IS suffering. "There is suffering."
But isn't this just another mental filter? Do not mystics also proclaim the unreality of "the dream" of existence? Yes, but we have no choice but to start from where we are. Attempting to start from a conceptual place of 'elsewhere', while ignoring our present state of affairs leads to further suffering down the track. As all things in existence are also temporary, then views and beliefs themselves, and attempts to circumvent our present state of affairs must end at some point, and appear as the awful truth we were attempting to escape from via our magical thinking. Follow up on any "Law of Attraction" devotee after a few years and find out whether they still have the energy and motivation to attempt to will unreality onto their reality. Fortunately, all of us have only a limited supply of energy, motivation and will-power, which will one day be exhausted and bring us to the ultimate discovery of suffering and its inescapable presence in our lives and in those around us, while we exist in a body.
Yet a strange thing happens once we embark on this via dolorosa and embrace the existence of suffering everywhere we look. We find that the separateness and power of the ego seems to diminish slightly. External objects and people are no longer simply objects of attainment. We join creation on a fundamental level and are united "in suffering" with others, high and low. Our heart opens up, even ever so slightly, in the form of compassion for those around us, as they are no longer "perfect" or idealised, or despised.. but merely other entities also "fighting the good fight" and trying as best they can to live with their own sufferings of existence.
Most importantly though, working with suffering and investigating its all-pervasiveness, may allow us to come to certain life-changing conclusions. Perhaps there is no solution to suffering within this reality we experience here. Perhaps all efforts to obtain "perfection" (physical, financial, emotional, intellectual and whatever your 'summum bonum' happens to be) are doomed to failure due to inherent limitations in existence- impermanence. Perhaps we've been looking in the wrong place for happiness and love all along, the wrong place being any external place whatsoever. As we become less enchanted with possible solutions and imaginations for a pleasant future, our desire for real, permanent liberation also increases. A doorway is opened, which previously did not exist.
We have no choice but to start where we are. Man is a machine, sages such as Gurdjieff tell us, man who sits in a public house drunk with dreams about himself. Yet there are clues and hints within the dream, as in the movie 'Inception'. As a dog that traces the scent of its master, we can trace the scent of Godhead if we truly desire. The subtle fragrances of love, kindness, contentment, and happiness float past a dozen times a day unnoticed, and often amongst the messiest of situations.
May we have the grace today to see ourselves as we truly are.