Archive for the The Cause of Suffering Category
When I am suffering, my tendency is to blame something outside of myself. As a first reaction, I look to external phenomena to put the responsibility on. As I practice more and more, I am able to look inward for the causes of my suffering with less resistance. My reaction of blaming an external circumstance or person is more easily brought into my awareness, and I am able to look deeper at my suffering.
In his book Essence of the Heart Sutra, the Dalai Lama states, “In truth, it is always and only the mental afflictions that agitate our minds, yet we tend to blame our agitation on external conditions, imagining that encountering unpleasant people or adverse circumstances make us unhappy.” This insight is something that I have understood intellectually for quite some time. However, I have only had the experiential understanding recently, although I have been practicing for years.
I have had this experience on retreat, but also in simple 30 minute sits. When I am sitting, all of my basic needs are met. Generally, I am in a safe and comfortable position both in relation to the outside world and with my own posture. However, I can still experience great suffering. Things that happened weeks or months ago may arise. Thoughts of my own actions arise. Thoughts of craving, delusion, and aversion arise. Emotions arise that are clearly based on my own MENTAL afflictions, not any physical afflictions.
In meditation, I have found that the root of all of my suffering is within my own head. A teacher of mine often tells the story of the Buddha’s encounters with Mara in which the Buddha simply says, “I see you Mara.” I have a tattoo on my forearm to remind myself of this story and its lesson: that by simply bringing attention in a compassionate manner to our suffering, clinging, aversion, and delusion, our ability to let it go is greatly increased.
The other day, after a sit with my girlfriend, I opened my eyes and simply said. “Mara is in my head.” I had a painful sit with many unpleasant emotions arising, but I did not suffer greatly. As the unpleasant emotions and thoughts arose, I looked at them and simply stated repeatedly, “I see you Mara.”
Furthermore, I have recently began a practice that my teacher recommended of actually sitting at night and inviting the unpleasantness in. As I sit and invite in fear, worry, regret, and anger, I am able to compassionately look at it and begin to understand its causes.
Some days I just don’t feel one hundred percent. I am unfocused, irritable, or maybe even overly excited. With my meditation practice of compassionately inviting in any and all emotions, I am able to look within for the cause of these mind states. Rather than feeling discontented and not knowing why, I am sometimes able to feel discontented but aware.
I am not perfect with this, but my responses to suffering in everyday life are growing in wisdom. I use the mantra, “I see you Mara” many times a day. When I have a moment to myself, I often invite up anything that is weighing on me, allowing it to naturally move on. When I hold onto things in my subconscious, they affect my state of mind and heart greatly. As I let them go, I can begin to uncover my heart and a stillness of mind.
The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, ”We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The principle behind this first step is honesty. Step One also is closely related to Right View in Buddhism.
The first step is a simple (not easy) declaration of our complete defeat. Looking out our addiction, we see that our behavior has centered around our addiction. The first part of Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol,” is a look at the nature of our using. Powerless is a strong word, and frightens many of us. However, when we look at the way we use, powerless is indeed a fitting word. When we drink and use, we lose all control and power. Taking the first drink, pill, hit, etc., we immediately succumb to our own powerlessness, and give in to the power of the substance.
We also experience powerlessness with the mental obsession we have. Even before we take the first drink, we are in constant thought of alcohol. Our lives are centered around alcohol. When we are not drinking, we are looking for the first drink. We are preoccupied with alcohol, not only losing power of action but also power of thought over it.
When we work this first part of Step One, we are practicing rigorous self-honesty. In order to see the nature of our powerlessness, we must be willing to set down the ego and be genuinely honest. This honesty helps us see that true extent of our powerlessness. As we honestly look at places we drank when we should not have, times we drank when it was inappropriate, and amounts we drank that we should not have, we recognize our powerlessness.
The second half of the First Step is “that our lives had become unmanageable.” Many people read this the first time and misinterpret it. What this is saying is not that our drinking had become unmanageable, but our lives. Yes, our drinking is obviously unmanageable, but the point is that our entire life is unmanageable by ourselves. When we look honestly at our lives, we see how unmanageable it has become. Our entire lives are out of our own control. With honesty, we are able to concede to our innermost selves that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable by our own control.
Step One and Right View
Right View and Step One are very closely related. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they truly are. The principle of honesty goes very well with Right View. In Right View, we begin to see things as they really are. When we are drinking and using, our perception is certainly disturbed. We are not seeing things as they really are, although it seems real to us.
Practicing the First Step and Right View, we open our minds to seeing the world from a different perspective. We look at our drinking and using, and we recognize the truth. We see more clearly the nature of our addiction. Rather than blaming everything on external issues, we recognize it is our own powerlessness that is the root of our suffering.
We also recognize how unmanageable our life has become. This is not to say we recognize the need for a Higher Power in our lives; rather, we come to terms with the reality of our lives being out of control. Often for some time, we have not been able to manage our lives. Where we previously believed we were in complete control, our convictions change.
Right View is essential to the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous because we must begin to see things more clearly. We recognize the cause of our suffering is the addiction, powerlessness, and unmanageability.
The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism is Samudaya, which is often translated to “origin.” Samudaya refers to the origin or source of our suffering. The Second Noble Truth focuses mostly on craving and ignorance. These are seen as the two main causes of all our suffering, and although the cause may seem to be something else, it often breaks down to one of these.
The Second Noble Truth teaches us that there is a root cause of our suffering, and it is of our own making. When we blame the outside world for our unhappiness, it is ignorant. Happiness comes from within, and the Second Noble Truth teaches us that suffering isn’t random; it is created through causes that are within.
Much of our suffering comes from ignorance. Although the term ignorance is sometimes used as a derogatory term, it is not in this sense. Ignorance in this context refers to the absence of self-knowledge. The opposite of this ignorance is Right View. The inability to see things as they really are is at the root of almost every single moment of suffering in our lives.
Craving also creates a significant portion of our suffering. When we have the desire to please some sense, it is a craving for something impermanent. Whether it is food, sex, money, or any other thing that we crave, it will never lead to lasting happiness. Often, once we have experienced the fulfillment of these cravings, we crave it again, or crave more. Also, since we crave more, when we aren’t able to achieve the same experience again, we fall into a state of dis-ease.
The Second Noble Truth teaches us that although life is suffering, there is a cause. It is the second step toward looking for a way out of the vicious cycle of suffering.
I have found in my recovery that I must continue to take personal inventory ON PAPER. Simply trying to do it in my head does not work, and I fall behind. Furthermore, when I am doing a written inventory, I must also take the action to make amends where they are due.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.”
“%10 of our life is what happens to us. The other 90% is how we respond.”
“It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”
It was brought to my attention once again that Fear is one side of the coin while Faith is the other. I was encouraged by a mentor to look at a few things regarding my faith and fear. My direction came in several steps, and I have found them to be super helpful, so I thought I would share my experience in hopes that it would help someone out there!