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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The First Noble Truth: Duhkha Exists

Patanjali and the Buddha agree: "Life is duhkha," generally translated as "Life is suffering," and occasionally as "Life sucks." But need it be? And does it? Patanjali offers us a first clue to the answer to these questions in YS: II;15 when he tells us that, essentially we suffer because everything changes. As Georg Feuerstein points out in his translation and commentary,
..."he shows that the very impermanence of pleasure is itself experienced as sorrowful."

The Buddha felt an understanding of duhkha is so important that he placed it as the First of his Four Noble Truths. Now, when we hear that these great sages have allegedly said that "All life is suffering," we may understandably feel a bit disenheartened. But let us take a look at this word duhkha. Duhkha means "bad" or "wrong space" and was used at the time of the Buddha to describe an axle that was misaligned from the center of a wheel. It was off-center, literally in a bad space. Imagine that the wheel being spoken of was the wheel of a cart. One would be in for a bumpy, uncomfortable and disorienting ride. Perhaps at first it would be a bit exciting, but not for long! Now, if that wheel were a potter's wheel, if any of you had ever tried ceramics, you'd know the difficulty in creating a beautiful, harmonious and useful shape to whatever we were forming.

If one now were to think of how we live our lives -- and the shape of society -- we'd have to say that the Buddha was indeed onto something! Life is sometimes exciting, but often pretty tumultuous, and our lives are quite unbalanced, off-center, and the shape of our lives is less than harmonious, beautiful or fully useful. There is something unsatisfactory about life. Even the good stuff soon enough loses its attraction, and then we seek out the "next big thing." Suffering is a heavy word, and for most of us, its very "heaviness" may keep us from looking deeply enough into our lives: "My life isn't all suffering!" But if we think of duhkha in terms of balance and alignment -- and that the Buddha is telling us that there is something off in the way that we relate to our lives, to each other, to the environment -- well, that would probably be hard for any of us to deny.

The Buddha said that to have duhkha and not recognize it, or to be unaware that duhkha is present, is an even worse condition, an even worse duhkha than duhkha alone. Like any good physician, we need to identify our duhkha. We need to know where we are out of balance, dis-eased. Most of the time, when duhkha begins to arise, we try to deny it, mask it or cover it over with some form of entertainment and distraction, attempting to push it away from ourselves forcefully. The yogic way is to recognize, identify and acknowledge it with compassion and equanimity -- with kindness and nonaggression. We need to witness and truly enter into our duhkha. In our culture, we are made to feel shame when we suffer -- which adds more suffering to the original suffering. But we must remember why the Buddha would call it the Noble Truth of Duhkha. It is because of our duhkha, and through opening ourselves to it, that we can truly begin to awaken. When we turn away from duhkha, we turn away from the path out of duhkha.

Before going ahead with the other three Noble Truths, I would like to invite those of you reading this to feel free to comment on how you relate to this teaching. Is it true for you that some kind of duhkha was what brought you to Yoga practice? What are some of the shapes duhkha seems to take in our society? These questions are just suggestions and not meant to be exhaustive. Perhaps we can learn from each other.

Frank Jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 11:01 AM

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