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Monday, April 05, 2004

The First Noble Truth: Part Two

I received the following question by e-mail in response to my previous posting:

Q: I can't say that I fully understand your comment: "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."

What I mean to explain here is that our liberation is intimately bound to our duhkha. Remember the devas in the various heaven realms. Things are good for them. No duhkha. Long life. BUT, eventually, they too die and if they are lucky, they get reborn as humans. Why? Because we have just the right amount of suhkha and duhkha to motivate ourselves to practice in order to awaken, to become liberated. The devas are too content to practice with determination, those beings in the hell realms have too much duhkha to practice with consistency, and those in the animal realms have too much avidya to practice mindfulness in anything more than rudimentary ways. This is indeed the presciousness of our human birth.

Mark Epstein, a Buddhist pyschiatrist, talks about the irony of the patients who seek to turn away from, and be done with, their suffering when it is their suffering that brought them to the place where they finally attempt to wake up and transform their lives! Joko Beck speaks of how we practice, bitching about all our difficulties along the rough surface of our path. We curse every sharp stone underfoot, until at some point in our maturation, we finally look down to see that they are diamonds!

A Christian friend once said, "If you pray to learn patience, God will put you on the slowest line at the bank." Pragmatically, how else could you learn to be patient unless you "enjoyed" the opportunity to have your patience tried?

Let's take it out of the theoretical realm and take it to the personal. Let's say we are angry. Anger is duhkha. We wish ardently to get rid of it. To eliminate, annhilate it! But just maybe, working through it might be something other than merely eliminating it. The Buddha taught, and our own practice can demonstrate, that is is the perspective of the sufferer that determines whether a given experience perpetuates suffering or is a vehicle for awakening. To work something through means to change one's view. (To change your mind!) To attempt to change the emotion may bring short-term relief, but we remain bound to the root causes of suffering (we'll look into them in the Second Noble Truth) and even strengthen those root causes! What we are looking for, actually is not mere change (like changing the color of our car) but transformation (maybe it's not even a car anymore when we've really done our work).

Now, for an even more personal example, which I speak about in my new book. It was indeed duhkha that brought me to practice almost 30 years ago. (The breakup of my first marriage) And about 14 years ago, the disintegration of another relationship brought me back after having stopped for nearly a decade.

Usually, the duhkha of a broken relationship was experienced by me as so terribly overwhelming that I did all I could to eliminate it or push it away. After several years of strong practice, during which time I took vows with Thich Nhat Hanh, another relationship I was in broke up.

This time, when the duhkha hit, I chose to literally sit with, and through it. I sat on my zafu, opening myself to all the suffering full blast. There was the familiar sense of anger and betrayal, followed by deep fear and anxiety. I was sure I would always be alone. No one could love me. Panic arose and as someone who had experienced panic attacks in the past, this only made me more uncomfortable and anxious. I felt I had to jump up from my seat, but I did not.

I embraced my suffering as I would embrace my weeping infant. I opened and accepted all the suffering -- and the anger, the fear and anxiety all dissolved. (This took several hours, by the way). Physically, all the energy I had put into trying not to feel my duhkha felt liberated, I felt calmer and clearer, and tears streamed down my face as I felt a deep visceral sadness that was at the same time warm, soft, and welcoming. A deep feeling of love and compassion also arose in the face of this absolute, non-judgemental, total acceptance. I felt the spaciousness and lightness of love and happiness in the very midst of sorrow.

When I share this story with my students, it is telling in how they seem to yearn for me to say, "And then the sadness went away." But in a real sense, it didn't, and I wouldn't wish it to. What was liberated was the suffering --the duhkha -- which I later realized had all been added through my aversion to the purity of the sadness. All the anger, the fear and anxiety, were ways my mind attempted to keep me from fully feeling the (may I say, "noble") truth of the sadness. And I am talking about not the mere sadness of the breakup of my relationship. It wasn't and isn't "my sadness." What I felt was an intimate connection with all beings who suffer. It was the raw and tender heart of existence. An unconditional love, compassion and happiness arose from this. I could indeed just feel sad, and it was liberating. All the energy that went into attempting not to feel duhkha was now free, free to flow unobstructedly. This energy is not mine, yet it has something to do with who or what I -- and you -- really are.

If I had turned away from my duhkha that night on the cushion, I would not be here now writing these words, sharing dharma and living as wonderfully happy and free as I am. I remember the words of a Core Energetic Therapist I once knew: "The most pain-avoidant people are the ones with the least amount of joy in their lives." And we must remember that joy and ease are among the Seven Limbs of Awakening. But that's getting ahead of our "story." For now, let us not be too quick to move away from the First Noble Truth: Duhkha exists; Life is duhkha.

May all beings be happy and free...
frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 7:44 PM

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