Ending Suffering — Why We Practice

Ending Suffering — Why We Practice

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 07, 2007 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will place our mindfulness practice into a larger context by exploring together suffering and the end of suffering. This was the theme of the Buddha’s first Dharma talk in which he introduced the Four Noble Truths, and continued to be a theme he returned to again and again in his teachings.

The First Noble Truth is the recognition that we do suffer. For the Buddha, suffering includes the normal pains and miseries of everyday life: injury, sickness, death, loss, not getting what we want, having to put up with what we don’t want.

Suffering also included the pain associated with impermanence. Things inevitably change: we get older, failure follows success, ripe fruits begin to rot. If we try to hold on to what is, we suffer.

And finally, for the Buddha, a very subtle but persistent suffering came from our tendency to see ourselves as a thing (a person, an ego, a self), rather than as a flowing river of experience. Our attempts to find meaning and security in “selves” inevitable leads to suffering. Certainly, in the short run, some “selves” are better than others (for example, seeing oneself as competent and loving, rather than ineffective and cruel), however, in the long run, all the “selves” we can create cause suffering, because they do not fully reflect the underly reality of “non-self.” (I am particularly aware these days of the subtle ways in my life I have let the actions of others define me. Because of what someone else said or did, I defined myself as humiliated, abandoned, unwanted, inferior, etc., and suffered accordingly.)

So the First Noble Truth is about fully recognizes and understanding our suffering. The Second Noble truths is about the habitual responses, the habit energies, which are continually creating suffering in our lives. And the Third Noble Truth is about stopping what we are doing to create suffering, so that we suffer less.

In the Buddha’s words, the primary cause of suffering is craving, in Pali, tanha. As we talked about several weeks ago, Tanha is the unreflected response which automatically moves us toward pleasure and away from pain, without regard to longer term consequences or the effects on others. As Tanha is replaced by Chanda, reflective, aware intention, then suffering is reduced.

Thich Nhat Hanh, when he writes about the noble truths, emphasizes ignorance rather than craving. In Old Path White Clouds he has the Buddha explaining the arising and cessation of suffering in this way: 

“Brothers, the second truth isthe cause of suffering. Because  of ignorance, people cannot seethe truth about life, and they become caught in the flames of desire,

“Brothers, the third truth is the cessation of suffering.Understanding  the truth of life brings about the cessation ofevery grief and sorrow and gives rise to peace and joy.

Shinzen Young, a Vipassina teacher, sums it up this way:  “Suffering equals pain multiplied by resistance.”
 
The Fourth Noble Truth, the practical concrete way to reduce craving,ignorance, and resistance, is the way of mindfulnesspractice. (We practice to reduce suffering in the world.) The Buddha,an inveterate list maker, called it the Eight-fold Path, a life focusedon developing wisdom (right understanding and right view), morality(right speech, right action, right energy, and right livelihood), andattunement (right mindfulness and right concentration).

In our discussion this Thursday evening we will focus on the concreteways we create our own suffering, though our cravings, resistances, andignorance, and on the ways we have learned to reduce our suffering.

You are invited to be with us this Thursday. The best times to join usare just before the beginning of our 7 p.m meditation, just before webegin walking meditation (around 7:25), and just after our walkingmeditation (around 7:35).

Also this Thursday, beginning at 6:30, we will have our first ThursdayOrientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community.It is a good way to introduce friends and colleagues to our practice.(It is helpful if you email us at info@StillWaterMPC.org to let us knowyou will be coming.)

This coming Sunday, June 10th, Still Water MPC will be offering, and Iwill be leading, a three-hour introductory workshop on mindfulnesspractice entitled: Finding Our True Home — Mindfulness Meditation andthe Present Moment. It will take place at  (and is co-sponsoredby) Follow Your Heart Yoga, Germantown, MD, at 1:00pm to4:00pm. Some places are still available. For more information or toregister, click here. (Also, if you areplanning to go and can help transport some cushions and things there,please let me know.)

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 07, 2007


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