Monday, August 06, 2007

Lam Rim Discourse: The Sufferings of Samsara

The Lam Rim (Graded Path to Enlightenment) expounded by Je Tsong Khapa (at left) goes into great detail about the varieties of suffering one experiences in samsara. The purpose of this is to illuminate the Buddha's First Noble Truth: that the nature of samsara is suffering. That all compounded things are in the nature of suffering.

I like the way the Lam Rim works, because it's programmatic. When I'm not being unruly and undisciplined, I'm being programmatic. It's an instruction manual for enlightenment, which might seem a little odd for such a cosmic and spiritual endeavour, but of course, at some point you dispense with the manual and experience directly.

But back to suffering...

There are a whole load of sufferings listed. Literally listed, with explanations. There are The Eight Sufferings, The Six Sufferings and The Three Sufferings. Some of them have subheadings.

The Eight Sufferings

1. The sufferings of birth
    • the birth process itself is suffering

    • the place of birth, which is the aggregates, is suffering

    • our birth is a source for the generation of suffering

    • birth is the source for the afflictions to arise

    • separation (which is a form of suffering) is the nature of birth

2. Aging
    • the good body changes

    • the degeneration of vitality and strength

    • degeneration of the sense powers

    • ability to enjoy sense objects degenerates

    • degeneration of life span

3. Sickness
    • the nature of the body changes

    • suffering and mental unhappiness increase and will become the better part of our experience

    • one doesn't want the things that ordinarily give one pleasure

    • we have to do things we dislike

    • becoming separated from one's life force

4. Death
    • becoming separated from one's possessions

    • becoming separated from one's relatives

    • becoming separated from one's circle of friends

    • becoming separated from one's good, perfect, beautiful body

    • experiencing heavy suffering, both physical and mental

5. Encountering the unpleasant
6. Being separated from the pleasant
    • being miserable because of thinking about one's separation from close friends

    • wailing because of the above

    • becoming sick because of the above

    • becoming depressed by remembering the qualities of nice places and wishing to be there

    • not having enough money and so forth

7. Not achieving one's desires even though one works for them
8. The suffering of taking rebirth with contaminated aggregates
    • inducing the suffering of future lives

    • becoming the basis for the suffering of sickness, aging and so forth

    • becoming the vessel for the suffering of suffering

    • being born in the nature of pervasive compounded suffering

The Six Sufferings

  1. The suffering of indefiniteness

  2. The suffering of dissatisfaction

  3. The suffering of abandoning one's body again and again

  4. Taking rebirth again and again

  5. Moving constantly between high and low

  6. Being friendless

All of these varieties of suffering are subsumed within the Three Sufferings as taught by the Buddha:

The Three Sufferings

  1. The suffering of suffering

  2. The suffering of change

  3. Pervasive compounded suffering


Each of these sufferings has a more complete explanation than the bare list. Some of them are obvious, others are more subtle forms of suffering that may not seem at first glance to be suffering at all. We have to look at them very closely.

A simple example of the suffering of change is this: You go to the beach. Lovely hot summer day. Warm sand. Warm sun. Sparkling water. You sit on the beach for a while and suddenly realize you're too hot. Time to go in the water. How wonderful the cool water feels! What pleasure! But how pleasurable is it, really? It's not long before you're tired of being in the water. It's getting cold. So you go back to your spot on the sand. Maybe play a little volleyball or frisbee. Before long you're hot again. The sun's beating down on you. Back into the water. Or look for some shade. Samsara is like that. What you think of as pleasure is characterized by changeability and has the nature of suffering underlying it. If it didn't, the pleasure of the hot sun would never wane. The pleasure of the cool water would remain with us constantly. But that doesn't happen, does it?

Here in southern Ontariario, we demonstrate the dissatisfactions of samsara admirably. We're never quite happy with the weather. In summer it's too hot. In winter it's too cold. Spring takes too long to arrive, and autumn is a season of dread of the coming winter. In effect, we struggle daily with what is.

One of my favourite analogies illustrates the fifth of the Six Sufferings: constantly moving between high and low. We are like a fly buzzing against a window pane. Up to the top right corner. Across to the top left. Sit for a bit in the middle of the pane. Check out the lower section. What are we looking for, buzzing around madly, distracted and desperate? We're looking for a way out, of course.

What we don't realize is that the window is actually open, a narrow crack at the bottom so that it is possible to escape. But we can't do it by flying around aimlessly, buzzing back and forth, pressing constantly against the glass. This is a recipe for staying trapped. What's required is purposeful action. We need to step back, or at least stop our headlong rushing around. Because, up to now, we've been stuck on the pane of glass, going higher, going lower, rich man poor man, lover, fighter, brave or cowardly, life after life after life. And the purpose of enumerating these sufferings is to make us finally weary of doing it again and again. With perseverance, meditation, that's precisely what happens.

What's maddening to us as we beat our wings on the windowpane is that we can see out there. Freedom is out there. How to get it?

But perhaps that's a bit of a mis-characterization. Because freedom is not out there. It's in here! Nirvana is right here. We're actually seeing it all the time. We're in it. The window is open. We just need to find the crack in our conceptual window frame.

Digg! diigo it

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