Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

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Griffin, modified 2 Months ago.

Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 172 Join Date: 4/7/18 Recent Posts
While reading trascripts of Rob Burbea's dharma talks, I have found some very interesting obervations on whether "ending suffering" is really the deepest motivation in our practice, and I wanted to share this with you:

A very easy answer in a Buddhist context is to conceive of awakening as the end of suffering. Again, sometimes (in fact, a lot of the time), is that what you really most want? The end of suffering – is that really what you most want? Now, sometimes, when we have a lot of pain, and we just feel trapped in a lot of pain, whether it’s psychological or physical, that can be the dominant thing: “I just want the end of suffering.” But when that goes, or when we’ve seen through that kind of psychological pain, or whatever it is, or rather, for our whole lives, for our whole existence, say, is that really what you want, what you most want – the end of suffering, the end of dukkha? Is that your greatest desire? Is that really what you’re after in practice?

And often, someone is saying that, and it’s palpably clear, actually, to both of us, that they don’t live like that. They’re not living and choosing the end of suffering every day – far from it! There’s lots of suffering in their lives that actually they don’t mind too much. (…) Okay, so “end of suffering” is one way that one might frame it. And it might be a valid answer. My question is just, is it? And if it is, then great. Then that’s your orientation. But is it?

As we’ll get to a little bit: if, actually, one’s motivation, when one looks inside and says, “Is it the end of suffering? No, not really. Is it happiness? I’m not sure,” and one says, “What is it that I really want? What is it?”, and if, through my practice, and for my existence, if the answer, or some of the answers are (which I know will be the case for some of you; it’s really your question – not for me, not for anyone, I think, to tell you what to want), but if the answer is that, actually, “Why am I practising? What am I practising for?”, and it’s really about, it’s the love of exploration. It’s the love and the longing for sacredness or sacrednesses opening up. It’s the love and the longing for soulfulness. It’s the love and the desire for beauty and beauties opening up. It’s the interest and the beauty of what we’re calling the creation and discovery of self, other, world, and all of that.

If it’s actually that, or those kinds of things that are motivating you, why would we not allow the notion of awakening to be open-ended? What’s the limit to my love of exploration? What’s the limit to the sacrednesses that can open up, or the soulfulness, the soulmaking, the beauty, beauties? What’s the limit to the kind of poetic and skilful and soulmaking fabrication of self, other, world, and eros? Would that be okay, to have an open-ended notion of awakening? I’ve touched on that before, I know, so it won’t be new to most of you.

Most of you here, if you come to sort of more than, I don’t know, three retreats in your life, you probably love something about all this path and practice and all that. What is it that you love, and what is it that you want? And is it really, again, is it really just to suffer less? In a way, it’s a little ironic, or paradoxical, or perhaps not fully honest that we have a terminology that talks always, with all the brilliance, through the Four Noble Truths, about reducing suffering. My contention is we have all kinds of things going on that we desire, and what we really love, and why we show up here, and are willing to sit through all the difficulties, and walk through all the difficulties, etc. Is it just because we want to reduce suffering? There are plenty of people who relate to meditation like that, but it’s usually only – maybe they go to an evening course and learn a few techniques to suffer less. That’s great, and that’s really important. And learning how to suffer less is really important. What is it that you’re really wanting though? I mean, it includes that, but what else? What draws you here? Not just to this retreat. Is it not that you are in love with a kind of beauty about all this? There’s something about sitting this way, and doing what you do, that is beautiful to you, that you are in love with some mystery, some perfume of mystery that comes with all of this. And that, in itself, is not really about reducing suffering. Is it not that you love love, and you love the goodness of heart, and the beautiful qualities of heart?

It’s not just a functional relationship. When we’re in love with practice, it’s not just a functional relationship: “I come so that I can learn some things to reduce suffering.” Yes, but more. How many people have told me over the years, “Boy, when I heard the Heart Sūtra for the first time, and I didn’t know what the hell it was talking about, but something, it’s like, ‘I want that.’”

(…) The beginning levels of emptiness, or the, let’s say, less profound levels, are very much about different ways of seeing that reduce suffering. As it gets deeper, it becomes much more about mystery, and, I would say, sacredness – the kind of beauty and mystical sense that opens up in the deep reaches of exploration of emptiness. Yes, that has an effect on suffering, but that’s almost not what’s driving a person to practise at that level, and to be drawn at that level. And yet, somehow we don’t quite kind of acknowledge that, or recognize that fully, and give it its due and its place. We just keep talking about reducing suffering.
Source: https://airtable.com/shr9OS6jqmWvWTG5g
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 5922 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
A relevant question raised, and great quotes. There's definitely a love of the exploration there for me, as well as a longing for the sacredness. Yes. And less suffering, so that there's room for the love and the sacredness, and energy for the exploration. If I really just wanted to end my individual suffering, a belief in rebirth would be required to motivate that just committing suicide would be enough. Now, suicides create suffering for others, and that makes it out of the question for me regardless (my dad committed suicide and it sure was no picnic for the rest of us; I wouldn't want to do that to anyone). But let's say (extremely hypothetically) that it were possible to entirely erase all awareness and that it would be consensual and we all just went together collectively to end samsara by means of a huge suicide spree in some painless way. The end of samsara for everyone, once and for all. Would we want that? Would that be the point? Sounds like the biggest misunderstanding ever to me. 
I'm so sorry about your father, Linda emoticon
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But let's say (extremely hypothetically) that it were possible to entirely erase all awareness and that it would be consensual and we all just went together collectively to end samsara by means of a huge suicide spree in some painless way. The end of samsara for everyone, once and for all. Would we want that?
This is something I have thought a lot about... My conclusion is that there is no "right" answer to this question. Both choices are bad (eradicating all the good in the world versus not ending all the suffering in the world).
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 5922 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Thanks. Yeah, it was sad. It was 22 years ago, almost on the day. 

Personally I don't think there will ever be such a choice. I think the whole idea is based on premises that only exist within awareness. 
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 5922 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
The quotes are well worth reading. They do emphasize aspects of joy in a nuanced way.

Edit: this was a reply to a post that is now removed. The poster said that they hadn't read the quotes but suggested to focus on the joy instead (to simplify it; it was more nuanced than that).
(replying to Griffin.... )

Ummm...  recently i reread STF and took some notes along the way. It became apparent, or rather 'i formed an abiding impression that' the book was constructed from talks given to some audience,  and that he was dealing with the people in front of him rather than writing a timeless book of deeply considered and interconnected philosophy.  He has a routine that appears a few times (or more).

He uses analytical arguments to preach the emptiness of things such as self and time but if you consider the arguments directly you can find for example Zeno's paradox (to refute motion) (ch 23) and the paradox of the heap to refute the existance of things (objects) (ch 22), and Zeno again (sort of) to relate that a moment of time can not exist (due to infinite regress) (p346)

At first I wanted to rip the arguments apart (they don't work), but after seeing that he argued that emptiness was itself empty (ie don't take it too seriously) decided that he was just trying to affect his audience in some way.  It's like the story of a monk trying to save someone in a burning building: just do anything that has the desired result.

But, I suggest that asking a group of people attending a retreat at gaia house why they are really there is a smart move.  It's made you consider the question, so job done ;-)

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FWIW where can i find the transcripts - i tried a couple of audio recordings but gave up very quickly because he talks so slowly and all I can do is think 'FFS stop trying to trance me out' and then switch it off, but that's just me.
Here are the transcripts: https://airtable.com/shr9OS6jqmWvWTG5g

​​​​​​​What I like about Burbea is how he relativizes some assumptions that are usually uncritically accepted in Dharma circles (e.g. being with reality "as it is", purification, ending suffering as an only motivation framework etc.)
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 2064 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I like STF but I think that awakening and soulmaking are orthogonal concepts, so there’s a bit of a bait and switch going on here. (A retreat centre is a business after all, they need to have desirable offerings to keep their customers returning!) I agree that it’s important to get clear about your motivation for practice and what you *want* out of awakening, but only because awakening involves recognizing that you can’t get what you want on some very basic level! Freedom from suffering is a classic - it’s possible, but only by recognizing that there is no individual who suffers (there’s just impersonal pain). But truth doesn’t sell!
awakening involves recognizing that you can’t get what you want on some very basic level

Could you elaborate on this point please?
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 2064 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
There's a few ways you could look at it.

- Wanting is the raison d'etre of the self, whereas awakening is realization of not-self. 

- Nibbana is abscence of craving, so it can't be a state you want to be in.

- Awakening is recognizing what has always been right here. You don't get what you thought you wanted, you lose the desire for it (actually you realize it's impossible).

People generally get attracted to spirituality because they want to get something out of it for themselves. The "cosmic joke" is that they get it only by realizing there is no one to have it:

- freedom from suffering is realizing that there is no individual who suffers (shargrol puts it more tactfully - personal dukkha is personalized dukkha)

- enlightenment is realizing that there is no one to become enlightened (not just clever words, realize it for real)

- continuous happiness means being happy with whatever arises ... good, bad or indifferent 

- meaning of life is recognizing that everything is equally meaningful/meaningless without a personal perspective

- psychological health comes from realizing the depth of your neuroses

- union with god happens by realizing there is no individual self to be joined with anything ("everything is god", there never was any separation) 

​​​​​​​I could go on at the risk of annoying more people! Someone linked to a video of Daniel recently where he recommends writing down a list of all your ideals about awakening so you can grieve them in advance, which is a tactful way of putting it.

It's not all doom and gloom - awakening is absolutely amazing. But if you spend too much time telling people that then they will focus on what they think they will personally gain from it, rather than what they will lose (the personal perspective on life) ... which prevents it from happening. But teachers who tout the benefits are naturally far more popular than those who disclose the costs. If someone is paying for a teaching then by definition they think they are receiving something of personal value, whereas awakening has no personal value (which is to say, it's priceless!)  Of course, teachers might be providing all sorts of other services which are perceived as having personal value, but I think it's disingenuous when they conflate that with awakening. At the funeral of Zen master Sogaku Harada there was a piece of calligraphy displayed that he had written several years earlier:
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For forty years I've been selling water
By the bank of a river.
Ho, ho!
My labors have been wholly without merit.
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 5922 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
I think those assumptions are most emphasized in the Pali canon and thus Theravadan Buddhism, whereas later "turnings of the wheel" have shifted the emphasis. Soulmaking is not entirely Burbea's invention, for instance. There are Tibetan practices that use similar wordings. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche teaches soul retrieving. I'm no Buddhist scholar, though, so I may have misunderstood something. 
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Eelco ten Have, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 81 Join Date: 7/20/13 Recent Posts
Thank you for sharing these quotes.
Although I have been a lazy searcher for "something" most of my life. My quest for mystery, wonder, awe, sacredness, and devotion in retrospect do seem to have come from a place of wanting something else than "this" which I could label now as wanting to end "this" suffering.
Trying to attain Jhana's (my recently renewed practice) is definitely geared to find some form of refuge inside rather than outside. fueled by an inherent unsatisfactoriness about life as it unfolds.

I have a wife, kids, a steady job, etc. No reason to be unhappy, still a lingering feeling or knowing there is a place out there that doesn't appear to be as empty as most of the day-to-day experiences seem to be motivating me. Which could also be labeled as a wish to end suffering.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

Posts: 2064 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
My experience, for what it's worth:- freedom from suffering (dissatisfaction with life) comes from seeing and accepting "this" (life) for what it is, not finding a better 'place out there'. Jhana is a good temporary refuge from which to see life for what it is, but the real mystery, wonder, awe and sacredness are in the day-to-day experiences of this life itself. I couldn't see that until I gave up craving for a better life elsewhere (which came about from realizing, through consistent practice, that it is the direct cause of suffering, because it is impossible). This is basically what the old texts say (no more future lives), although it's not typically what we want to hear.
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Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

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When I hit my 1st A&P, and then DN, suddenly I had this super strong intuitive understanding that my life had been a "LIE" and that I was and had been super miserable. That misery, that deep fundamental dissafisfaction, I understood intuitively, was somehow "my own creation". At that point I was so pumped-up to get this thing done (whatever done meant - I had no clue at that point), to the extent where I did what I had to do and went through what I had to go through, not because it was a choice, but because there was absolutely no frikkin way I was going back to that "LIE". At that stage I wasn't really into buddhism, but more into advaita/neo-non-duality/hindu tantra stuff.

"the end of suffering" as a phrase seems to capture that feeling, that source of motivation pretty good for me. Only caveat is "suffering" as a word is a bit weird - MCTB has a good take on why that word is weird emoticon

 
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Ni Nurta, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Questioning "ending suffering" as a primary motivation for our practice

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When I hit my 1st A&P, and then DN, suddenly I had this super strong intuitive understanding that my life had been a "LIE" and that I was and had been super miserable.

Do not get so excited by this idea or you will overheat your circuits, man.
When you subscribe to experience like this you are supposed to enjoy it doing things which this stuff enables you to do. Like I do not know, walk around and shout or whatever that you always wanted to do but could not due to peculiar living conditions you found yourself in. Though I must admit "solving big mystery of reality" is one of the somewhat popular builds ;)

In either way make sure you keep your neurons active for short amounts of time at once and give them enough rest by switch'em often and all will be nice and dandy. This rule is true in any reality.

Besides life was as miserable as you remember it and memory is what it is and not what it was. Meaning if it didn't feel miserable at the time then it wasn't. You might think it was because some parameters changed and you cannot reconstruct memory correctly causing you to cause suffering instead of visualizing it correctly. It always is visualization/re-living and this requires flexibility in setting parameters to how they were. When you start changing stuff without knowing what and how you did it then it will screw up your mind. To remember correctly you need to learn how to setup your mind to match parameter of the past and if you want not only to remember but also analyze it from new perspectives you need to learn to do more advanced mind setups. Training have different mind states in separate parts of the mind and having good connection between them is required for that. I won't lie, it requires a lot of practice. And by practice I do not mean meditation like what you think meditation is but doing exactly what you want desired outcome to be and failing miserably, then improving and having some successes, etc. just like how you learned walking. Good workout for that is visualizing different jhanas in different part of the body but I won't lie, it can screw up your circuitry even more emoticon

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