You are (probably) not suffering.

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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
DISCLAIMER: I edited the subject of this post to include the "probably", because I do not know any of you personally, and so, for all I know, some of you may actually be suffering even in a stricter, more precise sense of the word. The intention of this post is not to dismiss anyone's experience, including their very real pain and hardship. I understand there's not a person reading this who is not carrying a heavy personal burden at the moment. The point I'm trying to make is that calling every act of identification "suffering" or calling anything unpleasant in experience "suffering" is not helpful for practice or for one's psychological health. It's also probably useful from a social justice perspective not to label everything unpleasant with the word "suffering", since the mind could easily and automatically interpret that to mean that there's injustice in my minor difficult experience when in fact it's just very annoying. In any event, I do not mean to hurt anyone's feelings with the post. I'm just some guy on the internet, so don't suffer needlessly because of me. :-)

I would like to start a campaign - which will be entirely unsuccessful - to stop people from translating dukkha as "suffering". It's an excessively melodramatic, gloomy translation of the word. It's also inadequate. Here to tell you why is John Peacock. This is from his lecture "Buddhism Before the Theravada":

John Peacock:
The prefix “du” (as in du-kkha) means dirty, unpleasant, painful. “Kha” means space. Dukkha is a dirty space, an unpleasant space to be in. It referred to the hole to which an axle fitted in a wheel. It's a hole filled with dirt, grease, and grit, and it went round and round. It also meant a wound inflicted by an arrow. There's a sense of lack as well.

“Suffering” does not do dukkha justice. Suffering is a very, very inadequate translation. It means anything unpleasant or qualified by lack in your life.

Dukkha is what you’re experiencing right now. Anything you find you want to have changed at this moment in time as you sit there. “I wish the chairs were more comfortable.” “I wish it were sunnier and cooler.” Not something happening in the future. It’s happening right now. Fundamental aspect of human experience.

[...]

Dukkha is like slowly rubbing your arm against a brick wall. It’s not stabbing pain. It gets more and more painful as we do it.

[...]

Dukkha is like the bridge between them [anicca and anatta]. We don’t perceive things as anicca or as anatta, [so] we perceive them as dukkha.


And you should listen to John Peacock, because he is a Grand Mucky Muck.

Dukkha should bring to mind disappointment, irritation, annoyance, uneasiness, unsatisfactoriness - not just complete human misery. Because that trivializes real human misery while it allows you to solidify a situation that is annoying and blow it up into a cosmic travesty. Going with the image of the axle wheel, I imagine trying for a destination in a cart where the axle is not perfectly fitted to the wheel, so the ride is bumpy and unpleasant, and the vehicle is prone to breaking down and needing repair, thus (permanently?) delaying arrival.

The connection with anicca and anatta is instructive. One of the main ways we invite dukkha into our lives is by trying to build our lives on a secure foundation which in fact cannot support the weight of a good life.

For example, a person decides his life will be fulfilled, if only he gets a job that pays such and such, and only if he has an apartment in the city. There's the obvious dukkha involved in going after those things and not attaining them. But there's also dukkha when he finally gets them and realizes that they cannot provide the satisfaction he thought they could provide.

Then he decides to build his happiness on love. "If I marry my true love, I will be happy." But then he finds out that love isn't all there is, either. In these cases, dukkha arises, not from not getting what we want, but instead from getting it and finding out it can't deliver the goods. It can't support the weight of the good life. But what can?

Of course, it was the Buddha's view - and it was the view of many holy men in his time and throughout the ages - that things like love and money shouldn't be pursued at all if you want to be happy. You should only pursue that which is outside of time and hence beyond all cause and effect. In Buddhism, this unconditioned is called Nibbana. It signifies the blowing out of greed, aversion, and delusion, but really it signifies the blowing out of all attachment to things that are conditioned, the way the element of fire was said to disperse back into the air once it was detached from the wood. So, like it or not, Buddhism - at least sutric Buddhism - is about renouncing all conditioned things - especially sex, drinking, and money - and extinguishing all craving, not merely attentuating it or observing it as not-self. The sutric ideal is the renunciate, the monk.

We're free to take that or leave that. But that does seem to be the message. Dukkha is supported by the failure to realize that happiness cannot be staked on anything conditioned (i.e., anything that exists/is in time), because all those foundations are wobbly and outside our control. So the only solution is to get off the ride, i.e., detach from worldly things and stake a claim solely in the timeless.

And this dimension of it is likely to be lost if we think of dukkha as "suffering" and the goal of sutric Buddhism as "the end of suffering". Because the Buddha was actually saying something far more radical than that. If the goal is merely to get rid of suffering, then we don't need the Buddha. Modern technology and democracy can accomplish that. The goal is in fact a great deal higher: to achieve absolute freedom and happiness. There are many ways you could alleviate or get rid of suffering. But if your goal is to uproot all the uneasiness of existence and to stake a claim in the unconditioned, it seems there are relatively few ways to do that. You really must extinguish your desire (the word in Pali is "taṇhā") for this world. At least according to this and other ancient traditions, that's the only way it can be done.

"Yeah? So?"

So, why are you really doing whatever practice it is you're doing? The Buddha's term "dukkha" seems vague, but he had something pretty definite in mind when he said it, and it's probably not what you have in mind when you use the term "suffering". "Reducing suffering" is an answer that isn't an answer. Or it's a reply that avoids an answer, which avoids the real reasons we're doing this. It's a blanket term that keeps us from looking at ourselves, that deflects attention from the true motivations for doing this, the real, underlying pain or set of problems we secretly hope will go away with enough hours clocked on the cushion. Let's stop using it. Let's start using simpler, more specific terms to talk about what we're trying to do and what this practice really accomplishes.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

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You're conflating a known translation issue with your belief that "you're not suffering." Meditation is certainly relevant to both dukkha and suffering.

Seriously, you think technology and western democracy have cured suffering? Do you know any, um, people? Seen a newspaper lately? Come on!
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

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Jason B:
You're conflating a known translation issue with your belief that "you're not suffering." Meditation is certainly relevant to both dukkha and suffering.

Seriously, you think technology and western democracy have cured suffering? Do you know any, um, people? Seen a newspaper lately? Come on!


Yes, contrary to rumors, I am a person and know people. :-)

You seem personally offended that I would say any of these things. Do you think I'm diminishing or am trying to diminish your experience of your life and the world? That's not my intention. So if you feel hurt by what I've said, I apologize.

What I'm trying to get across - imperfectly, in the medium of text - is that using this word (with all its connotations) to describe our experience probably does harm to our own experience by making these things seem much worse than they are. I don't see it as conflation. I see it as making distinctions and keeping things in perspective.

And if you're really concerned about injustice in the world - I take it that's what you're alluding to - then it seems like it would be helpful to be specific about what we mean by "suffering" and not use it to describe every little thing in our lives we don't like. Clearly there is real suffering in the world that needs to be pointed out, addressed, and fixed. I just don't think me being pissed off about traffic is at the top of the list. :-)
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Fitter Stoke:
You seem personally offended that I would say any of these things. Do you think I'm diminishing or am trying to diminish your experience of your life and the world? That's not my intention. So if you feel hurt by what I've said, I apologize.


I didn't take it personally at all. No need to apologize. But it's confounding. On the one hand you're very exacting about the definition of dukkha, but so dismissive and inaccurate about experiences common to so many people.

I do work with people who are suffering in various ways, and many of my friends and family do too. Someone can have the most privileged lifestyle and live with crippling pain every day for decades. Just one common example. You wouldn't notice unless you knew them well. It's a strange argument to have to defend: people of all walks of life often endure suffering. You could even say, a certain generous helping is inevitable if you don't deal with your dukkha.

I'm not referring to injustice, especially. My hair is not on fire. I am not upon my high horse. Just as you felt a need to be precise about this point of dukkha - as far as I can see no one disagrees - I feel a need to point out the obvious. A thankless job. Woe is me!
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Jason B:
Fitter Stoke:
You seem personally offended that I would say any of these things. Do you think I'm diminishing or am trying to diminish your experience of your life and the world? That's not my intention. So if you feel hurt by what I've said, I apologize.


I didn't take it personally at all. No need to apologize. But it's confounding. On the one hand you're very exacting about the definition of dukkha, but so dismissive and inaccurate about experiences common to so many people.


What makes you think I'm dismissive or inaccurate about experiences common to people? Maybe you think I'm insincere when I say that I believe everyone I meet is carrying a heavy, personal burden, or that I myself deal with sorrow and the prospect of death on a daily basis? I don't know how to answer that objection - should I have to?

As for the "inaccurate" part - tell me what you mean by "suffering" exactly. Maybe you and I agree, but we're just disagreeing on the use of the word. I would still argue that the word carries a certain connotation that is unhelpful. (See my reply to Ona for more - I'm fleshing out my opinion of this with each reply.)

I do work with people who are suffering in various ways, and many of my friends and family do too. Someone can have the most privileged lifestyle and live with crippling pain every day for decades. Just one common example. You wouldn't notice unless you knew them well. It's a strange argument to have to defend: people of all walks of life often endure suffering. You could even say, a certain generous helping is inevitable if you don't deal with your dukkha.

I'm not referring to injustice, especially. My hair is not on fire. I am not upon my high horse. Just as you felt a need to be precise about this point of dukkha - as far as I can see no one disagrees - I feel a need to point out the obvious. A thankless job. Woe is me!


Saying it's obvious begs the question of everything I'm saying. If you assume it's obvious, then "obviously" I'm an insensitive fool who should be dismissed. :-)

But why is it so obvious? Think about every other "stupid" thing in your life that you dismiss, which is "obviously" wrong. Explain to me why suffering is so obviously a part of life - not just a part of life, but part of every little thing that arises, to the point where I should treat it as a universal "characteristic" of things. From my point of view, that's "obviously" melodramatic, but I'm willing to hear your side of things if you'll explain it to me.

Why can't we use one of the proposed alternatives, like "annoying" or "uneasy" or "unsatisfactory"?
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Fitter Stoke:
What makes you think I'm dismissive or inaccurate about experiences common to people? Maybe you think I'm insincere when I say that I believe everyone I meet is carrying a heavy, personal burden, or that I myself deal with sorrow and the prospect of death on a daily basis? I don't know how to answer that objection - should I have to?


I think I was referring to the original thread title: "you are not suffering," and to comments you made in the attainments thread that spawned this conversation to the effect that if you're not dying of starvation or malaria, you're not suffering.

Fitter:
As for the "inaccurate" part - tell me what you mean by "suffering" exactly. Maybe you and I agree, but we're just disagreeing on the use of the word. I would still argue that the word carries a certain connotation that is unhelpful


It's inaccurate to say that suffering does not occur under conditions of material privilege. There is a famous story of the Buddha setting out from his princely throne because he discovered this fact.

I don't have a special definition of suffering. The online dictionary gives: 1. Experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant). 2. Be affected by or subject to (an illness or ailment). I would say that's obvious. As far as connotations - and I do hate to be melodramatic here, but...- I think of common experiences like chronic pain, domestic violence, rape and incest, addiction, mental illness including depression, panic disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, etc, etc... How about car accidents, dementia, PTSD and suicide among veterans, broken homes, betrayal, abandonment... Growing old, anyone? Spend some time in a nursing home. Everyone suffers. And then there is - forgive me, this is maudlin yet true - the fact that we do all lose everyone we love. Sorry. Suffering happens.

As you said in the other thread, all these states of suffering can be broken down and seen as creations of the mind. But that makes a tautology of your argument. There is no suffering, because suffering is a delusion. Yet people still experience it. It is a norm, not an exception.

Jason B:
I do work with people who are suffering in various ways, and many of my friends and family do too. Someone can have the most privileged lifestyle and live with crippling pain every day for decades. Just one common example. You wouldn't notice unless you knew them well. It's a strange argument to have to defend: people of all walks of life often endure suffering. You could even say, a certain generous helping is inevitable if you don't deal with your dukkha.

I'm not referring to injustice, especially. My hair is not on fire. I am not upon my high horse. Just as you felt a need to be precise about this point of dukkha - as far as I can see no one disagrees - I feel a need to point out the obvious. A thankless job. Woe is me!


Saying it's obvious begs the question of everything I'm saying. If you assume it's obvious, then "obviously" I'm an insensitive fool who should be dismissed. :-)


I don't think you're a fool, and I seem to be spending a lot of time not dismissing you. I do feel there is an element here of stinking enlightenment. You've risen above suffering, so why is everyone complaining?

Fitter:
But why is it so obvious? Think about every other "stupid" thing in your life that you dismiss, which is "obviously" wrong. Explain to me why suffering is so obviously a part of life - not just a part of life, but part of every little thing that arises, to the point where I should treat it as a universal "characteristic" of things. From my point of view, that's "obviously" melodramatic, but I'm willing to hear your side of things if you'll explain it to me.


I agree with you that dukkha, which is - at least according to the buddha and his gang of buddhists - a universal charcteristic, is not like suffering as I'm describing it. I support you in making that distinction, which I think I did in the beginning. But that does not mean that suffering is not widespread or inevitable.

I say it's obvious because I know a lot of people who suffer tremendously. (I don't think this is a special selection of folks. Most of them are straight, middle-class, and white.) I look at history. I look at the world. Look at art, or literature. Look at people's practice threads - and those are the lucky people who have dharma to help them.

I also agree that the world is improving in general. But that's a non sequitur.

I stand by my statement that the prevalence of suffering is obvious.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

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From the "attainments" thread:

Fitter :
But my life was good before! :-) I'm a white straight dude. It's like playing the game on 'easy'.


"Sorry I'm being so negative..."
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Stretching the limits of my scholarship, I found this on wikipedia:

"Within the Buddhist tradition, dukkha is commonly explained according to three different patterns or categories. In the first category, dukkha includes the obvious physical suffering or pain associated with giving birth, growing old, physical illness and the process of dying. These outer discomforts are referred to as the dukkha of ordinary suffering (dukkha-dukkha). In a second category, dukkha also includes the anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing; these inner anxieties are called the dukkha produced by change (vipariṇāma-dukkha). The third pattern or category of dukkha refers to a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of life because all forms of life are impermanent and constantly changing. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards. This subtle dissatisfaction is referred to as the dukkha of conditioned states (saṃkhāra-dukkha)."

Clears some things up, no?
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Jason B:
Stretching the limits of my scholarship, I found this on wikipedia:

"Within the Buddhist tradition, dukkha is commonly explained according to three different patterns or categories. In the first category, dukkha includes the obvious physical suffering or pain associated with giving birth, growing old, physical illness and the process of dying. These outer discomforts are referred to as the dukkha of ordinary suffering (dukkha-dukkha). In a second category, dukkha also includes the anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing; these inner anxieties are called the dukkha produced by change (vipariṇāma-dukkha). The third pattern or category of dukkha refers to a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of life because all forms of life are impermanent and constantly changing. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards. This subtle dissatisfaction is referred to as the dukkha of conditioned states (saṃkhāra-dukkha)."

Clears some things up, no?


What does it clear up for you? I never denied suffering was part of dukkha. The argument of the OP was that "suffering" is not an adequate translation of "dukkha". It's not reducible to suffering. You could experience a lot of dukkha but relatively little if any suffering.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Fitter Stoke:
Jason B:
Stretching the limits of my scholarship, I found this on wikipedia:

"Within the Buddhist tradition, dukkha is commonly explained according to three different patterns or categories. In the first category, dukkha includes the obvious physical suffering or pain associated with giving birth, growing old, physical illness and the process of dying. These outer discomforts are referred to as the dukkha of ordinary suffering (dukkha-dukkha). In a second category, dukkha also includes the anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing; these inner anxieties are called the dukkha produced by change (vipariṇāma-dukkha). The third pattern or category of dukkha refers to a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of life because all forms of life are impermanent and constantly changing. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards. This subtle dissatisfaction is referred to as the dukkha of conditioned states (saṃkhāra-dukkha)."

Clears some things up, no?


What does it clear up for you? I never denied suffering was part of dukkha. The argument of the OP was that "suffering" is not an adequate translation of "dukkha". It's not reducible to suffering. You could experience a lot of dukkha but relatively little if any suffering.


It clears up the different ways of using the term, and gives some specificity. Please note, I haven't taken issue with your definition of dukkha.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Jason:
It's inaccurate to say that suffering does not occur under conditions of material privilege. There is a famous story of the Buddha setting out from his princely throne because he discovered this fact.


First of all, the Buddha discovers dukkha, not just "suffering". Assuming dukkha = suffering begs the question of our discussion.

Secondly, in the story, the Buddha has to go outside the castle to learn about old age, sickness, and death. Material privilege does provide shelter from at least some forms of dukkha. If it didn’t, there would be no significance to him abandoning the life of a householder and becoming a mendicant.

Jason:
I don't have a special definition of suffering. The online dictionary gives: 1. Experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant). 2. Be affected by or subject to (an illness or ailment). I would say that's obvious. As far as connotations - and I do hate to be melodramatic here, but...- I think of common experiences like chronic pain, domestic violence, rape and incest, addiction, mental illness including depression, panic disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, etc, etc... How about car accidents, dementia, PTSD and suicide among veterans, broken homes, betrayal, abandonment... Growing old, anyone? Spend some time in a nursing home. Everyone suffers. And then there is - forgive me, this is maudlin yet true - the fact that we do all lose everyone we love. Sorry. Suffering happens.


Okay. If we’re going to use the word “suffering” to mean anything bad you’re forced to experience – whether it be suffering a splinter, suffering a heart attack, having one’s work suffer because of sleepiness, or suffering from malaria - then I agree, suffering is a part of everyone’s life almost all the time.

Usually, however, "suffering" carries the connotation of something harmful. It's often used where the pain is extreme, not just unpleasant or uncomfortable. It's relatively rare that I encounter someone who is in extreme pain or who is undergoing something that is harming them. And I certainly wouldn't put "reducing suffering" at the top of my list of things meditation has helped with. Modern medicine and coming from a background of relative privilege have probably helped more with that than meditation. :-)

So, no need to apologize. On the contrary, defining terms and explaining yourself tends to make these discussions easier rather than just saying over and over that something is “obvious”. :-)
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Fitter Stoke:
Jason:
It's inaccurate to say that suffering does not occur under conditions of material privilege. There is a famous story of the Buddha setting out from his princely throne because he discovered this fact.


First of all, the Buddha discovers dukkha, not just "suffering". Assuming dukkha = suffering begs the question of our discussion.

Secondly, in the story, the Buddha has to go outside the castle to learn about old age, sickness, and death. Material privilege does provide shelter from at least some forms of dukkha. If it didn’t, there would be no significance to him abandoning the life of a householder and becoming a mendicant.


Material privilege does not provide shelter from old age, sickness, nor death.

Fitter:
Okay. If we’re going to use the word “suffering” to mean anything bad you’re forced to experience – whether it be suffering a splinter, suffering a heart attack, having one’s work suffer because of sleepiness, or suffering from malaria - then I agree, suffering is a part of everyone’s life almost all the time.


I never said it was part of anyone's experience all the time. It is part of almost everyone's experience. I gave a lot of non-trivial and common examples. I'm afraid we're devolving into argument and leaving discussion behind.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

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As you said in the other thread, all these states of suffering can be broken down and seen as creations of the mind. But that makes a tautology of your argument. There is no suffering, because suffering is a delusion. Yet people still experience it. It is a norm, not an exception.


Dude, I never said that. Here's what I actually said:

Fitter Stoke:
But if we're going to be really honest with ourselves: how much of that - what percent of it - is really "suffering", and how much of it is just incredibly annoying? I'm talking about on a basic sensate level [...] But the vast majority of things in my life, in my experience on a moment-to-moment basis, don't even come close to being bad let alone being something anyone would call "suffering".


As you can see, I grant that there's suffering - even suffering in my own experience - but it's a small part of what my overall experience is like. A lot of what I might call "suffering" isn't, but some of it might be. I'm not defining anything away.

Jason:
I don't think you're a fool, and I seem to be spending a lot of time not dismissing you. I do feel there is an element here of stinking enlightenment. You've risen above suffering, so why is everyone complaining?


And that’s hyperbole, and a very uncharitable reading of what I’m trying to say. C'mon.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
I stand by my statement that the prevalence of suffering is obvious.


Well, I feel like I understand your position better now that you've graced me with some explanations. There's value in acknowledging how difficult some of the experiences you listed are - though I would have thought it was clear from my previous comments that I already acknowledge how painful many of those same experiences (and more) are.

I still wonder how useful it is to use the word "suffering" in such a general way (see my reply to Ona for specifics), and I still strongly suspect that you use the word for things that probably fall short of the actual criteria.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Fitter Stoke:
Well, I feel like I understand your position better now that you've graced me with some explanations.


You are welcome.

There's value in acknowledging how difficult some of the experiences you listed are - though I would have thought it was clear from my previous comments that I already acknowledge how painful many of those same experiences (and more) are.


You acknowledged them after denying them, and then asked me questions about my comments prior to your revisions. That accounts for some confusion.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Jason B:
Fitter Stoke:
Well, I feel like I understand your position better now that you've graced me with some explanations.


You are welcome.

There's value in acknowledging how difficult some of the experiences you listed are - though I would have thought it was clear from my previous comments that I already acknowledge how painful many of those same experiences (and more) are.


You acknowledged them after denying them, and then asked me questions about my comments prior to your revisions. That accounts for some confusion.


No, I didn't deny any of those experiences. What I denied was that it was useful to call them "suffering". Here it is again, from my very first response to you:

Fitter Stoke:
I would bet you're carrying a heavy personal weight right at this moment. I tend to assume that of everyone I interact with, because it's usually true. We're all struggling. Each of us has things in our lives that are radically not the way we want them to be. [...] When I reflect upon things, I'm in a lot of physical pain right now. I know someone who's slowly dying of cancer - it's heartbreaking to watch. I have a train of emotional baggage extending back over the horizon. I have serious doubts about my ability to do anything worthwhile with my life. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of things in my experience or that could enter my experience that will cause me (extreme) emotional distress.

But the vast majority of things in my life, in my experience on a moment-to-moment basis, don't even come close to being bad let alone being something anyone would call "suffering". And yeah, here it does make sense to think about how bad things really could be - like if I lived 200 years ago, or if I lived a century ago, or if I were just unlucky enough to be born today in Somalia, where there isn't even a government, or Botswana, where health and wealth are equal to what they were in Britain in 1800.


All I was attempting to do was to put things in perspective. It surprises me you still haven't considered that possibility and still insist I meant something I clearly didn't.

Material privilege does not provide shelter from old age, sickness, nor death.


And yet the Buddha did have to leave the household to learn about those things, and many other forms of dukkha.

The point isn't that you can achieve immortality by living in a castle. The point is that you misinterpreted the message of the Buddha's story.

I never said it was part of anyone's experience all the time. It is part of almost everyone's experience. I gave a lot of non-trivial and common examples. I'm afraid we're devolving into argument and leaving discussion behind.


Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. I was merely trying to understand your position based upon a definition you yourself provided. I guess one or both of us is still failing to get their idea across clearly.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
It seems to me, upon skimming thorough this exchange, that I made the mistake of thinking you were using the word "suffering" in a sense far more general than the way you were actually using it, despite your use of examples. But you've made the mistake of thinking that I deny people's experiences, despite my use of examples.

It still seems to me that the disagreement hinges on what the word "suffering" means. I agree that it's probably over-the-top to say you're not suffering unless you're drinking pee. However, there still seems to me to be something shrill about the way the word gets thrown around in Buddhist circles, to the point where I might conceivably suffer if I don't get the right number of pumps in my latte (no one actually said this, it's just a silly example).

Again, I would urge perspective and careful examination of one's experience to make sure one isn't blowing some things out of proportion. And instead of saying "meditation reduces suffering", it's probably better to be more specific so as to give ourselves and each other a clearer idea of what we're really accomplishing with all this.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Agreed.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Nice post, Fitter.
Fitter Stoke:
I would like to start a campaign - which will be entirely unsuccessful - to stop people from translating dukkha as "suffering". It's an excessively melodramatic, gloomy translation of the word. It's also inadequate.

No need to start a campaign. . . rather, insist that people fully understand the first noble truth: that this life we live – in a universe of finite existence – is dukkha! This is a more monumental task than it first appears, because people, in general, do not wish to view their own existence in such grandiose and negative terms. So the number of people to whom this might appeal becomes limited at the very start. This is why we don't read about accounts of hoards of householders (either in ancient times or contemporary times) flocking to become monks and nuns, or to study and practice the Dhamma.

Also, I like John Peacock's breakdown of the definition of dukkha, too. "Unpleasant space."

Fitter Stoke:

Here to tell you why is John Peacock. This is from his lecture "Buddhism Before the Theravada":

John Peacock:
The prefix “du” (as in du-kkha) means dirty, unpleasant, painful. “Kha” means space. Dukkha is a dirty space, an unpleasant space to be in. It referred to the hole to which an axle fitted in a wheel. It's a hole filled with dirt, grease, and grit, and it went round and round. It also meant a wound inflicted by an arrow. There's a sense of lack as well.

“Suffering” does not do dukkha justice. Suffering is a very, very inadequate translation. It means anything unpleasant or qualified by lack in your life.

Dukkha is what you’re experiencing right now. Anything you find you want to have changed at this moment in time as you sit there. “I wish the chairs were more comfortable.” “I wish it were sunnier and cooler.” Not something happening in the future. It’s happening right now. Fundamental aspect of human experience.

I long ago stopped solely referring to dukkha as only "suffering." Suffering, it is true, is part of dukkha. But as you have pointed out, there is much more to this than just suffering (be it physical or mental suffering or unpleasantness). I've taken to the terms "unsatisfactory" or "dissatisfying" or "unsatisfactoriness" or "dissatisfaction," which, in one word, at least begins to point toward the definition that Gotama had in mind when he used the word dukkha.

Fitter Stoke:

And you should listen to John Peacock, because he is a Grand Mucky Muck.

I think I know what you mean, but I don't think you really meant what you said.

Listen to John, not because he is "a Grand Mucky Muck," but rather because he reflects the original intentions expressed in Gotama's proclamation of his Dhamma.

Even Gotama didn't view himself as a high "mucky muck." Although those around him seemed to want to apply those attributes to him, which he rejected at every opportunity (if we can rely on the discourses as evidence).

Some quotes I thought were particularly relevant.
Fitter Stoke:

Dukkha should bring to mind disappointment, irritation, annoyance, uneasiness, unsatisfactoriness - not just complete human misery. Because that trivializes real human misery while it allows you to solidify a situation that is annoying and blow it up into a cosmic travesty.

The connection with anicca and anatta is instructive. One of the main ways we invite dukkha into our lives is by trying to build our lives on a secure foundation which in fact cannot support the weight of a good life.

Of course, it was the Buddha's view - and it was the view of many holy men in his time and throughout the ages - that things like love and money shouldn't be pursued at all if you want to be happy.

You should only pursue that which is outside of time and hence beyond all cause and effect. In Buddhism, this unconditioned is called Nibbana. It signifies the blowing out of greed, aversion, and delusion, but really it signifies the blowing out of all attachment to things that are conditioned, the way the element of fire was said to disperse back into the air once it was detached from the wood.

So, like it or not, Buddhism - at least sutric Buddhism - is about renouncing all conditioned things - especially sex, drinking, and money - and extinguishing all craving, not merely attentuating it or observing it as not-self. The sutric ideal is the renunciate, the monk.

We're free to take that or leave that. But that does seem to be the message.

Dukkha is supported by the failure to realize that happiness cannot be staked on anything conditioned (i.e., anything that exists/is in time), because all those foundations are wobbly and outside our control. So the only solution is to get off the ride, i.e., detach from worldly things and stake a claim solely in the timeless. [Or the Deathless]

And this dimension of it is likely to be lost if we think of dukkha as "suffering" and the goal of sutric Buddhism as "the end of suffering". Because the Buddha was actually saying something far more radical than that.

But if your goal is to uproot all the uneasiness of existence and to stake a claim in the unconditioned, it seems there are relatively few ways to do that. You really must extinguish your desire (the word in Pali is "taṇhā") for this world. At least according to this and other ancient traditions, that's the only way it can be done.

"Yeah? So?"

So, why are you really doing whatever practice it is you're doing? The Buddha's term "dukkha" seems vague, but he had something pretty definite in mind when he said it, and it's probably not what you have in mind when you use the term "suffering". "Reducing suffering" is an answer that isn't an answer. Or it's a reply that avoids an answer, which avoids the real reasons we're doing this. It's a blanket term that keeps us from looking at ourselves, that deflects attention from the true motivations for doing this, the real, underlying pain or set of problems we secretly hope will go away with enough hours clocked on the cushion.

Let's stop using it. Let's start using simpler, more specific terms to talk about what we're trying to do and what this practice really accomplishes.

And keeping with one of the last points made ("that keeps us from looking at ourselves"), the Dhamma wasn't designed or intended to be used as a "spot therapy" to assist someone alleviate a momentary experience of unpleasantness or anxiety like what psychotherapy claims to do. If a person needs that kind of assistance beforehand, they need to get their psychological field straightened out prior to undertaking the practice, as a poor psychological field may compromise the attainment of "right view" in practice.

So too, getting "stream entry" is not meant as a cure-all for one's personal psychological ills. In addition, one might do well to be wary of whose definition of "stream entry" they are accepting. And the methods being espoused for gaining it. Stream entry has more to do with one's personal overall intentions and realization of the Path that Gotama declared (the noble eightfold path) than it does with any given definition or praxis.

Of course, the drawback to that view is: there's no appeasing the ignorant, who, in their rugged determination, still proceed in seeking that which cannot be had by following such a course in belief that a path fruition will end their troubles.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Ian:
Nice post, Fitter.


Thanks, Ian! I was hoping you'd respond. When I wrote my post, I was thinking of the ideal you've set, and to some extent things that Nikolai has said as well.

Ian:
This is a more monumental task than it first appears, because people, in general, do not wish to view their own existence in such grandiose and negative terms.


Is it grandiose? I feel like calling it "suffering" is grandiose. Using words like "uneasiness" or "wobbliness" or "annoyance" seem to do more justice to what I feel like the Buddha intended. There is no satisfactory life to be lived when one stakes one's claim on the changing. The only way that would work is if one could control the foundation and protect against caprice (anicca). But you can't, and that's the practical meaning of anatta. Because if we could, we would.

Modern technology and democracy offer a challenge to this. (Not to say, as Jason suggested I said, that technology and democracy eliminate suffering.) The claim to the universality of the three characteristics is strong in Iron Age India. It seems very much up-in-the-air at the moment, whether we're to master nature.

Ian:
I long ago stopped solely referring to dukkha as only "suffering." Suffering, it is true, is part of dukkha. But as you have pointed out, there is much more to this than just suffering (be it physical or mental suffering or unpleasantness). I've taken to the terms "unsatisfactory" or "dissatisfying" or "unsatisfactoriness" or "dissatisfaction," which, in one word, at least begins to point toward the definition that Gotama had in mind when he used the word dukkha.


That's exactly what I had in mind.

Ian:
Listen to John, not because he is "a Grand Mucky Muck," but rather because he reflects the original intentions expressed in Gotama's proclamation of his Dhamma.


I was teasing. In their 2009 discussion, Vince referred to Daniel Ingram as a "Grand Mucky Muck".

Ian:
And keeping with one of the last points made ("that keeps us from looking at ourselves"), the Dhamma wasn't designed or intended to be used as a "spot therapy" to assist someone alleviate a momentary experience of unpleasantness or anxiety like what psychotherapy claims to do. If a person needs that kind of assistance beforehand, they need to get their psychological field straightened out prior to undertaking the practice, as a poor psychological field may compromise the attainment of "right view" in practice.


It's its own ball of wax. Sutric Buddhism seems to have included its own education in Sila as a propaedeutic to instruction in wisdom and concentration. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this was a training in renunciation. If you're to free yourself from taṇhā, a great way to do that is to live away from women and wine and the class structure of ancient Indian society. If you're trained in that context for many years, stream-entry is going to be a different experience for you than if you're Joe Blow from Hoboken doing these same practices while going to school at NYU.

Of course, renunciation doesn't sit well with post-60s America. We're used to doing what we want, when we want, and in what position we want. We jettison Buddhist sila and instead graft Western psychotherapy on to the practice, with all the promises and perils that brings. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that.

It seems like pragmatic/hardcore dharma takes the Buddha's message - which was comprehensive and radical - and translates it into a problem which is easily solved with psychotherapy or technology rather than enlightenment. I haven't thought this issue all the way through, but that's my off-the-cuff impression.

Ian:
So too, getting "stream entry" is not meant as a cure-all for one's personal psychological ills. In addition, one might do well to be wary of whose definition of "stream entry" they are accepting. And the methods being espoused for gaining it. Stream entry has more to do with one's personal overall intentions and realization of the Path that Gotama declared (the noble eightfold path) than it does with any given definition or praxis.


Yeah. This goes back to something I think D Z said in another post. This also gets into the whole thing Ajahn Sujato was on about. I don't have much of a response to that, as I don't consider myself a traditional Theravadaist.

I'm thinking less about the whole "what constitutes stream-entry" or even "what constitutes jhana" thing (which maybe I ought to think more about) than the whole "why are we doing this in the first place" thing. To some it must appear like I'm dealing purely in semantics, but it's clear from where I'm sitting that the word "suffering" conceals and reveals a lot. That's because every time you use a word with heavy connotation where you could use simpler, more specific words, you're engaged in covert identification.

There are tons of assumptions loaded into the word "suffering". It makes me wonder why people who consider themselves adept at examining first-hand experience won't unpack it.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Fitter Stoke:
(Not to say, as Jason suggested I said, that technology and democracy eliminate suffering.)


Fitter:
If the goal is merely to get rid of suffering, then we don't need the Buddha. Modern technology and democracy can accomplish that.


I didn't mean to pick a fight, or make you feel attacked personally. I thought you wanted a spirited exchange. I know you've clarified your position to some extent, so I'll let it go.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Jason B:
Fitter Stoke:
(Not to say, as Jason suggested I said, that technology and democracy eliminate suffering.)


Fitter:
If the goal is merely to get rid of suffering, then we don't need the Buddha. Modern technology and democracy can accomplish that.


I didn't mean to pick a fight, or make you feel attacked personally. I thought you wanted a spirited exchange. I know you've clarified your position to some extent, so I'll let it go.


That's a really interesting way of letting something go. :-)

But I misspoke. I would say these things have made a large dent in suffering. They've affected the human condition in positive ways: average life expectancy has increased, average wealth has increased, the odds of being killed in violent conflict have fallen, and there are far more opportunities for the "untouchables" of society than there were 200 years ago, globally.

http://youtu.be/BPt8ElTQMIg

This is not to say that suffering has been completely eliminated, just that (a) democracy and technology have made an impact greater than the Buddha himself probably could have envisioned, and (b) it's at least possible (if not feasible) that they could go further and eliminate it completely.

If you would like to not let it go and argue with me further, that's okay with me, I don't think that's unenlightened. :-)
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Fitter Stoke:

When I wrote my post, I was thinking of the ideal you've set, . . .

It isn't an ideal that I have set, but rather one set by Gotama that I happened to uncover through personal study and agree with. Like him, I am a monastic. I live a monastic way of life. Were I alive during the time of Gotama, people would label me "a recluse" in the same way they labeled him.

One of the problems I see with modern people in terms of their desire to learn and practice an ancient system of liberation such as Gotama's Dhamma is that they seem to want to refuse to consider contemplating the system as it was originally constructed. They want to insist upon adding their own innovations which were not contemplated by the originator.

Yet, beyond even that, in the interest of an instant solution to their own personal problems with confronting life, they don't want to bother studying and learning about what Gotama had to say (via a reading of the discourses, because that can't happen in an instant!), but rather have opted to follow and practice "short cuts" which others have innovated in an effort to modernize the study and practice for the contemporary modern person living in a politicized post-industrial society.

This dovetails very nicely into one of your other comments, which seems to confirm this view:
Fitter Stoke:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this was a training in renunciation. If you're to free yourself from taṇhā, a great way to do that is to live away from women and wine and the class structure of ancient Indian society. If you're trained in that context for many years, stream-entry is going to be a different experience for you than if you're Joe Blow from Hoboken doing these same practices while going to school at NYU.

Of course, renunciation doesn't sit well with post-60s America. We're used to doing what we want, when we want, and in what position we want. We jettison Buddhist sila and instead graft Western psychotherapy on to the practice, with all the promises and perils that brings. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that.

Yes, as you may already have surmised, I quite agree. Yet, also, don't you think, that part of the problem here is that there are so many other voices out in this modern wilderness that it confuses people about what it is that they are putting their time in on. The breakdown in communication of the Dhamma is something that Gotama foresaw would occur.

The modern voices teaching it from the pulpits of Tricycle magazine, Buddhadharma magazine, Shambala Sun magazine and from other venues seem to have captured the popular imagination of the interested populace and have them following something like what might be described as a "Dharma lite." The people who are following this brand of "Buddhism" seem for the most part to be ignorant that there is anything alternative to follow or be realized. And/or they certainly don't have the time to spend years of their life reading the suttas, going on retreats, contemplating the intricacies of the Dhamma, or even investigating its original historical intent.

This is not to say that there are not voices out there who are attempting to preserve the original intent of Gotama's Dhamma. Voices like Narada Thera, Nyanaponika Thera, Ven. H. Gunaratana, Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro, Ajahn Fuang Jotiko, Ajahn Sumedho, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Analayo and countless other monastics too numerous to name here.

This is not a practice that is easily followed while living the life of a householder. And yet, I know of one or two householders who have had the courage and determination to "stick it out," and who are now very accomplished in their own right. But, the practice, as it has been originally presented, was not designed with the householder in mind. It was designed for renunciates. And the vast majority of today's modern people are not of a mind to abandoned "the life of the senses" in order to find peace of mind. Of course, it also doesn't help when the contemporary media (and society in general) promotes "the life of the senses." In today's society, a person really needs to take a serious approach to finding peace of mind. A superficial approach to this will only fall short of the mark. A person really has to want it, and want it badly enough to put in the requisite time and effort to achieve it.

With regard to the "jettison[ing of] Buddhist sila and ... graft[ing] Western psychotherapy on to the practice," I don't doubt that there is that going on. However, I don't see (and I don't think your statement implies) that an education in or application of psychology and/or psychotherapy cannot be of some help, especially in the area of personal insight. I have a healthy appreciation for the works of people like Carl Jung and Harry Stack Sullivan, the latter of which I found some insightful observations which helped me early on in my study of the mind. But nothing like the insight of the five aggregates which Gotama brought to light and their connection with dependent co-arising.

Fitter Stoke:

It seems like pragmatic/hardcore dharma takes the Buddha's message - which was comprehensive and radical - and translates it into a problem which is easily solved with psychotherapy or technology rather than enlightenment.

If I'm understanding you correctly, I agree that there seems to be some people here who appear to have that view and anticipation of their practice.

Fitter Stoke:

I'm thinking less about the whole "what constitutes stream-entry" or even "what constitutes jhana" thing (which maybe I ought to think more about) than the whole "why are we doing this in the first place" thing.

Aahh. I see. A broader overall view. Yes, I agree that such an expanded view of one's practice would be beneficial.

The whole question about which path (stream entry, once returner etc.) one is at is a personal concern and should remain in the background of one's practice. Something that one refers to from time to time when attempting to self-analyze their own progress. Not something to bring out in public on a forum like this where it has the possibility of unintentionally arousing competition among fellow practitioners and hence encouraging frustration in those who feel like they can't or haven't achieved. The focus should be on understanding the Dhamma and one's own practice, and not on where they are on some imaginary totem pole of achievement. The achievements will take care of themselves if one concentrates on and practices understanding the path they should be following.

That's not to say it wouldn't be helpful to ask questions about such things as stream entry. For personal clarification purposes. But to talk about it in such an offhanded way as "I made stream entry! Woo-hoo!" Such proclamations of self aggrandizement can actually be counter-productive, even and especially within a group of serious practitioners.

Fitter Stoke:

To some it must appear like I'm dealing purely in semantics, but it's clear from where I'm sitting that the word "suffering" conceals and reveals a lot. That's because every time you use a word with heavy connotation where you could use simpler, more specific words, you're engaged in covert identification.

Yes. That's a good observation and insight into the processes of the mind.
Andy W, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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IanAnd:
This is not a practice that is easily followed while living the life of a householder. And yet, I know of one or two householders who have had the courage and determination to "stick it out," and who are now very accomplished in their own right. But, the practice, as it has been originally presented, was not designed with the householder in mind. It was designed for renunciates. And the vast majority of today's modern people are not of a mind to abandoned "the life of the senses" in order to find peace of mind.


Ian, do you think it significant that the life of a householder is a somewhat different one from the householder of 2,500 years ago? I am thinking of the fact that we live longer, don't have to spend all our waking hours in back-breaking labour, are generally healthier and have access to a vast array of teachings and dharma resources. Now obviously there are other obstacles, particularly, as you say, a culture not known for promoting renunciation. But it seems to me that the potential in the householder life might be there in a way that it wasn't previously.

I have a huge respect for monastics and will be the first to defend them against people who accuse them of being "selfish", "escapists" or "drop-outs". But I still hold out hope that one of the achievements of Western Buddhism - particularly with "hardcore" input - will be the careful crafting of an effective path to awakening that can be adopted by householders. This may necessitate some changes to what the Buddha taught, which is dangerous, but probably necessary.

Perhaps we all have multiple lifetimes to become monastics and work out our salvation. But that's an outside chance as far as I'm concerned, and so it would be preferable to discover a way to awakening for as many people as possible in this current life.
Ona Kiser, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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What Ian and Andy bring up is interesting. Monastics set themselves up to assist in non-attachment by moving to a location where eating simply, sleeping on the floor, not going to the mall, not watching movies and so on are easier. But - based on the writings of monastics in the Christian tradition at least - there is always the imagination to keep suggesting... oh how lovely to have a feast with my friends, if only a beautiful woman would appear in the door, maybe I could just hang out and chat with my brother monk about idle things, a warm bubble bath would be so lovely... Attachment is an interior process. But you get a lot of support in renunciation because everyone around you is trying to accomplish the same thing.

On the other hand, many monks in many traditions work in the world as teachers, priests, or in charitable work which puts them in constant contact with worldly pleasures, and offers them the extra opportunity to apply their practice in ways that a solitary or confined monastic life does not.

The advice to householders in the Christian tradition - in books on meditation written in past centuries, for example - acknowledges the challenges of holding to a simple, modest life in the face of party invitations, wanting to wear the latest fashions, the desire to accrue more money than is necessary, having to say no when your friends want you to go to the coliseum to watch the fights, and so on. Recommended tend to be things like fasting, dressing in simple modest clothing, avoiding gossip and idle talk, avoiding idle curiosity (which is the equivalent of surfing the internet to see what weird or cool thing is in the news), reading only spiritual books, and using mindfulness practices throughout the day while at work, in addition to ones core practice. They also tend to suggest that it's never appropriate to do practices which impede your ability to perform your responsibilities in your social station. So if you are a businessman, then you need to wear a suit and go to work. If you are a university student, you need to attend class and do your homework. And so on. Those are part of your practice, too.

Many householders have plenty of time to hang out with friends at the pub, watch movies, play video games, eat lavish meals and other unnecessary indulgences. Simplifying those things can be an effective practice of renunciation.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Ian's admonishment to read the suttas is well taken, but I always wonder at the claim of historical authenticity. From what I understand, the oldest known documents were written down about 400 years after the Buddha's death. It's possible, then, the wonders of ancient memorization techniques notwithstanding, that more modifications were made to Gotama's teaching before their writing than since.

On the other hand, we have ample first-hand evidence of the efficacy of practice as it is known by householders and internet-surfers on the forums. People have reduced their dukkha AND their suffering greatly. Is it the enlightenment the Buddha attained? I don't know. But it didn't take the DhO or Tricycle magazine to create that controversy. It's nearly as old as the Suttas themselves.

There are multiple divergent traditions, monastic and otherwise, that have sprung from the Buddha's teaching. Clearly people receive the teachings in different ways. Right or wrong, that fact is not likely to change. And if it came down to choosing guidance from a living teacher, or one in a book, I would have to favor the living. The Dalai Lama, as one credible example of many, teaches lay practice.

If renunciation is the only correct practice, that unfortunately diminishes the relevance of the teachings - for the vast majority of people - by quite a lot. I suspect there has never been one true practice or one true enlightenment. All we have to go by ultimately is our own experience, our own ability to read and understand, and our own bare attention to guide us. The question of historical authenticity strikes me as interesting, but academic. And it points out the value of the word *pragmatic* as a label (unsexy though it may be).

Nevertheless, Ian, is there a specific text and/or publication you would recommend as a starting point for a Suttic beginner?

EDIT: One more thought. Attainment claims that people have made online were the number one reason that I began to practice at all.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Jason B:
Ian's admonishment to read the suttas is well taken, but I always wonder at the claim of historical authenticity.

That's something that each individual needs to work out on his (or her) own. In my own case, I'd had training in meditation and other spiritual practices (the Latin Mass) from a highly qualified person, in addition to having spent nine years in association with a Western religious order, so I was at an advantage with regard to my ability to discern authenticity from fakery.

What I began to notice almost from the start (as I was able to read the discourses and study essays written in explanation of them) was that the Path of the Dhamma was exactly what I had been searching for my whole life. Not only did it make good intellectual sense, but also good pragmatic sense from my own first hand experience of it's practice. So, in my case at least, I've not had any trouble authenticating the Dhamma that I've been exposed to. Much of it parallels my previous spiritual training. Because of my exposure to the Dhamma, I came to better understand some of the training I had already undergone.

Jason B:

If renunciation is the only correct practice, that unfortunately diminishes the relevance of the teachings - for the vast majority of people - by quite a lot. I suspect there has never been one true practice or one true enlightenment.

Make certain you understand what the word "renunciation" means in terms of the practice. It's not only used in reference to a monastic way of life, a life of austerity and few pleasurable pursuits. Read Ona Kiser's post for a bit of a discussion of this.

One of the ideas that Gotama stressed was that renunciation implies the development of dispassion for things that cause one dukkha. If one can recognize those things in life that seem on their surface to be pleasant, yet carry the sting of dukkha underneath, the renunciation of those aspects of life will go a long way toward alleviating dukkha altogether from one's life.

Jason B:

Nevertheless, Ian, is there a specific text and/or publication you would recommend as a starting point for a Suttic beginner?

Well, if you haven't checked it out already, I posted some of my recommendations in a thread titled Essential Books from Theravadin Resources. As far as a starting point, I was first impressed by the Dhammapada. The short, pithty verses inscribed there can contain a wealth of valuable knowledge.

Yet, if you want to begin wading into the discourses themselves, I would recommend the Majjhima Nikaya (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha) first as its contents are fairly accessible to the modern reader and not overly long or repetitive. Make sure you don't overlook the footnotes as there is a wealth of valuable information covered there.

From there, either the Samyutta Nikaya (The Connected Discourses) or the Anguttara Nikaya (The Numerical Discourses) would be interesting and valuable to read. The Digha Nikaya (The Long Discourses), of course, is indispensable as it contains several important discourses, not the least of which is the first sutta the Brahmajala Sutta (The Supreme Net, What the Teaching Is Not) and later on the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (The Great Passing, The Buddha's Last Days). Of the smaller volumes, the Sutta Nipata is excellent as the suttas contained there are relatively short but carry a lot of punch. In that same vein, the Ittivuttaka and the Udana are also good, containing short pithy discourses easily digestible.
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Steph S, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Jason B:

Nevertheless, Ian, is there a specific text and/or publication you would recommend as a starting point for a Suttic beginner?.


I know this was asked of Ian, and he provided some links. I want to add - how about a sutta titled "setting the wheel of dhamma in motion" as a starting point. This is a solid one. Another cool thing about the ATI website is that related suttas are usually linked at the bottom of the page, so you can dive deeper into what the translator feels are closely linked points/ideas.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Thanks Steph and Ian. I will look into your suggestions.
Adam . ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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IMO the best resource that exists for the pali canon short of reading the whole thing would be thanissaro bhikku's "wings to awakening, an anthology from the pali canon"

http://dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/wings_complete_v111219.pdf
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

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Oh my goodness! Such a stir from one little innocent post.

I'll respond by taking these one at a time.
Andy W:
IanAnd:
This is not a practice that is easily followed while living the life of a householder. . . .But, the practice, as it has been originally presented, was not designed with the householder in mind. It was designed for renunciates. And the vast majority of today's modern people are not of a mind to abandoned "the life of the senses" in order to find peace of mind.

Ian, do you think it significant that the life of a householder is a somewhat different one from the householder of 2,500 years ago? I am thinking of the fact that we live longer, don't have to spend all our waking hours in back-breaking labour, are generally healthier and have access to a vast array of teachings and dharma resources. Now obviously there are other obstacles, particularly, as you say, a culture not known for promoting renunciation. But it seems to me that the potential in the householder life might be there in a way that it wasn't previously.

Well, of course there are differences. Some for the better, some not so much, as you've pointed out. In terms of access to the information, it's probably better today: there are books, magazines, Kindles, the Internet, all kinds of media on which the Dhamma can be found. Also, people are better educated (at least some of us are, on the whole). Yet as far as the practice itself is concerned, the very same hurdles need to be cleared, so in terms of that very important aspect, nothing has changed.

One big difference between now and 2,500 years ago is that householders in ancient India had Gotama himself to consult. He spent a great deal of time traipsing back and forth between the same set of population centers. The people, when they could get through to him, had direct access to him. If you read some of the accounts of these experiences, many counted the direct experience of meeting and conversing with him as being as being key to their development. You cannot discount that personal contact, and the charisma and effect that he had when he spoke and answered questions.

Of course, today we don't have direct access to Gotama. Yet, through those accomplished practitioners (Ajahn Chah during his lifetime and in audios and videos, Bht. Gunaratana, Thanissaro Bhikkhu and many others) we have people we can look up to and consult (if only by reading their works or watching or listening to their talks). So, in that sense, at least, there's still the availability of that personal contact with accomplished ariyas (noble persons).

Andy W:

I have a huge respect for monastics and will be the first to defend them against people who accuse them of being "selfish", "escapists" or "drop-outs". But I still hold out hope that one of the achievements of Western Buddhism - particularly with "hardcore" input - will be the careful crafting of an effective path to awakening that can be adopted by householders. This may necessitate some changes to what the Buddha taught, which is dangerous, but probably necessary.

Well, of course. We've seen some of that change come from the monastic community itself in terms of the innovations that Mahasi Sayadaw made in the way he taught householders in Burma, which has carried over to the West by Asian trained Westerners (Daniel Ingram being one of them).

My only point in mentioning that the path was originally designed for renunciates was just to point out the obvious. That it was designed to be rigorous from the beginning. And that anyone who was really serious about taking up the practice would be at an advantage to take that into consideration.

I think that the biggest advantage at present for Western Buddhism is the fact that there are now more accomplished native born Western practitioners to draw from. But not only that, the fact that the discourses themselves (the important ones at least) have now been translated into English by qualified native speaking practitioners who have been able to unpack much of the original intent (in terms of their choice of words to translate complicated terminology and so forth) such that we can now obtain a more accurate account in terms of the subtle intent found in these writings. That in itself is a huge plus. Because it helps to cut down on inauthentic versions of the Dhamma.

If you want to find out what the founder said, you can read his words for yourself, and not have to rely upon someone else's interpretation who's written a book about the teachings. That was one of my biggest pet peeves in the early days of my journey, was being able to distinguish between what was actually taught and what wasn't. There's a lot of misleading information out there that a person needs to wade through. That's primarily why, when the opportunity was presented, I jumped at the chance to find and read reputable translations of the discourses so that I could find out for myself, firsthand, what was taught.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Ian And:
Fitter Stoke:

When I wrote my post, I was thinking of the ideal you've set, . . .

It isn't an ideal that I have set, but rather one set by Gotama that I happened to uncover through personal study and agree with. Like him, I am a monastic. I live a monastic way of life. Were I alive during the time of Gotama, people would label me "a recluse" in the same way they labeled him.


Right. What I should have said was, I admire the example you set by being rigorous, even if your lifestyle is not one I'm looking to emulate.

Ian And:
One of the problems I see with modern people in terms of their desire to learn and practice an ancient system of liberation such as Gotama's Dhamma is that they seem to want to refuse to consider contemplating the system as it was originally constructed. They want to insist upon adding their own innovations which were not contemplated by the originator.


Hmm. I think a lot of people confuse dhamma with "spirituality", i.e., a system of beliefs or occasional practice that is meant to be comforting to them. "Dhamma" becomes psychotherapy, and psychotherapy becomes "spiritual". I won't say that's a total waste of time, as there are far worse things one could be doing. But it should not be confused with "Gotama's Dhamma", I agree.

But I wonder how far we should take this and how helpful it is. For example, I'm under the impression there are plenty of people who adhere to the message of the suttas, but they reject the commentaries. Or they reject later developments as "re-Hinduization" of Buddhism (that's Peacock's view). Or they think the only valid form of meditation is jhana, and vipassana is just this made-up thing - or as I was told on retreat by one of the teachers, jhana is "authoritarian", and the only meditation useful for life is vipassana.

This can be taken to even more absurd levels, where you have one branch of Theravada thinking another branch of Theravada is too deviant (like in the video I linked to in my other reply to you). I can understand where people are coming from with that. If you're going to put so much time and energy into a practice, you want to maintain high standards. But there does seem to be a point where it goes off the rails into mere sectarianism.

Ian And:
The modern voices teaching it from the pulpits of Tricycle magazine, Buddhadharma magazine, Shambala Sun magazine and from other venues seem to have captured the popular imagination of the interested populace and have them following something like what might be described as a "Dharma lite." The people who are following this brand of "Buddhism" seem for the most part to be ignorant that there is anything alternative to follow or be realized. And/or they certainly don't have the time to spend years of their life reading the suttas, going on retreats, contemplating the intricacies of the Dhamma, or even investigating its original historical intent.


My own theory is that 99% of spirituality (Buddhist and non-Buddhist) in general is just the anti-consumerist meme writ cosmic. It's 60s and 70s ethics and counterculture turned into a religious system. There's also a large dose of 80s libertarianism thrown in, with the idea that spirituality is a buffet, and what one should believe comes down to personal choice and personal style.

There's plenty to be said for anti-consumerism as well as the lessons of the late 20th century, but anyone with a strong focus on competence is going to have trouble with the automatic way these ideas are taken up. Just because some idea is part of the Zeitgeist - or because it's in the background of your racial, cultural, and socioeconomic demographic - doesn't mean you should adopt it.

Likewise, I also don't think the answer to the question is to ask, "What would the Buddha do?" For one thing, we don't know exactly what the Buddha did or even exactly what practice the Buddha was doing. Secondly, the context was totally different (Andy gets into some of this) - I'd add that the Buddha is living in an Iron Age society that probably wasn't much more advanced ethically than the Taliban is today. It's possible to be inspired by some of the things the Buddha taught and to use that constructively - perhaps with "short cuts" and innovations - without embracing the system lock, stock, and barrel. But I haven't seen a methodology for doing this that I felt wholly comfortable with. (Though I still practice and have enjoyed the fruits of practice.)

This is not a practice that is easily followed while living the life of a householder. And yet, I know of one or two householders who have had the courage and determination to "stick it out," and who are now very accomplished in their own right. But, the practice, as it has been originally presented, was not designed with the householder in mind. It was designed for renunciates. And the vast majority of today's modern people are not of a mind to abandoned "the life of the senses" in order to find peace of mind. Of course, it also doesn't help when the contemporary media (and society in general) promotes "the life of the senses." In today's society, a person really needs to take a serious approach to finding peace of mind. A superficial approach to this will only fall short of the mark. A person really has to want it, and want it badly enough to put in the requisite time and effort to achieve it.


Yeah. And that's the tension - probably the contradiction - between the fact that Theravada has pretty much taken over the West. Western society has been introduced to "meditation", but it's hardly obvious that (a) we're doing the same meditation the Buddha was doing or (b) that meditation was even the main thing the Buddha taught. The main thing the Buddha seemed to be teaching was sila. But that's the part relativistic, hedonistic Westerners don't want. So we end up with lots of weirdness, confusion, meme-driven behavior and beliefs, and pablum.

In a lot of ways, Tantra seems more suited to the Western mindset. Their sila is almost 180 degrees opposite of sutric Buddhism, and the attitude to the emotions seems more in keeping with how Westerners are likely to view things. Problem is, Vajrayana is hierarchical, which Westerners hate almost more than the idea of not being able to indulge the senses. You can't just pick up a book on Vajrayana and learn the practices the way you can with things like "mindfulness". And then there's what seems to be (not sure if this is real) a higher prevalence for unsavoriness between teacher and student in that system (I'm thinking of what happened around Chögyam Trungpa and his successor).

But the result is that people are doing this thing called "meditation" or "mindfulness", and there's very little idea of what it is, what it's supposed to accomplish, what to expect from it, whether it makes one "spiritual" or "religious" to do it, what sorts of practices and lifestyle are supposed to support it, etc., and then what sorts of things have to be grafted on to have it be applicable to daily life.

With regard to the "jettison[ing of] Buddhist sila and ... graft[ing] Western psychotherapy on to the practice," I don't doubt that there is that going on. However, I don't see (and I don't think your statement implies) that an education in or application of psychology and/or psychotherapy cannot be of some help, especially in the area of personal insight. I have a healthy appreciation for the works of people like Carl Jung and Harry Stack Sullivan, the latter of which I found some insightful observations which helped me early on in my study of the mind. But nothing like the insight of the five aggregates which Gotama brought to light and their connection with dependent co-arising.


Yeah, that stuff is definitely useful. Though the "mindfulness" movement - which is this Frankenstein's monster where you have psychotherapy grafted on to Theravadish stuff - is an odd sort of thing to diagnose. I think the main reason for that - to summarize - is that renunciate Buddhism has found its way into or close to the mainstream of an extremely indulgent, extremely individualistic society.

Just to clarify, I don't consider myself a cultural pessimist. I don't have much of a problem with the fact that we live in a "Deva realm", as N A put it. I'd rather deal with the difficulties of a Deva realm than the difficulties of Iron Age India. What I'm pointing out is that Westerners have adopted a style of Buddhism that seems almost 100% against their own cultural interests, and more people should appreciate the weirdness of that, if only it would help us start to unravel all the confusing messaging behind it.

Ian And:
The whole question about which path (stream entry, once returner etc.) one is at is a personal concern and should remain in the background of one's practice. Something that one refers to from time to time when attempting to self-analyze their own progress. Not something to bring out in public on a forum like this where it has the possibility of unintentionally arousing competition among fellow practitioners and hence encouraging frustration in those who feel like they can't or haven't achieved. The focus should be on understanding the Dhamma and one's own practice, and not on where they are on some imaginary totem pole of achievement. The achievements will take care of themselves if one concentrates on and practices understanding the path they should be following.

That's not to say it wouldn't be helpful to ask questions about such things as stream entry. For personal clarification purposes. But to talk about it in such an offhanded way as "I made stream entry! Woo-hoo!" Such proclamations of self aggrandizement can actually be counter-productive, even and especially within a group of serious practitioners.


Now that is very interesting. How on Earth do you tolerate this place? :-)
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Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
Chiming in: I invariably feel a wave of shame when admonished to keep attainments private, because of course this forum is public, and encourages talking about them, as does KFD. So I end up sometimes feeling there are two mutually-contradictory directives: keep it to yourself / talk about it openly. I can see the benefit to keeping it private, because it's oh-so-tempting to attach to one's attainments (such as they may be) and think, "I'm a big shot." On the other hand, it's inevitable. I wonder whether anyone escapes this. The inevitability of it is the reason why some more traditional dharma teachers make a practice of insulting and belittling their students, making sure they don't start thinking they're special.

The directive to talk openly is not for the sake of chatting in a group setting (although I'm afraid it can turn into that, mere chat), but for the sake of helping others know that this is indeed possible. Competition is a byproduct, but sometimes competitive instincts can motivate a person to practice. I've seen more than one yogi drop off this forum or KFD, then come back months later and say, "Now that I've seen what other people are attaining, I want to get back to my practice." That's a good thing.

On another note, I think the vast majority of people practicing any sort of meditation are doing it for stress reduction, not awakening. So talking about attainments with people who are just trying to cope with their lives better is counterproductive. I've been there and done that, and it left me feeling silly (deservedly so). What did I expect: for these friends of mine to fall down and bow before me and treat me like a meditation goddess? Actually, to be honest, that is what I expected in my own little mind.

There also, clearly, is a cultural bias involved--that it's cool to embrace eastern spiritual practices, unlike, say, attending a Billy Graham style revival. This kind of thinking is dualistic. I would bet a year's salary that most of the people here would not be caught dead at an evangelical revival, because of culturally-based distaste (well, maybe some of the 4th-pathers, and maybe some others, have overcome such thinking). The truth is, though, we all are going to die at some point, some of us will get old and feeble beforehand, others of us will get sick, all of us will confront broken dreams, disappointments, grief, and frustrations, and finally, all of us, in varying degrees, are oppressed at every single moment with the mind-noise of desire, aversion, and delusion. That's what I call dukkha--all of that. Arguing about whether "suffering" is the right word is not all that helpful, in my view (sorry, Fitter Stoke; at least your challenge has unleashed a good discussion!). A person close to me just lost his wife of 40 years to cancer. They seemed to have the perfect life and the perfect marriage. Is he suffering as much as someone in a war zone or living in poverty? Who can say? Does it matter? It only matters insofar as some of us (like me, for example) may be inclined to get caught up in a narrative of our own suffering and forget that the whole universe is in the same boat.

I think householders need this practice. Ona's comment about renunciation in daily life is spot-on. We can all of us work at it within the context of our lives. I don't disparage monastic practice at all, but I would hate to think that the only people who can practice have withdrawn in that way. I am, though, deeply curious about how the practice manifests for various people, and it's not just idle curiosity, it's wanting to understand better what it means to be awake. That's yet another reason for more openness.
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Chiming in: I invariably feel a wave of shame when admonished to keep attainments private, because of course this forum is public, and encourages talking about them, as does KFD. So I end up sometimes feeling there are two mutually-contradictory directives: keep it to yourself / talk about it openly. I can see the benefit to keeping it private, because it's oh-so-tempting to attach to one's attainments (such as they may be) and think, "I'm a big shot." On the other hand, it's inevitable. I wonder whether anyone escapes this. The inevitability of it is the reason why some more traditional dharma teachers make a practice of insulting and belittling their students, making sure they don't start thinking they're special.


I have a feeling most of us agree on all but the finer points of this issue. I would like to hear Ian's take, though. Notwithstanding my question, I assume he posts here because he shares many of our values. Since there's enough in common, maybe a discussion on the attainment issue would be valuable.

Arguing about whether "suffering" is the right word is not all that helpful, in my view (sorry, Fitter Stoke; at least your challenge has unleashed a good discussion!).


That “suffering” is an inadequate translation of “dukkha” is the only thing we managed not to argue about! LOL!

Oh well. No need to apologize. I can't even remember the last time I expected my opinions to please people.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 784 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Jane Laurel Carrington:

I think householders need this practice. Ona's comment about renunciation in daily life is spot-on. We can all of us work at it within the context of our lives.

Yes, my thoughts exactly.

Jane Laurel Carrington:

I don't disparage monastic practice at all, but I would hate to think that the only people who can practice have withdrawn in that way. I am, though, deeply curious about how the practice manifests for various people, and it's not just idle curiosity, it's wanting to understand better what it means to be awake. That's yet another reason for more openness.

Obviously, Gotama taught both householders as well as his monastic community. What he mostly asked of the householders was to keep a strong commitment to maintain high personal standards of themselves (perhaps within the realistic context of their lives). I don't think even monks and nuns can do much more than that. Obviously, householders are not monks and nuns, so their life's context is a little wider than their monastic brothers and sisters. In the end, it's the mental training that matters most, not whether or not one is always a perfect angel at keeping the precepts. As people develop, keeping the precepts become easier. It's a gradual practice and progression.

Openness is fine. Sharing experiences is fine. Just endeavor to keep the ego out of it (or recognize that you've slipped up and try to do better the next time).
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 784 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Fitter Stoke:

Western society has been introduced to "meditation", but it's hardly obvious that (a) we're doing the same meditation the Buddha was doing or (b) that meditation was even the main thing the Buddha taught. The main thing the Buddha seemed to be teaching was sila. But that's the part relativistic, hedonistic Westerners don't want. So we end up with lots of weirdness, confusion, meme-driven behavior and beliefs, and pablum.

I like that you brought up the question about meditation and whether or not it "was even the main thing the Buddha taught." Then, to bring in the idea that sila "seemed to be" the main thing the Buddha was teaching, juxtaposing these two related yet not totally different practices against one another.

The former being the main interest on forums like this present one, and the latter hardly even mentioned at all on forums like this. And yet these are both intricate and essential pieces of the puzzle Gotama was attempting to help others put together in their lives.

He taught the systems of meditation in order to help people begin to gain control over their thoughts and minds. Begin to see the content that goes through their minds. Begin to see the mental mechanisms (the processes) that can be triggered by these thoughts so that they might be able to catch them before they exploded in an emotional bomb.

So too, practitioners can become caught up in achieving what they are led to believe is a meditational marvel, this thing called dhyana. There's all sorts of confusion about just what is dhyana, mainly because there are authoritative voices out there sending out conflicting signals. And then too, it can be a very subjective experience for some, mysterious and not quite graspable in conceptual terms. At least not until one experiences it. And yet, dhyana is only a tool to be used, in order to develop a deepening of samadhi, which itself is used to assist in insight meditation. If one could find a way to deepen samadhi without the use of dhyana, that too would work to accomplish the same thing.

The whole meditation experience is meant to enhance the practitioner's ability to begin seeing reality as it actually is without all the mental conditioning filters with which most of us are plagued. If people were able to get to this state of mind without meditation, they'd be doing that. But the sad fact is that we all seem to need some help getting there, and meditation provides that vehicle. Meditation and silence, so that we can begin to hear our own thoughts over the cacophony of distractions in the atmosphere.

What seems to end up happening is that practitioners begin to narrow their focus on a certain few practices (meditation, dhyana, metta, noting, vipassana, and whatever else), without attempting to gain a sense of the whole picture of the path that Gotama had painted. Or maybe it's just a matter of the wooden fence and the four peep holes, where four different people looking through different peep holes see different parts of the elephant that walks by. One day each person will eventually get around to viewing the other three peep holes and begin putting the picture of the whole elephant together. And it will make sense.

Fitter Stoke:
Ian And:
The whole question about which path (stream entry, once returner etc.) one is at is a personal concern and should remain in the background of one's practice. Something that one refers to from time to time when attempting to self-analyze their own progress. Not something to bring out in public on a forum like this where it has the possibility of unintentionally arousing competition among fellow practitioners and hence encouraging frustration in those who feel like they can't or haven't achieved. The focus should be on understanding the Dhamma and one's own practice, and not on where they are on some imaginary totem pole of achievement. The achievements will take care of themselves if one concentrates on and practices understanding the path they should be following.

That's not to say it wouldn't be helpful to ask questions about such things as stream entry. For personal clarification purposes. But to talk about it in such an offhanded way as "I made stream entry! Woo-hoo!" Such proclamations of self aggrandizement can actually be counter-productive, even and especially within a group of serious practitioners.


Now that is very interesting. How on Earth do you tolerate this place? :-)

The short answer is equanimity with regard to formations!

A more in-depth answer would be that I've developed an acceptance of what is. Some people will hear what you have to say, others will not. I try to work with those who I think might listen to my opinion, while realizing that 98% will just tune me out. Basically because they're only interested in achieving some short term goal they have in mind, which may only be to end a form of suffering (unsatisfactoriness) that they are undergoing at the moment. And, don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having something like that as a goal. It's just that it seems to be to be somewhat short-sighted, to leave a whole other part of the teaching on the table, left for another lifetime to learn and undergo trials with.

It comes down to this: I end up ignoring ninety-eight percent of the silliness and melodrama that ends up being published here, and focus on finding the two percent who just might stop long enough to consider that I might know what I'm talking about, and who are willing to at least listen and give it a try. It works on the theory "you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." It's pretty much the same theory that Gotama used: "Come see and find out for yourself."
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Ian And:
It comes down to this: I end up ignoring ninety-eight percent of the silliness and melodrama that ends up being published here, and focus on finding the two percent who just might stop long enough to consider that I might know what I'm talking about, and who are willing to at least listen and give it a try. It works on the theory "you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." It's pretty much the same theory that Gotama used: "Come see and find out for yourself."


Gee, I think you're doing better than 2% appreciation. I have a copy of your thread on concentration practice on my desk (and it's a sticky, so I'm probably not the only one.) I appreciated your comments on contemplative problem-solving from a couple months ago, and continue to follow your suggestions.

I'd be interested to hear more, maybe in another thread, about what you think is missing from people's practice and why. How do you apply sila in your practice? How does it engender lasting insights or transformations? It's true there is a lot of drama and silliness here, some of which is in the nature of any sangha. Plenty come for real teaching and practice, so if we're missing the boat by your estimation please elaborate. emoticon
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Steph S, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 647 Join Date: 3/24/10 Recent Posts
Let's talk about sila then. Sila sticky thread next? haha

It's a comprehensive topic, so to start:

If you grew up in a Judeo-Christian society I think it's common that morals are instilled according to Biblical teachings. Since Ian has said he is well versed in Western religion too, it would be helpful to discuss how Biblical morality differs from Buddhist sila (or how they intersect).

I was raised Greek Orthodox and had the fear of God type morality taught - although my parents aren't intensely religious, they're quite traditional in many ways. I was trained to feel guilty or shamed when I did something viewed as amoral. For having common sense morality I wasn't necessarily praised because that was an expected baseline, but if I did something that seemed extra nice or good, I was praised. I started rejecting the church and God from a young age (around 12), and even now I find that those views of morality are very deeply ingrained. So for me, what has been helpful is to investigate really closely whenever feelings of guilt or shame appear - or alternately when there's pride. It often times stirs up something related to those views of morality/right/wrong/good/bad. This isn't a practice specifically to cultivate sila, and is moreso a way to discover rooted views on morality and how that seems to play out.

I'd like to go at this with fresh eyes and see what Ian has to say about cultivating sila from there...
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Steph S, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are not suffering. . . Oh Yeah?

Posts: 647 Join Date: 3/24/10 Recent Posts
I found the answer to my own questions above about sila in Bhikkhu Bodhi's writings about the Noble Eightfold Path:

The English word "morality" and its derivatives suggest a sense of obligation and constraint quite foreign to the Buddhist conception of sila; this connotation probably enters from the theistic background to Western ethics. Buddhism, with its non-theistic framework, grounds its ethics, not on the notion of obedience, but on that of harmony. In fact, the commentaries explain the word sila by another word, samadhana, meaning "harmony" or "coordination."

The observance of sila leads to harmony at several levels — social, psychological, kammic, and contemplative. At the social level the principles of sila help to establish harmonious interpersonal relations, welding the mass of differently constituted members of society with their own private interests and goals into a cohesive social order in which conflict, if not utterly eliminated, is at least reduced. At the psychological level sila brings harmony to the mind, protection from the inner split caused by guilt and remorse over moral transgressions. At the kammic level the observance of sila ensures harmony with the cosmic law of kamma, hence favorable results in the course of future movement through the round of repeated birth and death. And at the fourth level, the contemplative, sila helps establish the preliminary purification of mind to be completed, in a deeper and more thorough way, by the methodical development of serenity and insight.

When briefly defined, the factors of moral training are usually worded negatively, in terms of abstinence. But there is more to sila than refraining from what is wrong. Each principle embedded in the precepts, as we will see, actually has two aspects, both essential to the training as a whole. One is abstinence from the unwholesome, the other commitment to the wholesome; the former is called "avoidance" (varitta) and the latter "performance" (caritta). At the outset of training the Buddha stresses the aspect of avoidance. He does so, not because abstinence from the unwholesome is sufficient in itself, but to establish the steps of practice in proper sequence. The steps are set out in their natural order (more logical than temporal) in the famous dictum of the Dhammapada: "To abstain from all evil, to cultivate the good, and to purify one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas" (v. 183). The other two steps — cultivating the good and purifying the mind — also receive their due, but to ensure their success, a resolve to avoid the unwholesome is a necessity. Without such a resolve the attempt to develop wholesome qualities is bound to issue in a warped and stunted pattern of growth.

The training in moral discipline governs the two principal channels of outer action, speech and body, as well as another area of vital concern — one's way of earning a living. Thus the training contains three factors: right speech, right action, and right livelihood.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html#ch4
Ona Kiser, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 66 Join Date: 1/18/10 Recent Posts
I don't know if it hinders people to use one word or another. I agree some people can get very dramatic about things that in the big picture are quite small. As my dad used to shout if we complained of being hungry "You don't know what hunger is!" and he would describe the scene in Stalingrad, where children dug in the dirt for insects, their bodies skeletal with starvation. For a funnier version, see Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo). Sometimes it can help us have a perspective on things to remember that our psychological shit is not as likely to cause actual death as the shit someone else is dealing with (such as living in a state of war, not having food, etc).

That said, the same basic mind/body reaction kicks in whether we are being chased by a tiger, chased by a crazy stranger with a knife, chased by our angry father with a belt, or having a moment of terror because there might be a monster under the bed and we have to get up in the night to pee. "Real" or "imaginary" dangers, fears and anxieties all trigger the same systems: adrenaline, fight or flight responses, etc. The strength of the reaction will depend on the conditions that trigger it and how habituated one is to having the reaction and ones personality, and upbringing and numerous other factors.

Somewhere recently I read an article by a zen monk who said one of the benefits of the psychological hell practice can reveal and the way in which it develops an understanding of how our anxieties and fears play out in the mind is that we come to have an enormous amount of sympathy for the suffering of others, which leads to the arising of compassion. Interesting in this context to consider how many spiritual traditions include physical austerities in their training (fasting, sleeping on hard surfaces, poverty, mortification of the flesh, etc.)

Just offering some additional ponders, not trying to hammer home any particular point of view here.
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N A, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 157 Join Date: 7/10/11 Recent Posts
Dukkha is something Buddhists made up, everyone else loves life. Very few people share the Buddhist idea that it would be a good thing to just quietly stop all existence and enter a state of nothingness. Most people would prefer getting reincarnated to not getting reincarnated.

Also re the comment that suffering is only in the third world, here's my favourite quote from In This Very Life by U Pandita:

There are heaven realms right on this planet. Is true and permanent happiness to be found in any of them? The United States, for example, is a very advanced country materially. There, a vast array of sense pleasures is available. You can see people intoxicated, drowning in luxury and pleasure. Ask yourself whether such people think about looking deeper, of making an effort to seek the truth about existence? Are they truly happy?


United States is a deva world, that's why there's so little suffering!
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
United States is a deva world, that's why there's so little suffering!


I like that!
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Ona Kiser:
I don't know if it hinders people to use one word or another. I agree some people can get very dramatic about things that in the big picture are quite small. As my dad used to shout if we complained of being hungry "You don't know what hunger is!" and he would describe the scene in Stalingrad, where children dug in the dirt for insects, their bodies skeletal with starvation. For a funnier version, see Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo). Sometimes it can help us have a perspective on things to remember that our psychological shit is not as likely to cause actual death as the shit someone else is dealing with (such as living in a state of war, not having food, etc).

That said, the same basic mind/body reaction kicks in whether we are being chased by a tiger, chased by a crazy stranger with a knife, chased by our angry father with a belt, or having a moment of terror because there might be a monster under the bed and we have to get up in the night to pee. "Real" or "imaginary" dangers, fears and anxieties all trigger the same systems: adrenaline, fight or flight responses, etc. The strength of the reaction will depend on the conditions that trigger it and how habituated one is to having the reaction and ones personality, and upbringing and numerous other factors.

Somewhere recently I read an article by a zen monk who said one of the benefits of the psychological hell practice can reveal and the way in which it develops an understanding of how our anxieties and fears play out in the mind is that we come to have an enormous amount of sympathy for the suffering of others, which leads to the arising of compassion. Interesting in this context to consider how many spiritual traditions include physical austerities in their training (fasting, sleeping on hard surfaces, poverty, mortification of the flesh, etc.)

Just offering some additional ponders, not trying to hammer home any particular point of view here.


Awesome. Thank you for the Monty Python. :-)

As for the rest, two comments:

  • While from the first person point of view, something may seem really dire, because of endocrine responses and whatnot, that doesn't necessarily have to mean anything. Here's where Western psychotherapy is helpful. Healing means coming to see that response as just a response, not as something that necessarily represents reality. People with PTSD have to go through this process of discovery to overcome their condition.
  • But even from the first person point of view, it's possible to perceive the process of dependent origination as it unfolds. Here's where dhamma is important. With the vipassana or noting or even basic mindfulness techniques, I'm able to see the gap between where the unpleasant sensation arises and where I begin to narrate it in terms of this big, horrible thing ("suffering"). It's possible to see clearly how important connotation is here.


It reminds me of a session I had with my teacher, Abre. We were noting together. I was at a part of the path where there were tons of unpleasant physical sensation. The entire session, I'm feeling heat, itching, fidgeting, and aching. I want to twist my body this way and that. I just can't get comfortable. We're noting in triplets, where the first note is the body sensation, the second the vedana, the third the mind-state. So I'm saying things like "aching ... unpleasant ... aversion" and "heat ... unpleasant ... aversion."

So she stops me and says, "look, don't call it 'aversion'", and I'm thinking, "what could be more basic than just not liking it?" And she told me, you're breathing life into it every time you say "aversion" to yourself. It's getting hotter and hotter, itchier and itchier, etc., because the word means something to your mind. It's kicking up all these associations. "You could note 'compassion' instead, since you want it to end." And that actually helped me to circle round the thing and become more equanimous about it.

I feel like calling it "suffering" is a grand version of that. It builds Grand Dukkha. It does it by (a) concealing what's really going on, and (b) setting up identification with that concealed state. Identification always works by being concealed in just that fashion. We know that at the moment of getting stream-entry, when we see the absurdity of sensations being funneled through a spot in the head. What's so out-of-bounds by seeing it being funneled through a sense of victimhood?
cem ber, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Post: 1 Join Date: 12/29/12 Recent Posts
Fitter Stoke:


I would like to start a campaign - which will be entirely unsuccessful - to stop people from translating dukkha as "suffering". It's an excessively melodramatic, gloomy translation of the word. It's also inadequate.


I've been lurking around here on and off for many months, and this, and not the ever-growing list of practice questions I have, has finally prompted me to get off my ass and register to post. (So, hello.) I agree completely. The translation as "suffering" was such a bad fit to my own experience that it became something of an impediment to my learning when I first started reading about meditation years ago. Before I started practicing, I could really only stomach the most modern, secularized writings (e.g. Charles Tart) about Buddhism because I couldn't get past the idea that "there is suffering" was a premise that the whole thing started from. There was something, and something bad, that drove me to try to learn more about this practice, but "suffering", with all its baggage, was mostly not it.


John Peacock:
It's a hole filled with dirt, grease, and grit, and it went round and round. It also meant a wound inflicted by an arrow. There's a sense of lack as well.

[...]

Dukkha is like slowly rubbing your arm against a brick wall. It’s not stabbing pain. It gets more and more painful as we do it.


This is excellent. And enough of this type of rubbing can eventually make suicide seem like a rational option, at which point I suppose it would be reasonable to call it suffering in the conventional sense.

Fitter Stoke:
[...]every time you use a word with heavy connotation where you could use simpler, more specific words, you're engaged in covert identification.


Yes.

Steph S:
Let's talk about sila then.


I happened to run into this while reading about Aro the other day and thought it was interesting.

http://meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/nice-buddhism/

[...] traditional Buddhism doesn’t actually have anything distinctively useful to teach Westerners about ethics. There’s no single ethical system in Buddhism; it has a slew of contradictory half-systems. Worse, they are mostly quite conservative, often downright horrid, unacceptable to Westerners, and overall no better than the narrow Christianity the hippies rebelled against.

So, Consensus Buddhism quietly swapped out traditional Buddhist ethics, and replaced it with “nice” vintage-1990 liberal Western ethics. Which is, roughly, “political correctness,” or the “green meme.”

This means Consensus Buddhism has more in common with progressive Christianity (Unitarian Universalism or Liberal Anglicanism) than it does with any form of Asian Buddhism.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 784 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
the who?:
The translation as "suffering" was such a bad fit to my own experience that it became something of an impediment to my learning when I first started reading about meditation years ago. Before I started practicing, I could really only stomach the most modern, secularized writings (e.g. Charles Tart) about Buddhism because I couldn't get past the idea that "there is suffering" was a premise that the whole thing started from. There was something, and something bad, that drove me to try to learn more about this practice, but "suffering", with all its baggage, was mostly not it.

This is an example of how "Buddhism" (the religion of "Buddhism") is being packaged and sold to unsuspecting people who have not taken the time to honestly investigate the Dhamma as taught by Gotama beyond just contemporary third person accounts and opinions. The impression these people obtain about "Buddhism," then, is colored (tainted) by the ideas/opinions that other people have about something that they too have likely never honestly explored! Either that, or there is a hidden (political?) agenda behind their writings about "Buddhism," meant to influence people's minds about, in this case, the religion of "Buddhism," and, by implication, the Dhamma that Gotama taught. My point is: misunderstandings and misstatements abound around subjects like this. It's always best to return to source material if you want to have even a shred of a chance of discerning the truth about such things. That is, if the truth is even what one is interested in obtaining.

If people would go back to source documentation first rather than rely on biased, contemporary opinions from people who are either ignorant about the source material or who have some kind of hidden agenda to air, they might find that there is less to be skeptical about beyond what they discovered in the contemporary fare they have read and, apparently, digested and accepted as being true.

Source material would be something like the Dhammapada, which is a compendium of thought gathered in a short volume put in verse form endeavoring to put forth the key fundamentals of early Buddhist philosophy. If, after reading something like this one still has doubts or criticisms, then at least they can claim to have taken a look at source material and honestly say that they were unimpressed. But to base one's impressions on third person opinions and biases is not giving the source (in this case, the Buddha) a fair shake in the deal.

From the Samyutta Nikaya at 56.11 (Dhammakakkappavattana Sutta or Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma) Gotama defines dukkha as follows (Note: I have replaced the translation of the word dukkha originally rendered as "suffering" with "dissatisfaction" and "unsatisfactory" to more clearly reflect the intent of the passage):

"Dissatisfaction [dukkha], as a noble truth, is this: Birth is unsatisfactory, aging is unsatisfactory, sickness is unsatisfactory, death is unsatisfactory, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are unsatisfactory; association with the loathed is unsatisfactory, dissociation from the loved is unsatisfactory, not to get what one wants is unsatisfactory — in short, the five aggregates subject to clinging are unsatisfactory."

A more complete description of dukkha can be had at accesstoinsight.org The First Noble Truth and the translation of the discourse Dhammakakkappavattana Sutta.

What follows is taken from the Dhammapada (as translated by Ananda Maitreya) in the chapter on Mind:

Just as an arrowsmith shapes an arrow to perfection with fire,
So does the wise man shape his mind,
Which is fickle, unsteady, vulnerable, and erratic.

Like a fish taken from the safety of its watery home
And cast upon the dry land
So does this mind flutter, due to the lure of the tempter.
Therefore one should leave the dominion of Mara.

How good it is to rein the mind,
Which is unruly, capricious, rushing wherever it pleases.
The mind so harnessed will bring one happiness.

A wise man should pay attention to his mind,
Which is very difficult to perceive.
It is extremely subtle and wanders wherever it pleases.
The mind, well-guarded and controlled,
Will bring him happiness.

One who keeps a rein on the wandering mind,
Which strays far and wide, alone, bodiless,
Will be freed from the tyranny of the tempter.

A man of fickle mind
Will never attain wisdom to its fullest,
Since he is ignorant of the Dhamma
And has wavering faith.

The heart of the fully conscious man is fearless —
He has transcended both good and evil.

Observe this body, as fragile as an earthen vase,
Build a mind as solid as a fortified city,
Then confront Mara with the weapon of insight
And (proceeding without attachment)
Guard what you have already conquered.

Certainly before long this body will lie on the ground,
Lifeless and unconscious,
Cast aside like a useless log.

A mind out of control will do more harm
Than two angry men engaged in combat.

A well-directed mind creates more well-being
Than the wholesome actions of parents
Toward their children.
Jason B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
My contemplation for the day:

Subject to birth, subject to aging,
subject to death,
run-of-the-mill people
are repelled by those who suffer
from that to which they are subject.
And if I were to be repelled
by beings subject to these things,
it would not be fitting for me,
living as they do.

As I maintained this attitude —
knowing the Dhamma
without paraphernalia —
I overcame all intoxication
with health, youth, & life
as one who sees
renunciation as rest.

For me, energy arose,
Unbinding was clearly seen.
There's now no way
I could partake of sensual pleasures.
Having followed the holy life,
I will not return.

AN 5.57 Trans. by Thanissaro Bikkhu
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Not Important, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: You are (probably) not suffering.

Posts: 34 Join Date: 12/30/12 Recent Posts
[...] traditional Buddhism doesn’t actually have anything distinctively useful to teach Westerners about ethics. There’s no single ethical system in Buddhism; it has a slew of contradictory half-systems. Worse, they are mostly quite conservative, often downright horrid, unacceptable to Westerners, and overall no better than the narrow Christianity the hippies rebelled against.

So, Consensus Buddhism quietly swapped out traditional Buddhist ethics, and replaced it with “nice” vintage-1990 liberal Western ethics. Which is, roughly, “political correctness,” or the “green meme.”

This means Consensus Buddhism has more in common with progressive Christianity (Unitarian Universalism or Liberal Anglicanism) than it does with any form of Asian Buddhism.


Hmmm, not sure how I feel about this.

On the one hand Buddhism has made many contributions to morality: the Uposatha Sila, Panca Sila, the ten courses of wholesome action, the ten courses of unwholesome action, the roots of merit and demerit, dana, stream-entry as the mastery of morality.

These are all moral things though.

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