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Lions Roar : November 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2010 19 The nidanas—the twelve branches of dependently related arisings, or “cause and result”—are the elements that keep us in samsara, the cycle of suffering. I offered a description of the nidanas in the July issue of the sun, and now continue this investigation by looking specifically at the first nidana, ignorance, and how it fuels our sense of self. Once there is a self, then there is action. Once there is action, there is birth, and the wheel keeps turning. The coarse level of ignorance known as the first nidana is about not knowing, and it results in four mistaken beliefs about who we are. The first comes from not knowing the four noble truths (suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffer- ing, and the true path); the second from not understanding im- permanence; the third from experiencing suffering as pleasure; and the fourth from thinking that the self is a solid entity. First, when we don’t understand the four noble truths, we believe that chasing what we desire will bring us happiness. We stay in the cycle of suffering because we assume that samsara will deliver what we want. Over and over, we try to make it work. Our efforts are grounded in mistaking our ever-changing experience for a solid self, or “me.” To break free of this, we need to see clear- ly that the chain reaction of causes and conditions that dominate our world is cyclical, endless, and fundamentally dissatisfying. Suffering is the reverberation of not knowing selflessness. When we see the depth of our bewilderment and the darkness of sam- sara, we stop thinking that we can get what we want from it. Second, before we can understand impermanence, we have to understand permanence. We think we’re permanent, that we’ll always be who we are. This deep-rooted notion of permanence is like being in a dream. When we’re in a dream, it feels like it’s going to last forever, yet the self we’re imagining is simply a con- glomeration of skandhas or “heaps”— blood, bones, memories, emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. Ignorance says, “I think I’ll call this ‘me.’” When we believe the self is permanent, we believe the world and its phenomena also are permanent. We see that things change, but our sense of permanence is pervasive. Third, we believe that the self is pleasurable, and consequently mistake suffering for pleasure. From the Buddha’s point of view, when we are feeling happy, all we are actually experiencing is a slight reduction of pain. Mistaking less pain for happiness is like saying a good day is when nothing goes wrong. We falsely think we can somehow make a painful situation into a pleasurable ex- perience, but fundamentally every experience will change into pain or agitation. When our mind can’t settle into its own inher- ent peace, we constantly mistake for happiness experiences other than that peace. The Buddha called this “all-pervasive suffering.” Fourth, we assume that we exist as separate individuals be- cause we have created a world from the skandhas of form, feel- ing, discrimination, formation, and consciousness. Thinking of ourselves as separate and solid leads to a sense of dualism and possessiveness—if we are separate, someone could take some- thing away from us. Attachment, fear, pride, and anger arise phOTO©ISTOckphOTO.cOM/creAcArT Lost We’re caught in confusion because of mistaken beliefs about who we are, says Sakyong MiphaM Rinpoche. But we can see our way clear by using meditation to slow down. sakyong MiphaM Rinpoche is the spiritual leader of shambhala, an international network of Buddhist meditation and retreat centers. he is the author of Turning the Mind into an Ally and ruling Your World.