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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 47 go away. Pretending you are not dying when you are in fact already halfway there will not lead to an endless life. Apart from these existential forms of suffering, there are unavoidable forms of suffering in the environment, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods. There is also suffering from adverse cir- cumstances, such as a plane crash or an auto accident. There are conditions that are beyond our control. Trying to control them leads to suffering. Pleasures are also frequent causes of suffering. If we enjoy being in the sun, it becomes unpleasurable after a while. It can lead to a painful bout of sunburn and even to skin cancer. We gain pleasure from culinary delights, but eating the same food again and again may stop being pleasurable. And our eating habits may lead to all sorts of physical ailments. We may think that we are addicted to pleasure because we find the object of our addiction pleasurable. But being addicted to something is not in the least bit pleasurable. Even though we suffer as human beings, we do not have to suffer without purpose or meaning. The first noble truth reveals to us the meaning of suffering. Painful experiences can teach us a lot. Buddhism treats life as a school where we learn from our painful experiences. This is not about the childish approach of going deeper and deeper into our painful experiences and dwelling on them and complaining about them to the point that they become deeply personal emotional concerns. It is about utilizing our painful experi- ences, the truth of suffering, with fortitude and dignity, and thereby making ourselves stronger and more mature. The teachings speak of dharma as the medicine that will cure us of all our maladies. Although dharma is a medicine, it is not a quick fix. It is not like taking Prozac. It works with our chronic illness. It will not prevent old symptoms from recurring from time to time, but with judicious ingestion of the antidotes to our illness provided by the dharma, we are gradually able to overcome our long-term afflictions. Dharma is the antidote to dukkha, but dukkha will not disappear overnight. The fourth noble truth, the truth of the path, makes that very clear. We need to travel on the path of healing and wholeness. That will take time. We may start out expecting quick relief from samsaric suffering. When that is not forthcoming, we may become disappointed, resentful, or indignant. We may even rail against the dharma or abuse it. We cannot digest the powerful medicine of the dharma in one dose, but as we treat ourselves in a stepwise fashion, our capacity to absorb dharma increases. Then we can take—and ought to take—more and more powerful doses. When we can do that, we soon come to see the dharma’s true potency and its healing power. It is the most powerful medicine for counteracting dukkha. ♦ TRALEG KYABGON RINPOCHE received both the traditional education of an incarnate Tibetan lama (tulku) and a comprehensive Western education, with a particular interest in psychology and comparative religion. He is the president and spiritual director of Kagyu E-Vam Buddhist Institute in Melbourne, Aus- tralia, and E-Vam Institute in Upstate New York. THE SUTRA KNOWN AS “Turning the Wheel of the Teach- ing” (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) seems to give an account of the very first instance that the Buddha communicated his realization to others. It contains the Buddha’s descriptions of the realities of dukkha and his prescription for it, usually translated as the four noble truths. What the Buddha refers to as dukkha in this teaching covers life pretty much from begin- ning to end: birth, aging, illness, and death; having what we don’t want, not having what we do. The most common rendering of the Pali term dukkha is “suffering.” So if you have read books on Buddhism before, you have almost certainly encountered the term “suffering.” However, probably very few people would describe their lives as characterized by suffering. The notion of pain and anguish connoted by that term does indeed resonate in dukkha, but it is too drastic for a general and universal application. So the stock statement “Life is suffering,” as a translation of the first statement of the Buddha about reality, while not outright in- correct, is somewhat too drama-queenish. In getting a better feel for the meaning of dukkha, let’s place “suffering” at one extreme of the spectrum. At the other ex- treme, let’s place qualities such as annoyance, tension, nonde- pendability. Dukkha, then, can be understood on one end of the spectrum as a subtle, perhaps barely discernible quality of being, and, on the other, as severe mental or physical anguish. A further nuance is added to the term dukkha when we bear in mind that, in the Buddha’s view, even a “happy” moment is tinged by dukkha. That is because neither the moment nor the experience is stable. Since the quality of happiness arises in dependence on external factors, it fades away as those factors What’s Dukkha? (What Isn’t?) BY GLENN WALLIS MAY 42-49.indd 47 MAY 42-49.indd 47 3/6/08 11:29:30 AM 3/6/08 11:29:30 AM