Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Abandonment of Suffering

Abandon suffering. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? An easy do? No. Ninety-nine percent of our news is about people causing suffering for themselves, for others, for animals, for the planet… Why is there so much suffering in the world? And why can’t we seem to stop it?
The abandonment of suffering is the subject of the Buddha’s second noble truth “This noble truth of the arising of suffering is that it be abandoned.”  And of himself, he states “The arising of suffering has been abandoned.” The whole of Buddhism is a mind-training method precisely in service of this goal. It takes a lot of effort and a long time.
Why would we cling to suffering? Why would we persist in hurting ourselves and others? The answer is a bit ironic: suffering insures our self-identity. This is our most prized possession. What person willing lets this go? And yet a false self-identity is the root of the insanity of all inhumanity. Both Buddhism and A Couse in Miracles make it very clear that this is the case. In the Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha gives an analogy of a dog tied by a leash to a stake being like the mind of a person whose self-identity is tied to form, feelings, perception, fabrications, consciousness of sensations: “He keep running around and circling around that very form…that very feeling…that very perception…those very fabrications…not set loose from consciousness. He is not set loose from birth, aging and death; from sorrows, lamentation, pains, distresses and despair. He is not set loose from suffering and stress.”
Another thing that the Buddha abandoned was teaching theology or cosmology. It was his considered opinion, that these subjects are simply a waste of time and effort when you are suffering, not only that, they lead to pointless arguments which entail more suffering. There were great theological debates raging in Buddha’s time and he simply refused to join in. He caught some flak for that. Yet this was the brilliance of his teaching: he taught a method for the cessation of suffering and only that. Everything else, he reasoned, each one understands upon the cessation of suffering. In fact the cessation of the arising of suffering is a necessary condition of the mind for the attainment of such knowledge, before that its mere speculation which leads to misunderstandings.

There does come a point where a person weighs the evidence, clearly perceived and chooses to abandon suffering and with it all formerly cherished self-identifications are let go. This is the end of specialness, the end of ownership, the end of me-and-mine, the end of story. With the abandonment of suffering, comes a state of mind of pure harmlessness and a state of inter-being. There arises a mind that can say, like Jesus, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” This is because all interests are seen as shared interests. The “me” is no more special than the “you”. And with the abandonment of suffering comes a state of mind which can say “All things are well and all manner of things are well” (Julian of Norwich) because in such a mind there exists a profound state of well-being.

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