Last night, as I laid in bed with my wife-to-be, we found ourselves very naturally in the Ahh space. Judgements and ideas were a faint whisper in view but not obstructing it. We shared our insight from this space with one another and something floated into view for me. I saw the image of light shyly peeking through a wooden door which was ajar. The light showed me what looked like sandstone buildings which had been white washed. There, on the dusty ground with a shadow cast by the light of the outside world, sat a bowl of water. I felt within me the warmth in the heart of a mother who holds her child in her arms. This image followed the most simple yet profound verse, “Pain is subject to the I. I is not subject to pain. The eye sees pain, pain does not see the I. Pain is like a loyal companion but it might seem like a persistent adversary. The question is, who we do we want to live with?” With that, I felt all pain as though it was a tender, gentle and timid child in the arms of the mother. I loved it like it was my child. I saw it and it didn’t even know I was there. It was welcome in my arms. So honest and pure. How could I turn it away?
In the recent months, I have been hosting weekly satsang. And in each session, we find ourselves back at the same point without fail each time. Whatever the chosen subject is for the session, we find ourselves back at the same place. This place is one of surrender; one of gripping loosely and not clinging to any one thing. It seems that if one is not clinging to any one thing and yet one thing always arises then there must be some truth in it. If we look for truth without clinging to even the desire for truth and are always set upon by the same realisation then it would follow that we have found truth. Nevertheless, we enjoy the chase and satsang is a place where we are able to centre and enjoy the sangha.
It seems that this truth of surrender seems ugly when we equate all we are to being some thing that can be surrendered. Surrender is not scary when you realise that all that can be surrendered is merely the maya – the illusion. Even less scary is surrender when we realise that what we are looking at surrendering is not ours to possess anyway. As such, surrender is the only thing we can do without generating more negative karma – painful repercussions and suffering. That said, if we still cling to our ideas of being the one who is surrendering all this stuff that is not us then we will create suffering anyway and then it’s all a moot point. Is this making sense? I’ll trust that if you know what I’m saying then this is just a lovely agreement and if you don’t get what I mean then you’ll send me a message with some open hearted questions.
A friend recently posed a very good question during satsang. She said something to the effect of, “Don’t you think that we should just let ourselves suffering sometimes though? Isn’t that part of it all?” Initially, a little bell rang in my head and offered up the idea that if all we want is suffering then we ought not to be having this conversation. After all, if one walks to the bathroom with an empty stomach or the kitchen with a full bladder, we’ll not find what we’re looking for – a more apt course of action might be necessary. But then, after that little story floated in and floated out, I acknowledged within my self the part of me which also likes to suffer. This is where the subject of this post comes to a head.
The Buddha said, all life is Dukkha. Now, to this day, no accurate translation of this word has been decided upon. For some it is “stress” for others it means “suffering”. It seems to me that dukkha encompasses stress, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction, misery, apathy, distress and so on. For simplicity, let’s refer to it as “pain”. This fits too with the common saying, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
The Nature Of Pain
Pain, it seems, is an unavoidable aspect of life. As the Buddha came into the realisation of as he passed through the settlement outside the palace walls: With birth comes death. With health comes sickness. With youth comes old age. With possession comes lack. This is samsara – the cycle of Dukkha, the cycle of pain. It seems though, the nature of pain is quite distinguishable from the nature of suffering. Pain seems to arise without much provocation and it seems inescapable too. If we sit for too long in one position, our body aches. If we don’t sit at all, we get tired out. There seems to be no peace in the oscillation of extremes. Whatever we do, we cannot avoid pain. Even if we make every choice with conscious attention, pain may still arise. This is evident in the fact that for years those of us who are vegans got on a massive ego trip about how it’s the right way to eat. And now, it’s becoming clear that plants experience pain too. A close friend of mine shared in satsang, what she had learned watching a documentary called ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ (I think). She said that plants seem to recognise and fear those who have caused them harm before. This evidence is stacking up. And so, suddenly, veganism doesn’t seem to relieve any more suffering than eating meat does. It’s just a different sort of suffering. It’s easier to ignore, yes, the plants are silent and don’t obvious convey their pain. But that doesn’t not mean that pain has been avoided. It seems that in all we do, pain is inevitable.
The Nature of Suffering
Unlike pain, suffering seems to be the result of the choices we make. If we make choices with mostly negative consequences then the level of suffering is greater. It seems that suffering is like a pantomime that the mind writes, directs and acts out off the back of suffering. Say you fall over and cut your knee. The pain is the signal sent to the brain. The suffering is what that means to the mind. The pain is “ouch”. Suffering is, “Oh no! Agh that really hurts. I’m stupid, I should’ve looked where I was going. Now I need to buy bandages and I don’t have money for them.” so on and so on. This is what we call “papancha”. Papancha is pretty much “the thoughts after the fact”.
The Suffering Machine
There is something which all humans experience. There is this part of the mind which, at a young age, was charged with figuring out who we are. It turns out that we are much less of a “who” and much more of a “what” and so, this part of the mind just keeps going and going and going. This part of the mind is concerned with filtering our experience of reality in such a way that we derive some sense of identity from it. It does this through clinging to ideas, concepts, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and so on. The degree to which each of us clings to these things is based on the individual. By which I mean that if we are attached to the idea of being “someone” then we’re going to suffer a lot. If we’re clinging to the idea that we need to cling to something then we’re going to suffer a lot. So on and so on. All of this takes place inside a little machine within our minds. Ladies and gentlemen, I am of course talking here about the ego.
I always like to remind those I speak to about the ego of the following: the ego is nothing more than a filter for your experience. The primary function of this filter is to generate a sense of identity and to figure out “who you are”. All thoughts which pass through this filter exist within a tiny tiny part of the left hemisphere. This part of the brain is about the size of a peanut. It’s nothing sinister at all. It does, however, produce between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day. Some of us take about 40,000 of these thoughts really really seriously and start believing them just because they’ve been thought. Like the paths in the forest, the path more travelled is the path easiest to travel. When it comes to thoughts, the more you cling to them the more often they appear in your mind.
Treating the ego as though it is all we are essentially divorces it from its usefulness and turns it into a machine with the prime purpose of generating suffering. There is a sweet spot, however, wherein the ego is a tool for interfacing with reality. I’ll cover this more in the next few sections…
The Part That Is Concerned With Suffering
The only part of us that is concerned with whether or not we should be suffering is the ego. It’s all part of the “who am I” programme. The mind is concerned with right and wrong, good and bad, proper and improper. As such, it sees suffering as part of the experience (ignores that it is created by itself) and then says that because it’s there we should be experiencing it otherwise we might miss out on something. This is, of course, all mind-made stories.
Time is also a perception of the mind. The mind says, I must try to do this and in time I will understand. This is a lie to maintain comfort. There is nothing wrong with telling this lie but it is still a lie. It is an illusion which is maintained to enable us to cling to some aspect of who we think we are. That’s fine too. There is no right answer here. Only the mind and the ego are concerned with what the right answer is. And if we seek to transcend the limited confines of the mind then we must have the courage to see this illusion for what it is. Not to push it away or hold it close but to observe it and watch it dissolve as is only natural.
Where Surrender Comes In
Surrender comes in when we have appreciated the value of acceptance and acknowledgement. These two things are incredibly simple to practice. Whenever something happens, before doing or saying anything, first we must say “yes, okay.” This is “yes, I see that this is what it is.” And “Okay, I accept that right now this is what it is.” Without these first two steps, no true peace can be found. Without first acknowledging and accepting what occurs, it is difficult to cultivate anything other than ignorance or delusion.
After acknowledgement and acceptance, surrender occurs. This is a choice that we must make on a personal level, however. In any experience we have, we – as people – seem to always have a choice between softening and hardening; between awareness and ego. To choose ego is to harden and to close to the experience. Do harden is to constrict and build walls. This closes us off from the world and causes division and more pain. The choose awareness is to soften. This is the option of surrender. To open to what is happening and find within oneself a faith that it is all unfolding only as it does. It is not too late nor too early. It is not mistaken or accidental. This surrendering is the surrendering of all forms. In this way our personalities and identifies becomes as leaves on the river. As we, as awareness, simply observe this.
This isn’t to say to surrender to what we think about what is, but to surrender what is – surrender your ideas about and perceptions of what is in favour of seeing things as they actually are. Rather than living life through the filter of what we think about it, we can treat this filter as what it is… Simply another aspect of what is. After all, if we treat all the things in our environment as what they truly are, why stop there and make an exception for what is in the mind? If we treat all the physical elements of life as simply leaves on a river then why do the mental elements get special treatment?
When we surrender all things without exception then our actions will not lead to further dukkha.
Is Suffering Necessary?
Suffering is optional. That is not to say that we shouldn’t choose to have it. It is to say that if we do choose to have it, that is fine and must be accepted just as much as if we do not choose to have it. It comes down to our level of courage and level of honesty with ourselves. As people, do we wish to suffer? If no, then we can pay attention to our choices of attention. If yes, then this is simply another option for us to take. As such, suffering can ensue and this suffering will lead to more suffering and so on and so on until we take the other option.
Suffering is not necessary if we are able to effectively learn our lessons from pain alone. It is true that learning from suffering is much more difficult and is very gruelling. Many lack the awareness and courage it takes to look at things honestly during an episode of suffering. In fact, in order to do so, we must withdraw and extricate ourselves from the suffering and see it as the observer of things.
In conclusion, inherent in life is pain. Inherent in clinging to pain is suffering. If, however, suffering arises then we must not treat it in any special way. If suffering arises, simply acknowledge it and accepting it then surrender all thoughts, ideas, beliefs, perspectives and extricate oneself from the clinging. This does not come with a instruction manual because it is not an action. There is nothing to do here. In fact, this is the opposite of doing. It is a passivity of mind which is directed inwards to itself. Not a passivity of mind which causes destructive or irresponsible action. Rather, an awareness of mind which has within it only gentleness, honesty and the powerful fire of the sun – love.
I trust this has served you well.
Live, love and play.