“Understanding Suffering: A Universalist Buddhist Perspective”

We are all experiencing suffering in many ways. We readily see and recognise some of our sufferings while others remain below our awareness. Following the teachings of Shakyamuni, Gautama Buddha, we acknowledge that we are all born and live in the samsaric world (life lived and experienced without sufficient wisdom of compassion), which, once we understand its nature and reality, its foundation dhammas (phenomena), we see is a complete world, one which entails both suffering and the wisdom of compassion, true Refuge. Suffering and wisdom coexist and are intimately interwoven; one does not exist without the other. Samsara and nirvana, though seemingly distinct, are the same interdependent reality, perceived and experienced through different lenses.

Living in the state of nirvana is possible if only we would give up holding onto our attachments to the misunderstandings of reality that keep us bound to the cycle of pain and distress of suffering and instead find our way to the wisdom of compassion, dedicating ourselves to the development of health, peace and Refuge for all beings, in the absence of Tanhā (misguided desires and cravings based on ignorance resulting in hatred and aversion, lost compassion that makes up the central causes of suffering). Tanhā, can be described as the excessively uncontained and often uncontrollable desire and attachment to pleasurable experiences through the senses that diminish or undermine mindfulness and Refuge. Tanhā is present when we are not accepting of reality, craving to be someone or something, yearning to be deeply united in personal connection with the world and nature, chasing self-passions, or excessive wanting for becoming that can manifest as an overriding, all-consuming self-centeredness; and the desire to reject and avoid the experiences of pain and difficulty that are an inherent aspect of being human and alive.

The suffering we experience isn’t inherently wrong, incorrect or flawed but rather a natural aspect of reality that can be understood, reduced, minimised, and transformed into health, healing, peace and Refuge. By engaging in mindfulness, meditation and practising the teachings of Buddha-dhamma, we can transform our perspectives and outlook, overcoming any inclination to adversely critically analyse or harshly judge ourselves or others solely driven by unconscious conditioning or a lens of high moral judgement. Suffering is entirely an evolutionary principle, a fundamental element of reality and nature with its own essential purpose. There is no need for guilt, shame, accusation, humiliation, salvation or absolution from the natural condition of human suffering. When we become unhealthily caught up and unhelpfully entangled in the complex and demanding nature of dhamma/reality, we experience dukkha (suffering), becoming trapped and confined in the cycling of our sufferings – a lack, obscuration or deterioration of our mindfulness.

Our experiences of suffering can accumulate and intensify if left unchecked or unaddressed, leading to further entanglement, intensification and fixation on an over-personalisation of lived experience. This fixation on the personalisation of experience, in turn, perpetuates additional suffering – our ignorance, craving and misunderstanding of the essential nature of reality. This recurrent patterning provokes further discomfort, apprehension, fear, worry and anxiety about life and living, reinforcing our habitual patterns that lead to suffering, entanglement, misunderstandings and misconceptions about life and nature. A complex and perplexing cycle of misunderstanding unfolds, giving rise to unhealthy, inattentive, careless, detrimental, harmful attitudes and subsequent behaviours and reactions. Consequently, we feel the weight of our personal and collective suffering, its imprint on the world body, and the trajectory of evolution.

Buddha taught that we can perceive and comprehend our suffering with greater awareness, openness and compassion through right mindfulness and meditation. And, in doing so, we become increasingly proficient at ceasing the flow of suffering and eventually cutting it off at its roots, ultimately at the source or origin, transforming our misunderstandings into understanding. In practice, study and dialogues, we learn to apply our mindfulness, establishing familiarity and becoming increasingly compassionately engaged with our experiences of suffering. This practice, done well, teaches us how to be a good and caring friend, a safe companion to these experiences, enhancing our capacity for calm, clear understanding. Consequently, we gradually, and sometimes instantaneously, reframe and reorientate awareness and response to a more stable, resilient and robust Refuge. In doing so, decreasing and ceasing the patterns and cycles of suffering, reducing personal and collective harm in the world, fostering a deepening of shared Refuge, and the flowering of the wisdom of compassion.

Suffering manifests as lost kindness and care, compassion, goodwill, benevolent motivation, and the shutting-down of awareness, all stemming from misunderstanding or misperception of the true nature of reality, life and living, and the unfolding of evolution’s path. Suffering is representative of our lost capacity for compassionate care, the genuine power of experience to produce an unhealthy, unwholesome, detrimental and harmful state of being, a darkening of the mind and heart. With the intelligence of our mindfulness, the wisdom of compassion as our guide, with deep love and care, true understanding and insights attained through diligent training and practice, each one of us, and together, we can cultivate a deeper Refuge, one that is calm, clear and stable, buoyant and resilient, adaptable and enduring of the challenges and uncertainties of life. One that can come to terms with and transcend suffering, becoming okay with the nature of suffering and its realities, not becoming overburdened, overwhelmed or apathetic to the truth of suffering, and able to live free from harbouring ill-will, animosity, hatred, anger, indifference, resentment, suspicion, bitterness, towards oneself, others, nature, or the world as it is.

According to Buddha’s teachings, and as confirmed by many people through close examination and analysis, the primary cause keeping us bound to suffering, confined and preoccupied within a samsaric view, is our misunderstanding, belief and reactions to the notion of a permanent fixed, abiding, separate self, existing in the world. The discontent, dissatisfaction, anxiousness, restlessness, doubts and aggressiveness we experience when life doesn’t align well with this schema self-perpetuates during the ordinary course of living due to this inaccurate, limited perception and fundamental misinterpretation of reality. Other causes of suffering include our natural tendency to avoid unpleasantness, our pursuits of attachment to pleasurable experiences through the sensory body, and our avoidance of the realities of life, nature, and phenomena. Additionally, we excessively seek passionate attachment to existence and life experiences and are subject to the human condition. Curiously and paradoxically, we attempt to alleviate and overcome our anxieties whilst simultaneously evading acknowledging and working with our suffering, leading to an unhelpful and often unhealthy chain of events (Karma).

The purpose of practice is to discover the truth of dhammas, to perceive reality as it is, to find freedom from the suffering and entanglements that arise from our misunderstanding, to be liberated from any excessive fixation on a personal self, passions and desires, and to work at establishing individual and collective Refuge, a sense of calm and okayness with the truths of life that contributes to an all-embracing peace and health. Practice is for recognising, experiencing and acknowledging the presence of the world and life intelligence as it is. We are applying the methods and teachings of the Buddha-dhamma knowledge system to facilitate calm, coherent organisation and peaceful, adaptive acclimatisation to the vast matrix of life complexity, with meaning and purpose, a harmonious reunification and integration of compassionate mind and life. It is not for seeking something grandiose, novel, extraordinary or otherworldly, some fantasy of attaining some incredible enlightenment. Instead, we are open to discovering an enlightened view, a change in perception and perspective into openness, the wakefulness of interdependence, and a comprehensive, all-encompassing, compassionate awareness.

By Genyen – Ian Hackett

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