Monthly Archives: September 2021

Pain, but not Suffering

Our book group is studying  “Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness” by Sharon Salzberg. In the first chapter she offers this wonderful explanation of how we can experience the pain of life without suffering. She says:

“The basis of the Buddha’s psychological teaching is that our efforts to control what is inherently uncontrollable cannot yield the security, safety, and happiness we seek. By engaging in a delusive quest for happiness, we only bring suffering upon ourselves. In our frantic search for something to quench our thirst, we overlook the water all around us and drive ourselves into exile from our own lives. We may look for that which is stable, unchanging, and safe, but awareness teaches us that such a search cannot succeed. Everything in life changes. The path to true happiness is one of integrating and fully accepting all aspects of our experience. This integration is represented in the Taoist symbol of yin/yang, a circle which is half dark and half light. In the midst of the dark area is a spot of light, and in the midst of the light area is a spot of darkness. Even in the depths of darkness, the light is implicit. Even in the heart of light, the dark is understood, acknowledged, and absorbed. If things are not going well for us in life and we are suffering, we are not defeated by the pain or closed off to the light. If things are going well and we are happy, we are not defensively trying to deny the possibility of suffering. This unity, this integration, comes from deeply accepting darkness and light, and therefore being able to be in both simultaneously.

Right Intention

Right Intention is the second step on the Noble Eight-Fold Path and the second of the wisdom trainings. The first step is Right or Wise View. Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at how our “view” effects how we move about in the world. Our view is the lens through which we perceive the world. Buddha taught that first and foremost we cultivate right view by seeing clearly, understanding fully, the Four Noble Truths… Understanding fully the nature of suffering and its causes; that we can let go of the causes of suffering and realize it’s cessation by living our lives mindfully practicing the path of the Dharma.

We can only let go of the causes of suffering if we know–experience–what they are. In Right Intention we begin to see that, because we don’t see life as it is, our thinking and our intentions become skewed. We constantly think about ourselves, even when we’re being altruistic. We are often thinking of ourselves in our “selflessness.” So the Buddha asked that we examine our thoughts and intention. Look closely. Listen deeply to hear true purpose of our words and actions.

We tend to think that thoughts don’t count; only what we actually say or do matters. But, our thoughts are the forerunner of our actions and what we think, along with what we say and how we act, create karma. In the Dhammapada Buddha said:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the cart.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”

The teachings ask us to make a commitment to live in mindfulness of our intentions, from a heart of lovingkindness and compassion, letting go of the continual pull of craving.

The Jewel of the Sangha

There’s a story in the sutras about Ananda going to the Buddha filled with love for the sangha saying, “Lord, I think that half of the Holy Life is spiritual friendship, association with the Lovely.” And the Buddha replied: “Not so; say not so, Ananda. Spiritual friendship, association with the Lovely is not half of the Holy Life, it is the whole of the Holy Life!”

The Pali word for “association with the Lovely” is kalyanamitta. “Kalyana” means “lovely” or beautiful and “mitta” means “friend.” So, Lovely–or Loving–Friends. Mmmm. I feel that in the sangha. But, I have that same experience in many relationships in my life. When we say “spiritual friendship,” we don’t just mean the people we sit with in the sangha on Monday or Thursday. It isn’t just teacher and student. It’s also our husband, wife, or partner. It’s our lover, friends, teacher, siblings, children, parents, employer and co-workers. All of these different kinds of relationships are spiritual and supportive when we come to them with the Dharma and an open heart; with loving-kindness and compassion for one another.

Here’s a story I read some years ago by Ajahn Amaro:

“This year I learnt the word, ‘schmoozing,’ ‘to schmooze;’ I think it is a Yiddish word. It means to hang out with your friends, and chat and drink tea, doing nothing very much, just having a good time together. To schmooze is a very admirable and useful activity, and I’m not being facetious here. It is amazing how often people who are interested in spiritual practice come to a centre like this monastery, and listen to a talk or do a retreat and, as soon as it is over, everyone goes home. Sometimes you go to Buddhist groups for years, and you find that the people in the group hardly know each other. But part of developing our spiritual life is to spend time with each other, to generate a sense of respect and gratitude for each other’s interests and commitment to spiritual values; not to just think: “The talk is over, now it’s time to go home.” or, “The retreat is finished, now I’ll go off, I’ve got this and that to do.” “Through getting to know those who delight in the Buddha’s teaching we create a connection with them; we establish a support system. This is kalyanamitta, the network of spiritual friendship. This is what really enables us as a human society to hold together. Political agreements don’t work, laws don’t work; it is our ability to strengthen and affirm our qualities of inner beauty, of kindness and generosity, and to encourage those in others – that’s what enables human beings to live in a wholesome and profitable way.”

May you be well, today, my Dear Sangha.

Wise View

The Buddha taught that Right or Wise View or Understanding is: an understanding of the Four Noble Truths; based on direct insightful knowing of the Dharma; the objective understanding of things as they truly are; to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas; to understand “not self,” and the interdependent nature of all phenomena; and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning.

Wise Understanding or Wise View is the beginning and the end in the path, without it we get lost, our efforts misguided and misdirected. So, the Buddha said we must have an understanding of the Four Noble Truths. “View” here doesn’t mean personal opinions or ideas, dogmas or doctrines.  The Buddha taught that on following the Middle Way, we create an atmosphere of harmony, tolerance, and freedom.  He taught that one day we also would have expanded our consciousness so that we’ll know and realize the Four Noble Truths. So, Wise View to the Buddha meant having the Wise perspective on our possibilities as human beings, the vision of a path which we ourselves can follow and on which the Buddha has led the way.

The Four Noble Truths are, first, that all beings suffer. Second, we suffer, as Stephen Batchelor says, because we want things to be different than they are. But, Buddha said in the Third Noble Truth, that there is a way to stop this suffering…  and that way is the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the fourth Noble Truth. When we have an experience of them—not just hear or read these truths, but have a “direct insightful knowing” of them as a true path, then we have developed an aspect of Wise View.

Robert Bogoda says, “Wise Understanding, the first step of the Path, is seeing life as it really is: the objective understanding of the nature of things as they truly are without delusions or distortions.” This is how we develop wisdom: knowing how things work, knowing ourselves and knowing others.  Wrong View happens when we impose our expectations onto things; expectations about how we want things to be—what we hope they’ll be—or about how we’re afraid things might be.  Wise View happens when we see things simply as they are. We abandon hope and fear and take joy in a simple straight-forward approach to life.  Wise View is an open and accommodating attitude.