What is Suffering?







Why Clinging to the Five Aggregates Causes Suffering

Author: Linmu

Question: In life, there are eight sufferings: birth, aging, sickness, death, not getting what we desire, encountering what we dislike, separation from loved ones, and clinging to the five aggregates (form, feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, and consciousness). How can one truly understand the last suffering, clinging to the five aggregates? The previous seven sufferings can be felt, but it is challenging to recognize the final suffering of clinging to the five aggregates, yet it is said to be the root of all suffering. What does that mean?

Answer: The last suffering is often translated as the "clinging of the five aggregates." So, what are these five aggregates? In simple terms, they are the body, feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, and consciousness. These five phenomena constitute the five aggregates. But what are the five aggregates of clinging?

For an individual, the five aggregates of clinging are what one identifies as "me" or "mine." These include everything that people identify as themselves or as belonging to themselves. This encompasses the previous seven sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, death, not getting what we desire, encountering what we dislike, and separation from loved ones.

You might wonder why these five aggregates—the body, feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, and consciousness—are considered suffering. After all, there are moments of happiness and even times when we don't experience unhappyness at all. For example, when you're with someone you love, all aspects of the body, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness are pleasant. Enjoying good food, beautiful scenery, fragrances, massages, music, movies, and more can bring happiness. Furthermore, many times, people find themselves in states of neither happiness nor unhappyness, right?

That's true. The five aggregates of clinging can bring happiness or unhappyness and even suffering, and there are times when they neither bring happiness nor unhappyness. However, if you think about it more deeply, you'll realize that all worldly happiness is impermanent.






There are three aspects to this impermanence:

First, all phenomena or things are not lasting. Nothing can exist forever. Regardless of how much you love something, it will eventually depart from you, or you'll depart from it. There is no eternal togetherness; there is no forever. The stronger the attachment when something exists, the greater the distress when it's lost.

Second, the five aggregates of clinging themselves are impermanent. They can't last forever. The body requires constant nourishment to stay in existence, and even with that, it will eventually disintegrate in a few decades. This is what people fear: death. Feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, and consciousness are even more fleeting; they disappear in an instant. We need continuous contact with objects to maintain feelings and consciousness. It takes abundant energy to keep our imaginations and thoughts active. All of this effort is stress or suffering, and it ultimately amounts to nothing.

Third, and most importantly, even when phenomena or things continue to exist, the five aggregates of clinging still exist, and no one can remain in any form of happiness forever. Not for a lifetime, a year, a day, an hour, or even a minute. This is because, regardless of how happy you are, over time, you'll become accustomed to it and start to crave new sensory stimuli. This cycle of boredom and craving results in stress, and unhappyness.

Why is that? It's because all worldly happiness lacks the nature of true happiness. If a phenomenon or thing had the essence of happiness, it would make you happy at any time, anywhere, and under any circumstances. The moment that phenomenon arises or you come into contact with it, you will be happy. However, in reality, the happiness derived from the five aggregates of clinging is not truly happiness. It only exists based on satisfying conditional desires. When those desires change, all you experience from these phenomena or things is stress and discomfort.

However, for a realized one who has achieved the cessation of the five aggregates of clinging, it's a different story. The happiness that arises after the cessation of the five aggregates of clinging is absolute, eternal, unchanging, and doesn't depend on any conditions. This is the nature it possesses.

It's like a person who has frostbite in the winter. When the frostbite is unbearably itchy, soaking it in hot water or warming it by the fire can bring immense pleasure. However, the person doesn't wish to keep the frostbite around to experience this pleasure continually because they know that the pleasure is actually the result of the suffering from the frostbite itself. Being free from the ailment, being unafflicted, is true happiness.

Similarly, the five aggregates of clinging also bring some happiness. But for someone who has realized the cessation of the five aggregates of clinging, these aggregates are like the ailment, like frostbite, and the root of unhappyness and suffering. Their nature is suffering. So, to truly understand this eighth suffering, one needs to realize the cessation of this eighth suffering, which is what the enlightened ones refer to as Nibbana.







What are the Five Aggregates

To help you understand clinging to the Five Aggregates, let's look at each of the Five Aggregates a little bit more closely:

The Form Aggregate is the collection of the various mental impressions that we have formed regarding physical objects of the world. It is not the physical objects themselves; it is the mental impressions that have been created in the mind about those objects.

For example, in regards to the body, it is the impressions or memories that we have created about our own and other people's bodies, including eyes, skin, nose, hair, shape, muscles, nails, mouth, etc. While some of these impressions are instinctual or due to karmic forces, with the use of social media and advertising and other modern mediums, these impressions, what we call the Form Aggregate, and our expectations of the body, have become greatly distorted.

The Feeling Aggregate is a collection of our past feelings that shape how we experience the world through present feelings. It's a collection of feelings that we have developed about things of this world, including pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral sensations. Feelings constantly change based on causes and conditions throughout one's lifetime.

The Perception Aggregate is a collection of all our past perceptions, involving recognizing, identifying, categorizing, and interpreting sensory information received through the senses such as sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and the mind. Perceptions are also constantly changing based on causes and conditions throughout one's lifetime.

The Mental Volitions Aggregate comprises various mental activities such as intention, volition, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, views, and habits. These mental processes are dynamic and constantly changing, influenced by past causes and conditions, present circumstances, and future wants and wishes.

The Consciousness Aggregate comprises consciousness, otherwise known as awareness or cognition. It is the aspect of the mind that knows, experiences, and is aware of sensory stimuli and mental phenomena. There are six types of consciousness, corresponding to the six sense bases through which beings perceive the world: eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness, and mind consciousness.







Understanding Clinging to the Five Aggregates

Clinging to the Five Aggregates results from ignorantly believing that they constitute who we are, believing that they are under our control. It is from not understanding their nature, namely that they are shaped by instincts, the environment, societal causes and conditions, as well as each person's life circumstances. It is the ignorance that all perceptions and cognition are created by the mind, clouded by past experience, and do not accurately represent the underlying reality.

To understand clinging to the Five Aggregates, consider that all beings, in order to feed, reproduce, and survive, have over time adapted their physical bodies, likes and dislikes, and behaviors for survival. This requires that the vast majority of information in the environment be ignored and factors important for survival, for example, feeding and reproduction, be enhanced.

For the enhancement of survival, the mind perceives certain forms as attractive and certain feelings as pleasant, such as sexual pleasure to ensure reproduction, pleasant tastes for foods suitable for consumption, and unpleasant feelings for those things that should be avoided, like danger. These forms, feelings, and perceptions highlight and make objects of interest stand out from the environment. The Tathagatha calls this objectification.

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Objectification is a disease, objectification is a cancer, objectification is an arrow. Therefore, you should train yourselves: We will dwell with an awareness free of objectifications.

SN 35:207

People chase after objects of the world that they perceive to be attractive, tasty, fragrant, etc., without realizing that these characteristics are not intrinsic properties of the objects themselves; they are an illusion created by the five aggregates to enhance cognition.

Phenomena like time and space, and our sense of self as a separate being apart from the objects of the world, are not inherent in light waves contacting our eyes or sound waves sensed by our ears. This three-dimensional world, in which we perceive ourselves as separate from objects in the world, is created in consciousness and is a reconstruction to facilitate our interaction with object of the world.

Additionally, language, which allows humans to communicate and interact with each other using words, is an abstract representation of reality. Although language has made humans successful and efficient at exploiting their environment, it creates an abstraction layer where people can interact in a made-up world, mostly detached from nature and natural forces.

Language reinforces the subject-object relationship. It creates the illusion that there are things to be grasped and that there is someone who grasps, that there is a doer and things to be done, a thinker and thoughts to be thought. Instead of seeing that everything is the result of natural causes and conditions, people fixate on words, and because of this clinging, words have the power to completely affect a person's moods, thoughts, and actions, even though they are not based on any underlying natural reality.

In other words, we live in a mind-created world, and most people are almost completely detached from natural reality.


Greed and Aversion

What the Tathagata calls "greed" arises when people ignore or don't understand the unfabricated, infinitely variable, always-changing, undependable nature of this world and instead believe that what they experience through the Five Aggregates is something substantial, real, and dependable that can be grasped. In other words, we have a strong belief in ourselves as enduring entities; we unquestionably believe our feelings, perceptions, and thoughts are completely real, that they belong to us, and that they can be depended upon to see the truth and obtain happiness. As a result, we become entangled, lost in chasing our perceptions and thoughts, ignoring all the stress, unhappyness and suffering that it causes.

For example, a greedy person who is blinded by money may chase and cling to money, not for the purpose of putting it to good use, but solely for amassing as much money as possible. In the process of amassing this money, they become blind to any stress or suffering they create for themselves and blame any stress and problems on outside circumstances or other persons. Never satisfied, they chase the illusion created by the five aggregates, ignoring all the stress and unhappyness that being blinded by greed creates.

In other words, we no longer chase after food to satisfy hunger and feed our bodies; we chase after tastes themselves. Blinded by greed, we chase after the idea of sex for sex itself. Greed causes us to not see people as they truly are, but instead as what they appear to be: "rich, poor, powerful, successful, famous, beautiful, ugly, etc." We chase after these attributes that have no basis in nature, and as a result, we suffer. This is clinging to the five aggregates.

A liberated person, on the other hand, understands that nothing in this world is intrinsically beautiful or ugly, tasty or distasteful, and that all judgments are products of the five aggregates and, taken by themselves, are empty of any substance.

A liberated person's mind, while still enjoying food, fragrances, etc., sees through these distortions and enhancements in perception and thoughts as illusions. Their mind does not grasp or react to other people's words or actions, or any part of existence based on these illusions. Instead, they see the underlying reality, rendering perceptions and thoughts harmless.

In the same way that people cling to the illusion of pleasure, we also cling to the unpleasant aspects of experience. For example, instead of seeing the underlying reality of objects, we cling to their unpleasant features; we may, for example, develop an aversion to eating healthy food simply because it does not have the delicious attribute, ignoring the long-term health problems and suffering that may be created by unhealthy eating.

Also, when experiencing unpleasant sensations, we grasp and cling to the unpleasantness of the experience instead of seeing and understanding the underlying reality, which causes more stress, discomfort or suffering.

Delusion occurs because, despite constantly being reminded that our likes or dislikes, views, thoughts, and actions are not satisfied and are not in line with the truth of the world, we ignore the truth and instead strengthen the sense of self, blindly focused on getting satisfaction and ignoring any stress, unhappyness or suffering being created.







Karma, Samsara and Suffering

It's important to understand that stress and suffering, although bearing fruit in the present, is the result of past causes, conditions, and intentions. In very simple terms, the past circumstances of this life and past lives have shaped our current likes and dislikes, our views, our thoughts, and our intentions, which exert influence on our present circumstances.

These past conditions and circumstances shape our present being because they have volition and momentum created by previous intent. This is what is called samsara, a flowing river of volition rooted in past ignorant and delusional intentions, which makes humans feel helpless. Sometimes submerged and drowning, at other times feeling happy and peaceful, but mostly feeling helpless to control the constantly changing flow of life and grasping, trying to hold on to anything solid to avoid being pulled under or trying to control the flow of the river.

Think of karma and samsara as seeds or intentions, that have been planted and will sprout based on the right conditions, ripening to stress and suffering when craving and clinging are present. For instance, if we have developed a liking for certain foods or a dislike for certain behaviors, encountering them through our senses or memories triggers habitual reactions. These reactions might manifest as very unwholesome thoughts, words, and actions, or as subtle forms of clinging, aversion, or delusion for more advanced practitioners.

Karma can also be understood at a simple level as the conditions that shape our identity, including unfulfilled past likes, dislikes, intentions, habits, dreams, memories, etc. This creates restlessness or agitation of the mind, generating volition or the intention to find satisfaction and happiness. The consequence is that we are continually seeking something to alleviate this agitation, and the mind struggles to remain calm.

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Karma should be understood, the source and origin of karma should be understood, the diversity of karma should be understood, the result of karma should be understood, the cessation of karma should be understood, the way of practice leading to the cessation of karma should be understood.

To truly understand stress and suffering and embrace the Eightfold Path, it's important to understand how intentions create karma and volition, and how intentions play a role in creating views, thoughts, and habits that result in present stress and suffering. Only then can we understand why the Eightfold Path is the best way to create new causes and conditions that can replace these unwholesome habitual reactions that lead to the cessation of stress and suffering.

To better comprehend volition, stress and suffering, study the following diagram:






Due to restlessness, the mind is always seeking something to grasp, something to relieve this agitation. This is craving. Based on past karma, which involves volition, something in our environment or memories will trigger a desire.

  1. This desire causes tension in the person experiencing it.

  2. Since the tension is felt as unpleasant, the person is compelled to alleviate it by satisfying the desire.

  3. Obtaining the desired object and gratifying the desire relaxes the tension in the mind.

  4. The relaxation of tension leads to a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, accompanied by some degree of comfort.

  5. As long as a person is not liberated, desires and cravings of various kinds will continually arise, agitating the mind at every moment.

  6. This means that the relaxation of tension and resulting pleasure can never be anything more than temporary and incomplete.

For example, most people spend their whole life chasing after things like money, material goods, beauty, status, delicious foods, winning competitions, and travel experiences. The expectations created and the effort involved in trying to obtain these cause a lot of tension and stress.

If we look carefully at the whole process, every time someone earns money, obtains a new material object, is seen as beautiful, gets recognition, eats delicious food, wins a competition, or goes on vacation, the stress from craving, expectations and effort is temporarily relieved, which is wrongly perceived as obtaining happiness.

Because people incorrectly believe that happiness comes from making money itself, chasing beauty and status, winning competitions, or going on vacation, they repeat the cycle over and over again, never achieving real satisfaction or happiness.

In other words, rather than recognizing that the letting go of craving and expectations and the relaxation of pressure from desires brought them satisfaction, people mistakenly believe that the objects of desire themselves brought them that happiness, when in reality, desire is the cause of stress and dissatisfaction.

Since happiness doesn't come from craving or desire itself, which, in fact, causes pain, but from its ceasing, one should understand that the renunciation of craving and sense desires, instead of causing misery, opens up the only path to true and lasting happiness.


Both ordinary and awakened people experience the three feelings. The difference is that when an ordinary person is stricken with feeling, they react, creating more suffering, whereas an awakened person responds with equanimity:








Impermanence, Not-Self and Suffering

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By & large, Kaccāna, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings, & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on 'my self'.

He has no uncertainty or doubt that mere stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It’s to this extent, Kaccāna, that there is right view.

SN 12:15

The root of stress and suffering lies in our ignorance of the impermanent, always changing, not-self nature of the world. We fail to grasp that all things that arise must also pass away, and that all dualities of the world such as good or bad, beautiful or ugly, fast or slow, and so forth are judgments based on clinging to biases or obsessions. This reinforces the sense of self that attempts to control these constantly changing dualities.

For example, once one attaches and takes personally the perception of something being "good," it's inevitable that, based on causes and conditions, this "good" attribute attached to it will eventually transition to "bad," often oscillating back and forth depending on circumstances.

The truth lies in the middle. Not between good or bad, but not being attached to either.

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‘Everything exists’: That is one extreme. ‘Everything doesn’t exist’: That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle.

SN 12:15


Venerable Kaccānagotta asks the Tathagata about right view, and the Tathagata answers that right view arises when one sees the origin and cessation of the world and is free of attachments. This sutta, brief but profound and difficult, became renowned as the only canonical reference named in Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, perhaps the most famous philosophical treatise in all Buddhism:


Although most sensations and thoughts continually arise and pass away and cease naturally without inducing stress or discomfort, we cling to the idea of things existing or not existing.

Stress results from focusing solely on the arising of sensations and thoughts, clinging to their details while disregarding or ignoring their passing away and cessation, their emptiness. In other words, we cling to thoughts and perceptions instead of letting them pass away and cease on their own naturally.

In very simple terms, if one learns not to attach to judgments and details about "The World", allowing these formations of the mind to pass away and cease on their own without clinging, this is the end of stress and unhappyness.

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Here I breathe in mindful, I breathe out mindful. I know when I breathe in long, I know when I breathe out long …

I will breathe in observing relinquishment, I will breathe out observing relinquishment.

For if anyone should be rightly said to dwell in the noble dwelling, the divine dwelling, the Tathāgatas dwelling, it is when dwelling in mindfulness of breathing.

SN54.12







The Fires of Nibbana

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For him—infatuated, attached, confused, not remaining focused on their drawbacks—the five clinging-aggregates head toward future accumulation.

The craving that makes for further becoming—accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there—grows within him.

His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress.

Another aspect of clinging to the Five Aggregates is their cumulative nature. The Five Aggregates are like burning fires; the more grasping and clinging that is fed into the fire, the stronger it burns. As the Tathagata describes above:

"His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress."

Essentially, every time we cling to the Five Aggregates, it's like adding fuel to a fire, and over time, these accumulated fires lead to increased stress and various bodily and mental symptoms. This results in bodily tensions, ailments, and other issues that don't have an obvious origin.

In other words, every time there is desire, greed, aversion, and clinging, this increases our overall level of stress. When the fires of Nibbana or stress get too hot or too much to handle, we blow up, releasing this stress either in anger, depression, consuming unwholesome foods or actions, or stored as tension in the body. Usually, it's a combination of all of these.

As a result, people develop unwholesome behaviors, bad habbits, as a mechanism to cope with stress, to release their underlying stress, and discomfort.

It's widely recognized that stress is the cause of a range of mental and physical health problems. Clinging to the body, feelings, perceptions, intentions, and thoughts— the Five Aggregates— has deep and wide significance for our long-term mental and physical health.


The Four Noble Truths

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A noble disciple understands clinging, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation.

But what is clinging? What is its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation?

There are these four kinds of clinging. Clinging at sensual pleasures, views, precepts and observances, and theories of a self.

Clinging originates from craving. Clinging ceases when craving ceases. The practice that leads to the cessation of clinging is simply this noble eightfold path.

MN9

Having read the above, one should begin to have a basic understanding of the Four Noble Truths:

First Noble Truth: And what is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the disliked is suffering, separation from the loved is suffering; not getting what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

Second Noble Truth: And what is the noble truth of the origin of suffering? It is this craving which leads to rebirth, accompanied by delight and lust, finding delight here and there; namely, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for non-existence.

Third Noble Truth: And what is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering? It is the remainderless fading and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.

Fourth Noble Truth: And what is the noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering? It is this noble eightfold path, namely: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Remember that the Four Truths held by the Noble Ones are not static truths; they are truths that guide one's practice of the Eightfold Path. In other words, one is constantly discerning more and more subtle forms of stress and suffering, the cause of this stress, and its cessation through the application of the Noble Eightfold Path.







Contemplation

The Tathagata teaches that there are four ways that people cling to the Five Aggregates, believing that they are the self:

In other words, one identifies and takes personally, clings to what is experienced at the Five Aggregates and suffers because they ignore the reality that what is experienced at the Five Aggregates is beyond their control, mere natural forces of the world.


Clinging to Sensual Pleasures

All individuals develop preferences in how they find pleasure and happiness in the world. They believe this makes them individuals, separate from others. When enjoying a favorite pleasure, consider the following:


Clinging to the Views we Hold About the World

As one develops likes and dislikes for things in the world, these attributes are further linked together in the views that they hold about the world and further strengthen clinging to the perception of a self.

For example, it's common for people to have strong views about how to live life, politics, and almost every other subject regarding existence. We believe that these views define us; we believe our views make us different and special and account for our success in life. Consider the following:


Clinging to Habits and Routines

As one develops strong views, these take shape into thoughts, habits, and routines—things we do automatically or without much attention; we believe they make us unique, defining how we think and act to find happiness in life. For example, eating, working, social life, exercise, hobbies, etc. These habits and routines further strengthen clinging to the perception of a self.


Clinging to the Aggregates Themselves

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An uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — assumes form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.. He assumes feeling to be the self. He assumes perception to be the self. He assumes formations to be the self.. He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness.

SN 22.85

The Tathagata teaches that the true source of clinging is the Five Aggregates themselves. That is, we are so attached to our bodies, our feelings and perceptions, our thoughts, views, and consciousness that we think they are part of us, who we are, what we see as ourself. Discerning clinging to the Five Aggregates will be covered later in the gradual training.


Sutta Study

Please contemplate the following Suttas to understand how the Tathagata explains the five aggregates as insubstantial:


The Tathagata gives a series of similes for the aggregates: physical form is like foam, feeling is like a bubble, perception is like a mirage, choices are like a coreless tree, and consciousness is like an illusion:



The distinction between “five aggregates” and “five grasping aggregates”:



The householder Nakulapitā asks the Tathagata for help in coping with old age. The Tathagata says to reflect: “Even though I am afflicted in body, my mind will be unafflicted.” Later Sāriputta explains this in terms of the five aggregates:



Suffering in future lifetimes

"Stress and suffering arises from our attachment to the misconception of a persistent sense of self and that the enhancements (illusions) formed by the five aggregates are real and can be depended upon to obtain happiness."

It's important to remember that we have only covered stress and suffering within this present lifetime. However, the cycle of rebirth is inherently unpredictable, often leading to rebirths in unfavorable realms. If one could witness the suffering endured by others, in this and previous lifetimes, it would become evident that even being reborn as a human is susceptible to profound suffering. Thus, to fully comprehend suffering, we must consider the suffering to come in countless future lives.

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What do you think, disciples? Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—or the water in the four great oceans?

As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—not the water in the four great oceans.

Tears, Assu Sutta (SN 15:3)

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Disciples, this cycle of rebirths is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving.

Disciples, whatever is seen of a destitute, miserable state, it should be understood: We too have experienced such a state in this long journey.

SN15.11


For someone who has seen the truth, the suffering eliminated is like the great earth; what remains is like the dirt under a fingernail:



The Details of Pain

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

The following is a condensed version of the original article

Our dreams and delusions make us forget that we live in the midst of a mass of pain and stress—the stress of defilements, the pain of birth. Birth, aging, illness, and death: All of these are painful and stressful, in the midst of instability and change. They’re things we have no control over, for they must circle around in line with the laws of kamma and the defilements we’ve been amassing all along. Life that floats along in the round of rebirth is thus nothing but stress and pain.

If we can find a way to develop our mindfulness and discernment, they’ll be able to cut the round of rebirth so that we won’t have to keep wandering on. They’ll help us know that birth is painful, aging is painful, illness is painful, death is painful, and that these are all things that defilement, attachment, and craving keep driving through the cycles of change.

So as long as we have the opportunity, we should study the truths appearing throughout our body and mind, and we’ll come to know that the elimination of stress and pain, the elimination of defilement, is a function of our practice of the Dhamma. If we don’t practice the Dhamma, we’ll keep floating along in the round of rebirth that is so drearily repetitious—repetitious in its birth, aging, illness, and death, driven on by defilement, attachment, and craving, causing us repeated stress, repeated pain. Living beings for the most part don’t know where these stresses and pains come from or what they come from, because they’ve never studied them, never contemplated them, so they stay stupid and deluded, wandering on and on without end.…

If we can stop and be still, the mind will have a chance to be free, to contemplate its sufferings and to let them go. This will give it a measure of peace, because it will no longer want anything out of the round of rebirth—for it sees that there’s nothing lasting to it, that it’s simply stress over and over again. Whatever you grab hold of is stress. This is why you need mindfulness and discernment to know and see things for yourself, so that you can supervise the mind and keep it calm, without letting it fall victim to temptation.

This practice is something of the highest importance. People who don’t study or practice the Dhamma have wasted their birth as human beings, because they’re born deluded and simply stay deluded. But if we study the Dhamma, we’ll become wise to suffering and know the path of practice for freeing ourselves from it.…

Once we follow the right path, the defilements won’t be able to drag us around, won’t be able to burn us, because we’re the ones burning them away. We’ll come to realize that the more we can burn them away, the more strength of mind we’ll gain. If we let the defilements burn us, the mind will be sapped of its strength, which is why this is something you have to be very careful about. Keep trying to burn away the defilements in your every activity, and you’ll be storing up strength for your mindfulness and discernment so that they’ll be brave in dealing with all sorts of suffering and pain.

You must come to see the world as nothing but stress. There’s no real ease to it at all. The awareness we gain from mindfulness and discernment will make us disenchanted with life in the world because it will see things for what they are in every way, both within us and without.

The entire world is nothing but an affair of delusion, an affair of suffering. People who don’t know the Dhamma, don’t practice the Dhamma—no matter what their status or position in life—lead deluded, oblivious lives. When they fall ill or are about to die, they’re bound to suffer enormously because they haven’t taken the time to understand the defilements that burn their hearts and minds in everyday life. Yet if we make a constant practice of studying and contemplating ourselves as our everyday activity, it will help free us from all sorts of suffering and distress. And when this is the case, how can we not want to practice?

Only intelligent people, though, will be able to stick with the practice. Foolish people won’t want to bother. They’d much rather follow the defilements than burn them away. To practice the Dhamma you need a certain basic level of intelligence—enough to have seen at least something of the stresses and sufferings that come from defilement. Only then can your practice progress. And no matter how difficult it gets, you’ll have to keep practicing on to the end.

This practice isn’t something you do from time to time, you know. You have to keep at it continuously throughout life. Even if it involves so much physical pain or mental anguish that tears are bathing your cheeks, you have to keep with the chaste life because you’re playing for real. If you don’t follow the chaste life, you’ll get mired in heaps of suffering and flame. So you have to learn your lessons from pain. Try to contemplate it until you can understand it and let it go, and you’ll gain one of life’s greatest rewards.

Don’t think that you were born to gain this or that level of comfort. You were born to study pain and the causes of pain, and to follow the practice that frees you from pain. This is the most important thing there is. Everything else is trivial and unimportant. What’s important all lies with the practice.