Saturday, October 16, 2010

inevitable suffering

A fundamental challenge of contemplative spiritual practices: "Are you willing to look directly in the face of suffering?"

This suffering refers especially sickness, aging, and death. These are the inevitable sufferings of life. Everything living is subject to illness, aging, and death. To really look at these, to really see their inevitability, is to face our own mortality, the reality of the temporary status of this life, of any life. This is the suffering we cannot avoid.

The Buddha's teaching of the ending of suffering does not mean a termination of the life cycle, the end of the flowing processes. However, it does begin with seeing the nature of this constant change and altering our relationship to change. The end of suffering comes with not clinging to anything. With this awareness we value life more deeply. We can come to appreciate the changing nature of things and flow with rather than fight them.

Embrace the truth of things by being willing to look directly at sickness, old age, and death. Instead of turning away from illness, when we see an animal or human suffering from illness consider, "This body, too, will sometime be sick."

When we see elderly and aging beings, "This body, too, is growing old. It will only grow older, not younger. I am as young as I am ever going to be in this life. Let me live this life fully. Let me grow into old age with grace and wisdom, appreciating the beauty and strength of maturity."

Let us not turn away from death wherever we see it. The dying process of friends and loved ones, the people killed in war or other acts of violence, from starvation, from poor living conditions. Animals killed by automobiles, for sport, and as part of the food chain. "This body, too, will someday loose its life force. I do not know when or how, so I will live every day, every moment fully now. With integrity, with good will, with the intention to be kind to all other beings, to not contribute to the suffering of any living being, including my self. To take only what I need."

This willingness to see what is true is not depressing or negative. It is a coming to terms with what is true, a choice not to hide from what is true. In this openness what unfolds is joy and contentment with things as they are right now. A gratitude for each breath. And also a matured integrity of being. Though we can't end the life cycle, the inevitable sufferings (nor would we want to - ending death would also end life), we can consciously choose to help create a world that is kind, a world free from violence, by not choosing it our selves, even in very small ways. This includes not punishing ourselves for not being perfectly kind. for making foolish mistakes. Our conditioning takes time to unwind. Seeing what is true is really all that is needed. With seeing clearly what is true, natural kindness and integrity gradually arise.