Dealing with suffering

BAMHappy Vajrayogini Day 🙂 This transcendent Buddha of Wisdom is all about helping us destroy our suffering at its root, in the course of one short lifetime.

We don’t like suffering, at least I don’t. Strange how much time we spend, then, dwelling on our own suffering each day.

Geshe Kelsang has said it is meaningless to think about our own suffering unless we want to develop renunciation, the wish for permanent freedom from all suffering and its causes. Dwelling on our own problems out of the context of renunciation can just lead to more self-cherishing. We tend to bat away one problem at a time, which is a bit exhausting and overwhelming. This is one reason why we need genuine renunciation, a compassion for ourselves that wants to be free from the whole ocean of samara, not just one wave at a time.

My friend K went to ER on Wednesday morning – waited 7 hours to be seen, all the time experiencing attacks of agony from kidney stones. She said the main thing she learned was that temporary cessations from particular sufferings, as Geshe Kelsang puts it, were indeed not good enough. In between the bouts of vomiting she’d experience temporary relief, and for the first few hours she though each time, “Phew, that’s it.” She said she even forgot quickly about the pain, thought she was free. But by 11 at night, experience had shown her that this short respite was just the precursor to another pain attack, and that she needed permanent freedom.

Keeping suffering in context

prison and freedomInterestingly, we can be overwhelmingly sad about any given daily mental or physical suffering, but when we manage to view that in the bigger existential context of the four noble truths and develop renunciation our mind becomes lighter and happier, already on the side of liberation, on the side of the solution.

Imagine you’d been born in a prison but had no idea, and you spent your life complaining about the prison food, the bars on the window that ruined your view, the rough and annoying people around you, the cold showers …. You tried to fix these problems as they arose, with greater or lesser success, but generally the whole experience was frustrating. Then someone comes along and says, “Your actual problem is that you are in prison. Until you get out, you are going to experience prison problems, whatever you do.” Buddha was like that when he pointed out the truth of suffering, the first of the four noble truths, likening samsara to a prison. It was not to depress us that he explained how we suffer from mental and physical pain every single frigging day of our lives, but to energize us to break out of the prison of suffering, whose walls and prison guards are our own delusions and negative actions.

hunger gamesWe’ve been enslaved by a master race of delusions since beginningless time. Katniss may be cool, but never mind the Hunger Games (a nod to the 4 nieces who told me to read/watch it) – that’s small fry. It’s time for us all to really rebel, shooting the flaming arrow of wisdom into our ignorance by realizing the ultimate nature of things, the mere absence of all the things we normally see.

Life is short

As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Understand the Mind p 275:

“Normally we believe that solving the suffering and problems of our present life is most important, and we dedicate our whole life for this purpose.”

But the problems of this life are very short-lived – if we die tomorrow, those problems end tomorrow.

I was talking with a friend over Xmas who was saying he wanted to win the lottery. I replied, “Don’t we all, but all the same it won’t solve our problems for very long.” He disagreed, regaling me with the varying levels of debt he and his family are in, and how much more wonderful life will be when those debts are paid off, how they’ll be free. Yes, perhaps, (I might have said if I’d thought of it at the time) — but not if you pay your debts off on Tuesday and then die on Wednesday.

Springboard to freedom
flicking off a rock
Quick, learn to fly!

Far more serious are the problems we are carrying deep inside us in the form of delusions and negative karma, as these undercurrents will flow into our countless future lives, constantly churning up new sufferings. If we use this short, very precious human life just to bat away at our immediate problems, I was thinking it’s a bit like using a million dollars to pay for a bag of salt & vinegar crisps at the airport because we feel peckish and happen to like Walkers. Precious human lives packed full with opportunity don’t come out of nowhere – we may not remember, but we must have spent a huge amount of time and effort in previous lives creating all the causes for this one, our potential springboard to freedom. Do we want to squander all that trying to solve the problems of just this life when we can use it in advance to solve the problems of all our future destinations?

Same for others

I think we can use a similar line of reasoning for developing compassion. Let’s say someone we love has been diagnosed with a horrible perhaps incurable illness. We can’t bear it, and we want them to be free from it; but we are not a doctor and, even if we were, we cannot cure them. So we are unhappy, the suffering seems overwhelming, seems to be just there, just sitting there. If however we transform that simple wish for them to be free from this particular illness into actual compassion for not just this sickness but all their sicknesses forever, already our mind is lifting.

What would Vajrayogini do?!

Because it is true, isn’t it, that if we want our mother, say, to be free from her neck pain today, we would also like her still to be free from it next week, and the week after, and the week after that … and, if we stop to think further, we want her to be free from ANY physical illness and mental suffering now and forever too. And if we understand that for her to be free from suffering forever she needs to be free of the causes of suffering, and we develop that wish for her, our mind becomes the very peaceful, solution-oriented, pure, even blissful mind of genuine compassion. Try it and see, and report back in the comments if you would. (Doesn’t mean of course that we don’t also try to alleviate her immediate neck pain eg, with Tiger Balm patches.) 

Spread that out to all our kind mothers and our mind gradually becomes vast and powerful, developing first into universal compassion and then the compassion of a Buddha, like Vajrayogini, that actually has the power to protect living beings from suffering.




Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

8 thoughts on “Dealing with suffering”

  1. As this is still good to read of such thoughts as I just returned from a hospital for a week operation of the vesicle. Thank you.

  2. What a wonderful capturing! Feel like I just had a refreshing and reviving beverage and my mind is clear and on track! Thank you again-you precious light.

  3. I always find my understanding of Buddha’s teaching expand as I read your newsletters. So very kind of you to share your knowledge and wisdom. I wanted to say I especially enjoyed this newsletter – the analogy of having a prison problem while ever we remain in a samsaric prison really hit a chord with me. Also, I really liked to images in this newsletter. Thank you again. May all sentient beings have everlasting peace and happiness.

  4. In this prison, some of us are unbelievably lucky to have someone (Buddha) point out the bars. We then eventually realize that we want to be out forever. Maybe gradually we stop complaining about the prison conditions and the people in the prison with us (Dharma practice).
    One of the harder challenges can also be to eventually realize that those other prisoners can help us really find the courage and strength to make the escape – they are not holding us inside – they are also our liberators in the sense that they are part of the motivation to get out – to get us ALL out. (Recognizing others as our Sangha)
    As someone who has a job focusing on alleviating all this prison suffering going on (health care practitioner), I am often banging my head on the bars of the prison, wondering how I can keep the energy in my heart fully engaged and energized to escape myself AND to help the other prisoners to escape (Bodhichitta) when they 1) don’t even perceive the prison, or 2) even if they do, they seem to be very stubborn about wanting to really escape.
    It can often feel like I am living in this cell, the clock ticking, trying to convince my fellow prisoner(s) that we really need to leave and sooner rather than later. And they say “yes, I hate this food, and the guards are all cruel, and these BEDS!” but when I show them the escape plan, they say “hmmm…not so much…maybe later..” (and despairing that I keep doing this too)
    So I often find myself blaming them for the fact that I am still here in prison too. Instead of the truth – that they are the the very means for me to develop an even stronger determination – I am often frustrated with them or even more frequently, feeling futile about the whole prison and possibility of escaping at all – me or them.
    How can we all help each other be here in this prison, together finding the escape not only possible but keeping the incarceration itself as the main impetus for the mind that focuses every day on the escape and nothing else? AND – stays happy and strongly motivated while doing this (Renunciation).
    I know any ability to do this mostly depends upon being encouraged to discuss this with others who also have the wish to escape and wanting the prison gone completely for everyone. For this, I thank you for posting this encouragement today.
    I would love to hear from others on this too.
    PS – May we all stop planning to buy potato chips (in my case also more chocolate) with our spiritual lottery ticket just so we can have snacks in our cell. (adding this to my dedication prayers today 🙂

    1. I hear you and agree – may we all sincerely manage to keep the wish of renunciation clearly in our minds all the time! – So looking for the day we can storm out of our prisons!! 🙂 Thank you and Luna xx

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