The truth about enlightenment

Posted by on Jul 2, 2012 in Buddhism | 2 Comments
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One of the things that can keep us in the lack – feeling like something’s missing or that we’re doing something wrong – is the idea that there are other people out there living correctly. Life is one big abundant party, full of excitement, easy, fun. There are people who make a nice living out of claiming to be one of these people, further muddying the waters of our perception of how life is.

I can say emphatically and with full confidence: no one’s got it sussed.

Detox centres are filled with those who have ‘made it’. Because no one ever really makes it. Did Elvis make it? Did Michael Jackson?

Life is an unfolding process, all lives have pressure, uncertainty and pain. To embrace this is to allow yourself to become yourself, rather than constantly having your focus elsewhere, looking for a way out, somewhere else, at some point in the future.

In Buddhism this fundamental inability to have it sussed is called ‘dukkha’. Dukkha is sometimes translated as suffering, or sometimes dissatisfactoriness, or stress. The image given is of riding on a chariot, with one dodgy wheel. The ride isn’t quite right, not quite comfortable enough, with the possibility of things going quite wrong if that wheel comes off.

Dukkha is the starting point of the Buddhist spiritual path (this is called the ‘first noble truth’). And like all good spiritual paths, there is supposedly an ‘end of dukkha’ too.

But there’s a bit of a catch. The end of dukkha comes from letting go of craving (that’s the third noble truth). This means we need to let go, in the depths of our very being, of the need for an end to dukkha.

By letting go of craving, we can indeed lose lots of unnecessary suffering (that’s the fourth noble truth, kind of). Much suffering is caused by anticipation of possible future suffering, and attempting to avoid that. More suffering is caused by feeling that our current pains and difficulties should not be there, or that they say something negative about us and how we’re living (I’m suffering because I’m not doing it right, or because I’m stupid, or because I can’t get up early enough or get down the gym often enough or make enough money or attract the right partner). Or worse, we can decide that our suffering is caused by external forces over which we have little power, and that the suffering won’t go away until those forces stop doing what they’re doing. That is not a good state to be in, since we feel trapped and powerless, and that adds buckets of suffering onto the actual suffering.

But there is some suffering we can’t avoid. The Buddha died of dysentery and had to dwell in superconscious states to avoid the pain. The meditation equivalent of taking morphine. We get old (if we’re lucky), we get sick, and we die. People we love die or get hurt. Good things disappear, bad things arrive. This is life.

Taking it on the chin is part of spiritual maturity, aka ‘growing up’. Only when we stop wriggling can we can begin to climb off the hook. But wriggling is hard-wired into us, so don’t give yourself a hard time about that either.

PS You may be wondering what the second noble truth is. It’s that suffering is caused by craving. So, in order…

The Four Noble Truths

1st Noble Truth: There is suffering
2nd Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by craving
3rd Noble Truth: When we let go of craving, suffering ceases
4th Noble Truth: The way to let go of craving is to practice the Noble Eightfold Path (but that’s a story for another time)

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