Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pain & Suffering

About yesterday's debate in the comment section about pain and suffering, I subscribe to that old notion that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. No way you can go through life without encountering pain, as I see it. You prick your finger with a pin; it hurts. As a child, you fall off your bike and scrape your knee when you're learning how to ride. That hurts. You fall in love with someone who fails (inexplicably!) to fall in love with you. You get cancer. That brings pain. You fall, when you're old, and break a bone. It's all pain. I don't believe, Carly, that any single human being can get through life without it.

But yes, you're right: suffering is not inevitable. In theory. But it takes a whole lot of practice and skill to learn to live without it. Suffering is what we choose to add on to the pain when we cling to it, as you so rightly note. What you say about movement is interesting here, because to let go of the pain is, in a real sense, to "move on" from it. My current experience with Dr. Steve is also interesting in this regard, because in some sense pain is where we choose to feel it; and when he talks about the flow and the blockage of energies, he's clearly talking about movement.

As usual, Carly, we're not so far apart in our thinking on this subject. In my judgment, at least. Have a great weekend, everyone. And if you have a spare moment and the interest, I'd love to know your take on this. Are you in pain? Do you suffer from it? Let me know...


Mark said...

I think that's a great notion. Pain and suffering are not synonymous. One thing I like about the pain that I feel is that it connects me to the rest of the human race. We all feel it. It's like breathing when you meditate. Every living being breathes, so we are all connected when we focus on it. Suffering, in the sense you're discussing it, seems to be self-inflicted. Perhaps it occurs from thinking we're the only one feeling pain? Just a thought.

Carly said...

P and Mark: I like your thoughts.

As for pain, I've always thought pain feels natural. I've tried to follow the one's who never complain about it. Death and pain seem as natural to me as eating. Pain is good, it tells us when something is amiss, for which we can often compensate. I am looking into Qigong and T'ai Chi Ch'uan as another way to alleviate pain.

I've known suffering, everything from extreme heartache over a woman, to existential loneliness, to psychological subjugation from other people, even parents. I've lived the social political suffering of our times, and indeed, worldwide, forces are at work which will subjugate us further as slaves to an economic system and warped philosophies. I've also known many types of self-inflicted suffering, induced by melancholy and even depression arising from the bad I've seen among men.

Book of Changes pictures a man sitting under a bare tree, wailing and bemoaning his fate.

There are people who cry and wail "oh, poor me!" and there are people who never do that. I simply got tired of suffering and looked around for an alternative to it, but Buddhism seemed to attract too many 'wailers' looking for peace. I know you will say they don't understand Buddhism, but while it's attractive, joining a monastery wasn't in the cards for me. For one thing, I saw corruption everywhere, including all organized religious mini-societies. For another, I cannot bear to pray to shrines and effigies. I had to find a personal philosophy that suited my individuality and works among men. Finally, a way opened to me which fit my innate sense with the success I saw in the non-wailers.

That philosophy is the way of the sage. I learned of a man who was a sage and began studying his ideas. The lesson: When one sees good in others, he imitates it.

If loneliness is suffering, one does not see it in the sage. He sets his mind to sublimity. I know of certain Zen Masters who were sages, great artists, calligraphers, and writers of Haiku. My own master left his culture as the storm was breaking to travel alone and disappear. My other best teacher was alone among men, existentially. But he was a natural master of hiding his inner light and disguising it in his art. He was an unrecognized genius, except by the few close to him. I could see him fighting suffering as he did not pursue fame, and sublimate his suffering into art. He smoked cigarettes and had a saddened look in his penetrating eyes and died at forty.

One of the great lessons is how not to be defeated by an adverse fate. Finally I found a teacher who could put that lesson and many others into effective words. It was at that point, I renounced suffering, even bearing pain for the sake of others, and adopted Acceptance. I accept my adverse fate. I accept pain. I accept death. No longer will I suffer for them. Since I believe it impossible to leave pain behind or 'throw off' the attachments to that which causes suffering, I choose to flow with it instead, like water around objects, to strive to become a superior man who shapes things instead of be shaped by them, one who is not confused by obfuscation. And for that one needs a cogent mode of existence to become a deep well, at the bottom of which is water pure enough to drink.

carly said...

This from LiveJournal. in a discussion I started about suffering:

From one "Shingouki"

"there are different sub-messages in Buddhism about the origin of suffering, but in Buddhim "Life is suffering." How you approach life in your out look of it could increase or diminish it, but one of the tennants of Buddhist thought is that as long as you're caught in "Samsara," the reincarnation, you'll be forced to suffer to some degree in whatever form you take. thus, the ultimate goal is to attain nirvana in which you have no more physical body or identity for you to be able to suffer."

"the 13th chapter/stanza in the Tao Teh Ching... whatever you call it says to "prize calamaties as your own body." that in a sense, mirrors what buddha said when he said that life is suffering. its a fact of life that everyone suffers. you can rationalize it, re-name it, mentally detach yourself from it, whatever; but as long as you're alive you will suffer in some sense; be it mental or physical.
from the moment you were born to the moment you die you are in a fragile vessel and at some time you will feel pain. thats a fact, pain is a physical response. its biological, its science. what outlook you take to that pain is completely up to you. I have no right to say you cant think whatever you want about buddha's teachings. but buddha meant to show people that in the scope of their lives they suffer and psychologically as well as spiritually he tought a philosophy to over-ride or material dependant habits. thats why his "life is suffering" teaching is about. removing tendancies that lead to our own suffering, as we are the ones who generally cause ourselves to suffer.

think what you will. but to say that you don't "suffer" is niave at the very best."

I am not in alignment with every line of this.

carly said...

1. A man was watching the fire burn the flesh off his arm. As he endured the pain, he noticed how beautiful it was.

2. "Your Holiness," someone asked, "your Buddhist tradition has so wonderful a way of overcoming suffering. What do you have to say to the Christian tradition that seems to be preoccupied with pain?" With his compassionate smile the Dalai Lama gave an answer that went straight to the common ground the two traditions. "Suffering," he said, "is not overcome by leaving pain behind. Suffering is overcome by bearing pain for the sake of others."

PeterAtLarge said...

Carly, no. No matter what Shingouki says, the Buddha never said that "Life is suffering." My teacher, Thanissaro Bikkhu, reminds us constantly that this is a glib, and wrong-headed cliche that is attributed to Buddhism. Read the First Noble Truth. Suffering comes about, as you yourself said earlier, through clinging and aversion--a human choice, not an attribute of life. Which takes us back to the distinction between suffering and pain. Happy Mother's Day! Cheers, PaL

carly said...

P: The next subject for discussion and my work is reality and illusion. What does your teacher say, according to Buddhism is all reality merely an illusion?

Mark said...

Isn't that the point of Buddhism? To see the true reality? One meditates in order to quell one's emotions and realize our interconnectedness. Once our ego's about our emotions are dissolved, we can see the true reality that is before us and deal with it instead of being blinded by our feelings. I'm probably wrong here, but that's what I've been lead to believe thus far.

PeterAtLarge said...

Carly, I'm not going to be able to wrap my mind around this one today. It's too big a question, and one I don't have the skill or the knowledge to reduce to a nutshell answer. And, too, Ellie and I leave for Europe this week, and my head is filled with all those things that need to be left in some kind of responsible order before we leave. My suggestion? Use the link to "Access to Insight" on the right side, at the top of The Buddha Diaries, and do a search. This site is a reliable guide to Buddhist thought. Sometimes it gets a bit dense, but there's plenty of highly readable material, too. My apologies for ducking out on this one. Cheers, PaL

carly said...

Have a great time in Merry Old, P:

Mark: Be careful with words here. Because we don't know which emotions you mean. Surely the emotion of love is not to be quelled, for instance. The emotion of fear can be very useful for self-preservation, etc.

And feelings are very much a part of knowledge and can be the very opposite of blinding. Intuitive knowledge is a feeling of knowing without knowing how you know, and sometimes more true than ideas presented to you. Feelings tell you things you can't know otherwise. More people need to listen to their feelings in my thinking.

If you agree, you might want to consider refining those thoughts. Like where emotions and feelings spring from, good faith or bad intent, etc.