A clear-eyed meditation on suffering: both what suffering is, and the mental source of suffering in our delusions of attachment, anger, and self-centered ignorance. We practice the antidotes to these delusions, giving us tools for a more balanced, less self-centered view of our experience that offers sustained stability and happiness through life’s challenges and desires.
Find yourself someplace quiet; cross-legged on the floor, elevator on a cushion, or seated in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, your spine straight, your hands in your lap or on your knees. Tilt your head slightly down, half close your eyes. Relax your shoulders, your face, your brow. Let go of all the tension in your body.
And establish your motivation for meditating today; that there’s nothing better I could be doing with my time right now, going inward into my mind to understand and create the true causes of happiness; to create a happy, meaningful life for myself. And to be a great partner, friend, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, coworker to everyone around me.
Feel a sense of refuge in your own best qualities, in your mind’s natural goodness.
And if you can think of them, the goodness of the kindest, warmest, most patient and loving people that you know or that you know off; both in your own life and in the world around you.
And let the qualities of those good people, those making the most of their lives, let that manifest like a vast space of light in front of you; like a foggy field where every point of fog, emits a little bit of light. And let it press forward and envelope you.
And your body feels light and energized, filled with those good qualities. You feel a sense of courage and capability and strength and openness, kindness, love, and compassion.
Stabilizing on the breath
Bring your mind to your breath for a moment. Focus on your nostrils as air comes in and out, especially at that moment of fullness, when there’s a pause. Or focus on your abdomen, rising and falling.
As you try to focus on your breath, if memories, thoughts and feelings or pains or sensations in your body, if these occur, try to just let them pass by without giving them your full attention. Noticed that they’ll naturally rise and diminish on their own and bring your attention back to your breath.
So for one minute, focus on your breath.
(Meditate silently on the breath for one minute)
Analytic meditation on suffering
The topic of our analytic meditation today is suffering. We first look clear-eyed at suffering in all its forms, and then go into its antidotes: the hopeful, encouraging view of how to transform any experience into one that brings happiness and stability in your own mind and a deeper connection to everyone you encounter.
The purpose isn’t to get depressed or down, but to take a clear-eyed view of reality, how suffering naturally occurs in all its forms to prepare us for it, so that we’re ready. So that, in fact, we suffer less when the problems of life occur.
The suffering of suffering
We contemplate the first form of suffering, called the suffering of suffering. You can reflect on poverty, The billion or so people who don’t have enough to eat every day, don’t have a safe place to live, don’t have clean water; the pain that so many people feel every day; the sickness that befalls people from colds to cancer; the natural suffering of aging as our bodies wear out; the everyday forms of suffering: not getting what you want, or getting what you don’t want.
The suffering of loneliness, the suffering of the constant change in your reputation, your job, in relationships; the unreliability of any position in life, the things that make us anxious and competitive.
All of these things are natural parts of life, all these forms of suffering. And by acknowledging this, meditating on it, we come to a realistic view of problems: to expect problems, to be ready for them.
The suffering of change
And then we also reflect in a clear-eyed way on what’s called the Suffering of Change. The Suffering of Change is a term that refers to the things we ordinarily called pleasures. But the first way to understand this form of suffering is to realize that things wear out. The shiny, expensive objects we buy that we saved up so long for, like a phone, a car, and even your home.
As we recall from our meditation on impermanence, each of these wears out, breaks down. Everything that begins ends.
But even if things don’t wear out, or don’t wear out in the time that we have them, our mind can change. We get sick of objects. We get tired of the fancy phone that we were once so excited to unbox. We get annoyed with the partner who once we thought was our greatest source of happiness.
Our mind changes over time. We change how we feel about the objects. They don’t give us lasting happiness.
And yet there are cases where an object might satisfy us for a long time, even for a whole life. But even if objects don’t wear out, even if our mind doesn’t change, we have to accept that we lose everything when we die.
And that this thought isn’t depressing. Thinking and meditating like this isn’t meant to make you feel bad. But to be a motivation to live the most meaningful life possible; to not sweat the small stuff; to bring our joy and compassion and attention to the daily pleasures and pains of life.
That’s the reason to reflect on suffering: to come to a realistic view of reality, to be ready for suffering and to label it clearly when it occurs without letting it take hold of our mind, destroy our day or week, or year or the rest of our life.
The source of suffering: our own delusions
The source of suffering isn’t the external objects themselves but what we call our delusions. The three strongest delusions called the root delusions: of craving and anger and ignorance.
So for a moment, we meditate on these and reflect to get a clearer sense of the true causes of pain in our minds, these delusions.
The delusion of attachment: exaggerating the positive
Attachment or craving is when we exaggerate the positive aspect of an object. When we look at a thing or a person or some achievement or status, and all we can think of is the way we believe it’s going to make us feel. If only that person would love us, we’ll be happy, have the perfect relationship. If only we got that job or that raise or promotion or recognition, status; some reward or prize, we’d be happy; that if we only got that phone, we’ll have the perfect device.
But look at your mind, that mind of attachment. You see that that mind is exaggerating. There’s a part of you that already knows this.
See how your mind is exaggerating right now. Bring to mind one of the objects of strong attachment that you have. See how your mind unrealistically imagines that if you get that object—a certain amount of money; if a certain person loves you, or loves you more; a view that if this one thing happens that you’ll be truly happy. See how that’s a little bit deluded and exaggerated.
The delusion of anger: exaggerating the negative
And then anger is the other side, when you see an object or a person or an experience, and all you see is the negative. You exaggerate its power to harm, you can’t see any good in it at all.
And see this now. Bring to mind some object of anger for you. And see how hard it is to see any good in that object, that thing; how your mind projects total harm, total annoyance upon the object. And how your mind resists a realistic view of the object or thing or achievement, understanding its benefits and not just seeing its drawbacks.
The delusion of ignorance: self-centeredness
And then we look at ignorance: an ignorance of failing to see the true causes of happiness, the interdependent nature of reality, ignorance of impermanence, of cause and effect, the way things truly exist as changing, transforming, dependent.
And then the core form of ignorance, of believing that we’re more important than others: my happiness, my satisfaction, my partner, my kids, my money, my stuff. This exaggerated sense of self importance is the root of ignorance, the root of our suffering.
Try to see that clearly now, without judging yourself for feeling bad, but just honestly looking at your mind, seeing how we each think I’m just a little more important than everyone else: my problems, my suffering, my needs, my relationships.
Antidotes to the delusions
And now we move on to the antidotes. Many of us might think that our attachment, our anger, and even the confusion and self absorption of ignorance are part of our personality; that if we gave them up, we’d lose some essential part of ourself. But attachment, anger, and ignorance are not our friends. They’re not me. They’re simply inaccurate ways of seeing reality.
Happiness and mental stability come from simply seeing reality as it is rather than how we wish it to be.
And there are ways of bending each of these distorted views of reality, each of these delusions, by applying its antidote.
Antidotes to attachment
So with attachment, strong craving, an antidote is to see the flaws of the object. Try this now, see if it works for you. Bring to mind an object of strong attachment, of strong craving for you, whether it’s a person or an object or some achievement in life.
And for a moment, contemplate the flaws of the object. If it’s a relationship, you could see how there’s no way that person would be perfectly pleasing to you; that many problems and irritations would arise in your everyday life if you did get into a relationship.
Or that thing you want to buy inevitably won’t work as well as you think it does. And also owning fancy things makes you nervous that they could be stolen.
Or the job you think that’s perfect for you: if you got it, it might completely overrun your entire life and you’d have no time for anything else. Then the people you work with might change the way that you act. You might become different in a way that you don’t like; too busy for your friends as well. You might lose track of who you really are.
So whatever it is, for a moment, quietly consider the drawbacks of some object of strong attachment to you.
Antidotes to anger
And now we move on to the antidote to anger, to seeing the benefit of problems, of problematic people, even the benefit in how they help you turn away from external objects.
So consider an object of anger for you. That could quite likely be a person. And bring them to mind, whether it’s someone close to you that you work with, or in your family, or a politician or business person; someone in the world you don’t like, what they’re doing, who’s harming you or harming others in a way that you don’t want. Bring that person to mind.
And now try and contemplate that this person has good qualities, that they do good things, that they have people around them who love them: relatives, friends, a mother even, who thinks they’re the greatest person in the world. If they’re famous, they might even have millions of people who admire what they do.
And also this person, their actions have positive effects, too. They don’t just harm. In fact, there harm might be a very small part of their life. So try and gain a balanced view that that person doesn’t only do evil. And that many others admire, like them, even love them; that they do good things as well as bad, that they help as well as harm.
Another benefit of this person is that they can help galvanize the opposition. They may help crystallize people with the opposing point of view who would not have otherwise been organized without them.
The person who is irritating you also helps you to become patient, or forgiving. That may be hard to admit. But perhaps due to the pain of getting angry again and again, this person’s behaviour helps us to finally give up on anger and practice its antidotes like we’re doing today in meditation and contemplation every day on the cushion.
Or, as we read the news when we get angry, it’s a helpful reminder that our mind still needs training. And if we’re aware of the antidotes, we can practice them immediately.
Both attachment and anger help us realize that we’re lucky to be among those who have tools to show us the true source of satisfaction in life; that we’re not someone like this disturbing person, this enemy of my mind; how we can feel compassion for that person who lacks the tools that we do for training and calming, soothing the mind.
When I get a little bit angry myself, it can help me feel compassion for those who are ruled by their anger, to understand that they aren’t willfully harming others, but that they’re controlled by their delusions, by their own cause and effect, the habits they’ve burnt into their mind.
Every time you get angry, you’re reinforcing your habit of getting angry. And every time you’re patient or forgiving, you reinforce the habit of patience or forgiveness.
And I can go further in reflecting on cause and effect. I can think how I’m not in control of external reality, but I am in control of my mind. I can see reality as an interdependent chain of cause and effect. I can see how my thoughts and actions have some small effect. But really, I’m not in control of anything but my mind. Once I gain control of my mind, I’ll be in a far better state to genuinely help others, to genuinely fight the injustice that I see in the world.
How can I really help anyone when I can’t even control my own mind? My own anger, my own attachment? That’s the first step.
By seeing this mental cause and effect: that I can plant the seeds of satisfaction and happiness by having a more realistic view that attachment, anger, and ignorance are not my friends, they’re not a key part of my personality. To apply the antidotes like this, to let them go, brings real happiness.
And letting go of attachment and anger, I can still enjoy life. In fact, I cant even enjoy it more without these exaggerated reactions, exaggerating the joys of food or sex or jobs or relationships. I can more realistically appreciate their complexity, their impermanence. Exaggerating the harm of things that hurt me, hurt the world, I can better see how these are a natural part of life, how they offer me the opportunity to practice patience, kindness, forgiveness, non-attachment.
I can even come to see the benefits of difficult experiences: that without them I couldn’t evolve my consciousness. Without them, I wouldn’t have been drawn to meditation, philosophical contemplation, considering the true causes of happiness and meaning and purpose in life.
And so, ending the meditation we set a motivation to go into our day now and to stay mindful, be aware of when our mind feels attached, to observe it with a little distance, and then to consciously reflect on the drawbacks of the object that we’re craving so much.
And then also to watch ourselves as we get angry. And notice how we completely exaggerate the harm of that person.
And see if you can just for a little bit to reflect on the good qualities that person, that their loved, that they do good and kind things too; and even the benefit that the harm that I experienced from their actions helps me to cultivate patience, to do this practice, to understand suffering, to come to a more realistic view that problems occur in the world, but that if I can control my mind, I can remain stable, happy, present, and connected.
Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Stephen Butler
Theme music by Bradley Parsons of Train Sound Studio