Friday, August 3, 2012

"suffering" ... some more prattle

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Some expositor -- Buddhist probably, but who cares -- once remarked, "Every time I think of me, I suffer."

My understanding is that "suffer" is a poor translation of the Pali word "dukkha," which might be more aptly translated as "unsatisfactoriness." But "unsatisfactoriness" is such a mouthful and besides, it puts human anguish, at whatever depth, into a category that sounds vaguely like the results of a first coat of paint in the living room ... it doesn't quite cover the previous color, but it's no big deal: A second coat will get the job done right. "Suffering" is more consoling, more important, more elevating, more in line with the ache or anguish within. This...is... important. And sure enough, it is, even though I say so.

In Buddhism, suffering is a cornerstone proposition. The Four Noble Truths in which all schools of Buddhism believe and on which Buddhism makes its case are observations from which (together with The Eightfold Path) all of the intricacies of this way or philosophy or religion flow.

The Four Noble Truths are variously translated, but here is the one I always liked:

There is suffering.
There is a cause of suffering.
There is an end to suffering.
There is a way to end suffering.

Short, sweet and to the point. And it puts "suffering" up on the scoreboard. It puts me up on the scoreboard. There may be plenty of talk about the "suffering of others," but the fact is that my own suffering is the first-est with the most-est ... the suffering I am most likely to know or feel or think or refer to or use as camouflage or ... well, suffering has a hundred uses and the only chance I have of getting to the marrow or solution is to examine my own.

OK ... in Buddhism, suffering plays a pivotal role, much as unsatisfactory thoughts or events play a pivotal role in anyone's life. Whose suffering? My suffering. But ... "every time I think of me, I suffer." No one wants to suffer, everyone wants a solution or an escape route ... and yet the only honest way out of suffering is in. "Every time I think of me, I suffer." Is there a thought anyone thinks that is somehow not me? And from this line of thinking or believing, some Buddhists enter the land of zombies, imagining that if they refrain from thinking or acting, they will enter some la-la land of "the unconditioned realm" or "Nirvana" or some similar bit of Hollywood. The logic seems to be, if every time I think of me, I suffer, then if I don't think, I won't suffer. This is ridiculous, but that doesn't mean it's not common enough. Take it from someone who tried it.

Well, I am prattling. The thought that crossed my mind this morning was that "I" does not really deserve the bad rap it can get in Buddhism or elsewhere. Sure, it can be confounding and painful and delicious and whatever all else, but the fact is, whatever "I" is, it's the only farm I have to till -- as axiomatic as blue sky. "I" may be a snare and a delusion, but so what? It's just the way things are and trying to make them something else is more deluded than "I" am.

Relax. Every time I think of me I suffer. Every time I think, I think of me. Blaming "me" for the suffering that ensues is possible and may sound good, but is it true? The only way to know is to check it out. Is there really some quid-pro-quo reason to suffer as a result of me? Of course anyone can suffer, but is it necessary? Really?

Best I can figure, if you make a mistake, correct it or note its impact and revise course. I may love seeing my name up on the scoreboard, but scoreboards are for baseball games. When it comes to "me" and "suffering," the old grade-school silly comes to mind:

Everybody's doin' it,
Doin' it, doin' it,
Pickin' their nose and chewin' it
Chewin' it, chewin' it.

A firm, but gentle attention. A firm, but gentle, responsibility. That's enough to clarify and dispel the wispy barbs that can rip a life to shreds.

With an unconcerned concern, keep an eye skinned. Every time I think of me, I suffer and...

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
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