The Suffering of Suffering


The suffering of suffering is ordinary suffering

The suffering of suffering is ordinary suffering that we can feel in body and mind. Examples of suffering of suffering would be the discomfort from illness, or being separated from a loved one. These kinds of suffering everybody can recognize. But on a much more fundamental level, the suffering of suffering means that we are not our own masters. We are constantly under the influence and conditioning of other forces, from the external environment to the experiences and workings of our own minds and bodies. All these conditions are “other powered” because all the causes and conditions that make up a particular moment are dependent on other things happening, either in the environment or in our own body. This is called “conditioned arising” or “dependent origination”. At a deeper level we are not even in control of our minds and thoughts. This inability to control our very own being is suffering.

Conflict between the rational mind and feelings

When we deeply reflect on ourselves, we see that we have our own perspectives and views of things. To this extent we seem in control of our minds. But when we take a closer look at our thought processes, very often the prior thought and the flowing thought contradict each other. In Chinese this is called “the battle between the heavens and the humans,” the conflict between the rational mind and our feelings. When we know a certain action is right, our feeling s maybe the opposite – what we think and what we feel may be in conflict. We think we have a certain personality and certain traits but when we look closer, we seem to have multiple personalities and are in fact almost schizoid. We think one way, and act another way. In different situations, we have completely different personalities. This conflict between different ways of being in the same person can cause much suffering.

No person aside from yourself that you can rely on

We can try to use our mental and physical powers to maintain ourselves in comfort and health, but over time we realize that our body is undergoing changes, is getting older, and is subject to disease. If our own body does not listen to us, how much control over it do we really have? If you are a boss or a teacher you may feel you have control over other people, but here are limits, however much we may want to manipulate others. Ultimately, there is no person aside from yourself that you can rely on. You are on your own. And this inability to be in control and to feel at ease in the environment is also a source of suffering.

Rely on the Dharma, to be centered in the Dharma

People want to rely on someone other than themselves. Some disciples of mind have a strong dependency on me, so as to say, “ Shifu, you have to take care of your health. How can we rely on you if you are not around?” Here I am thinking to myself, “ I can’t even rely on myself, and along come you folks who want to rely on me. “ (Laughter) So I tell them to rely not on me but on the Dharma, because it is the Dharma that I myself rely on. I’m here today, but I may die tomorrow, so I encourage all of you to also rely on the Dharma, to be centered in the Dharma.

Setting in Motion the Dharma Wheel
Talks on the Four Nobel Truths of Buddhism by Ven. Master Sheng-yen

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