Notes on a Buddhist path

Suffering: The Sequel

February 17, 2013 By | 5 Comments

May I be engulfed in the ocean of my suffering
with the awareness to fully experience it
Better to heal my wounds
~ David Jones

Suffering, suffering, suffering. After last week’s blog post, suffering may be the last thing you want to hear about. But I can tell you, dear, loyal readers, I have a somewhat different outlook on suffering this week.

Following my dismal missive going forth to the cyber masses after seeing the film, “Life of Pi”, my dear friend, David, sent me the quote above along with this great quandary: Should we welcome our suffering, even to the point of seeking it out (though not purposely creating it), to aid in our path to freedom?

In the midst of my tearful  meditation last Saturday upon returning home from the movie, I searched for just that insight. “Let me know suffering”, I asked, of no one in particular. I was completely ready to open to anything the next breath would offer me. That was when I heard “love death as much as life”.

It was the next day I witnessed samsara, the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, in full Technicolor and Surround Sound, and it shook me to my core. Today as I ventured out for my weekly constitutional, I followed the same sidewalks and pathways that just seven days before had seemed like a cataclysmic merry-go-round and felt a shift. In place of grief there was joy, and also a sense of not holding onto any of it, a Teflon grace, if you will, that I credit to a more concentrated examination of that intriguing phrase about our attraction to life and repulsion to death.

Loving any of it, as my friend, John, a former monk, shared with me this week, romanticizes what are simply beginnings and endings to everything. I think the words came to me in that way just to hold a space for perceiving both life and death, arising and falling away, with the same gentle awareness and compassion. It’s easy to welcome life and its stirrings, especially as spring begins to stretch and flowers rekindle the grey embers of winter’s sullen landscape. Welcoming death can feel more akin to open heart surgery with no anesthesia.

The Buddha offered many forms of meditation, including contemplation of the body (kayanupassana).In this category is not only mindful observation of the breath, but also a series of “cemetery meditations” asking us to contemplate the body’s disintegration after death. Such a study is not to indulge in disgust or fascination with death, but rather, as Bhikkhu Bodhi states in his book, “The Noble Eightfold Path”,

…to sunder our egoistic clinging to existence with a contemplation sufficiently powerful to break its hold. The clinging to existence subsists through the implicit assumption of permanence. In the sight of a corpse we meet the teacher who proclaims unambiguously: “Everything formed is impermanent.”

This week I sat with death and endings. In my meditations I watched each inhale as if it were my last; each exhale became the final one I would taste in this life. I sat with suffering, seeing my attachments to those culminating expressions of life stepping aside and death taking their place.

Do I know suffering any better than I did last week? Maybe just a smidge. The test is when I’m off the cushion and going about the business of living in the world of crowded buses and overdrawn bank accounts, office politics and burnt chicken. Catching myself before I fall into that ocean of suffering and remembering that each instant is not only birthing, but dying as well. Just as a pendulum finds its peace ultimately in the stasis of rest, there can be a rich solace in knowing that each moment is unique and finite. And that is the chink in suffering’s armor; the space where we can see the rarefied beauty in the already-going, whether it be a movie about a boy and a tiger, the death of a beloved, or this one last, wondrous breath.

As sequels go, not such a bad ending afterall.

So

by Philip Booth

So, there’s no way to be sure. Not
about much of anything. No more about
anyone else than ourselves. Perhaps
not even of death, except that it’s bound
to happen. To you, yes; to me, us: the lot
of humankind, given how humankind sees it
from this near side. So what.

So nothing that we here and now
can perfectly know. Save, though the lens
our eyes raise, the old here and now.
The this, the already-going that moves us.
The red-shift we’re constantly part of.
And why not? Between what we were, and
are going to be, is who and how we best love.

“So” by Philip Booth, from Selves. © Viking, 1990.

Image credit:

Death and Life by Gustav Klimt via Wikimedia Commons

Comments

  1. I wrote a poem last week (and posted yesterday) which really ties in with this blog. http://itsokei.blogspot.com/2013/02/lovers-truth.html

    Blessing fellow.traveller!

  2. Good write-up. I certainly appreciate this website.
    Keep it up!

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