True Stoppings, True Paths & First 3 of the 12 Links


True Sufferings

We began our discussion with how the cognition of voidness liberates us from uncontrollably recurring rebirth, samsara. To understand that, we need to understand what actually the true sufferings are that we want to become liberated from. Why is it that we need to become free from uncontrollably recurring rebirth? What are the causes for it? How do we actually stop it? How does the understanding of voidness bring about that true stopping? There are many levels of what we need to understand in order to understand how we get rid of samsara. 

First, we discussed two types of true suffering that we experience. There’s the suffering of unhappiness and the suffering of ordinary happiness, which is called the suffering of change, because it changes. It doesn’t last, it never satisfies, and we always want more. If we have too much of it, we either get bored or it turns into unhappiness, as in eating too much of our favorite food or our loved one holding and caressing our hand. If they do it for several hours, they are going to wear away the skin and it’s going to become extremely painful. Or lying in each other’s arms, and then our arm falls asleep. It becomes very unpleasant, so that’s the suffering of change. 

The third type of suffering, all-pervasive suffering, is the basis for experiencing these first two types. In this example of the arm that’s going to fall asleep if somebody is lying on it for the whole night, the basis is that we have the type of body and mind that is going to become very uncomfortable in this situation. We have the type of body and mind that is going to be the basis for experiencing this up and down of sometimes being happy, sometimes unhappy, with no security and no stability whatsoever.

Uncontrollably recurring rebirth, samsara, is being born over and again with this type of body and this type of mind. What we want to do is to gain liberation from that, which doesn’t mean going off to some transcendent realm and we will then exist without a body and mind, so no worries. Such type of liberation is asserted by many of the non-Buddhist Indian schools of thought. But Buddha taught that this is not true liberation.

In Buddhism, with liberation we continue to experience life, but with a different type of body and mind, one that is not subject to these first two types of suffering: unhappiness/happiness. That would be as a liberated being, an arhat. According to Mahayana Buddhism, we could continue then to work to help others and to further get rid of our deeper limitations. We could work to become a Buddha, in which case, we also continue to live, but with a completely unlimited body and mind with unlimited positive factors, like love etc., so that we can have equal love and concern for absolutely everybody and be aware of everybody’s concerns and so on.

True Causes of Suffering

Then we looked at the true causes for these three types of true suffering. We saw that the foundations for them are the two types of unawareness. Unawareness means that either we don’t know or we know in an inverted and opposite way to the way things actually are.

The first level of unawareness is unawareness of behavioral cause and effect. If we’re experiencing unhappiness, then what is the cause? It’s our destructive behavior. If we’re experiencing ordinary happiness, what is the cause for that? The cause for that is our compulsive constructive behavior. When we speak about causes, we need to understand the Buddhist analysis of causality, which is rather complex. When we say the cause of unhappiness is our destructive behavior, or the compulsiveness behind our constructive behavior, then of course underlying our unawareness that such behavior will have that type of result is the deeper level of unawareness of how we exist and how everything exists. 

We shouldn’t think in terms of a simplistic view that one cause leads to one result. If we think in such terms, we get into this whole incorrect conceptual framework that, “I’m suffering and I’m unhappy because I’m bad, and it’s because of what I did, and I’m guilty and so on, and it’s all my fault.” It’s not like that, because whatever we experience comes from a tremendous amount of causes. And there is a tremendous amount of conditions and circumstances that enable the causal nexus to bring about a result. Also, there are many different results that come from this network of causes and conditions; it’s not just a one-to-one correlation. When we say that unhappiness comes from destructive behavior, we need to understand that this is an over-simplification of the whole process, so that we can focus on overcoming and stopping our destructive actions.

Compulsion and Unawareness

Underlying both unhappiness and ordinary happiness is unawareness of how we exist. Because of being unaware of how we exist, we act in a destructive way and here we’re talking about compulsion. Compulsiveness is what karma is all about. Compulsively, we act in a destructive way based on disturbing emotions and attitudes. We’re thinking of ourselves in terms of a solid independent “me” that is the most important person in the universe – “me” first. Consequently, if we don’t get our way, we get angry. Based on that, we might yell at somebody if they annoy us, or hit them or do all sorts of nasty things. Thinking in terms of a solid “me” that should always get what I want, we’re greedy and attached to things. We don’t want to let go.

That misconception about how we exist also underlies our so-called neurotic type of constructive behavior, for instance of being a perfectionist. We always have to be the good one, and we have the misconception that we’re going to be helpful by giving our advice or opinion about absolutely everything, even when it is unasked for and inappropriate. 

We have both compulsive destructive behavior and compulsive constructive behavior based on this unawareness of how “I” exist. “I’m always right, everybody is concerned about what I think and my opinion,” etc. “I need to be the center of attention,” there are all sorts of things that come from that. “Self-cherishing” is sometimes the catchword in which all of that is included. 

We also saw how this unawareness of how we exist is driving our uncontrollably recurring rebirth, and that is really what we need to aim to overcome, to stop forever. Stopping the compulsiveness under the influence of this unawareness about how we exist and how everybody exists is part of what we need to stop. That’s a summary of what we have discussed so far.