the right to suffer

Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:

‘This is the noble truth of stress.’

Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:

‘This noble truth of stress is to be comprehended.’

Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:

‘ This noble truth of stress has been comprehended.’

Samyutta Nikaya 56, transl by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings that having recognized and dug into the roots of what comprises our suffering, we see the effects of an honest inquiry.  This is the third turning of the wheel for the First Noble Truth.  Willing to face our suffering, “we realize we have stopped running away from our pain.”  This brings me back to the idea of diversified equanimity and unified equanimity from a previous post.  Recognizing that dukkha is present and taking ownership of how it is brought into being are tough steps.  So much easier to divert and diversify attention, to blur intention and just plain take that “not me” attitude.  I often think that if I can package the mileage I put into avoiding suffering, I would be an Olympian runner.  Or at the very least a good character for a Monty Python skit.

I like the picture of my neighbour ploughing the fields.  It’s been a tough and busy year for him.  Equipment has broken, weather has been inclement, life has flooded in with all its uncertainty.  The picture is taken just after Christmas Day.  The combine rolled up and down the cornfield you see and then off into the back fields, starting at dawn and ending close to midnight.  I watched his family drive the truck behind the combine giving traffic warning lights to avoid him on the rural roads.  When he stopped during the day so we could move the car out of his path, he laughed and said, “Great day!”  Equanimity unified.  There was a job to do and this was the time to do it.  I’m sure he has his moments, but I can’t imagine him taking the Why me? Not me! attitude to whatever dukkha comes his way.  Ultimately, I suppose, he doesn’t have the luxury of running away from his suffering because that ripples out into the suffering of many other beings.

To comprehend the third turning is to become intimate with the nature of suffering.  I have to let go of the tendency to dramatize or adulate events and people because they are not the heart of the teaching.  A dear dharma teacher said once, “You have the right to suffer.  But you do not have the right not to practice.”   The three turnings of the First Noble Truth teach a profound truth to me.  They say there’s no fast train/jet flight ticket out of whatever mess my choices get me into.  The more I divert, distract, and dissimulate, the less I practice.  And in the end, I’m not the only one who suffers.

Thank you for practising,

Genju

2 thoughts on “the right to suffer

  1. Beautiful. Sometimes I think we get a glimpse into the *nature* of our own suffering being with the suffering of others. Seeing their blind spots, and mind-created pain we recognize our own. We recognize ourselves in their suffering, which opens us up and allows us to face our own…

    And how true that unconscious suffering ripples through everyone involved… Remembering the times that my own unconsciousness impacted the lives of others.

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