Going deeper into the Buddha’s message about suffering
by Vic Shayne
The Enduring Myth of the Buddha: a hero’s journey into enlightenment
I’m not a Buddhist, and I do not ascribe to any religion because religion is a manmade institution that has gone far afield of the original message and teachings of the personages after whom the religion is supposed to honor. What you end up with are teachings created by those who lacked the sage’s wisdom and experience, which is why religion does not present any deep and abiding healing or gift to humanity. I write this disclaimer to say that the purpose of this article has to do with what the Buddha taught and not the religion named in his honor. So what did he teach?
Life is suffering. No kidding.
The Buddha clearly stated that life is suffering. This was his first of four Noble Truths. Stop suffering and you will have a happy life. One question after another seems to arise when we go down this path, and they all start with the word “How?” How do we stop suffering? Fortunately, the answer is very simple. We stop suffering by knowing ourselves so well that we dissolve our own inclinations to do anything but be. We pull back from the concept of “I am this or that” to “I am.” “I am” means that I exist and that’s all there is to reality as we do not yet know it. Simple.
And then the next question arises: How can I just turn off my mind and pretend that I don’t have problems and a messed up childhood that makes me act like a jerk or a victim or an overachiever? Plus, how can I correct what has already been set in motion and affects all of today’s thoughts and actions?
The self creates suffering. This means you.
A great many Buddhists — perhaps most — have strayed so far from the Buddha’s original message. They are involved in all sorts of practices and theories having nothing to do with the elimination of suffering and everything to do with trying to make the world a better place or to force their minds to become this or that. They pontificate about compassion, attachment, mindfulness, and enlightenment, but do not understand any of it, because it is intellectualism and not from a personal revelation.
Making the world nicer and more peaceful is great, but it does not eliminate suffering, because suffering is always just beneath the surface. So you have to go there, beneath the sense of self that is the very source of the suffering. You cannot try to silence thoughts, live in the present, or be a compassionate person. Trying doesn’t work, because effort keeps you attached to your attachments. Trying, effort, is what the mind does — the same mind that is causing you all your grief.
Suffering, desire, and the self
Suffering is the result of psychological conditioning, which I have investigated in detail in all sorts of articles and books over the years. It is this conditioning by ideas, memories, information, and teachings, that creates a sense of self that perceives it is separate from all else. This notion of separation leads to desire to obtain and attain, and desire creates suffering because it motivates people to do and say things that are hurtful and destructive in pursuit of trying to be whole, to have everything they believe they need.
The sense of self is the problem. It is a belief system based on psychological suffering. To dissolve this image, this illusory thing called “me,” takes observation without a judging, thinking, criticizing, scheming observer. Just look at what you are. Let consciousness observe without having the self as an intermediary who is observing. You may want to read this last sentence a few times, because it’s important.
Just observe without an observer
Can you do observe without letting your sense of self meddle in the process? Most people cannot and do not want to, because in so doing the sense of self is threatened. It’s an unwanted house guest who doesn’t want to leave its secure little room in your house. Oddly, the sense of self will even try to help you be a better person and solve your problems, but it itself is the problem! You have to get past it to do anything about it. But how?
Just observe. Let consciousness observe and leave the self out of it.
A hundred years ago, quantum physicists made an amazing discovery that still has scientists scratching their heads: Consciousness changes reality by way of observation. Sages from the ancient world had figured this out millennia before scientists stumbled onto this fact. When consciousness — attention, observation — is attentive to the workings and nature of the self, perception changes from being self-centered to being what it actually is, which is existence devoid of any egoic overlay. It is the self that says, “I am this or that,” but it is consciousness that says, “I am.” The self is the critical, conditioned mind; consciousness is the unalloyed mind.
It all begins with the self
To stop suffering, whether it’s yours or it’s the suffering of nature, the environment, the animal kingdom, other people, your doorman, or society, we must begin with complete and intense observation of the self — the person we take ourselves to be. This is the one and only key to waking up and being permanently happy. Otherwise we continue to live a life bouncing back and forth between pain and pleasure, and we all can relate to such an existence.
Back to the Buddha, back to basics
The Buddha said that life is suffering, and his own experience showed that the way to end the suffering is by enquiring into the nature of his own mind until it is fully revealed to consciousness as a conditioned self. Then he tried to teach others to do this. Essentially, he failed, as all great sages do, because few people are really capable of facing themselves and doing what it takes to end suffering. The rest either pretend, distract themselves, or give up. And most won’t even come to the table to admit that they suffer and they are the cause of the suffering. Once in a while, though, someone reads something and is spurred enough, conditioned enough, to look into it. Maybe this is you.