Three kinds of suffering

We all suffer as a result of our desires – this includes clinging and attachment to material things, to our dearly held views, or to physical experiences. By gaining insight into the nature of our various sufferings we can begin to recognise the kinds of mental afflictions that lead us there in the first place, and in doing so, perhaps, avoid them.

Of course, in the Nichiren tradition it is believed that by chanting Daimoku and basing our lives on Nam Myoho Renge Kyo that we’ll overcome such sufferings through the power of the Mystic Law. For the purposes of investigation it can’t hurt to look down once in a while from the top of the treasure tower of the Buddha’s teachings and regard the very foundations upon which they were built – foundations that are sadly not talked about very much in the SGI.

The sufferings (Skt. Dukkha) of samsara (birth, old age, sickness and death) come generally in three flavours, and are outlined in the first of the Four Noble Truths – that of True Suffering.

The suffering of suffering

This is the suffering that seems to pervade much of the so called third world today, but we have all experienced it. This could be called the suffering of the five aggregates – it is what we perceive as physical discomfort via our five sense organs. Sores, legions or injuries to skin, flesh and bone, foul smells, tinitus, vile flavours, the pain of listening to loud noises, horrifying sights, hunger and thirst (in the physical sense) and a million other aches and pains, including haemorrhoids – these are all this first kind of suffering.

This level of suffering does not require an ego (a powerful sense of “I”), and is shared throughout the animal kingdom. No living being wishes to endure unpleasant pain (we’ll skip the chapter on sadomasochists for now). This kind of suffering is the substantial cause for the creation of activities designed to expedite the avoidance or aversion of the same.

The suffering of change

In other words, Who moved my cheese? (I’ve not read the book by the way). It’s amazing how many Buddhist concepts have been remixed and re-presented in a more palatable form for the western audience. But I digress.

It’s hard to imagine a mouse would actually conceptualise this thought had it been feeding on cheese that was left in the same locations for a period of time, and then suddenly removed. The mouse would have no sense of indignation (how dare they), anger (who the hell did this?) or despair (we’re all going to die) – only a sense that it needs to find more cheese from somewhere; anywhere. The mouse is not hindered by an inflated ego. This is, I wager, as least part of the above book’s lesson.

The suffering of change is something we in the west are all too familiar with, and yet the vast majority of us remain totally blind to it. Money, and material facility, it could be said, is the cheese of the westerner.

Consider Mr Dick Thrust, a classic type A personality. He feels he is dynamic, an achiever; he ducks and dives in amongst the rapidly and constantly changing world to earn enough money for his new sports car. Upon winning his new trophy, he cruises in it, polishes it, and loves the attention it gets him from people who are impressed by such things. After a couple of weeks, fewer people admire his acquisition. After a few months the car is totally taken for granted by friends and colleagues, and Dick starts to feel less valued. After a year and oh no, there is a newer, lighter, faster version of the sports car about to go on sale!

What Dick has experienced, like the mice, is the suffering of change. There are of course other more mundane examples that we cannot avoid, such as the death of a loved one. People inevitably grow old, become ill and die (or are killed before their natural time is up). Despite this knowledge, we nearly all suffer terrible grief when we lose a loved one. This, again, is the suffering of change.

The truth of impermanence is our weapon against this kind of suffering. All phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence. They come into being as the result of various causes and conditions, and they may flourish for a time, but sooner or later they decrease, degrade, and fade back into universe. This is the natural way of things, and by meditating upon this truth, we can lessen our harmful attachment to phenomena and to our sense of self, or “I”.

All pervasive suffering

All pervasive suffering - The Big KahunaThis is the daddy, the big kahuna burger of suffering. The actions we take to avoid the first two kinds of suffering create our Karma – our habitual patterns of behaviour and thinking. Our lesser, or impure self has a habit of making causes based on delusion and ignorance. This is not good, because the effects of those causes (consistency from beginning to end) can only be in the same vein, and the latent effects of those causes is stored in back in our Karma. It’s like spiralling downward into hell. Jolly, eh?

When we realize that our tainted aggregates (five senses and consciousness) are the cause of our suffering, we might consider escape through suicide. For a Christian, or, ironically, a scientist, that would be the end of it in terms of this world. However, according to the Buddhist viewpoint, our deepest consciousness (Karma) is eternal. We’ll just be back again in another tainted body, hauling our huge shitty sack of Karma behind us.

Karma is our deepest level of consciousness, and the big problem is that our Karma clouds our judgement and, without corrective action, will cause us to go on making bad causes in our futile attempt to avoid suffering. To truly minimise (we’ll never eliminate it while alive) our suffering, we must rid ourselves of the fundamental darkness in our lives that is our ignorance and delusion.

Anger, arrogance, pride, greed etc, all these emotions are the causes of all-pervasive suffering. They are caused not by our aggregates, but by our ego, and our ego is driven by our Karma. These emotions are the result of our attachment to things we wrongly feel are eternal (the joy of owning a new car, for example), but which are not.

Luckily, we can affect our Karma in a positive way – enlightenment can be achieved through many practices, according to the capacity of the individual. In Nichiren Buddhism it is believed that rather than through introspection and meditation on doctrines such as impermanence and emptiness, the Karma is most effectively polished clean through the recitation of one’s devotion to the Lotus Sutra – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Personally I am happy that both have a role to play, but that’s a subject for another day.

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