80. To Contemplate on “Suffering”Zen Practitioners should not desperately hold onto our youth and try to prolong our life. Usually we desperately hold onto our youth and try to prolong our life, yet because they are impermanent by nature, they keep changing rapidly and we will surely one day become old and sick. When this occurs, impermanence is the main agent which creates occasions for suffering. The Buddha’s teaching on suffering, above all, offers a solution to the fundamental problem of the human condition. According to Buddhism, human existence is distinguished by the fact that nothing is permanent: no happiness will last forever, and whatever else there is, there will always be suffering and death. Zen practitioners should remember that the first step in the Buddhist path to awakening is to recognize this as the foremost problem of human existence, to see that all is duhkha. However, this is not a pessimistic observation, because while acknowledging the ubiquity of duhkha, Buddhism offers a solution in the form of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Duhkha. The Buddha himself characterized his teaching by saying: “I teach only Duhkha and the cessation of duhkha.” Practitioners of mindfulness should always remember that happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain are always with us. When we contemplate on suffering and understand thoroughly their nature, the Buddha and Dharma are right here with us. However, most of us react blindly. We always want more pleasant things; and we have a tendency to chase away any unpleasant thing. Once we contemplate and understand thoroughly the nature of suffering, when pleasant and unpleasant things arise, we understand that they are not us, not ours, they will eventually pass away. If we do not attach to phenomena as being us or see ourselves as their owner, our mind will come to a state of balance. Each state of balance will serve as a brick that helps pave our path of liberation. Zen practitioners should always meditate and contemplate to see that Duhkha can be experienced in all ways. The first is simply the ordinary suffering that affects people when the body is in pain. Ordinary suffering is also mental pain: it is the grief of not getting what one wants or the distress caused by separation from loved ones or from pleasant conditions. It is also the many other painful situations that one inevitably encounters by virtue of being born, ageing and dying. Underlying any happiness is the knowledge that whenever there is pleasure or delight, it will not be permanent. Sooner or later the vicissitudes of life will bring about a change. There is a Buddhist saying that even in laughter there is “duhkha,” because all laughter is impermanent. This instability underlies the second kind of duhkha, which is dissatisfaction arising from change. It might seem that only death can bring about the cessation of suffering, but in fact death is also a form of suffering. In Buddhism the cosmos extends far beyond the immediate physical world perceptible by the senses, and death is merely part of the endless cycle of rebirth. Death in itself offers no respite because actions have consequences in future lives far beyond death, just as deeds from previous lives have affected the present. The third kind of suffering is the inherent interconnectedness of actions and deeds, which exceeds human vision and experience. In this sense, suffering applies to the universe in its totality, and no imaginable beings, humans, gods, demons, animals or hell beings, are exempt from it. Suffering thus refers not only to everyday suffering but also to the whole infinite world of possible and seemingly endless forms of suffering. No simple translation can capture its full significance. The truth is in the eradication of greed, hatred and delusion. The goal of Buddhism is the complete and final cessation of every form of duhkha, and thereby the attainment of nirvana. Zen practitioners should always meditate and contemplate to see the truth is in the eradication of greed, hatred and delusion, which ties beings to the cycle of rebirth. Accordingly, Buddhas and those who reach enlightenment do not experience duhkha, because strictly speaking they are not “beings”, nor do they “roll” in the samsara: they will never again be reborn. Duhkha characterizes the cosmos as a whole, but its predominance varies among the different “spheres of existence.” In the world of Pure Form, where the great gods dwell, there is less suffering than in the world of Sense-Desire, inhabited by lesser gods, humans and other beings. Just the Buddha when he walked the earth could enter the World of the Sense-Desire, so too can humans enter the World of Pure Form. This is ordinarily accomplished in meditation, through different kinds of absorptions (dhyana). The characteristic form of suffering in this situation is impermanence, caused by the meditator’s inability to remain eternally in trance. To attain more abiding happiness, an individual must strive to understand the processes that govern movement in the cosmos as a whole, namely, rebirth and karma, and how they can be affected.