Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Is life disappointing and painful?

Ven. Piyadassi Thera edited and expanded by Pat Macpherson, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly

What is the cause of disappointment/pain?
Life, according to the right understanding of a buddha, is NOT "suffering," but it is unsatisfactory (dukkha), disappointing, and suffused with a lack-of-fulfillment. It cannot be satisfactory, though we think it can, and it has the potential for great pain and misery.

Is there pleasure? Of course! Is there happiness (sukha)? Yes! Yet, for all that, life (pursuing our cravings) is not able to fulfill us, satisfy us, allay our pains, except that pleasure sometimes distracts us.

"Suffering" in English means one thing, and it is not what the Buddha was talking about. It is too powerful a translation that misleads. Many translators use it because it does not shrink back from the problem of physical pain and psychological disappointment. Pain is based on ignorance, delusion, wrong view (avijja). That is not to say it does not exist. That is to say it does exist and is rooted in this mental defilement, the greatest source of suffering. So what is the solution? It is enlightenment, wisdom, insight in the Truth.

Ignorance is the experiencing of that which is unworthy of experiencing — namely harmfulness. Furthermore, it is the non-perception of the fabricated nature of the Five Aggregates. It is:
  • the non-perception of sense-organs and their objects in their objective natures,
  • the non-perception of the emptiness (impersonal nature) of the elements,
  • the non-perception of the dominant nature of the sense faculties,
  • the non-perception of the thus-ness — the such-ness, infallibility — of the Four Noble Truths.
And the Five Hindrances (pañca nivaranani) are the nutriment or necessary condition for this ignorance. They are called "hindrances" because they completely close in, cut off, and obstruct liberating insight. They hinder the understanding of the way to liberation from all suffering (disappointment, pain, unsatisfactoriness).

The Five Hindrances
  1. Sensuality (kamacchanda)
  2. Ill-will (vyapada)
  3. Obduracy of mind and mental factors (thinamiddha)
  4. Restlessness and worry (uddhacca-kukkucca), and
  5. Skeptical doubt (vicikiccha).
What is the nutriment of these hindrances? The three harmful modes of life (tini duccaritani): 1) bodily, 2) verbal, and 3) mental wrong-doing.

This threefold nutriment is, in turn, nourished by non-restraint of the senses (indriya asamvaro), which is explained by the Commentary as the admitting of lust and hate [passion and aversion] into the six sense-organs of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

The nutriment of non-restraint is shown to be lack of mindfulness and of complete awareness (asati asampajañña). In the context of nutriment, the drifting away of the object (dhamma, thing) — the lapsing, from the mind, of the knowledge of the Three Universal Marks or Characteristics of Existence:
  1. impermanence (change)
  2. unsatisfactoriness (suffering)
  3. impersonal nature (not self).
And forgetfulness of the true nature of things is the reason for non-restraint. It is when one does not bear in mind the transience and the other characteristics of things that one allows oneself all kinds of liberties in thought, speech, and deed. Two give rein to unskillful imagery (thought).

Lack of complete awareness is lack of these four:
  1. complete awareness of purpose (sattha sampajañña),
  2. of suitability (sappaya sampajañña),
  3. of resort (gocara sampajañña), and
  4. of non-delusion (asammoha sampajañña).
When one does something while lacking right purpose, when one looks at things or does actions (performs karma) that do not help the growth of the good,
  • when one does things inimical to improvement,
  • when one forgets the dhamma (the Truth, the teachings, the Dharma), which is the real resort of one who strives,
  • when one deludedly takes hold of things believing them to be pleasant (able to satisfy or able to fulfill one), beautiful, permanent, or substantial —
  • when one behaves in this way, then also non-restraint is nourished.
And below this lack of mindfulness and complete awareness lies unsystematic reflection (ayoniso manasikara). The books say unsystematic reflection (the opposite of wise reflection) is reflection that is off the right course.

That is to say, one takes the impermanent as permanent, the painful as pleasurable, the impersonal as a self, the unskillful as skillful (unwholesome as wholesome, unprofitable as profitable, bad as good).

The constant rolling-on through rebirths that is samsara is rooted in unsystematic consideration. When unsystematic consideration increases, it fulfils two things, nescience (ignorance) and craving for more becoming (rebirth).

Ignorance being present, the origination of this entire mass of suffering (disappointment) comes to be. Thus a person who is a shallow thinker (lacking systematic consideration), like a ship drifting at the wind's will, like a herd of cattle swept into the whirl pool of a river, like an ox yoked to a cycling wheel-contraption, goes on revolving in the cycle of rebirth, samsara.

And it is said that imperfect confidence (assaddhiyam) in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha is the condition that develops unsystematic reflection. And imperfect confidence is due to non-hearing of the Dharma (the teaching of a fully awakened buddha), the Dharma (asaddhamma savanam).

Finally, one does not hear the Dharma through lack of contact with the wise (those in the stages of enlightenment), through not approaching and keeping company with the good (asappurisa sansevo).

Therefore, want of noble friendship (kalyana-mittata) appears to be the basic reason for the ills of the world. Conversely, the basis and nutriment of all good is shown to be noble friendship. For it furnishes one with the nourishment of the sublime Dharma, which in turn produces confidence in the Triple Gem (tiratana): the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

When one has confidence in the Triple Gem, there come into existence profound or systematic consideration, mindfulness and complete awareness (sati-sampajjana), restraint of the senses, the three good modes of life, the Four Foundations (or Arousings) of Mindfulness, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, and deliverance through wisdom, one after another, in order [5]. More

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