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Suffering is Super Sized

A blogger friend asks the question, "Is suffering optional?"

"Yes" resounds from some place. But yes is a partial truth, too. It not being optional works also. I'll talk about that next time. For now, this post is about how it's optional.

Suffering is extra, it's sneaky, and it's hard to pass up, just like getting your meal super sized. Maybe that's not relevant for you because you don't like McDonalds, but if I go to McDonalds it's very hard to pass up the super sizing. You're paying just a little extra. Sometimes you feel like you deserve the super size option because you have pay at all, and you go for it. Suffering is the same, especially if we keep taking the drive through in Samsara.

How do I know this? Because I suffer! I managed to suffer through a Dharma talk last night. I suffered when I was teaching in the public school system. That's besides the point, since everyone is suffering from their two-eye view of the world on a spectrum that is only as wide as their perception. I'm not going to say who's suffering is greater, yours or someone in the third world, because pissing contests produce piss. I'm in a tradition that says there is suffering and there is an end to suffering. This post is for those who are sincerely investigating this.

 I suffer when I'm ignorant to, clinging to, or averting from reality.

The Buddha said that life is this broken axle and the wheels go bumpity bump. When the wheels start really going bumpity bump, one of the Three Poisons appears: Ignorance, attachment, or aversion. We talk about aversion a lot, so I won't talk about the pain of sitting through a Dharma talk full of partial truths, self building, and bull shit. I'll talk about attachment, or something that feels good to do, at least at first.

I've just returned to Green Gulch Farm from Austin Zen Center, where I attended a salon of sorts with a group of my teacher's senior students. We were in his temple, which is a very nice experience; at Green Gulch, i'm considered pre-novice- this means small rooms, shit jobs, 20 dollars a month, alienation, and a general keep your mouth shut if you know what's good for you. This isn't written anywhere and I don't disagree with it, but it is hard. However, at Austin Zen Center, the 150 strong sangha is very curious about us who have been or come through the larger training temples for our lineage. They have lots of questions and they like seeing new priests walking about. I got to grill for them:

Not to mention, I was able to spend time with my teacher, dharma brothers (and sister) and bask in a glow of cooperation and love. We went for walks around Town Lake. We went grocery shopping, all 8 of us, and our teacher picked up the bill. Our teacher picked up the bill for all of us for the entire time- even flights. Why? I have no idea how Kosho Zenrei's heart opened so wide, and this is why I study with him. But then, we had to get back on our planes, fly away from his warm embrace, and show up for our lives.

Funny, I didn't think of my wonderful life at Green Gulch as something I had to show up for before I left. Honestly, I didn't want to leave it the farm to go to Texas. I didn't want change!

Now I'm back, and guess what I'm clinging to: Kosho's warm embrace, his humor, his GOOD dharma talks, that Texas dry heat, and the very comfortable Austin Zen Center.

And this is: Klesha, Bonno, Illusions, or general disturbance to my peace of mind. It's wanting things to be different they are; it's ignoring how they really are right now, and it's making unfair demands on phenomena, and the demands defy emptiness.

What does this feel like? It's back and forth. It's staring at the Zen teacher last night and wishing to free him from my view; It didn't work. I think to free him from my view I had to free myself that I was indeed viewing him as such, and that's okay. But that's not what came to mind.

Suffering not being optional is really important to look at, too. It's just like enlightenment isn't optional. More on that next time, though no promise, because I've been reading a lot about dream yoga, and it might interrupt.


  1. It's interesting to think about our tradition as one that says suffering will end. When we take the bodhissatva vows to save all beings, as Okamua said, we are vowing to stay in samsara until all beings are saved before us. To me that sounds like we will be in samsara forever, probably, kinda. So we will suffer because we choose to, but we also have no choice because we are human and we are limited. I don't understand what good it does to say that there is an end to it just so I have something to work on in my lifetime, so I stay motivated to investigate? Will I see the end of suffering in my lifetime? Is it one of those things where I have to understand that there is no "my" and no "lifetime"? Dang.

  2. The end of suffering is beyond our conception. It is however a helpful target for one to concentrate their energy. Hitting the target or missing the target- that's what happens after we attempt, it's when arrow points meet head on- what does this have to do with the power of skill? We can just try.

  3. I think attachment is the default, automatic response to anything pleasant: we want it to continue. It's REALLY hard to overcome such an innate tendency. I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I intentionally hold on to certain attachments (which essentially means that I choose suffering, I guess).

  4. The idea that enlightenment isn't optional - what do you base that on? I would agree that everyone probably has at least a moment of unfiltered awareness as they are dying. So, a spot of enlightened perception/thought. But the enlightened life seems easy to avoid.

    I wonder if you think enlightenment is an unvarying state of mind? Fruit of an education: define your terms. I'm sorry. Next you'll be mad at me.

  5. Fruits of an education produce this:

    Blue Cliff Record

    Case 7

    A monk approached Fayan and said, "I'm Huichao. I ask you, what is Buddha?"
    Fayan replied, "You are Huichao!"

    Case 12:

    A monk asked Dongshan, "What is Buddha?"
    Dongshan said, "Three pounds of flax."


    The Gateless Barrier

    Case 21:

    A monk asked Joshu in all earnestness, "What is Buddha?" Unmon said, "A dried shit-stick."

    Case 23:

    Nansen said, "Mind is not Buddha; Knowing is not the way."

    Suzuki Roshi said on July 1st, 1969, " In our practice, the most important thing [is] to-to know-to know. To know is that we have buddha nature. Our practice- real practice happens when realization of buddha-nature take place. Intellectually we know that we have buddha-nature, and that is what was taught by Buddha. But to know buddha-nature-when you know that we have buddha-nature, at the same time you will know that even though we have buddha-nature, you know, it is rather difficult to accept it. "

    And fruits of an education are painted fruits and they won't sustain hunger.

    In a world where body and mind are not separate, I don't see anything unvarying.

    My fruits of experience are like this:

    I start to try and follow my breath.

    I say the word breath, and find it not the same thing as air coming into this body and out of this body, pink flesh undulating though deep channels, and I try to be aware of that movement.

    That too doesn't last long. Soon, there is an awareness of awareness, and in my young experience, it's like standing in front of an enormous wave that keeps building, except I can't see it, and I'm afraid to be in its presence, under it, wondering if it might crush "me."

    This wave is the base line; it's always there. It has nothing to do with mind, bhumi levels, jana states, with me, or you. It's not optional because there is no place for it go. However, there is a place for our suffering to go, and when it's gone, that wave is what's left.

    Enlightenment is not about nirvana or samsara, about kensho, satori, yogic dreams, special powers, depression, excitement, or anything we can think about our experiences. An enlightened person (you) could experience any of the above in any given order, but I believe this question, what is enlightenment, comes from enlightenment.

    Asking the question is indicative of its presence; continuing practice is accepting its presence. Zazen and ceremony are for what you already are, just a "...real Buddha, ordinary worldling." (Stone p.3)

    Works Cited
    Stone, Jacqueline. "Orignal Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medievel Japanese Buddhism." Kuroda Institute. (1999): p.3. Print.


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