Sitting with Dukkha

| June 11, 2013 | 28 Comments

Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha. (Saṃyutta Nikāya 56.11)

liftarn_Needles_in_cushionI sat down on my cushion for my most recent daylong meditation retreat very happy to be there. I’d been looking forward to it. But it wasn’t long after the first bell rung and silence had descended upon the room before dukkha arose. The room was too warm. I hadn’t sat straight, and had to lift my shoulders. My ear itched, and I monitored the feeling without scratching.

What I wanted was bliss, and I wasn’t getting what I wanted. “Oh no,” you will say, “you can’t go into a meditation session wanting bliss. That’s crazy.” I agree with you, it is crazy. I know it’s crazy. The rational part of my mind tells me that all the time. Yet there it is all the same: the wish, even the expectation, to have a completely blissful sit.

Sitting with the Hindrances

More time went by, and I noticed how difficult it was to keep my mind focused on the breath, as it brushed the tip of my nose. I returned my mind to the sensation, but like a bored cat it wandered off before I could count to eight. Restlessness.

The bell rang, and we got up to do walking meditation. Someone walked across my path, disturbing me and causing an involuntary burst of anger. Bits of dust and dirt on the floor stuck to my feet. I tried to ignore them but the feeling of a grain of sand on my foot irritated, so instead of taking a step forward I swept my foot across the floor to dislodge it.

Dukkha: in such a simple thing, in a pleasant place, filled with kind people.

Back sitting, time has passed and I opened to the sounds of the room, the feel of my hands and legs. Sleepiness returned. It was the same fuzziness of mind that had plagued me for several weeks. Instead of focusing on the breath like I should, my mind wandered into daydreams. They weren’t idle thoughts, but states somewhere between wakefulness and dreaming, filled with scattered, disjointed images: my nose became a dog. Each breath became a dark suited man with a white cane. An image of a waffle iron making cat-shaped waffles. Stories formed and unformed: dullness and drowsiness. I took a deep breath to pull myself back into mindfulness, but it didn’t last long. I oscillated between drowsiness and restlessness, then caught myself waiting for the rustling that invariably preceded the sound of the bell. If I could only keep my mind focused, I felt I could achieve that bliss I wanted.

Later on my back started hurting, as it often does in these daylong sits. At least this was dukkha plain and simple: as clear as a kick in the head. I focused my mind on the pain, it felt hard as steel clamps, but slowly, quietly motile as well. I focused on it for awhile and it evaporated. I relaxed, and it returned. I shifted my body to try to stretch it out and relieve the tension, and the pain dispersed in a burst of cool. I opened my mind out to the sounds of the room, and watched the pain slowly return again.

So much of sensation is wrapped up with the saṇkhāras or volitional formations: no sooner was I aware of pain than my mind jumped to thoughts of how to end it. It’s as though there were no gap there at all: the pain came bundled with a view towards its end. If something blocked my will, like polite considerations not to make noise, or remembered admonitions not to care about such things, the result was only frustration and more dukkha.

And then, yes, bliss. There were also moments of lucidity, happiness, deep calm. The sounds of church bells wafted through the windows. The smell of food from a distant kitchen. A cool breeze wrapped around my arms. But then — where did it go? I was back in dreamland, feeling a slight twinge in my leg that told me I needed to do something, to shift over half an inch, or risk pain. Not that I would escape it otherwise, but perhaps I could manage a delay: even a delay would be good, and for that I had to act, to move, in a way my previous Zen teachers would have told me was not allowed.

There! A couple of inches to the left, and all is right with the world.

Until it isn’t. Pain in the back again.

So that was how my day went. And here’s the thing: I had a wonderful time, and am super glad I went. Does that mean I’m a masochist? Hardly.

Fact is, nothing is so good for making me aware of dukkha than practice. Of course, if it makes life seem worse, then it’s not doing a very good job of reducing stress and increasing happiness. But no, it’s not that it makes life seem worse. Instead, it makes life clearer. It makes me more aware of the innumerable little pains and annoyances already present in life, in a way I hadn’t seen before. Larger pains, like greed and anger — particularly anger — feel quite literally corrosive, like high-strength acid poured into my body.

Seeing Dukkha

At the beginning of my practice I was only aware of dukkha in a more conceptual sense: I knew that life was difficult, that all things in ordinary experience always changed, that my control over myself and the world was limited and tenuous. And I knew what it was like to be depressed, without clear reason or cause. But none of that really had to do with the essence of dukkha.

Dukkha has to be witnessed in each moment, as condition and cause: stemming from pain, stemming from unreliability; causing anger, greed, unwholesome volition and action. While being depressed is a form of dukkha, dukkha has nothing essentially to do with depression, which is more akin to a chemical imbalance than a normal state of mind. One can cure depression by good psychological counseling, or even by taking certain drugs. None of that will cure dukkha.

Often Buddhism is misunderstood as a negative or depressing approach to life. But dukkha isn’t so much the sort of thing that makes one sad, wanting to stay indoors with the shades drawn. Sure, “sorrow, lamentation, grief, and despair” are dukkha, but as experienced every day, it’s more the sort of thing that gets in the shoe. It’s frustrating and annoying like a bad friend, holding out mirages of constancy and efficacy. It’s Lucy with her football. It’s as much a part of the most pleasant moment as the most painful, since each moment will inevitably end. This is one of the strange things about dukkha, and it’s not just a matter of the sublime, or the Japanese notion of “mono no aware” that makes cherry blossom season so popular.

Life is dukkha because it is transient, and because it is never completely under our control. One of the most shocking discoveries in meditation is how little even our own minds are under our control. We think we are our minds, then we tell ourselves to focus on the breath, and in an instant we are lost in daydreams. It’s this kind of discovery that leads eventually to our beginning to wonder who this “I” is that’s supposed to be doing the controlling. To an extent these concerns map onto Western notions of freedom of the will, but to an extent they do not: they are after concerns at right angles to ‘control’. Control, after all, is a simple matter of causal conditioning, and though we may not be able to discover a real self underneath all the mental folderol, nevertheless desires and drives are active forces in moving limbs and minds.

The real question isn’t about control, it’s about dukkha itself, how it is created and how it can be mitigated. Is it really possible, as the Buddha claimed in his Third Noble Truth, to see its cessation? That I cannot say. But it does seem that if one is going to work towards that end, it is essential to begin by seeing the problem clearly. So I sit.

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Doug Smith

About the Author ()

Doug is Study Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. He has a PhD in Philosophy, with a minor in Buddhist philosophy and Sanskrit. In 2013 he completed the year-long Integrated Study and Practice Program with the BCBS and NYIMC. A long time scientific skeptic, he pursues a naturalized approach to practice. He is also interested in scholarship about the Tipiṭaka, and the theoretical and historical origins of the dhamma. Some of his writing can be found at academia.edu. He posts weekly videos at Doug's Secular Dharma on YouTube.

Comments (28)

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  1. Nayeli Nayeli says:

    Doug
    Thank you for sharing this. We may be overflowed by Dukka, but also so with interdependance… a ripple on the pond ripples it’s way to the next.

  2. ruedade says:

    Thanks for the interesting article.
    Perhaps you can help to clear up some confusion about dukka.
    I’ll use aging as an illustration.
    The sutra says aging is dukka. Aging is a natural process of life. Things are born , they age and die. In this context it seems dukka and aging are synonymous.
    You write that life is dukka due to it’s transient nature and our inability to control it. In this context dukka seems to be more about the expectations we bring to life (permanence and controllablity).
    The sutra is saying the thing itself is dukka , while you seem to be saying our reaction to the thing is dukka.
    Am I misreading the sutra? It seem clearly to say aging is dukka, not that our reaction to aging is dukka. I think the difference in meaning matters.
    Thanks

    • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

      Hello ruedade,

      The term ‘dukkha’ in the first words of that sutta is used as a metonymy. One can see that is so by the later usage: “association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha”. Due to the frame-of-mind we bring to the world, it seems as though everything we encounter is dukkha. This is because we cling to everything, where “clinging” is understood as once again metonymic for clinging-or-aversion.

      Or to put it another way, the only way we could ever escape dukkha (Third Noble Truth) is if the dukkha had to do with our reactions rather than with the things themselves. And so it is, as we see in the Second Noble Truth: dukkha is due to clinging.

      • ruedade says:

        It seems we can’t really say with certainty what Gautama’s words were. I think another plausible interpretation of the sutra could be that life is suffering and the way to escape suffering is to end the cycle of rebirth.

  3. mufi says:

    The real question isn’t about control, it’s about dukkha itself, how it is created and how it can be mitigated. Is it really possible, as the Buddha claimed in his Third Noble Truth, to see its cessation? That I cannot say.

    Come on, Doug, you’re not usually so shy about saying what you think. Why not at least share what you reckon the odds are of that claim’s literal truth? (I know what I’d say, more or less, and it’s contrary to Buddhist doctrine.)

    But it does seem that if one is going to work towards that end, it is essential to begin by seeing the problem clearly. So I sit.

    Me, too, and reading this post reminded me of why: It’s so as to confront my dukkha head on, so as to learn to live with it, or rather to learn to not react to it in ways that only aggravate the situation, creating even more dukkha.

    Thanks for that reminder!

    • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

      Come on, Doug, you’re not usually so shy about saying what you think. Why not at least share what you reckon the odds are of that claim’s literal truth? (I know what I’d say, more or less, and it’s contrary to Buddhist doctrine.)

      🙂

      Actually, I said just what I meant, which is that I really don’t know if full cessation of dukkha is possible. I have had moments of feeling complete (or nearly complete? I am not sure) peace during meditation. It is at least conceivable that such a state could persist for a longer period of time. Now, as I’ve discussed before, if that were to persist permanently, it seems it would have to do so partly on account of good luck, since various forms of mental illness would it seems disrupt it.

      You see a number of questions and caveats inherent in my thinking on the matter: is apparent peace really complete freedom from dukkha? Is it true that certain ordinary forms of mental illness or senility would disrupt such a state? To know these things in a scientific fashion would necessitate our coming up with a testing regime and a statistically valid sample of people who could somehow objectively be determined to have reached the endpoint.

      Since I think such a perfected state must be difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to determine if it has been achieved, such testing would itself be difficult. But this on its own does not mean the achievement is impossible. It simply means that if we’re going to make scientifically or skeptically careful statements about them, they should be hedged.

      I believe that the practice helps mitigate dukkha in an overall sense, even if it heightens it occasionally as well. Whether that can lead to any sort of perfection, especially in a householder with limited time to spend on the practice, is something about which I am honestly agnostic. (If dubious about the householder bit).

      • mufi says:

        I really don’t know if full cessation of dukkha is possible

        Aside from death or a coma?

        I agree that this “full cessation of dukkha” claim is “possible” in a speculative-theoretical sense, but do you not recognize it as being particularly extraordinary and thereby begs for extraordinary evidence (as Carl Sagan might say)?

        • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

          I don’t view cessation as being particularly extraordinary in Carl Sagan’s sense; what he was talking about were essentially claims that ran against consensus scientific opinion; the sorts of things that, if proven, would get you the Nobel Prize, like life after death, ESP, perpetual motion, etc. (Or claims of momentous world importance where purported evidence is highly questionable and should be better if we are to take them seriously, such as alien visitations).

          I think it’s quite arguable that we have moments in our everyday lives that are without dukkha. If that claim doesn’t quite measure up to your favorite Buddhist doctrine, then at least we have moments in meditation that seem to be without dukkha. So it’s not as though we are getting to some unknown or unknowable place. The only question is whether that short-term experience might ramify. Were it to, I admit that it would be personally extraordinary, and certainly the sort of thing that might warrant scientific investigation. Though as I say, I suspect the path that lead to complete cessation might be sufficiently arduous that most people would not consider it worth their while to pursue to its end. For the rest of us it’s enough to use the techniques to get ourselves partway there.

          • mufi says:

            Doug: Thanks for the thoughtful response. It leads me to think, however, that perhaps I should have placed more emphasis on the “full” in “full cessation of dukkha”, since I don’t so much doubt the “we have moments…” claim as I do the long-term “ramified” claim. We appear to agree that the latter has some extraordinary overtones to it. What’s more, the longer the duration that we assume, the more extraordinary it seems to get (that is, even if we put aside the “diffuse, indeterminate…post-mortem experience” that more traditional thinkers assume re: nirvana).

            At stake here, I think, is whether or not “complete cessation” is a realistic goal for anyone, including full-time meditators (be they monastics or lay people).

            I think there is also a question as to whether or not a belief in “complete cessation” (again, aside from death or a coma) betrays a secular (or naturalistic) interpretation of the dharma (given how closely connected or interwoven secularism, naturalism, and scientific skepticism are in practice).

            BTW, notwithstanding the “doubting thomas” role that I’m playing right now, even I claim some degree of assent to the Four Noble Truths, only with the disclaimer that I reserve the right to apply a heaping dose of creative, metaphorical reinterpretation to them.

          • David Chou David Chou says:

            I believe Buddhist understanding of dukkha will be especially relevant once genetic engineering gets “better perfected” and goes mainstream.

            If everything has a physical basis, then so does dukkha and thus it will one day be possible for its complete cessation to be genetically engineered into our species.

            I think dukkha is a bug in the code, an unintended consequence of sloppy ad hoc subroutines developed by that master coder of life, Ms. Evolution, under the pressure of a deadline!

  4. jonckher says:

    This may sound flippant although I can assure you that I’m only trying to be concise: by thoroughly rejecting the First and the Second, you achieve the Third thus bypassing the Fourth.

    Expansion: the recent discussion and concerns over the ever continuing growth of the DSM, as exemplified by the current edition: the DSM-V.

    • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

      Hi jonkher and thanks. I wouldn’t say your response sounds flippant, but I would say I don’t understand it very well. I believe that the First and Second Noble Truths are accurate representations of lived reality, though admittedly they do require some interpretation. And any method one might use to achieve the Third will, by its very nature, be another iteration of the Fourth, which after all is itself basically methodological.

      • jonckher says:

        hi doug,

        I’m not entirely sure myself that the first and second are accurate. My analogy with the DSM is that by defining or better yet luring your subject into defining a bunch of disconnected symptoms as part of a disorder (aka dukkha), you can then prescribe a single cure (ie the Dharma) to it. You have effectively been infected by the meme that is the Dharma.

        Why is Dukkha such a large basket of everything: from birth to death to wanting to not wanting to aversion to craving? It seems pretty much that every single life experience is encapsulated within it. Is it because the Dharma is true? Or is it because this is one of the reasons why the Dharma works so well as a contagious meme?

        If the Dharma is nothing more than a meme, then by breaking free of the meme’s conceptions of suffering (the conceptions you have programmed into yourself by embracing the meme so thoroughly), you may actually truly liberate yourself from the meme and hence dukkha.

        Try this as an experiment: birth is not suffering, death is not suffering, craving is not suffering, aversion is not suffering, pain, hunger, cold, loneliness, depression etc is not suffering: there is no such thing as suffering.

        What happens then?

        • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

          One doesn’t escape pain by telling oneself over and over that there is no pain, anymore than one escapes injustice by telling oneself over and over that there is no injustice.

          • jonckher says:

            Oh, it is not about escape – it is about examination and deconstruction leading either to acceptance or rejection (or maybe both). Injustice is another great word ( like love and freedom) which can mean so many things that it can be an effective tool of manipulation and self-delusion. So many atrocities have been committed under the cover of these words. My point is that internal atrocities can also easily be committed under the functionally undefined concepts of suffering and liberation/cessation. By defining the disease, how do you know you are not creating it?

        • Mark Knickelbine says:

          johckher, you’ve studied your poststructuralist philosophy well. “Suffering” is not a useful definition of dukkha; the concept as Gotama defines it in the First Discourse suggests that the elements of our phenomenal existance cannot satisfy what the ego thinks it needs for its security and wholeness. This is because the ego itself is not a stable entity, but a radically unstable and contingent psycho/physical/social process. It’s not about whether “the Dharma is true” — look for yourself and you will see this to be true, or, if you prefer, read any number of Neomarxist philosophers who will tell you the same thing. The teachings of Buddhism of course contain many memes, as does late 20th-century European philosophy. What those who try to use deconstruction to dis the dharma invariably fail to take into account is the radical aporia that is already built into the insights of anicca and anatta. Of course, deconstruction gets around this because it can tear any claim about reality apart (in fact, that is the only thing it can do); but it does stand to reason that, since the human organism has changed relatively little in 2000 years, there should be things we can reliably say about the human perceptual aparatus that would apply almost universally, and this, not some ideology, is the basis of dharma practice.

          • mufi says:

            We can also reframe these insights, using the language of modern psychology – albeit, with the disclaimer that the Buddha interpreted the problem rather differently, using the metaphysical & soteriological themes of his time & place.

            One example that often comes to mind is “hedonic adaptation” or “the hedonic treadmill” – that is, “the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.” [source] While this modern empirical finding has positive, as well as negative, implications (after all, even the depressive periods following tragic loss do not last indefinitely), I find that having a little Buddhism under one’s belt makes it difficult not to read anicca, anatta, and dukkha into this stable and independently verified human condition.

          • David Chou David Chou says:

            I believe there is an inherent biological reason for dukkha beyond just death. One day, humans will be immortal (did you know every cell in your body can only divide fifty times and that’s it?? You can store the cells for centuries in a freezer and when thawed they will not have lost the count of the number of times they’ve already divided! So surely scientists can one day resolve the disease of old age) and so there won’t be the old age and death kinds of dukkhas…but still a certain deeply unpleasant “dissatisfaction” will remain.

            I think Buddhism can help with this bug in our genetic code…I think it’s a bug in the software of self-reflective consciousness, and what Buddhism is is a kind of heuristic that this same software has developed to cope with that bug. Yet genetic engineering should be able to one day help remove it completely, if such removal is deemed wise (that is, maybe this “bug” isn’t a bug but actually has some important function even in a magical deathless world of effortless abundance).

          • jonckher says:

            Mark, the perceptual apparatus itself is neuro-plastic and contextually contingent not just in the very instance but also in its (constant) formation. After basic physical levels of elephant shape interpretation, it rapidly wanders into fun-house mirror territory and I think exponentially with time and culture. For example, the Ouroboros that emerges from interpreting a single core Pali term can be fun but seems ultimately futile except to deplete the mental energies of celibate Buddhist monks and their contemporary Western counterparts. My point if I can find it again is that the presentation of this Dharma-branded object as made popular in the West is nothing more than a non-prescription non-pharmaceutical permanent anti-depressant. Strawman?

          • David Chou David Chou says:

            It’s more than just a case of mental pacification, jonckher, though it certainly happens to look like that as well (are you familiar with the case of Thich Quang Duc, who protested discrimination by way of self-immolation in perfect composure?).

            Indeed, there is a very real sense in which we create our own problems — creating diseases by defining them, as you put it. Thus, we are happy, but then examine this happiness, and find that the sensation of happiness goes away because our minds are now preoccupied by something else (namely, our analysis of happy sensations), and, due to our instinct to cling to pleasant experiences, we start feeling a sense of loss that we’re no longer feeling happy, and then maybe go on to conclude that thinking is bad for happiness (or whatever theory winds up being postulated), which in turn goes on to create unhappiness….

            But that’s precisely the kind of cause-and-effect roundel which Buddhism would address!

            So no, it’s not creating a disease by defining it; Buddhism is defining the disease so that we may treat it.

            Why do you prefer one perspective over the other? Why would you willfully conflate the head of the Ouroboros with the tail being swallowed??

            (Though at a certain “meta” or, even, “esoteric” level of looking at the symbol, it’s arguable that there is no head or tail but that it’s all one, yes…is this what you’re referring to????)

          • jonckher says:

            There are at least*** three areas I find problematic:

            1) the simplification / salesification of branded-Buddhism as an-purpose curative to Western psychological woes – primarily because I don’t like gurus even if some appear to delude themselves as much as their students. The current McMindfulness critique is a step in the right direction however I see it predominantly as a battle for market-share between the outright-deceptive and the self-deceptive*. Nonetheless, defining (or ill-defining) every Western woe as part of all-encompassing suffering is a useful tool for both.

            2) the over-complexification / mind-worship of idealised-Dharma where those of scholarly-bend project meaning on ancient Pali verses in hope of revealing the original Dharmic “truth” or “reality” that has been obscured by other less talented scholars. Here, the search for “dukkha” and the processes around it brings forth mirrors and monsters.

            3) the fall-back Western injunction to “practice” as this will reveal the true essence / embodied-realization of “Dukkha” – failing again to understand that the “practice” itself is a programming exercise directed to see the Dharmic “truth” as defined by the teacher. eg: If I tell you to visualise physical sensations encountered during meditation as karmic burdens built up through past-lifes, will it be surprising that the more you meditate, the more you will believe this?**

            * not making any money from “teaching” is no excuse
            ** seriously, this is SN Goenka’s famous vipassana technique
            *** and yet I would nonetheless claim to be a Buddhist

          • David Chou David Chou says:

            1) You have a lot of nonsense in Asia, too: just look at the Thai and especially the Burmese monks. I even suspect a lot of the Tibetan stuff is an outright scam as well. In Korea and Taiwan, Buddhism has long been as vainglorious as any other modern self-help enterprise in the West. During WWII, Japanese Zen even sent monks off to the imperial army! The nice thing about Secular Buddhism is its skeptical foundations.

            2) You speak in vague terms so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the issue is. It seems like you were upset in 1) above that there’s a lot of superficiality and self-pity in Western Buddhism, but now in 2) you’re complaining that the efforts of Western scholars and such to ascertain nuances in the doctrine of dukkha is a needlessly complicated activity. Is it possible that you protest too much over too little?

            3) I don’t think Secular Buddhism fails to recognize the great potential for error in traditional teacher-student relationships. Indeed, remember that Secular Buddhism — perhaps the most Western of all Western Buddhist attempts — has as its ethos scientific skepticism.

            I am personally troubled at your characterization of Goenka Vipassana techniques, however, and hope that such apparent instances of wishful thinking/self-fulfilling prophecy as described are mistaken.

  5. Mark Knickelbine says:

    johnker, all I can tell you, to paraphrase Lao Tsu, is that the Dharma-branded object isn’t the dharma. All kinds of things can be commodified, including poststructural philosophy (check your local university catalogue). Certainly our understanding of the human organism is socialy constructed, as is the human organism itself. But that does not mean that there’s nothing there, or that the human perceptual apparatus (along with the rest of the package) isn’t substantially the same as that of our pre-modern ancestors. Again, can you really make an object of anatta? Not doubting that one can stick the word to an object, but that is a denial of the dharma insight, not a commodification of it.

    Finally, your “mirrors and monsters” observation was already old hat back in the 1970s. The poststructuralist observation is a valid one; however it gets us absolutely nowhere toward answering the existential human questions. All discourse, including yours, is self-referential. It also is the guarantor of the real existance of desiring, socially active human beings. Anyone who is interested in these things must eventually put all the postmodernisms behind one and find a way to live in a radically contingent and unfixable world, and I think dharma practice is a way to do that.

    • David Chou David Chou says:

      I distrust this constant concern for finding answers. I think answers present themselves with understanding, so there must first be understanding, and what should be sought is understanding and not answers as such. It’s the difference between a kid who just wants the quotient and one who wants to learn long division.

      I’ve always believed in simply staying with one’s pain/dissatisfaction/problem, sitting with it, even embracing it — long before I even had an express interest in Buddhism and dukkha. I think that while it’s possible to adopt a “lame” nihilistic/contrarian pose out of intellectual laziness, it may also well be the case that nothing is knowable or everything is indeed a self-manufactured illusion.

      And if either is indeed the case then the proper, “intellectually honest” reaction isn’t to simply shrug and say, oh well, that doesn’t help me in the here and now, but to investigate why we would have such a dismissive reaction, wherefore the insistence on “what works,” on “something” that “works”….

      My analysis so far leads me to suspect that this reaction is born of nothing more than our intrinsic need to maintain control — which sounds a lot like Buddhist clinging/craving to me!

    • jonckher says:

      Mark,

      Having cast sufficient stones at everything in a scatter-gun fashion, I should put down a couple of points of my own “practice” so that I too can take my turn as object-to-be-examined:

      1) I don’t “practice” even though I used to quite a bit – yes long silent retreats etc. These days I doubt I do anything at all – but I feel that I am doing more than I ever used to. This is not a brag of “taking my practice off the cushion” as I have effectively given up. The feeling of doing more than I ever used to is puzzling to me. It could be ego but it feels realer. Hence I am now highly suspicious of all “practice”. But I have very little basis to compare NOW to BEFORE – so I don’t. There is an exception:

      2) I value “social justice” or “developmental inequality” a lot more now even though I find those terms highly problematic. Having been a neo-Theravadian, I am now to my horrors finding a lot more value in some Mahayana Boddhisatva concepts – sufficiently so that I now bag parasitic eastern Mahayana Buddhist monastic traditions from that perspective – as opposed to the kind of pseudo-doctrinal criticisms you would expect from any good neo-Theravadian.

      And finally,
      3) It is because the self and the world are radically contingent that one cannot seek self-salvation only: the two are irrevocably linked. Any definition of “suffering” must include the “suffering” of everyone (maybe even all sentient beings). Yes – highly unworkable.

      So maybe that’s my position. Plus a sprinkle of snark.

  6. Mark Knickelbine says:

    “It is because the self and the world are radically contingent that one cannot seek self-salvation only: the two are irrevocably linked. Any definition of “suffering” must include the “suffering” of everyone (maybe even all sentient beings). ” Well spoken! This is my own perception, and I would hazard to say that it is the insight of anatta in its practical expression. What one must be cautious of, however, is that one isn’t masking one’s egoic grasping as social action (something I get to observe at close quarters in my political work). The formal practices that help us learn to observe our minds in action are very useful in this regard, although they are not ends in themselves.

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