Monday, October 24, 2011

At this moment, I am not suffering

(Image from liquidsculpture.com)
A couple of days ago, while I was drinking a glass of water in my kitchen, a powerful thought suddenly arose in my mind and refused to go away.  That thought was:
"At this moment, right here, right now, I am not suffering."
The thought that immediately preceded it was remembering my first meditation teacher, the late Godwin Samararatne, one of the great lay meditation teachers in the world during his lifetime, but mostly unknown to the world. 

A number of us suspected that Godwin was not just an "ordinary" great teacher, we suspected that he may be enlightened, in the Buddhist sense of the word.  Every time that topic came up, though, he would brush it aside with humorous humility.  For example, he would say that, "I don't know what an enlightened being looks like, but I know he doesn't look like this", then pointing to himself.  And then everybody would laugh.

One time, in private, my friend who was hosting Godwin kept pushing that question.  As usual, Godwin kept brushing it aside humbly, but my friend would have none of that humility BS, he just kept asking.  Finally, Godwin paused, and then with a serious expression, he said, "Let's put it this way, I have no more suffering."

I remembered that, and then a thought occurred to me that even though I was not free from suffering, I had the next best thing, which was that at that very moment, I was not suffering.

That thought was so powerful it kept reoccurring in my mind.  Every now and then, the thought would re-arise that says, "At this moment, I am not suffering."  Every time that happened, I returned to peace.

We may be able to frame a practice around this powerful idea.  After all, maybe freedom from suffering is simply not suffering at this moment at every moment indefinitely.  This suggests the practice that begins with recognizing when I am not suffering right now, understanding the conditions that enabled it, and then cultivating those same conditions for the future.  Allow me to write my suggestion in verse:
Temporarily free from greed,
Temporarily free from hatred,
Temporarily free from grasping and aversion,
At this moment, I am not suffering.

Cultivating generosity, to be free from greed in the future,
Cultivating kindness and compassion, to be free from hatred in the future,
Cultivating wisdom, to be free from grasping and aversion in the future,
I create the conditions for non-suffering in the future.

In giving, in loving and in meditating,
I free myself.

Nothing the Buddha hasn't already said, but slightly reframed in a new context.

5 comments:

  1. I don't know very much about Buddhism. What if one does not desire to be free from suffering? I actually don't think it would be good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't understand, my friend. Why would anyone not want to be free from suffering? How can it possibly not be good?

    To me, the highest state of mind is boundless compassion. However, I found an important condition for the practice of boundless compassion is the ability to experience pain without suffering, to do so otherwise would be unsustainable. Which means the ability to be free free suffering is essential for practicing great compassion sustainably.

    ReplyDelete
  3. One who consciously wishes to suffer is not someone I think most people would wish to associate with. From a psychological perspective there are a number of categories this may fall into... I suspect none of them good. Consider the Buddhist (and scientific) concept of cause and effect: What would the long term effect be of deliberately subjecting oneself to suffering? Self resentment? I understand the idea that knowing (as in being able to identify) suffering has a utility in that it allows one to avoid it, but beyond that I can't agree with wishing to repeatedly experience it, as if this adds more reality to reality, or more flavor to ones experience of existence.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Meng, my friend. I wish I had read this earlier.

    Thanks for writing this entry, it is especially insightful.

    You said earlier in a comment: "However, I found an important condition for the practice of boundless compassion is the ability to experience pain without suffering".

    Yes! Within my limited experience I have observed the same. First pain is experienced, then, almost immediately --but not exactly at the same time-- we reject that pain. This is a gross form of suffering and because most people most of the time perceive both of them simultaneously they believe they are one and the same.

    In the rare occasions where I've experienced pain without rejecting it I have been filled with compassion and the desire for others to experience the same openness. Also, as long as I maintained this open heart the pain seemed to disappear altogether.

    Does this match your experience as well?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for this insight, that being grateful for the non-toothache can be as easy as enjoying a cup of coffee and acknowledging that the reality of now is free from pain. And thank you for the action items in your verse, a succinct and useful bullet-point version of The Art of Happiness.

    ReplyDelete