Monday, August 07, 2006

Flaws, Suffering, and Buddhism (Part 3)

Review of previous parts: We've invoked several tenets of NLP to describe a basic structure of approach necessary to effect change. We've also introduced the idea of the Four Noble Truths to provide a sound basis for finding the source of our flaws, which cause us suffering.

Part 3:

Let's examine what this teaching tells us about our fictitious person's parental problems. First, our person has to come to accept that suffering exists. Acceptance is the first key. Worrying about the problem shows that our person has not accepted that the suffering he's experiencing with his parents just “is.” It exists. Period. Thinking about why this is happening to him is not acceptance. The situation just is as it is, right now, and that, in and of itself, is the jewel lotus of perfection. Thinking that there is something “inherently wrong” with him or his behavior is not acceptance. His behavior is as it is in the moment, and it is based on his past. It is not getting him the results he wants, hence his desire to try something new, but there is no inherent wrongness. Accept that things are as they are, with no judgment of inherent nature.

Second, our person must come to the understanding that his suffering has a cause. The situation is as it is because of his past experiences. It cannot be otherwise, because we learn our behaviors as we go through life: we learn how to act, how to think, how to speak. If his problem involves other people, like our fictitious person, then those people also learned how to act, how to think, how to speak, based on their pasts. Hence, their interaction is solely a result of all parties' past experiences. To believe otherwise is completely disempowering, not to mention illogical—but our egos, emotions, and pride are rarely logical. Accept that there is a cause to suffering.

Third, our person must come to know that if he removes the cause, the source, the effects (symptoms) will cease. We know by experience that all things that occur have causes. If I raise my arm, the initial cause is my motivation to do so. Then signals are passed through my nervous system to the appropriate muscles to physically move my arm. Nothing can happen without a cause. If the motivation does not exist to move my arm, my arm will not raise. If my brain is incapable of communicating with the muscles in my arm, then my arm will not raise. If we remove the cause, the effects will cease. This third step is very important in the process because it is a common belief among people that they cannot change, that they are the way they are, and that's it. This belief is very dangerous because it raises an artificial barrier to success. But as soon as we realize that we can always affect causes, and hence change their effects, we become capable of anything.

The fourth Noble Truth has two aspects important to our fictitious person. First, he might accept that suffering exists, that it has a cause, and that if he stops the cause, the suffering would end. But he might not believe that there is actually a means to eliminate the cause. This belief is self-fulfilling. An amazing thing happens, however, when he gains the realization that he can eliminate all causes—he becomes capable of doing so, and the results start rolling in! The second aspect of the fourth Truth important to our person is that it actually lays the path in front of him, the Eightfold Path. The skills developed through the practice of the Eightfold Path bestow the ability to analyze situations and objects deeply, to penetrate through the symptom to the deep underlying causes. Herein lies the key to successfully eliminating our flaws.

We all have flaws. Anger, greed, and delusion underlie nearly every unskillful behavior, and in order to root out how, in fact, these three poisons are specifically damaging our lives, causing us suffering, we first have to realize that if we continue doing what we've always done, we'll continue to get what we've always gotten. We then have to accept that the situation is as it is. No benefit comes from getting angry at the situation, at oneself, or at another for causing the problem. It just is. We live. Suffering exists. We then have to realize that a specific cause underlies our suffering, and that eliminating the cause will eliminate the suffering—and we CAN eliminate the cause. Finally, following the practices described in the Eightfold Path gives us the means to penetrate to the source of our suffering and eliminate it permanently.

This brings us to the end of this series. Next, I plan on embarking on a discussion of the Eightfold Path, via several sutra references as well as personal explanations.

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Angela said...

Your series is putting forth some very valuable lessons that many people never conciously master during their lifetimes.

I have a question, you say that thinking about why suffering is happening to you is not accepting it. However, if you don't think about it, how will you determine what the cause is in order to be able to remove it?

I think another valuable lesson in dealing with suffering is taking responsibilities for your actions, thoughts and emotions. I believe this comes with the realization that no one can make you act, think or feel a certain way. No one can make you sad, angry or happy -- all of these emotions are under your control. I believe this type of emotional and mental control is very difficult and believe that few really master the concept during their lives. However, I believe that if one is aware that they have the power to control these aspects of their self, they may find themselves reacting to and viewing situations in a different light.

Mike said...

When I was writing about the step of acceptance, I meant that that is what is required first. I agree with you that, without thinking, it is impossible to determine the cause of the problem. However, I argue that most people jump right to the thinking step, without having accepted the situation. Thinking is much less effective without acceptance because it's especially tainted by the poisons of anger, greed, and delusion. After pure and complete acceptance (which is not an easy thing to achieve!), you no longer experience anger over the issue, or an attachment to it or its effects, thus making your thinking that much more effective. Also, I specifically wrote "thinking about why this is happening," which contains a particular focus on the word "why." People often attribute blame, whether that be on another person, God, the universe, or themselves. Blame is a waste of time and energy that just inhibits your ability to deal with the problem and causes you suffering.

Great comment re: responsibility. I think that actually also falls under "acceptance." To accept situations is to see them for what they are. And that, in and of itself, affords you control over most of your emotions. (not all, because grief is an emotion, and nobody says that acceptance of a relative's death should eliminate sadness). Grieving is a natural process; sadness will occur. The practice of acceptance allows you to move beyond the grief once it has played its role in your life; in essence, it gives you a healthy relationship to grief.