It’s been a while since I’ve written, and even longer since I’ve written about Buddhism. But as I sit here annoyed (and really, am I ever anything other than annoyed?) at Eleanor pawing at my typing hands, I realize that a little Buddhist wisdom would be appropriate.
The first of the four noble truths is that life means suffering. Our human bodies make physical pain an unavoidable part of living. Our human minds make psychological suffering an unavoidable part of living. Just as we feel such negative sensation, we are also thankfully subject to what we view as the opposite of suffering – happiness, contentment, pleasure.
I was in Winston-Salem yesterday for my niece’s two-year-old birthday. Before we embarked for the party, I sat at the kitchen table with my mother as she let the hair color soak into her scalp.
“I think some people are just incapable of lasting happiness,” she says.
I agree, but I’ll take it a step further. I don’t think most anyone is capable of lasting happiness. I know what she means though, the constant waiting for something better or something easier or something more fulfilling. It’s not going to happen. And yet, Buddha didn’t ever attempt to explain suffering as a by-product of a divine plan.
The Sanskrit term for this is dukkha, and it covers the gamut of suffering – from mild unease to extreme anguish. While the term is often translated to English as “suffering,” its actual meaning is closer to “disquietude.” When we feel this, any discomfort, our first instinct is to immediately find cessation. And when we do that, we’re trying to separate the self from what we’re experiencing. In doing this, we’re also separating ourselves from the mystery of being, the very nature of existence. The first noble truth, then, implores us to acknowledge that suffering is the central issue of the experience of being.