green koans 41

CASE #41: The Meaning of Suffering

Shakyamuni asked, “What is wisdom?” and when no one could answer, added: “It is the ability to perfectly understand and patiently accept the truth of suffering.”

BACKGROUND

Perfectly understand       
To understand a thing holistically, from beginning to end, rather than merely in terms of its parts—the latter constituting only knowledge.

Patiently accept
To accept without reservation—that is, without any attempt to alter the reality of a given phenomenon.

The meaning of suffering
Refers to the foundational teaching of Buddhism—the Four Noble Truths:

1. The truth of suffering
2. The source of suffering
3. The end of suffering
4. The path beyond suffering

The truth of suffering is the fact of suffering, the most universal feature of human life.
The source of suffering is desire.
The end of suffering is the cessation of desire.
The path beyond suffering is the Eightfold Path established by Shakyamuni—Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

COMMENTARY

Why do we suffer? Most Buddhists can answer the question easily enough: It is because of our desires. But what is desire? That question rarely gets asked.

Desire is excess, the impulse to take something more—or simply different—from what the Earth provides. Our needs we learn from the planet. Our desires we learn from one another, as Eve did from the serpent, and Adam did from Eve. The more we learn, the more we want. We just keep egging one another on.

The extinction of desire could always come with the extinction of the human species. That is one solution. Or we could follow the Eightfold Path and get “Right” with the planet again. Who’s to say the teachings of Shakyamuni weren’t ecological all along?

VERSE

The Path of Excess
Is the exact opposite
Of the Eightfold Path.
Right View, Right Speech, Right Action…
All simple matters of scale.

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