What Is the Cessation of Suffering?
What does cessation of suffering mean
for me? From personal experience, I identify with cessation as being linked to emptiness. Nagarjuna's understanding (he was one of the greatest Mahayana
Buddhist thinkers), therefore, has great meaning for me – that understanding cessation should be based on understanding emptiness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama concurs in that cessation
is the total elimination of delusion and suffering through insight into emptiness.
An experience some time ago
illustrates how I came to understand that cessation is closely related to emptiness. Comments made by a family
member hurt me deeply. In fact, I agonized over the words spoken for a long, long time (years). Only later, in
coming to understand the Dharma, could I begin to see a release from this personal suffering of hurt feelings,
low self-esteem, and anger.
The first step was to gradually
come to understand the emptiness of the "I". It seems that when we
are embarrassed, indignant, upset, or angry, for example, we have a greatly exaggerated sense of "I". The "I"
appears so inherently and genuinely real. However, through meditation, I began to realize that the inherently
existing "I" is not as solid, real, and eternal as I imagined. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's words helped: "We should
imagine that our body gradually dissolves into thin air, and then our mind dissolves, our thoughts scatter with
the wind, our feelings, wishes, and awareness melt into nothingness. Is there anything left that is the 'I'?
There is nothing. Clearly, the 'I' is not something separate from the body and mind" (Introduction to Buddhism, 2002, p. 119). This "I" lacked any sense of
intrinsic and independent reality – it was not the body, not the mind, not the combination of mind-body, and not
separate from the body and mind.
My second step was to deeply
recognize my clinging and grasping at my image of "I" that I had
actually created in my mind – and which was a misconception of
reality all along. As long as I grasped and held on to this solid and real image of "I" in my mind, I had to
strive to protect, defend, and justify it. This led right into the afflictive emotions of attachment on the one
hand, and aversion toward all opposing elements on the other. Surely, clinging and grasping on to this image of
"I" (including "me", and all things "mine") had to be annihilated and eliminated if I was to have any cessation
of my suffering.
Finally, the third step: With
(1) the veil of ignorance (not understanding the nature of reality in
which everything is interdependent and lacks intrinsic, independent existence) beginning to lift, and (2) the
letting go of my fears and deluded mental states surrounding the grasping and holding on to "I", (3) I am truly
starting to experience the cessation of suffering and its origin. And so, on a practical, day-to-day level, I am
no longer clinging as much on to my projections, partiality,
expectations, extrapolations, judgements, conclusions, views, opinions, conceit, and pride.
This to me, then, is the meaning of
cessation – the fading away and ending of my attachment and grasping at my image of "I" through the
life-empowering insight of emptiness. This indeed is synonymous with liberation, and gives me a glimpse into the
reality of the state of nirvana.
Copyright © 2013 Alexander Michael Peck
For a PDF copy of this information, please click on What Is the Cessation of Suffering?Source: Some ideas adapted from Geshe
Tashi Tsering, The Four Noble Truths: The
Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Vol. 1, with a foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, ed. Gordon McDougall
(Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005), 101-104.
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