In his book, The Four Noble Truths, Theravada teacher Ajahn Sumedho, suggests that we should not think that we are suffering but rather that there is suffering. Does this advice work?
In his carefully chosen words, I believe that Sumedho describes an important shift in thinking and perception of suffering.
In my own times of suffering in the past, I have tended to be very self-focused – and forgetting that thousands of others may be suffering in the same manner, at the same time. So, I had not even reached the thinking that we are suffering! How self-absorbed.
Now, however, I have gained a new precious insight: there is suffering. This realization alleviates the sting of suffering. The reason is that the insight rests on the foundation of understanding pervasive suffering.
I have come to understand that our existence is essentially the five aggregates: material elements, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Then, according to the Buddha, suffering is the five clung-to aggregates. Therefore, my existence itself is suffering!
In other words, suffering pervades my whole existence. Having been born in cyclic existence, I cannot avoid it. I realize that there is indeed suffering in my life. This shift in perception is liberating.
Now if I’m suffering, I don’t have to take it so personally – I accept the fact that there is suffering and that everyone participates in it.
Furthermore, this perception shift has made realize that pervasive suffering is deep-rooted in its causes and conditions – and that at times it may still be difficult for me to even acknowledge that I have this kind of suffering. This is because pervasive suffering is a suffering of conditioning, due to ignorance in our unenlightened existence.
But, when I do acknowledge it, I can we start to understand how to abandon it – although to rid myself of pervasive suffering will require a lot of patient, persistent and sincere effort.
A further insight into pervasive suffering, that has helped me, is to understand impermanence. In What the Buddha Taught, Rahula states that whatever is impermanent is dukkha. In other words, we suffer because we are impermanent – that is, it is dukkha because it is impermanent.
Sumedho’s description of a shift in thinking and perception of suffering – moving from we are suffering to there is suffering – helps greatly in bearing patiently with suffering until we are free from samsara and have become a Buddha!
Copyright © 2013 Alexander Michael Peck