Monday, September 11, 2017

Contemplating the suffering of human beings

the Human Realm from the Wheel of Life
As I previously explained in the first section, life in human form is most desirable and does not contain the extreme pain of hells, pretas and animal realms. However, humans have their own difficulties and specific sufferings. Generaly speaking, these are called the Eight Sufferings, namely, birth, old age, disease, death, encountering what is unpleasant, separation from what is pleasant, not getting what one wants and the suffering associated with the five aggregates (skandas). Some of these appear in other realms of existence too, but here I will explain them in relation with the human realm.

1) The suffering of birth
According to the Buddha Dharma life in human form starts at the moment of conception when the conscience of a being in the intermediate state enters the cell formed after the union of male sperm with female egg (ovum). From that moment until birth, the new being experiences various kinds of sufferings associated with the different embryonic stages, which are described in some sutras, like for example,  Garbhavakrantisutra: The Sutra on Entry into the Womb, and various treatises. Whatever the mother eats or drinks or if she passes through various painful or stressful situations can affect the unborn baby. Also, when the pregnancy reaches term, the baby (and mother too) experiences various sufferings associated with birth. Some can die at that moment, but even those who survive might go through suffering very simmilar with dying when they exit the womb.  

Nobody ever came into this world smiling, but in a river of tears. Also, birth is the the first step to death, as everything which is born must die. We may have the impression of growth and maturing, but what we do in fact, is making another step toward death, another rebirth, another death, rebirth, death.... ad infinitum. The very fact that we were born is a sign that we have not escaped samsara yet, and if we do not use well this precious human life, our present birth will be just another cause for rebirth in the lower realms.

2) The suffering of old age
When becoming old our bodies deteriorates, the hair becomes white, wrinkles appear all over our face and forehead and we become unnatractive.
When becoming old physical strenght and vigor deteriorate and it becomes more and more difficult to sit or stand, walk, talk or do various activities.
When becoming old our senses deteriorates, too. Our eyes cannot see well and our ears cannot hear as they used to when we were young. We also lose memory and other mental faculties.
When becoming old we cannot enjoy our sense objects. We have difficulty in eating, drinking and cannot find happiness anymore in desirable objects.
Seeing how body and mind deteriorate as we approach death, ordinary beings which are attached to form cannot be happy.

Shakyamuni Buddha said in Lalitavistara Sutra:

"As aging progresses and we pass a certain point,
We are like a tree struck by lightning,
Withered by old age like a terrible, decrepit house.
O Sage, speak quickly about an escape from old age.
Age enfeebles the masses of men and women
As a windstorm strips vines from a grove of sal trees.
Age steals our vigor, skill, and strength-
It is as though we are stuck in mud.
Age makes attractive bodies unattractive.
Age steals our glory and our strength.
Age steals our happiness and subjects us to insults.
Age takes our vigor; age begets death."[1]

A Master of the past also said:

"One, you stand yourself up as if pulling a peg from the ground;
Two, you creep along as though you were stalking a bird;
Three, you sit down like a sack being dropped.
When these three things come together, granny,
You're a sad old woman whose illusory body's wasting away.

One, from the outside your skin hangs in wrinkles;
Two, from the inside protrude bones where flesh and blood have
Three, in between you're stupid, deaf, blind and dazed.
When these three things come together, granny,
Your face frowns with ugly wrinkles.

One, your clothes are so ragged and heavy;
Two, your food and drink is insipid and cold;
Three, you sit on your mat propped up with skins on four sides.
When these three things come together, granny,
You're like a realized yogi being trampled by men and dogs."[2]

3) The suffering of disease
Disease, when it occures, changes our body's appearance, making it ugly.
Disease means lack of ecquilibrium in our internal elements and causes us to experience physical and mental pain.
Disease makes us lose our desire for objects that we previously enjoyed, or if we still desire some things, we might not be allowed to enjoy them because it would delay our recovery or worsen our condition. Also our movement is limited and we cannot do the activities we like. 
Disease can force us to take medicine, food or drink that we find repulsive and we might need to accept painful and violent therapies like surgical interventions, powerful drugs and so on.
Disease makes us lose our vital energy and if it is a terminal disease will cause tremendous pain to us and relatives. Indeed, who among ordinary people can accept a terminal ill with 100% serenity? More than that, some become frightened of death even when they are slitly ill, while others commit suicide because they cannot bear the pain or in desperation after being left alone by their dear ones. People who are very sick cannot take care of themselves, so they constantly need to ask for the help of others which may come or not, or may last for a while until their friends or relatives are tired of taking care of them.
Usually, very few are capable of giving constant support in such times of crisis and the world's hospitals and asylums are filled with sick or old people abandoned by their dear ones.

Shakyamuni Buddha said in Lalitavistara Sutra:

"Hundreds of illnesses and the pain of rampant disease
Afflict us, just as humans oppress wild animals.
Regard the beings overwhelmed by old age and disease
And quickly speak about escape from suffering.

In deep winter, wind and great blizzards
Take the vigor from the grasses, shrubs, trees, and herbs.
In the same way, disease takes the vigor out of living beings;
It breaks down their faculties, physical appearance, and

It will drain a great fortune in wealth and grain to the last.
Disease constantly humiliates living beings;
It harms them and is contemptuous of beauty.
It torments them, like the sun beating down from the sky".[3]

4) The suffering of death
Death is suffering because we are attached to our bodies and we identify with it.
Death is suffering because we are separated from relatives and friends.
Death is suffering because we are separated by the objects of our desires like our property, wealth and various possesions.
Death is suffering because when dying we might feel various pain in the body and mind.

Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Lalitavistara Sutra:

"You die and pass on to another life, and in so doing
You are forever separated from people who are beautiful and
Like a leaf fallen from a tree, or the current of a river,
You will never return and meet them again.
Death makes the powerful weak.
Death takes you away, as a river carries away a log.
People go alone, unaccompanied, with no companion -
Powerless because their karma has its effects.

Death seizes myriad living beings,
As sea-monsters seize swarms of creatures,
As an eagle seizes a snake, or a lion an elephant,
As fire takes hold of grass, trees, and swarming creatures."[4]
He also said in the Larger Sutra:

"The reality of birth and death is such that the sorrow of parting is mutually felt by all generations. A father cries over the deaths of his children; children cry over the death of their father. Brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives mourn each other’s deaths. According to the basic law of impermanence, whether death will occur in order of seniority or in the reverse order is unpredictable. All things must pass. Nothing stays forever. Few believe this, even if someone teaches and exhorts them. And so the stream of birth and death continues everlastingly."[5]

As few become aware in due time of the reality of death and impermanence, most people do not strive to follow the Buddha Dharma, but on the contrary, do even more evil actions during their lives, and so, when death arrives, they experience various pains an fears. Halucinations may occur even before their actual death, which are signs or their future rebirth in one of the lower realms. Also, when they finaly die, various apparitions of the intermediate state (bardo) manifest before their senses, but because they have no faith in Amida Buddha or in any Buddha, no one can protect them, and so, they are left at the mercy of their evil karma.

4) The suffering of encountering what is unpleasant
Unpleasant circumstances are of various types, causing us fear and pain. Meeting with enemies, we fear that we may be hurt, insulted, dominated, punished or even killed.
Meeting with unfavorable situations, we fear we may lose our wealth and possesions. Being caught up in rivalry of any kind we fear others will be more succesful than us while we are left with nothing.

Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said:

"Amassing wealth, watching over it and making it grow will wear
you out.
Understand that riches bring unending ruin and destruction".[6]

A master of ancient times also said:

"In the beginning wealth makes you happy and envied;
But however much you have, it never seems enough.
In the middle miserliness tightens its knots around you:
You can't bear to spend it on offerings or charity.
Your wealth attracts enemies and negative forces,
And everything you've gathered gets used up by others.
In the end, wealth's a demon that puts your life in danger.
How frustrating to just look after wealth for your enemies!"[7]

5) The suffering of separation from what is pleasant
Such suffering occurs for example, when we are separated from a dear friend, partner or relative. We recall the good qualities of those we lost and we are filled with regret on what we should have said or done, but its to no avail as we cannot go back in time. Such is our attachement to our loved ones that we can even die or become ill when we are separated from them.

However, if we contemplate more deeply on our relations with parents, wives, husbands, children and friends, we might also come to realize some ugly truths about them.
For example, although our parents cared for us and wished only our best, because themselves had illussions and were not aware of the urgent matter of liberation from birth and death, their actions did us many harm, too. For example, by focusing their education exclusively on how to achieve worldly success and fame, or if they advised us how to make money without taking into consideration any moral standard, they encouraged our greed and caused us to become even more trapped in samsara.
As Shakyamuni Buddha said,

"Later generations learn from previous ones to act likewise. Fathers, perpetuating their wrong views, pass them on to their children. Since parents and grandparents from the beginning did not do good deeds, were ignorant of the Way, committed foolish acts, and were benighted, insensitive, and callous, their descendants are now unable to realize the truth of birth and death and the law of karma. There is no one to tell them about this. Nobody seeks to know the cause of fortune and misfortune, happiness and misery, although these states result from such acts."[8]

Not to mention the cases when parents neglect their children or use them to satisfy their own selfish desires. Indeed, some human parents are no different than monsters who eat their own offsprings!

Also, there are children who were raised well by their parents, with great efforts and sacrifices, sometimes even by engaging in negative actions, but they turn against their mothers and fathers and hurt them in many ways. It is well known that many parents end up not in their own houses but in old age asylums. The sons or daughters motivate this by saying its in the best interest of the parents, when the truth is they simply no longer wish to assume their filial responsabilities. By doing this, they treat their parents as things, not living beings who once cared for them and raised them in their own house, not in orphanages..... It is said in the sacred texts that one cannot repay his parents kindness even if he carries them all his life in the back, so imagine what evil karma such unfilial sons and daughers generate for their next rebirths! Instead of being a support for their father and mother, worldly children act as obstacles toward the physical and spiritual health of their parents and make them realize they spent their lives in vain to raise them.

How true these words of Milarepa sound for many parents:

"In the beginning, your son is a charming little god;
You love him so much that you cannot bear it.
In the middle he ferociously demands his due;
You give him everything, but he is never satisfied.
He brings home someone else's daughter,
Pushing his kindly parents out.
When his father calls him, he doesn't deign to answer.
When his mother calls, he doesn't even hear.
In the end, he is like a distant neighbour.
You destroy yourself nourishing a swindler like that.
How frustrating it is to beget your own enemies!
I've cast off this harness that tethers us to samsara.
I don't want any of these worldly sons.
In the beginning a daughter is a smiling little goddess,
Imperiously monopolizing all your best possessions.
In the middle, she endlessly asks her due:
She openly demands things from her father,
And steals them from her mother on the sly.
Never satisfied with what she's given,
She's a source of despair to her kindly parents.
In the end, she's a red-faced ogress:
At best, she's an asset to someone else,
At worst, she'll bring calamity upon you.
How frustrating she is, this ravaging monster!
I've cast off this incurable sorrow.
I don't want a daughter who'll lead me to ruin."[9]

Friends too can be deceiving, treatings us well when we are prosperous, and forgeting us when we pass through difficult times. Also, the love of friends can often transform itself into hate and adversity if big attachements and conflicting interests arise:

"In the beginning friends meet you joyfully, they smile
And the whole valley rings with 'Come in!' and 'Sit down!'
In the middle they return your hospitality with meat and beer,
Item for item, exactly one for one.
In the end, they cause strife based on hate or attachment.
How frustrating they are, those evil friends with all their quarrels!
I've given up my dining companions of easy times.
I don't want any worldly friends."[10]

6) The suffering of not getting what one wants
This type of suffering occurs when we put great efforts into achieving a worldly goal but we have no success. Frustration, dissapointment and anger then fills our mind streams and causes us pain. But even when we are succesful, what we have just gained will soon prove not enough, and so we continue our efforts to achieve more and more, thinking errouneously that one day we wil find complete satisfaction and not need anything. However, samsaric activities never end, and we come to neglect the Dharma in exchange for the delusional goals we ourselves, our family and society assigned to us. Parents, children, wives, husbands, the company we work for and others will always ask more and more from us and so, we will never find any real break in which to take care of what is really important - solving the problem of birth and death. Knowing this, Master Rennyo advised:
"Listen to the Buddha-Dharma by making time in your secular life. It is wrong to assume that you can listen to the Dharma when you have time"[11]

7) The suffering associated with the five aggregates (skandas).
All the physical and mental elements of this world are classified in five types of skandhas (“agregates”): 1) form (a generic name for all kinds of matter and the body), 2) feeling or sensation, 3) perception, 4) mental formations (mental states), 5) consciousness or mind.

For unenlightened beings all these five are causes of delusion and suffering. Our body organs may fall sick and create pain, we may experience hunger, thirst, too much heat or too much cold, etc. Also our feelings and sensations are the basis for attachment and aversion which is a cause for various pains. Perceptions are subjective experiences, and are the basis for disagreement and controversy, leading to conflict among people.
Then non-virtuous states of mind include ignorance, desire, anger, pride, envy, deceit, stinginess, laziness, forgetfulness doubt and harmful beliefs but also the drowsiness, agtation and distraction people may experience during practice. These too, are a a cause for suffering.

Reffering to consciousness or mind, in Buddhism we speak about the Eight Consciousnesses which are generated when our senses encounter their objects: 1) consciousness of sight, 2) consciousness of hearing, 3) consciousness of smell, 4) consciousness of taste, 5) consciousness of touch, 6) consciousness of mind, 7) impure (mind) consciousness, 8) the alaya (storehouse) consciousness.

The meaning of the first five consciousnesses is easy to comprehend, so I will not dwell upon them. The consciousness of mind integrates the perceptions of the five senses in concrete images and takes decisions concerning the exterior world. 

The impure (mind) consciousness is the source of clinging and so the origin of the sense of ego as well as of the other illusions which are born from the fact that we take as real something which is merely apparent. This of course, leads to suffering.

The alaya consciousness or storehouse consciousness is the place where all the actions and experiences in this life and the previous lives generated by the seven consciousnesses are stored as karma, being the only consciousness which comes along with every birth. This consciousness influences at the same time the workings of the other seven consciousnesses.

We take this alaya consciousness with us in all our births in the various realms of existence. It contains the seeds of various types of karma, and it is the storehouse of the habitual evil karmic tendencies that we have cultivated for eons. Because of the karmic seeds contained in the alaya consciousness one may die a premature death, be stricken with unexpected disease or inexplicable misfortune, overcome by strong desires, aversions and obsessions, can think and do things that one should never even imagine, etc. So strong is the influence of the alaya consciousness!

When Shinran is recorded as saying in chapter 13th of Tannisho: “a person may not wish to harm anyone and yet end up killing a hundred or a thousand people”, he is in fact referring to the influence of past karma contained in the alaya consciousness, but I already talked about this at the chapter dedicated to karma, so please return there if you wish.

            In addition to the eight sufferings explained above we should also contemplate the following words of Bodhisattva Vasubandhu:

"It is apparent that humans also have
All the sufferings of the miserable realms -
Tormented by pain, they are like hell-beings;
Deprived, they are like those in the Lord of Death's world [the
hungry ghosts].

Humans also have the suffering of animals
In that the powerful use force
To hurt and oppress the weak -
These sufferings are just like a river.

Some suffer from poverty;
For others, suffering arises from discontent.
The suffering of yeaming is unbearable.
All of them quarrel and can be killed."[12]

[1] Lalitavistara Sutra as quoted in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 276
[2] Jetsun Milarepa as quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher, by Patrul Rinpoche, revised edition, Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, Boston, 1998, p.82
[3] Lalitavistara Sutra as quoted in in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 277
[4] Passage from Lalitavistara Sutra as quoted in in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 277-278
[5] The Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Malaysia, 2012, p. 68
[6] Nagarjuna as quoted in in Words of My Perfect Teacher, by Patrul Rinpoche, revised edition, Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, Boston, 1998, p.86
[7] Jetsun Milarepa as quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher, by Patrul Rinpoche, revised edition, Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, Boston, 1998, p.86
[8] The Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Malaysia, 2012, p. 67-68
[9] Jetsun Milarepa as quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher, by Patrul Rinpoche, revised edition, Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, Boston, 1998, p.88
[10] Jetsun Milarep as quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher, by Patrul Rinpoche, revised edition, Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, Boston, 1998, p.88
[11] Thus I Have Heard from Rennyo Shonin, translated into English by Hisao Inagaki, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2008, p.82.
[12] Vasubandhu's Discourse of the Requisite Collections (Sambhara - parikatha) as quoted in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 292

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