POSTCARD #215: New Delhi: The mind forgets. All the months of headache gone overnight. These days I wake up in the morning feeling normal again and I have to consciously remember what it was like before this, the billiard ball crashing around inside the skull whenever I moved. I understand how it works of course; an injection of anesthetizing agent into the root of the nerve and there’s no pain. It’s almost like it was never there, but the reprieve is for a limited time only. Two or three months then it’ll not be effective anymore and I have to go for the next injection.
This is the interval, the interim, a breathing space, and a time to reflect on how, for the most part, the body/mind organism has the capacity to heal itself. That built-in elasticity comes as a surprise, a kind of awakening. The true meaning of recovery. The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in this unsatisfactory state. Suffering (dukkha) can be overcome when we let go the craving (tanha) that feeds it.
It is an easing of the suffering of mind caused by holding on to things that seemingly reinforces the belief in a small self inside ‘here’ directed by how the ego interprets sensory data received from the world out ‘there’ through the eye, ear, nose, tastes, feelings: nice or not nice, and how I feel about all of the above. Thus ‘I’ am this, or ‘I’ am that, according to what I like and what I don’t like. Neutrality is an option but it usually swings one way or the other in this state of duality.
Wanting things to be different, other than what they are, is the cause of endless dissatisfaction and profiteers’ goods and services have created an opening; phones, tablets and adult toys that hold the mind in this unhappy state. After the newness wears off there’s the seeking for this or that, not included in the current model. Clever advertising creates the perception of ‘me’ in a world of other beings preoccupied with devices that can render the ‘self’ as an actor ‘I’ choose to project to others; mind reflects upon itself in its own sense of being, is aware of its perception of itself as subject in its own blissful states. Other times seeking an escape from that world when things that were blissful turn bad with the same intensity, and the truth arises that all this is not real. How to get out?
It’s here that people wake up to the recognition it’s a dependency, but there is a way out of the sickness, no matter how much the marketeers pull us towards it. There is the natural elasticity in the knowledge it doesn’t have to be like this, true happiness and contentment are possible. Let go of that craving for more, allow for the far reaching concept of renunciation, relinquishment and release, the remainderless fading & cessation of suffering. Let it go and it all comes to an end, the way out of suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path.
“The main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.” [Thich Nhat Hanh]
Pain can be a real cross to bear for some people. My wife, Marla, has Wilson’s Disease (a genetic inability to metabolize copper) and related to W.D. she has all kinds of problems involving intense pain. She has severe dystonia in her neck and has to get botox injections every 3 months to allow her to move her neck a little better with not as much pain. She has severe sciatica pain in her leg/thigh area as well as arthritis, and (due to a prior neck surgery) she is unable to eat; she mostly gets nutrition via a gastrostomy tube. Additionally, she has a rare skin disorder due to the W.D. medication that she used to be on.
People who are healthy all to often take their health for granted. Fortunately, the medical profession is evolving and there are a lot of caring, compassionate people helping others!
Dear Tom, I am sorry to hear of your wife’s plight. Even if there was an understanding in the mind of nirodha, the body has all the tugs and pulls that seemingly prevent this kind of release. You could say even if this understanding of nirodha was momentary, it would be sufficient to start a pathway into the pain and suffering. Or if any other way of understanding that the cessation of pain is possible could be presented to her in a form she was comfortable with, then there may be an easing and the awareness arising with it; what might be the right circumstances within which the easing can take place at will…
My wife has very little of what is called tanha. She is a very selfless person that cares more about helping others (and giving away things) than about helping herself. I am not into the orthodox Buddhism at all, by the way. I’ve helped her a lot, but genetics is tough to circumvent at times.
Glad to know she is well in her heart, it was in reference to that the inquiry was directed.
THE FOUR IMMEASURABLES
Like atoms whirling in the depths of space,
Impelled by mighty forces, powerless,
Infinite beings, sparks of consciousness,
Migrating ceaselessly from place to place,
Are driven by their cravings to embrace
The pleasures they mistake for happiness,
But desire brings them only more distress;
The very pain they fear they have to face.
To think: “Their sorrows come, not from Above,
Or whim of Fate, or cruel external facts,
Or others’ malice, but from their own acts;
I wish all creatures, though unknown to me,
Freed from unskillful acts, could happy be;”
This thought is called Immeasurable Love.
A creature in his time has many lives,
And now and then in blissful heaven dwells,
But just as soon may fall into the hells
Or, demi-god, be hacked to death with knives.
Now see him as, a hungry ghost, he strives
Without success to eat the food he smells,
Or squeals among the pigs a farmer sells.
The wisdom from these sufferings he derives
Is small indeed, or so we may surmise
To see him waste his few short years on Earth
In foolish deeds that lead to fresh rebirth.
Thinking: “All creatures share this misery.
I must find out the way to set them free,”
Immeasurable Compassion will arise.
If many pass their days in lust and hate
Some make attempt in virtue to abide
But we, half of the time, blinded by pride,
Give them no praise but merely denigrate.
Others find peace that seems to be innate
While we must struggle hard against the tide
And feel ourselves to be most sorely tried.
If we begrudge their carefree, happy state
What little peace we have we will destroy.
To feel resentment at a man’s good name,
His happiness or virtue is a shame;
When envy of his virtue we disown
And greet his happiness as if our own
Then we will find Immeasurable Joy.
We say we long to leave Samsara’s game;
Why is it then that we remain attached?
Each thing we fear seems by another matched
That keeps us circling, moths about a flame.
In seeking praise, we run the risk of blame;
Our gain becomes a loss if from us snatched;
And from the want of pleasure pain is hatched,
While envy soon breeds slander out of fame.
If we think well on this we need not be
Impaled upon the horns of hopes and fears,
Aversions and desires, joys and tears;
By leaving craving and dislike behind,
And by this means alone, a man may find
Wow! How do you come to have this stash of secret weaponry Ben? “Our gain becomes a loss if from us snatched;
And from the want of pleasure pain is hatched…”
Not overwhelmed, more like whelmed by immeasurable equanimity. Thanks
Here’s a toast then to equanimity. 🙂
As to origins … a few decades back my wife ran off with a so-called friend. Once the dust settled a little I decided to cease viewing it as a disaster and asked myself what opportunities were now available which were not so under the preceding status quo. Going to India topped the list. (After all this was back in the 70s. 🙂 ) I ended up taking classes in Dharamsala and these verses, along with my Buddhist name, Ben(evolent) Naga and various significant developments emerged as a result.
If these lines are of any value to you then I am happy, as I profit from reading your posts.
Composure in the face of catastrophe. I have a similar story to tell. And that was more than a few years ago, somewhere in a former life. Went to India in 1982 and by the time I came back, family members had white hair, many gaps in the lineage becoming more gaps than units as the years go by and that’s a catastrophe in itself. So really I’m in this region all the time, diminishing contact with other white caucasians. Glad to have met you Benevolent Naga…
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