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Thursday, 23rd November 2017 1:34pm.   Home
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Seeing Suffering Directly by Jack Kornfield, DhammaWeb.Net

Seeing Suffering Directly by Jack Kornfield

Chanting in Pali:

Buddhang saranam gacchami
Dhammang saranam gacchami
Sanghang saranam gacchami

     (Homage to the Buddha
      Homage to the Dharma
      Homage to the Sangha)

I have come here today to join with so many people to speak about different aspects of world peace. I wonder from my heart what I can say that will make a difference for myself and all of its together? 'What can we actually do?' may be the first question. There are different kinds of answers. There's one that says "Don't just sit there, do something." We must see that there's something immediate that must be done in this world to make world peace happen. Then there's the other answer, which is especially relevant to those of you who are involved in meditation practice, "Don't just do something sit there," This second answer is based on the fact that, whatever our action might be, to be truly effective it has to come from a deep inner understanding, not just an emotional reaction to the situation of the world today, So in the very beginning, to look at the problem of world peace it seems important for us to look at its source.

There's a story of a teacher in the Middle East, Mulla Nasrudin. Some of you may have heard of him. He's a fool, a wise man, and a kind of mythical figure. One day he was out in his garden, sprinkling bread crumbs around. One of his neighbors came up to him and said, "Mulla, what are you doing? Why are you sprinkling those bread crumbs around?" He answered, "I do it to keep the tigers away." So his friend said, "But there are no tigers within thousands of miles of here." And Mulla replied, "Effective, isn't it?"

In a way our ceremonies, our gatherings, and our demonstrations are somehow like sprinkling crumbs around. All of Buddhism, religion, and politics can be seen in that way. It's something artificial, something conceptual, It's removed from the direct situation. What is the direct situation?

First, there's suffering in this world, and there's a lot of it. The beginning of the teaching of the Buddha, and our own understanding of the problem of world peace, is to took at that suffering. At this time on the planet, today, there are hundreds of millions of people who are starving, malnourished, and don't have enough to eat. People like us - no different - eyes, ears, hand, bodies, stomachs, hearts, hundreds of millions so impoverished that they have little or no shelter and clothing to protect them from the elements of sun, wind and rain. There are hundreds of millions of people who are sick with diseases that we know how to cure with a simple kind of medicine. But they can't afford the medicine or don't have access to it. This is happening here today, on this planet, which is not very big. Many of you have traveled some distance to come to this gathering know that - you can fly around this planet in a day.

For us to begin looking at the direct situation is not a question of ceremonies or religion or Buddhism or any of that nonsense. It's really to look in some very deep way at the sorrow and suffering that exists now in our time, in our world, to look at our personal, individual, and collective relationship to it, to bear witness to it, to acknowledge it, instead of running away. The suffering is so great that mostly we don't want to look. We close our minds. We close our eyes and hearts.

Do you know about Somalia? Do you know how bad the starvation is in sub-Sahara Africa? Every one of us in this room is actually rich in some fashion or other, fantastically rich by comparison to most of the people in the third world: rich in Dharma, rich in teachings, rich in clothes, rich in food. It's not easy to took directly at something like. starvation. What we do is close our minds to it and make ourselves somehow separate.

It's so easy to make excuses for hoarding, for greed, for taking care of Number One first. It's so hard to really look at what's going on in the world, at the sorrow, and really what's asked of you if you want to do something. If you want to make a change, a difference, it means looking at the world with real honesty, unflinchingly and directly. Then, look at yourself and see that this sorrow is not just out there, but it's also in ourselves. It's our own fear and prejudice and hatred and desire and wanting and and neurosis and anxiety. It's our own sorrow. We have to look at it and not run away.

There are two sources of strength in this world. One source of strength is people who aren't afraid to kill. They run a lot of the world, if you look at it from a political point of view. People who aren't afraid to kill run nations, run wars, run much of our world. It gives one a lot of strength to not be afraid to kill. The other source of strength in the world - of real strength - is people who aren't afraid to die: people who have looked into the very source of their nature, have looked in such a deep way that they understand and acknowledge and accept death - and in a way, have died. They bring to life fearlessness and caring. They bring not just a sense of small I, taking care of only myself and my family and my country - all these things - but something that transcends that separateness .

In this world these days, people think that strength comes from guns, from the power to kill, from force. They feel that love and compassion is a weakness. When India was separated from Pakistan and became independent in 1949, there were many riots. Millions of people were refugees - Muslims and Hindus moving from one country to another. In the west - in what is now Pakistan - Nehru and Lord Mountbatten sent tens of thousands of Gurka troops to keep the riots down. They didn't do a very good job, but he sent them there to try. To the east - in what is now Bangladesh, (it was East Pakistan then) - he sent Gandhi. Gandhi went to the east and he said, "I'm going to walk on foot from one village to another and talk to people and ask them to stop. And I'm going to stop eating, I'm going to fast. And I'll die - that's fine with me - but I'm not going to take any more food until you stop this nonsense." When people heard this, it did much more to bring peace in the east than those tens of thousands of troops in the west. Why? How did that happen? Because of his love and courage, because Gandhi truly wasn't afraid to die, because he cared about something much greater than himself.

The world doesn't need more oil, or more food, or more energy, or more medicine. It doesn't need more resources. There's plenty to go around. The world needs less greed, less prejudice, less fear, less hoarding, and less of all those forces that keep it from being fairly distributed and that keep darkness going.

So the first teaching of the Buddha is to see suffering very directly, unflinchingly acknowledge it in the world, in ourselves, and to see its source, which is fear and attachment, greed and separation. Only if we took directly can we see its end, because the end of suffering is an acknowledgement of light and dark, up and down, sorrow and joy. We have to see all those things without attachment, without separation.

We really have to look at how we make separation. How do we make this world of "I want this; I want to become that; this will make me safe; this will make me powerful?" How do we create it? How do you do it? Race, nations, age, religion. Look in your heart and see what is "us" and what is "them" for you. Who is "us?" Does "us" mean Koreans or Buddhists or Christians or Americans or white people or capitalists or ... Who is your "us?" Whenever there's a sense of "us," then there's a sense of "other." Do you have an "us," if you look really honestly? That's it, folks, right there. You want to know what is the source of the trouble in the world? That's it, that point, that "us." Give it up.

Why should you give it up? Why not "us?" It's not because it's bad, or because it's immoral. It's because morality hasn't worked. The Ten Commandments and the Buddhist Precepts have been around for a long time and everybody's still killing each other. Why give it up? Because it doesn't work! You want to be happy, yet happiness doesn't come from arms or war or hoarding or greed or family or nation or security or attachment. You can have some happiness from those things - that's fine; enjoy it but you can't have deep happiness of the heart. It doesn't work that way. That's the true teaching of the Buddha - and the teaching of the Dharma, quite apart from the Buddha. It doesn't matter about the Buddha, but it's the teaching of what is true. The source of happiness, the legacy of the Dharma, is not to make "us" and "them." On this planet at this moment, we are all of us together. We must touch that in ourselves. I don't care how you touch it. You can sit in zazen meditation or you can march in New York. But if you haven't understood that, then it's still going to be "us" marching and "them" outside or "us" sitting and "those" not sitting. Do whatever it takes to touch that. See where your "us" is and where your boundaries are. See that they don't work, that any "us" and "them" is not going to be the source of world peace and joy.

There's a story told that when the Buddha was walking down a road soon after his enlightenment, he met a man who stopped him. The Buddha was very beautiful, physically beautiful and handsome, with a wonderful field of love and energy around him. This man saw him and said, "What are you? Are you some kind of god?" The Buddha said, "No." The man said, "Well, are you some kind of an angel or deva?" He said, "No." "Well then, are you a man?" The Buddha said, "No." Then the man said, "Well then what are you?" The Buddha replied, "I am awake."

That's all. It's not being a Buddhist or a Christian or a Zen student or someone for peace or someone for war or a capitalist or a Korean. Not being anything. Just, "I am awake."

I close with one more story, borrowed, I must admit, from the Zen tradition. (I've borrowed lots of good things from Zen.) There was an old monk in China who practiced very hard meditation for many years. He had a good mind, became very quiet, had good meditation, but yet never came to touch in himself that end of "us," or "I" and "others." He never came to that source of complete stillness or peace out of which genuine change in the world can come. So he went to the Zen master and said, "May I please have permission to go off and practice in the mountains? I've worked for years as a monk and there's nothing else I want but to understand this: the true nature of myself, of this world." The master, knowing that he was ripe, gave him permission to leave.

The monk left the monastery and took his bowl and his few possessions and walked through the various towns to the mountains. He left the last village behind and was going up a little trail into the mountains. Coming down the trail, an old man appeared before him, carrying a great big bundle on his back. This old man was actually the Bodhisattva Manjusri, who is said to appear to people at the moment they are ripe for awakening and is depicted carrying the sword of discriminating wisdom that cuts through all attachment, all illusion and separateness. The monk looked at the old man, and the old man said, "Say friend, young monk, where are you going?" The monk told his story. "I've practiced for all these years and all I want now is to touch the center point, to know that which is true." The old man looked at him and his look was kind and wise. So the monk said, "Tell me, old man, do you know anything of this enlightenment?" At which point the old man simply let go of the bundle; it dropped to the ground and the monk was enlightened.

That's all. Just put it down. Drop everything: I, my, what I want to be, what I'm going to get, what will happen. Just be here. At this point the newly enlightened monk looked at the old man again, and said, "So now what?" The old man reached down and picked up the bundle again and walked off to town.

Here's the complete teaching in this story. It's to put everything down - all I, all me, all "us." To put it down means also to acknowledge it from where it starts: to see sorrow, suffering, pain, to see that we're all in it together, to see birth and death. If you're afraid of death and suffering and you don't want to look, then you can't put it down. You will push it away here and you will grab it there. See the world directly - use any way that you want to do it, but do it. Then you can put it down. Once you put it down, then with understanding and compassion you can pick it up again.

Seeing Suffering Directly Jack Kornfield