I have friends these days who are feeling the pain of cancer, grief at the death of a spouse, worry over a sick child, a broken heart from a broken marriage, fear and despair from loss of a job
. I wish I could take their pain away, but I can't. Zazen is powerless for all of it too
, and can't cure their cancer, remove the physical pain, heal the baby, bring back the lost loved one or fix the economy. Zazen is useless in that way. Even the buddha could not escape sickness, old age and death, and in some of the old Sutta (such as quoted here from the Sangiti Sutta
) had to give up Teaching on days when feeling too poorly (Some Buddhists say he was just pretending to be sick as "expedient means", but I don't think so
Shariputra, you think of a discourse on Dhamma to give to the monks. My back aches, I want to stretch it."
"Very good, Lord." Replied Shariputra.
The buddha is quoted in his last days (from the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta
"Now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year, and my life is spent. Even as an old cart, Ananda, is held together with much difficulty, so the body of the Tathagata is kept going only with supports. It is, Ananda, only when the Tathagata, disregarding external objects, with the cessation of certain feelings, attains to and abides in the signless concentration of mind [*probably a deep concentration meditation free of mundane feeling and external objects], that his body is more comfortable."
Although some forms of meditation and self-hypnosis are helpful for relieving pain, by concentrating or redirecting the mind away from the aches and the like ... probably morphine and modern pain killers (despite the drawbacks) will do a quicker and more thorough job in this 21st century. Although a helpful tool in some forms of pain reduction, as one link in dealing with chronic pain and the like, I believe that Zazen's real strength is not there.
Likewise, while Zazen may (studies show) help or sometimes fully relieve depression or various other psychological conditions such as stress, panic disorders and various neurosis, it may not for the most stubborn cases or those with a physiological origin (as some sometimes depressed or alcoholic modern Buddhist Teachers like Taizan Maezumi, Chögyam Trungpa and Soen Nakagawa should attest
). One had best seek counseling, medical treatment, a 12-Step Program or the like hand in hand with Zazen.
Zazen can't even fix a bad tooth (you need to see a dentist, not a Zen Master, for that!
) For the most part, Zazen will not relieve human pain.
" is not "suffering
) in a Buddhist sense. This Dukkha is a special Buddhist word, perhaps best rendered as “dissatisfaction,” “anxiety,” “disappointment,” “unease at imperfection,” or “frustration” — the conditions wherein your little “self” wishes this life/world to be X, yet this life/world is not X. The dissatisfaction and anxiety at the "gap" is "Dukkha". For "Dukkha/Suffering", Zazen is absolutely a complete and thorough cure for everything that ails us!
Well, on the one hand, the buddha left us a way to encounter a realm (also called "Buddha" ... but with a Big "B") where there is no pain, no disease, no birth or death, no separation, no loss, no bad teeth from the start ... because no individual selves to feel it! Zazen is the door. Of course (like the buddha's bad back), one will likely continue to encounter days of pain, sickness, oral cavities and all the rest so long as one is alive in a human body (until we all leave this visible samsaric
world and become Big B Buddha
through and through!). Unfortunately, so long as we are alive in this messy world there will still be cancer, broken bones, broken hearts, broken relationships and all the rest. However (and strange as it may seem) through our Zen Practice, we also encounter a view free of a "we" to encounter any of that ... At Once!
Strange as it may seem, when these two views are combined, we experience pain AND freedom from pain at once
, separation AND wholeness at once
, death AND no death at once
, holes in life and broken dreams AND nothing ever missing or breakable at once
. A bad tooth AND a Buddha's Smile At Once, As One
We also encounter a Buddha's Way of living filled with total allowing, letting be, radical acceptance of the pain, embracing of every loss and tragedy.
That is so even as part of us, the human part, still cannot allow, tolerate or accept the pain, loss and tragedy one bit. When the two are combined as one, what results is an allowing-though not allowing, a 'letting be' even while (simultaneously) passionately resisting, and an acceptance without acceptance
of pain, loss and tragedy. Such seemingly contradictory ways of living with pain and tribulations can be lived at once, as one. Thus (as counter-intuitive and contradictory as it may sound) we experience human fear and a Buddha's fearlessness at once, sadness and endless peace at once, physical pain which we scream from -and- spiritual calm at once, a broken heart and nothing ever broken
No, Buddhism and Zazen can not fix your cancer, busted marriage, busted incisor or other hard times. In life, there’s sickness, old age, death, loss
… other physical and mental pain. But that’s not why ‘Life is Suffering
‘. Not at all, said the Buddha. For:
... sickness is "suffering", but only when we refuse the condition …
… old age, if we long for youth …
… death, because we cling to life …
… loss is "suffering", when we cannot let go …
... violated expectations, when we wish life otherwise …
Thus, in Zazen, learn to live a way of life accepting, embracing, allowing, fully flowing as, celebrating a life of inevitable sickness, getting old, someday dying ourself or letting go of those we love, ups and down, gains and losses, sometime wins and sometime defeats ...
... cast them all into the great dance of Emptiness, and dance along ...
... learn to live with such total allowing and acceptance even as you cry sometimes, moan sometimes, are sad or grieving or depressed sometimes ...
and thus (as humans do) you may still feel days of sadness, fear, loneliness or hurt ... but also Joy, Peace, Satisfaction, Wholeness and Completeness ... AT ONCE! ...
... you will feel times of pain like an aging buddha did ... but also Total Liberation from Dukkha, from Suffering.
Today’s Sit-A-Long video follows at this link. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 15 to 35 minutes is recommended