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  • SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Pain, Suffering & Freedom

    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.

    But "pain" is not "suffering" (Dukkha) 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! How?

    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 at once.

    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

    This article was originally published in forum thread: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Pain, Suffering & Freedom started by Jundo View original post
    Comments 35 Comments
    1. Myozan Kodo's Avatar
      Myozan Kodo -
      Jundo,
      Thank you for this teaching. It helped me in many ways.
      Gassho
      Myozan
    1. Shingen's Avatar
      Shingen -
      Thank you Jundo for this wonderful teaching. This has helped me greatly, as I too have a loved one (mother) who suffers everyday. It is a hard thing to see someone whom you love suffer and even harder to just be with that suffering, allowing that suffering, accepting that suffering.

      Once again your clear explanation helps the dharma just sink right in.

      Gassho
      Michael
    1. Daido's Avatar
      Daido -
      Thanks Jundo.

      Gassho,

      Daido
    1. Seimyo's Avatar
      Seimyo -
      Thank you Jundo. This will be one 'sit-a-long' I will sit with over and over.

      Gassho,
      Chris
    1. willow's Avatar
      willow -
      Metta to your friend with cancer and all those in pain.
      Thank you for this teaching

      Gassho

      Willow
    1. Jundo's Avatar
      Jundo -
      Hi,

      Sorry to be a "pain" to everyone, but I had forgotten to add this to the essay yesterday, and just put it in ...

      A recent posting by one of our Sangha members described his use of Zazen in place of anesthesia for minor surgery, and medical research shows that Zazen meditation resembling Shikantaza appears to reduce sensitivity to moderate pain. However, 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 modern pharmaceutical 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 real strength is not there.
      Gassho, J
    1. Dosho's Avatar
      Dosho -
      Jundo,

      Thank you for this teaching.

      Gassho,
      Dosho
    1. Daizan's Avatar
      Daizan -
      Thank you, Jundo.

      There is a reference in a sutta somewhere (sorry for the sloppy reference) of the Buddha referring to the breaking of a bone as being like the breaking of a stick. It sounds like a separation, but it is the opposite of separation or anesthetic. It is 100% feeling, an absolute intimacy with physical pain. There is no standing back, no witness. The pain is alone... the pain belongs to the pain alone, and there is no experiencer of the pain... no reactive owner. 100% pain and no dukkha. When everything (body,mind, and world) is alone in this way, there is no dukkha regardless of conditions. But this comes and goes... there is also two-ness, and then pain is not alone... there is "my pain". Then pain is dukkha again. This is the way things seem to alternate. Zazen is not-two, non-dukkha, then there is two-ness and dukkha...

      Gassho. kojip.
    1. Kaishin's Avatar
      Kaishin -
      Thank you, Jundo.

      _/\_
    1. Heisoku's Avatar
      Heisoku -
      Thank you Jundo. You have taken us beyond the suffering that cannot be controlled. As Okamura writes in Living by Vow..They (the five skandas) cannot be controlled because there is nothing to control them. However we can find in letting go that we can accept the flow and follow our life by being with it wholeheartedly all the way, come pain and sunshine!
      Thank you Jundo, Gassho.
    1. alan.r's Avatar
      alan.r -
      Thank you for this. It's always apt, even with the smallest bee sting (a few days ago on my run). My mom had to go to the er on Friday and will have surgery to repair a broken lead in her pacemaker on Monday, and she's worried, so I've been sitting with that and with her, though miles and miles away.

      Gassho,
      alan
    1. galen's Avatar
      galen -
      Well done, Jundo!



      galen
    1. Kyonin's Avatar
      Kyonin -
      I have a fried who is going through a long list of brain surgeries to remove cancerous tumors and doctors say there is no pain killer available to help her. She asked me about pain and zazen, so this talk comes just in time.

      This is a very valuable teaching for all those in pain.

      Thank you, Jundo.

      Gassho,

      Kyonin
    1. Jigetsu's Avatar
      Jigetsu -
      Thank you for this Jundo. I'm experiencing Dukka at this moment though trying hard to just let everything be as it is. I have the stomach flu, nothing to write home about but I find myself wishing I didn't have it, wishing my stomach didn't hurt, wishing it would all be over with.

      I'm going to re-watch, and sit just as I am.


      _/\_
      Jigetsu
    1. Jundo's Avatar
      Jundo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jigetsu View Post
      Thank you for this Jundo. I'm experiencing Dukka at this moment though trying hard to just let everything be as it is. I have the stomach flu, nothing to write home about but I find myself wishing I didn't have it, wishing my stomach didn't hurt, wishing it would all be over with.

      I'm going to re-watch, and sit just as I am.


      _/\_
      Jigetsu
      Watch, throw up, sit Zazen, sit in the bathroom, recline Zazen, Chant, Moan, sleep ...
    1. Shokai's Avatar
      Shokai -
      Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional
      wise words, Thank you Jundo
    1. Shohei's Avatar
      Shohei -
      Thank you

      Gassho
      Shohei
    1. Marek's Avatar
      Marek -
      Thank you.

    1. Risho's Avatar
      Risho -
      Thank you.

      Gassho,

      Risho
    1. Marla567's Avatar
      Marla567 -
      Thank you Jundo. It is very helpful for me to remember this at the moment, because I probably lose my job in a few weeks and I have a hard time to cope with that....

      Gassho,
      Bianca
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