illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Seeking the end of suffering is not running away from suffering.
We might as well be happy, since we are here! There is no need to have aversion towards suffering, or to condemn suffering as 'bad.' But the only undeniable fact to our consciousness is that, somehow, one way or another, we exist, we are here. So we might "just as well" be happy.
The end of suffering is not found somewhere else. The greener grass in the neighbour's field is a myth, any grown-up knows this… Nirvāṇa is not "somewhere else." So how do we realise nirvāṇa? To reach the "extinction of ignorance, lust and hatred," we need to apply ourselves!
The effort is not to get any anywhere else, it is to remove what obstructs the view!
When travelling, putting one step in front of the other is easy; 'obstacles' are what makes it hard. To cross a threshold is easy; 'closed doors' and 'barriers' make it hard. So the effort is about removing hindrances. So our effort may target the hindrances directly, face them head-on!
At times, it is possible to reach the other shore while letting obstacles be, we only have to acknowledge their presence and avoid running into them… It is just clever (given our circumstances, our abilities) to take a détour and use a bridge downstream, rather than to try and swim straight across the rapids. When we choose to avoid obstacles rather than to put them down, we need to keep our goal in mind, we don't let the "going around" or the "being smart" make the trip so long that we'll never reach our destination.
So the effort to end suffering is focused; being smart is great, but not as a cover-up for cowardice. An old samurai would quote:
"Even if one's head were to be cut off, he should be able to do one more action with certainty. With martial valor, one should become like a revengeful ghost and shows determination, though his head is cut off, he shall not die."
— Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure
The effort of spiritual life is not to get anywhere else, it is to remove with utmost determination what obstructs the view, the path! Without obstacle, walking into nirvāṇa is the natural thing to do: without obstacle, we already are in nirvāṇa.
But might 'fighting' obstacles be the very source of our frustration and suffering? Might the antagonistic view that there are obstacles to overcome be what creates dissatisfaction in the first place?
Seeing things as they are
The Japanese art of porcelain mending does not conceal the cracks, it beautifies them with gold. It interprets impermanence as a work of art, instead of fighting a losing battle. [photo]
A few days ago, I was commenting on a blog about "accepting things as they are"… In a frustrating situation where no progress seems possible, poorly-understood spirituality can lead to fatalism: "I tried everything, there's nothing more I can do, let's accept this is how things are." Such a resignation might trigger resentment in others… Such an attitude is not what Buddhism means by "seeing things as they are."
Martine Batchelor often refers to frustrating situations as auspicious for "creative engagement." Put simply, accepting the present conditions is not the same as refusing to engage any further (possibly under the pretence of equanimity). It means: "okay, this particular condition seems pretty unchangeable by me right now, so let's not get stuck in thinking this was the 'only' way to get what is needed here and now. How do I address the situation from another angle?"
Often, when we meet an obstacle, we tend to identify one 'lever' which, if changed, would potentially transform our experience for the better: maybe more money or more time would solve our difficulty, maybe one particular person finally seeing our point of view would solve our difficulty, maybe a shared culture would help… Sometimes we might even be correct in the assessment that such a lever would play a major role. But if we then realise that we cannot act on such a lever, we tend to cling to this lever rather than to look for another one: "if I cannot act in this way, then there's nothing I can do."
Accepting things as they are means to acknowledge when a potential solution (on paper) is impracticable (in real life). Seeing things as they are, though, is to recognise that closing one option did not close any other option! Seeing things as they are is to recognise that a "solution on paper" never was a "practical solution," and that other options surely exist if only I don't cling to my previous ideas: conditions change all the time, maybe a previous non-solution is a solution now, maybe collective action is possible…
"Seeing things as they are" has nothing to do with fatalism (just like śūnyatā has nothing to do with nihilism). To acknowledge that we limit our perspective by clinging to the first (few) idea(s) that came to our mind is to allow ourselves to keep exploring until we find progress. And maybe progress will appear in an unexpected form, and we can see progress nonetheless…
Effort in the midst of impermanence
Returning to the Japanese art of porcelain mending…
Accepting things as they are: the pot is cracked, it will never be in its "original perfection" again.
Seeing things as they are: creating the conditions for a new perfection to arise, and since the "mended pot" never existed as such before, it is "original perfection," the perfection of a new creation.
As 2013 approaches, many people will commit to "new year resolutions," generally in the hope for betterment, in the hope of a mended life. May this post remind all of us that there is no need to regret past cracks. There is no end of suffering without some suffering to end. Any improvement —no matter how small— is a new beginning, there is no original 'perfection' to go back to, nobody is perfect, a perfect 'you' never existed. There is only a new original to create now.
If there never was perfection, then the cracks cannot reasonably be seen as imperfections: they only are receptacles of gold.
Pick achievable goals. The major hindrances between ordinary beings and nirvāṇa are ignorance, lust and aversion. Any goal related to moderating fear, envy, jealousy, or the tendency of belittling / rejecting others, is a wholesome goal —no matter how small. Any goal related to giving / sharing more, or to being more patient, is a wholesome goal —no matter how small. But remember the start of this post: pick a relevant goal, don't make such a long détour that you will forget your own happiness! Ignorance, lust and aversion, these are the hindrances, these are your targets.
Pick achievable goals. Maybe refraining from checking on your partner, practising trust instead of using 'trust' as a weapon. Maybe phoning an estranged member of the family once a quarter. Maybe proposing a training session at work for those people you get irritated with because of their incompetence: help them be more competent (and why should you do this for free? Because it is to reduce your own anger, which makes your own life miserable!).
If a new crack appears, don't lose courage! Rejoice you saw the crack, practise vigilance, and… just mend again. More shiny gold! Joy!
#Buddhism #buddhistcircle #porcelain #japanese
[photo: excerpt from the beautiful http://www.bachmanneckenstein.com/downloads/Flickwerk_The_Aesthetics_of_Mended_Japanese_Ceramics.pdf ]