The experience of stress, pain, suffering is not a simple thing. The Buddha once observed, we respond to its complexity in two ways:
And what is the result of stress? There are some cases in which a person overcome with pain, his mind exhausted, grieves, mourns, laments, beats his breast, & becomes bewildered. Or one overcome with pain, his mind exhausted, comes to search outside, ‘Who knows a way or two to stop this pain?’ I tell you, monks, that stress results either in bewilderment or in search.
— Anguttara Nikaya 6:63
The problem is that the bewilderment often guides the search, leading to more suffering and stress. To resolve this dilemma, the Buddha devoted his life, after his Awakening, to showing a reliable way to the end of stress. In summarizing the whole of his teaching, he said:
Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress.
— Samyutta Nikaya 22:86
These were the issues that concerned the Buddha for 45 years. In some cases, he would give succinct explanation of stress and its cessation. In others, he would explain them in more detail. His most detailed explanation is called dependent co-arising— samuppada. This detailed summary of the causal factors leading up to stress shows why the experience of suffering and stress can be so bewildering, for the among these factors can be very complex. This course (or workshop) is devoted to explaining these factors and their interactions, to show how they can provide to a path of practice leading to the ending of stress.
For years the Hongaku Jodo Compassionate Lotus lineage holder was Tasagore Shinju, the lineage holder for the Lotus Tendai Tradition until he died. One of his most popular quotes tells us not only what we ought to do to relieve suffering, but why some people seem to get it right away and some struggle for years trying to understand the teaching, and what we can do about it.
Everyone of us is basically uninformed but not stupid. We just learn at different speeds and in different ways. So Just slow down. Have a cup of tea. Relax. You don’t understand everything overnight. It’s OK!!!! A tortoise is no more stupid than a hare just because it is slower or takes a different route. It’s never foolish to ask for help or clarification when studying or practicing. That’s what teachers and fellow students are for. Even teachers don’t know it all, let alone remember it all. If your teacher is a good one they will be the first to admit this. And a good teacher will never belittle you but guide you as best he can along the path at your own speed. After all they were students once too and indeed they still are all their lives. All of that fear is in the mind. Just let it go. Laugh when the frustrations come and get on with life, studies, practice, or whatever you need to do. Sometimes a slowly sipped cup of tea can be a better teacher than any sutra page are ceremony. So enjoy that cup of tea because it too is filled with Dharma.
— Tasogare Shinju
There are five practical teachings from the Buddha that will help you live more at ease with the frustrations of life and practice.
1. Trust yourself.
Making a decision often coerces us to grow in areas where we’re not very comfortable. It might take us beyond the boundaries we intellectually and emotional live. This process allows us to expand our boundaries, some times just a little and at other times in major ways. Some of these decisions are exciting while others create deep consternation and depression, anxiety and fear. When we second guess ourselves, it’s usually because of that discomfort. Anxiety might arise even before we are aware of what it is that causes that stress. We then have to look around and look for something that we perceive as stressful, sometimes we are right and often times we are wrong. Finding the stress that causes anxiety is a sort of Russian Roulette.
There’s a subconscious control freak — Monkey Mind — within the mind that tries to control us because it cannot control the circumstances. It’s important to remember that any change happens in stages. Even if we’re not seeing an obvious & immediate positive result, it results are coming.
2. Choose a new thought.
Stop entertaining the idea of having made a wrong decision. First, we don’t know if a decision is bad — or better, skillful — or not when we make it. We will never know the full implications of any decision we make. We only know what results we perceive as an effect of making the decision. The effects can be extremely long lasting or a simple thud. There is no power in immediately judging a decision or its results in the immediate moment. We have to understand that things are working out and have faith that it is for our good and that we are learning and growing in the process.
3. Assess what you’re learning.
Like everything else in the universe, we are always in a state of change. We may very do things differently the next time as conditions change — as we change. A profound question might be, “If I had to do it over, what would I do differently?” Then we can congratulate ourselves, because this is how new behavior (kamma/karma) is born. You can’t learn the rules if you’re not playing the game.
4. Get comfortable with making mistakes.
Time is immense and gives us ample opportunity to fix all kinds of things we think we may have permanently screwed up. Relinquishing our opinions and preconceptions, and thereby letting go of the angst and anxiety and deciding to reevaluate them at a future date can be an empowering experience. We can ask ourselves, “What if I really did make a wrong decision? Is it okay for me to have made a mistake?” Then let it go.
Getting comfortable with making mistakes could have just been the lesson we needed to learn. It’s part of getting comfortable in our own skin. We are always making the best decisions we can to at the moment; playing the best hand with the cards we have been dealt.
5. Go easy on yourself.
Life is a process, it takes time. Some like to say we are always under construction. We are not who we were yesterday and we are not who we will be tomorrow. We should learn to make peace with that. Each of us is in a state of evolution.
In learning how to walk, we had to learn how crawl first. There are many people that never accomplished that for one reason or another — they never had the chance. Maybe you fell like a drunken sailor a lot, but you eventually found your bearings and trusted your stability. As small as you were, you were able to stand straight and put one foot in front of the other as you moved forward.
Not so different from what it’s like as an adult.
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About Sensei Mui
Sensei Mui is a Buddhist monk who took formal refuge and bhikkhu ordination as a Theravada monk in Thailand during the early 1970s. Since those days he has both studied and was ordained in multiple Mahayana lineages. Today the main focus of his practice and teaching is from the Pure Land perspective. He currently acts as the Director and Administrator for Hongaku Jodo, an educational and practice oriented organization of Buddhist teachers of Dharma, pure and simple.