John 12:25. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
Buddha’s First Noble Truth: Life is Suffering.
John 12:25 hints that to think of life as being wonderful is deluded and will cancel our ticket to heaven. Life’s illusions seem to keep us focused on the world instead of life eternal. In other words, we are in conflict with life, but because we are lost in a dream world, we don’t realize it. Since the seemingly negative and depressing premise (that life is suffering) is the basis of a world religion (Buddhism), a religion that has prevailed since well before Christianity, maybe we should consider if it is true that our lives are under constant stress rather than dismiss the Buddha out of hand. And the Buddha didn’t stop there, he also explained why we suffer, and how we can cure our suffering.
The Buddha knew what he was talking about, and our ideas that, “life should be happy and if it isn’t something is wrong with us” are incorrect. It is possible that this fundamental misunderstanding could be the basis of much of our anger and resentment as we strive for the impossible.
If we thirst for a constancy, and believe that happiness will provide that constancy, we don’t understand that happiness is never constant but rather occasional, and this basic misunderstanding sets us up for a miserable life filled with bitterness and simmering discontent, if not downright anger! So let’s suppose for a moment that it is true; that life is constant conflict. And let’s presume that we will now face this fact straight away instead of running from this conflict as we have in the past.
We have attempted to control our lives and reduce our conflict by escaping in one way or another, never admitting to ourselves that life is, in fact, inconsistent. But now we are going to try something different, because what we have been doing all of our lives hasn’t worked. We’re still miserable.
When we face life from a perspective that life is indeed conflict and not love and light as so many espouse it to be, interesting things happen; we become intelligent about life instead of being dreamily asleep. When we are asleep, we merely knee-jerk react to our conflict by attempting to solve it. We try to escape through spirituality, or religion, or a million other diversions that takes our eyes off the fact that life certainly is a struggle, and they all work to a certain degree – until something really serious happens.
This becomes the sum and substance of our lives, this struggle to be happy, trying to get by with the least discomfort possible. But we can never solve life in this manner because we can only address the symptoms, not the basic cause, and the symptoms never go away. In fact, as we become older, the symptoms of our discontent and conflict only worsen. Therefore it’s time to get to the core of our problem and solve it for good.
The first step in getting to the root of our discontent is to observe life openly and without bias or preconceived opinions and beliefs. This is not easy to do, but if we can do it, we will see that, without doubt, life is stress. This is a big step and one that few take. This is a candid admittance and it takes the wind out of our sails for a moment before we become intelligent about our core problem. If we never become intelligent about the heart of the problem, we can never solve it, but once we openly observe this discontent and conflict, then we begin to understand aspects of it.
On one hand there is life; the world. And the world doesn’t change much, nor do we. But we are the ones that must change, we can’t change the world. We ourselves have to change if there is ever any hope of resolving this constant conflict. Changing ourselves, or how we react to conflict, is the solution. Changing ourselves however could involve further conflict if we don’t understand the mechanisms of how we function.
If we merely try to alter our reactions to life by trying to change ourselves through a new religion, or a new outlook of some kind, we are still only playing with life’s symptoms rather than understanding the core problem. To get to the core requires a revolution inside our hearts. We must develop enough passion to break free of our suffering, enough passion that we will take courageous action. And this courageous action involves the dissolution of our “selves;” the small “self” of all religions that keeps one from experiencing God, or Nirvana, or true freedom.
This is the starting point, and we must begin by knowing all about ourselves and how we work, how we through thought, and therefore how we must study our thoughts. For our entire life, we have been thinking non-stop, but now we are going to watch those thoughts, so that we can find out all about ourselves, because we are no more than our thoughts.
To study thought is to know ourselves, and when we know ourselves, we will know why we suffer. This is the beginning of freedom, and it all starts with the simple act of meditation. Until we open our minds to new possibilities, which is meditation, we will remain mired in old beliefs and stale dogma, and our lives, if we are honest with ourselves, will remain anchored in suffering as our illusionary “self’ angrily defends its fantasies.
Copyright © E. Raymond Rock 2007. All rights reserved
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com