Monday, April 26, 2010

The End of Suffering

"Does God exist? The Buddhist is likely to answer,'It really doesn't matter one way or another since the human predicament remains the same in either case. Our job is to dispel illusion and alleviate suffering.'" - Richard Hooper

It probably comes as no surprise when I suggest the world is full of suffering. Just about any exposure to the daily news reveals countless stories of tragedy and horror. We find there are millions of people living in squalid conditions, going hungry, and suffering from physical traumas or disease.

Most faith traditions, as well as many secular relief organizations, actively minister to those who are physically suffering in the far reaches of the world. This is, of course, entirely appropriate and honorable. All of us would do well to support these efforts in any manner possible.

Yet, might I also suggest that there is a great deal of suffering among the wealthiest and most successful people of the world? In fact, there is suffering among our friends, families, and neighbors. There is suffering in our own hearts.

Our job is to alleviate suffering. Yes, sending money to humanitarian relief organizations is a wonderful idea; however, it does not end suffering. Sending money simply provides temporary physical relief, and suffering continues. Why?

According to some Eastern traditions, there are five main causes of suffering:

1. "Not knowing your true identity."
2. "Clinging to the idea of permanence in in a world that is inherently impermanent."
3. "Fear of change."
4. Identifying with the socially induced hallucination called the ego."
5. "Fear of death."
(Deepak Chopra)

Isn't this interesting? Wouldn't you have expected a list like this?

1. Bigotry
2. War
3. Famine
4. Greed
5. Lack of education

When I hear of organized secular or religious groups striving to end suffering, I think of people actively engaging the issues on my second list. Yet, these Eastern faith traditions teach us that physical suffering is secondary to spiritual suffering--represented by the first list. In other words, the second list represents symptoms of suffering, whereas the first list represents root causes.

Eastern faith traditions suggest our job is to dispel illusion and alleviate suffering--in our own hearts. We are called to transcend space, time, and cause-and-effect by coming to realize our core consciousness is immortal (D.Chopra).

By recognizing that we have all come into this physical world from the same Source and that we are all connected on the level of our highest consciousness, we begin to value new things: love, peace, and fulfilled meaning--to name a few. And in inculcating these new values, we become the change we want to see in the world.

Indeed, suffering must end. It must end in our hearts.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy

Saturday, April 10, 2010

To Observe Without Evaluating

"I don't fear heresy anymore, I fear hypocrisy all the more."-Dezi Baker.

Many people go through a radical or fundamentalist stage in their life, whether religion or lifestyle. Most of us know people who spend all of their time at church, the gym, or something similar. Usually this occurs when we're relatively young and idealistic, but certainly can take place at any stage in life. Sometimes it's the result of some significant emotional event, e.g. cancer, loss of a loved one, etc..

I'm no exception. The peak of my fundamentalism was in my late teens/early twenties--during a time when I lived in a foreign country for two years. My life has been a steady journey away from fundamentalism since. This is not to say that I have no faith. To the contrary, I have grown greatly in faith; I have simply shed religion.

One of the things that seems to often accompany the radical or fundamentalist stage is being judgmental (evaluating). It's natural to think less of others when we're so committed to a creed or doctrine, when they're not on the same path. After the radicalism begins to fade (often with age), the evaluation habit lingers, and does not seem to abate as quickly. It is here that hypocrisy begins to creep into our lives.

It is my intention to only judge myself, with love and grace. I intend to not evaluate you, your life, or your cause as either good or bad. I will not march in your parade, save to promote your unalienable right to be self-directing. It is you who gets to choose your own path. I honor the spirit that is within you. Namaste.

"To observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence."~Jiddu Krishnamurti