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Changing Our Relationship With Suffering



The essence of Buddhism lies in awakening to our Original Nature, which is inherently free from suffering. Even though pain is an unavoidable aspect of life, we don't have to suffer. Pain and suffering aren't the same thing.


The root cause of suffering is bonding our attention to the mind's tendency to create and cling to its own arbitrary storylines and beliefs about our experience. This is the gift of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as a practice and process. They provide a concrete practical solution to this specific problem, addressing suffering on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.


FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

1. Suffering is a result of bonding our attention and actions to unhealthy thoughts. These thoughts often involve negative self-talk, rumination on past events, or anxiety about the future, which can lead to distress and unhappiness AKA suffering.


2. The more we bond our attention and actions to unhealthy thoughts and mental narratives, suffering intensifies. We begin to obsess over these thoughts and crave for our experience to be different from what the unhealthy thoughts narrate it to be. This craving and obsession further perpetuate the cycle of suffering.


3. There is a way to change our relationship between our attention, actions, and unhealthy thoughts. By recognizing the nature of these thoughts and developing a more mindful and compassionate approach toward ourselves and others, we can begin to release ourselves from the cycle of suffering.


4. The direction of freedom is along the Eightfold Path, which arises from the goodwill and creative action of our Original Nature. Here, "Original Nature" refers to our inherent wisdom, compassion, and capacity for awakening that lies beneath the layers of unhealthy thoughts and conditioning.


THE EIGHTFOLD PATH

The Eightfold Path is presented in reverse order to emphasize the foundational role of wisdom and understanding in the journey towards liberation.


8. Skillful Samadhi (Concentration): By training our attention through meditation and concentration practices, we learn to focus on the present moment and develop a clearer, more stable mind. This helps us observe thoughts and emotions with greater objectivity, reducing our tendency to get caught up in unhealthy mental patterns that lead to suffering.


7. Skillful Mindfulness and Presence: Cultivating mindfulness allows us to direct our attention to the present moment, rather than getting lost in unhealthy thoughts about the past or future. By bringing a kind and curious attention to our experiences, we can develop a more realistic and accepting relationship with our thoughts and emotions, reducing the suffering they may cause.


6. Skillful Effort and Fortitude: By directing our attention and effort towards wholesome actions and mental states, we can gradually transform unhealthy habits and thought patterns. This requires a sustained and patient effort, as well as the fortitude to face challenges and setbacks along the way. With consistent practice, we can cultivate a more positive and resilient mindset, reducing our susceptibility to suffering.


5. Skillful Livelihood: By bringing mindful attention to our work and economic activities, we can ensure that they align with our values and don't contribute to the suffering of ourselves or others. This involves being aware of the impact of our actions and making conscious choices that promote well-being and ethical conduct.


4. Skillful Action: Cultivating healthy attention allows us to be more mindful of our actions (karma) and their consequences. By bringing awareness to our bodily actions and behaviors, we can make more compassionate and ethical choices, reducing the suffering caused by harmful or unskillful actions.


3. Skillful Communication: Paying close attention to our speech and communication patterns helps us recognize when we may be engaging in unhealthy or harmful forms of communication. By cultivating mindful and compassionate attention, we can communicate in a way that is truthful, kind, and helpful, fostering understanding and connection rather than division and suffering.


2. Skillful Resolve/Intention/Aspiration: By directing our attention and intention towards personal growth, liberation, and the welfare of all beings, we create a strong foundation for our practice. This wholesome resolve helps us stay committed to the path, even in the face of difficulties, and aligns our actions with our deepest values and aspirations.


1. Skillful Understanding: Cultivating clear and focused attention is essential for developing a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the nature of Reality. By directing our attention towards the study and contemplation of these teachings, we can gain insights that help us recognize and let go of the mental patterns and behaviors that contribute to bonding our attention to the mind's suffering.


In my direct experience, by integrating the cultivation of healthy attention into each aspect of the Eightfold Path, we can more effectively work towards dissolving suffering and experiencing greater peace, clarity, and well-being in our lives.


If we engage in the practice but still find ourselves suffering due to our attention being captured by the mind's narratives, then we may have lost sight of the true purpose of Zen practice and training. The ultimate goal is to liberate ourselves from the aspects of the mind that default into negativity and suffering, allowing us to align our attention and intentions with our True Nature... Universal Loving Presence.


一We Are the Practice Itself


Calligraphy note: 本性 (Honnō) in the context of Zen practice means "Original Nature."


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