Lesson 3 – PART A. I Always Want It to Be Different
The First Noble Truth
Attachment in the Head by Fly & Ldz
A woman aspirant, a wanderer, traveling alone – in foreign territory – needed a place to sleep. A flower shopkeeper took pity on her and invited her in and offered her a small cot in his flower shop for the night. As she settled down for the night, she noticed the air was filled with a magnificent fragrance of all the flowers – but the fragrance soon became disturbing – she could not fall asleep. In her disturbance, she got up and found a barrel of rotting trash outside and dragged it in next to her bed and fell sound asleep. S. Ramakrishna
Missing the worldly smells of garbage – which is in her mind – she gets up in the middle of a bouquet of flowering fragrance and drags the familiar smells of habit, the way she wanted it, next to her bed and falls asleep attached to the world. She wanted it to be different according to her attachment. An example of limited discrimination.
The rooted attachment in and to the world rule her decision. When she chooses something other than what is, in this case, garbage over flowers, her self-interest outweighs her discriminating mind. She looks to the world for solace – for relief. Specifically, she looks to her habit.
Unlike Basho, a 17th century Japanese haiku master, who was also a wanderer – in foreign territory – needing a place to sleep. He is offered a horse stable for the night. As he settled down to sleep on a pile of hay a horse nearby urinates. Instead of wanting it to be different he writes a haiku.
“fleas and lice / now a horse pisses / by my pillow.” Basho
A third example. Many years ago, I was on retreat in a large, 18th century building. The building, although renovated, was not the usual comforts of home. As night came and I settled down to sleep the radiator in the room began to clang and hiss followed by an intermittent rattle. My first response was to get up and go over and lay down on the floor next to the radiator. I stayed there practicing being with the suffering for hours. Awake. Exhausted. Much like the radiator intermittently rattled by the disturbance. The next morning, I asked for a different room.
A final example. A Buddhist monk was brought to the US. He spoke no English but had a translator with him. He was the main teacher of the retreat. His particular lineage required that he not ask for anything – that he would accept whatever was offered. On the first night of the retreat he was given a room. The staff, however, failed to give him blankets and left the window open. During the night the temperature dropped and snow blew into the room through the open window. In the morning, the staff felt terrible. Ajahn Happy, however, laughed and laughed – he slept like a log.
The first Noble Truth is – there is suffering.
In the first example, the woman saw the world as the place to go to end her suffering. She does not yet know that what shows up in life is the manifestation of the mysterious truth of the Tathagata – it, like all things, comes to awaken. Her actions suggest she thinks peace and liberation rest in the things of the world; specifically, she wants it her way and drags garbage to her bedside. Most of us are like this woman – our first reaction is to seek help from the world of temporal things.
Basho, the great haiku master, is coming from a very different place. He, too, wandered. But he knows something the woman wanderer does not know. His response is not a reaction to the horse pissing near his head – it is an opportunity to meet what shows up as the mystery that it is. Being aware, he doesn’t try to get what he wants; he meets the myriad things of the world without wishing for something different. Able to write a haiku.
My experience shows a student effort. I laid by the radiator and off and on was frustrated and sometimes accepting. I was not awake. It was practice.
The last example, shows a disciplined monk – disciplined to the marrow. He remained obedient to his vows – he did not request another room – he did not get up and shut the window – he accepted what showed up in his life as the Way. His discipline, in part, awakened him to meet what comes in his life with equanimity. The environment did not taint his True Self which he intimately identified as his true identity.
Too difficult, we say? Are we able to face the death of attachments moment by moment that show up in our life? If we look carefully at the examples, we are able to see attachment. Not holding an attachment is central to how we respond to our life.
We, however, get entangled in the stuff of the world, the stuff that is time-limited and unreliable. Most of us are the woman wanderer – we place our faith, our confidence on the familiar things of the world which includes others and the myriad things all around us. Time and time again we go to an unreliable source for succor. Instead of the student, Basho and Ajahn Happy respond and meet what shows up.
We, in our ignorance somehow believe that the Truth is outside of us when the Truth is actually on our doorstep. Our confusion leads us to go at the temporal things – to arrange them according to our likes and dislikes. We want things to be different than they are. It is so pervasive that we have difficulty even imagining there is another way – another direction.
The best starting point is to practice the Four Noble Truths. Do you know them? If you don’t know them by heart, please keep reading.
- There is suffering
- There is a cause of suffering
- There is an end to suffering
- There is a way to practice towards an end to suffering
Understanding suffering is a big deal. If one doesn’t understand this deeply, we risk false moves over and over again. Let’s look closer at the first Noble Truth.
- There is suffering.
Most of us know on some level this truth because each one of us, has one time or another experienced suffering. It can vary in degree – from frustration in a long line at a grocery store to a sudden diagnosis of cancer. Most of us, however, do not consider the frustration in a grocery store to be suffering but if we just react to it, we miss an opportunity to see the suffering in it and follow with practice. We are encouraged to look at what arises and shows up moment to moment not from our wanting it our way perspective, but as steps on the Path. Steps, that if examined, illustrate suffering in all things. When we see experience in terms of suffering, we make a turn to see the roots of it. It is easier to practice with a scratch than it is when we have been gouged in the chest.
We must see the experience in terms of suffering and not in terms of wanting to get rid of it – or fix it – or repair it – or complain about it. After all, the Buddha was asking us to awaken to where we are – and we are in a body-mind complex that suffers. If we are not awake, we suffer every day from scratches and bruises of all sorts. Unfortunately, we practice reacting to the scratches rather than going deeper with them. We also fail to see that, in fact, everything around us suffers.
All is the never-failing manifestation of the mysterious truth of the Tathagata. Bodhisattva Vow
To repeat this mantra, we begin to drink in and soak in the first Noble Truth. What was once something that puts our nose out of joint becomes an opportunity to turn in search for the roots. The worldly mind divides the world into good for me, bad for me and all the machinations that come with this dividing. The discriminating mind of an aspirant learns to trust – to have confidence in the first Noble Truth of suffering. In other words, everything worldly carries suffering to your door – to everyone’s door – to the great earth itself.
We, as spiritual aspirants either go after something in the world of our attachments to relieve our situation or we respond to what comes as the mysterious truth of the Tathagata – which leads to liberation. We may turn to repair or fix or change or tidy up – but we do it without seeking a reward for ourselves (for our ego). Our aim is liberation.