“One thing I teach: suffering and the end of suffering. It is just Ill and the ceasing of Ill that I proclaim.” The historical Buddha is said to have announced at his first sermon (Dharmacakrapravarta) to a group of five former ascetic companions (the Pañcavargika.) Following his enlightenment, the Buddha was living at the Deer Park (Mṛgadāva) at the Resort of Seers (Ṛṣipatana) near the Bārāṇasī Forest, in the modern-day Sārnāth in India.
The Buddha’s teaching centered on the notion that all sentient beings seek happiness—and happiness is anchored in the freedom from suffering.
To discover the essence of Buddhism, then, is to become aware of what causes suffering and how you can cease suffering.
The truth of the nature of suffering is also the path to the end of suffering.
American psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein has argued (Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Winter 1991) that the answer to this question is the whole of Buddha’s teaching:
If you pay attention for just five minutes, you know some very fundamental dharma [of the Buddha]: things change, nothing stays comfortable, sensations come and go quite impersonally, according to conditions, but not because of anything you think or do. Changes come and go quite by themselves. In the first five minutes of paying attention, you learn that pleasant sensations lead to the desire that these sensations will stay and that unpleasant sensations lead to the hope that they will go away. And both the attraction and the aversion amount to tension in the mind. Both are uncomfortable. So in the first five minutes, you get a big lesson about suffering: wanting things to be other than they are. Such a tremendous amount of truth to be learned just closing your eyes and paying attention to bodily sensations.
While you must welcome pleasant, pleasurable feelings, you must bear in mind that pleasure is transient, like every other feeling. Clinging—wishing to hang on to those people, places, possessions, or experiences that bring about pleasant experiences—is hopeless. By the same token, being aversive to painful or unpleasant experiences is impossible.
Idea for Impact: The essence of Buddhism isn’t a dogma, but the very practical problem of suffering.
Buddhism teaches that you, too, can initiate into the dharma “spiritual” practice by learning to cease your attachment to pleasant experiences and your revulsion against unpleasant ones.
The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is … that you suffer because of your ignorance—because you don’t realize the real nature of reality.
The truth of the nature of suffering is also the path to the end of suffering. In other words, pleasure without pain is achievable only as you evolve toward higher states of mindfulness.
The Buddha’s teaching isn’t pessimistic. It doesn’t stress only the suffering, pain, and unhappiness at the heart of the human experience. In fact, it’s the opposite. The Buddha’s teaching summons joyful participation in a world of sorrows by clarifying what is unsatisfactory and suggesting how to overcome it.
Leave a Reply