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Teaching wich describe the dissatisfaction character of every thing.




dukkha means sorrow, pain, suffering. It is a dominant characteristic in the world in which we live. According to the Buddha, the simple fact of living is marked by the characteristic of dukkha, which is suffering manifesting in all its forms. It can be the sorrow that one experiences in sadness, in the misery or the difficulties of this life. It can be also the sorrow that can be felt when one is saturated with pleasure, to the point the one the object of pleasure itself becomes disgusting and repulsive. It is the pain to be separated from those we love, but it is also that of having to endure the presence of those whom we do not love. It is the pain of not living in places where we would like to live, and also that of being forced to live in places where we do not want to live.

In one way or the other, whether we want it or not, numerous situations in which we find ourselves are painful. Sometimes, because of this assertion, the Buddha's teachings are accused of being pessimistic, and sometimes it is said that the world is not so painful because there is hope. There is the hope of a better world, the hope to gain paradise, to create a happier world, to build an environment that is more human, more balanced. When people say that the world is not so unhappy because there is hope, the Buddha, in his teaching, tends to tell us that it is precisely because there is hope, which shows that the world is much more unhappy than we think it is.

The hope of a better future

Thus, many humans live in hope for a better future; this is already in itself a way of admitting that the present is not so pleasant. Unfortunately, it is obvious that the world is full of difficulties. For some people there are unbearable sufferings, some must suffer very serious and very painful diseases. Some humans must endure the oppression of insane governments, some suffer accidents or catastrophes. Others, who do not face such cruel sufferings, have, nevertheless, experienced all kinds of sorrows in daily life, like having to work in a firm with people one does not like, or the difficulty of having lost a close relation, the difficulty of having been ill, or, even, the pain that one can experience when seeing the others' suffering.

It is for this reason that many humans – almost all – have, in the course of the centuries, imagined an eternal, wonderful paradise, where all beings live in perfect happiness. For some, this paradise is democracy; when living in a country oppressed by a totalitarian regime. For others, it is wealth and prosperity; when living in a very poor country, where one must work a lot to earn only a little. For some, it is the artificial paradise of drugs; when living amid personal malaise or existential problems. For some, it is the idyllic paradise which one presents to the people whose work is exploited; when one becomes part of a religious clergy. Moreover, no religion – including Buddhism – seems to have escaped this rule.

Hence, we tend to imagine, plan a better world for the future, even in outer space. What is good in this context, is that it proves that the world in which we live today is painful – This is already a good thing. The disadvantage of this approach is that it often prevents people from building a decent life for the present. Thus, people have a tendency to be diverted from the daily reality – which they ought to assume – in favour of an imaginary future that they fabricate.

Those who imagine things

I saw many people in Burma: rich and poor, educated and illiterate, men and women, young and old. I was surprised to see that those people believe that, because during life they offered flowers, candles, a computer or a photocopy machine to monasteries or monks, because they offered money in front of statues, fruits for the spirits, they will go to some sort of paradise after death. They imagine that they will go to a splendid world where they will not know any more the poverty, the illness, the sorrow of everyday life. It is very surprising to see this behaviour in Burma, especially because this country is, to my knowledge, the last place in the world where one can still find the original teaching of the Buddha. And this does not mean only that one can find the texts, texts can also be found in Washington.

Those who have understood the teaching

In Burma one finds men and women, naturally, very few, who have understood this teaching, who put this teaching into practice, and – I suppose – who have realised this teaching. That is, people who have succeeded, in their everyday life, today, in stopping to dream of a paradise, in stopping to imagine a hypothetical better world. But they have succeeded in the present, within the difficulties and the inevitable turpitude of life, in building themselves a decent, comfortable, and even rather happy world.

I am convinced there are people like this in Burma: monks, laity, men, women, young, old, etc. In spite of the presence of these people, whom the Buddha called "noble beings", there is still a large population (from all corners of the Earth) who believe in all kinds of superstitions. These people believe that they can buy themselves a happy future, a paradise. This is really regrettable since, as the Buddha reminds us – because this isn't something that he has had to teach us – sorrow, in all its forms, is a general characteristic of the world, therefore he did not entertain his audience with the dream a glorious future, of a better world. He had the intellectual honesty to warn us concerning the fact that we cannot buy our place in paradise.

The cessation of suffering

Cessation rather than acquisition

According to Buddha, the most significant aspect is not the acquisition of happiness. The most significant point is to reach the end, the cessation, the extinction, the disappearance of sorrow. Besides, when he tells to us what the world is made of according to him, he says that it is made of dukkha, which is sorrow, pain. He tells us that there is, of course, a cause for this sorrow, and that because there are sorrow and pain in the world, there must also be the possibility of an end put to sorrow. In the same manner as it is because there is disease that there exists the cure. Because if there were no diseases there would be, of course, no cure.

Thus he does not present to us happiness, eternal life, the life in divine worlds as being the alternative, the solution, the answer to the question of suffering. He has told us that the alternative is the end of suffering. In the same manner that the alternative to light is darkness; it is nothing else. For the Buddha, the alternative to suffering, is the cessation of suffering, and nothing else.

For example, we know that the opposite of heat is not cold. What we call the "cold", is actually "less hot". When one opposes the "cold" to the "heat", it is a way to talk, a convention. It is like "large" and "small". In fact, "small" is not the opposite of "large", it is simply "less large", it is also a manner of speaking. When one says of a building: " This building is large", what is the opposite of a large building? Is it a small building? Of course not, since a "small" building simply means a "less large" building. A building that we think small will still be large for an insect.

The opposite to the presence of a building, whether large or small, is the absence of the building. The alternative to heat, is the absence of heat, the absence of temperature (that is something that humans never experience, because on the Earth the coldest things still have a temperature).

The solution

The alternative, the solution, with respect to the question of suffering, is its absence. It is as simple as that! For this reason the teaching of the Buddha, the original teaching, such as can be found in the texts of the theravāda, does not tell us so much about happiness, but much more about the cessation of pain – nirodhā. According to him, reach at the cessation of suffering, there is not a lot that we can do. Because we cannot remove suffering. Suffering is not something that we can catch, isolate, separate and remove. It is not like dirt in the linen. When one takes dirty linen, one washes it, removes the dirt, and one has clean linen. With suffering, it does not work like this at all.

According to the Buddha, to reach the end of suffering, it is just sufficient to stop creating it, to stop producing it. Since one cannot remove it, it is necessary to avoid manufacturing it. To stop manufacturing suffering, it is simply enough to root out its cause. Exactly like with a fire, we cannot take it and remove it. If we want to extinguish a fire, we must stop the cause of fire; we must eradicate that which is responsible for the presence of fire. What is responsible for the presence of fire, is that there is a fuel which is heated. It burns and thus gives fire. This is why when we want to extinguish a fire, we cannot remove the flames. When one throws water on a wood fire, the water is not an element that will remove fire – this has of course been studied scientifically. Simply, the water will cool the wood that is on fire. Because once the wood has been cooled, it will no longer produce a gas, flammable fumes. It will become cold again, and for this reason, the flame will disappear.

In the same way, when we want to treat a cancer, removing the cancerous cells is not sufficient to cure it, because new cancerous cells will appear. It is necessary to find a remedy that prevents the appearance of these cells. If not, we will not manage to cure the disease.

In the same way, if we want reach the end of the sorrow, pain, we cannot really catch this sorrow, this pain, put it in a net and throw it in the bin. However, we can stop feeding it. We can stop the multiplication of the causes which bring this sorrow.

The way to follow

The foundations of the path to liberation

Buddha gave us very clear explanations, which are technically quite easy to put in practice, to stop producing the causes of our miseries, our difficulties, our sorrows. Starting already with ourselves. Everyone can begin work for himself. The more there are healthy people, "cured" people, balanced people, that is, those that the Buddha called "noble beings", the better human society will go. This should certainly not exclude the good will of finding economic, human, scientific, medical solutions, to relieve the world of its sufferings. But as we can see, that is not enough.

To go further and live in a world with less sorrow, less suffering, it is necessary for us initially to start by working on ourselves.

The work that we can provide requires a minimum of control, of personal discipline, of vigilance, especially when one lives in a world where we are surrounded by a whole environment that does not serve the cause of health and well being. As soon as we take a step to improvement, we will stumble with many contradictions. Many people around us believe that what they do is good, what they do is beneficial, and do things hoping that this will bring them happiness. These are things that, very often, swamp them and contribute to the general state of a rather miserable society.

On the other hand, we who follow the way of the Buddha, we have understood that it is not necessary to do things in order to chase happiness, but that it is preferable to stop doing things which invariably bring misfortune to beings. It is for this reason that the Buddha, in his medicine, suggests instead that we stop doing harmful things, which are unwholesome and a source of suffering, that we start by stopping doing what is bad. This requires a certain vigilance and self-control.

The next stage

Once we have swept the ground of our everyday lives, by stopping producing that which is unwholesome, that which is unhealthy, what creates suffering, we can do what is wholesome and beneficial, in order to go even further. When we abstain from doing evil, we have not severed the roots of suffering yet. We have only cut the tree. To extirpate the roots, it is necessary to go further. Abstention is not sufficient; it is necessary also to cultivate wholesome, positive and skilful actions and attitudes. That will enable us to go even further. However, to achieve the final eradication, we must also train the mind.

The final training

The final training, likely to bring beings to the final emancipation, to nobility, is what we call the establishment of mindfulness. satipaṭṭhāna. This training requires a full dedication in time and of our own person too. It is done at the time of an intensive retreat, which can last several weeks or several months, and which will lead to the experience known as the awakening.

It is thus necessary to proceed in order and by successive stages. The Buddha gave us the instructions.

sīla, samādhi, pañña

To give up all harmful actions, to cultivate wholesome actions, and finally, to develop the mind. To give up harmful actions is made possible by sīla, which is virtue. Virtue is knowing how to uphold, behave and restrain ourselves. It lies in avoiding to do unhealthy and negative things, like stealing, killing, committing violence, scandal mongering, lying, committing adultery, consuming drugs, etc.

To produce positive, healthy actions is possible if one develops the faculty of mindfulness, of attention and concentration in what one does, whereupon our mind is not distracted.

Lastly, to develop wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, is what the Buddha calls the mind training that leads to liberation. This is done through the training in satipaṭṭhāna.

Ultimately;, there are three paddles: sīla, samādhi, pañña. They consist, in short, in giving up unwholesome acts, cultivating wholesome acts and training the mind. This is the path that the Buddha discovered and, according to him, the only path leading to the liberation of beings, to the end of sorrow, stress and pain, even here, in our current world, in our everyday lives, for each one of us.

May you, you who listen to this teaching today, and even those who do not listen to it, one day encounter it, understand it, analyse it, and put it in practice. And, finally, may you, and may as many beings in this world as possible, reach the liberating experience of awakening, which is the end of suffering, which is dukkha nirodhā.

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Origin: Teaching given in France

Author: Monk Sāsana

Date: 2002, July

Translator: Lucy Costa

Date of translation: 2002, July

Update: 2005, June the 14th