Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, nor upon tradition, nor upon rumor, nor upon scripture, nor upon surmise, nor upon axiom, nor upon specious reasoning, nor upon bias towards a notion pondered over, nor upon another’s seeming ability, nor upon the consideration ‘The monk is our teacher.’
When you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.
When you yourselves know: ‘These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them. ~ The Buddha (Kalama Sutta)
The Kalama Sutta tells us that the Buddha wanted our truths to be known, not through the words of others, but through personal experiences as well as introspection and intuition. His words suggest that the way in which we comprehend and make sense of this vast and mysterious thing called life brings forth beliefs that have the power to either ease our discontent or intensify our suffering. Yet, to undertake, for one self, the challenge to analyze the mental ground one stands upon is to encounter a time of uncertainty. This uncertainty is like quicksand: its power to imprison will intensify in association with the struggle to escape the entanglements of concepts that formulate the foundation of one’s life, family, culture.
Therefore, to observe, question, and analyze suffering through Buddhist psychology requires an acknowledgment that this endeavor will be influenced by the myths, beliefs, and expectations within my family of origin, how I understood doctrines within my religious upbringing, and the experience and training I have had as a psychotherapist.
Freud noted that suffering comes from three directions: the feebleness of our bodies, the superior power of nature, and more painful to us than that of any other, our relations with others. He also wrote, “In the last analysis, all suffering is nothing else than sensation; it only exists in so far as we feel it, and we feel it in consequence of certain ways in which our organism is regulated.” The few who possess the ability to experience pleasure through special dispositions and gifts do not have “an impenetrable amour against the arrows of future.”
Those who are most likely to have intimate knowledge of what it means to be fettered to suffering are those who present with a history of chemical use, either personal, that of a significant other, or both. The dynamics within dependency resemble the autumn leaves traveling upon the surface of a stream; they are overt manifestations of the undercurrent that demonstrates how each of us seeks pleasure and will, in the long run, endure suffering if there is a thread of hope, no matter how short lived, of experiencing remembered pleasure. As Freud wrote: “The most interesting methods of averting suffering are those which seek to influence our own organism . . . The crudest, but also the most effective method people use to ease their suffering is through “intoxication [to] alter the conditions governing our sensibility so that we become incapable of receiving unpleasureable impulses . . . The service rendered by intoxicating media in the struggle for happiness and in keeping misery at a distance is so highly prized. . . We owe to such media not merely the immediate yield of pleasure, but also a greatly desired degree of independence from the external world.”
This yield of pleasure and degree of independence that Freud identified creates its own attachment, which is compounded by an aversion to both the impermanence of intoxication and a re-engagement with life’s discontent. Suffering intensifies as cravings and intrusive thoughts feed a desire to escape discontent. Therefore, a relentless ruminating and obsessing mind has the power to create as much suffering as physical dependence.
Excerpts from B Koeford, A Meditative Journey with Saldage