Buddhism 101: All Life is suffering—ouch!

Decaying Buddhas at Sculptor's Home, Norfolk, UK (1980s)

All Life is suffering. That’s the First Truth of Buddhism, of course, and as far as many people get in their study of Buddhism, with comments like, “That sounds so negative;” or maybe, “Doesn’t sound like much fun.” Such is life, though, life after childhood, at least, when the realities kick in, and it’s time to get a job—ooh, double ouch!

The Second Truth doesn’t help much: the cause of suffering is desire. Yeow! I always thought Buddhists were cool, and had more fun than this. The Third Truth follows pretty logically: to remove the suffering, add water and allow to cool, i.e. remove the desire. Duh. For anyone still interested in something a little deeper than such simplistic action and reaction, there’s a Fourth Truth, the Middle Way, the avoidance of extremes. If you need that spelled out for you, there’s even an Eight-fold Path—very handy.

The big boys of Buddhism, Inc. realize that that’s not the best business model, of course, not for fun-loving Americans, anyway, so furiously back-pedal the ‘suffering’ rap, dukkha in Sanskit, going on for hours about how Buddha he no speakee Engrish, and how translations are inadequate, and how he really didn’t mean ‘suffering’ as such. Ahem. Yes, he did. He meant exactly that. Saying he didn’t is like saying that Jesus wasn’t talking about rich people having difficulty getting to heaven. Yes, he was.

Buddhism was not intended to consist of FaceBook motivational puff-pieces, though, all about ‘living in the moment’ and such, which indeed may sound like more fun than the cessation of desire to avoid suffering—meh, no thanks (I rather like my desires, thank you, and with salsa, please). The Buddha intended to reveal truths about life, just like Jesus after him, and Muhammad after that, getting it all sorted in something of a reverse order.

For the average American, the problem is not what Buddha taught, but what Jesus taught—love. That sounds like more fun: just wear protection. It’s NOT the fun fun fun kinda’ love that Jesus was talking about, of course, but… you know: translations, etc. Buddhist cessation of desire is not any better, though, really, just a higher state of consciousness, and a later phase of life. For me the three major religions not only correspond to the three main ‘chakras’ of the body/mind, muscle-heart-consciousness, but three stages of life—adolescence, middle age, and maturity: Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. Cool.

Would that it were so easy; yeah, right. We Americans shoot up Happiness like a junkie shoots up Heroin, our ‘H’ fix, I guess—BLISS, baby, the never-ending amusement park of conscious stimulation, big-ass grins and joy-jumps on Mount Everest. But is that happiness? People ask me why I never smile. I’m happy, that’s why, avoiding extremes, and sadness, trying to get some sh*t done. I could eat, sleep, sh*t, or make love, with or by myself or someone else, but instead I’m here, talking to you, or anybody who will listen.

Why? To promote dialogue, thought, maybe even dialectic. I’ll meditate to stop that dialogue, if just for a moment; or try, anyway. In many ways my life has never been so bad, so sad, so incomplete, so frustrating. Ha! But being able to realize that and see it for what it is, confers a certain kind of happiness. It’s at least partly a perception problem, the reconciliation of opposites. Someone else’s happiness would not work for me. I persevere. C’est la vie. C’est la guerre. C’est la: you know…