To Comprehend Suffering
Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
Translated from the Thai by
© 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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your body. Survey your mind. You've been practicing meditation continuously, so
even if your mind isn't yet quiet, even though it hasn't reached a level of concentration
as solid as you'd like it to be, meditation is still a skillful activity in terms
of developing conviction, developing persistence. At the very least it will give
results on the sensory level, making you an intelligent person, at the same time
developing the perfections of your character on into the future. So try not to
get discouraged. Don't let yourself think that you haven't seen any results from
your meditation. When you come right down to it, what do you want from your meditation?
You meditate to make the mind quiet, and the mind becomes quiet from letting go.
That's what the meditation is: letting go. If you meditate in order to "get"
something, that's craving, the cause of suffering. Meditation isn't an affair
of craving. The Dhamma is already here, so all we have to do is study it so that
we'll know the truth. The truth isn't something new. It's something that's been
here from time immemorial.
All the Buddhas of the past have awakened to this
very same Dhamma, this very same truth. Even though the cosmos has changed from
one aeon to another, the Dhamma hasn't changed along with the cosmos. No matter
which aeon a particular Buddha was born in, he awakened to the same old truth.
He taught the same old truth. The same Dhamma, the same truth, is always right
here all the time. It's simply that we don't recognize it. We haven't studied
it down to its elemental properties. All I ask is that you be intent on studying
it. The truth is always the truth. It's always present.
The truth the Buddha
taught starts with the principle that stress-and-suffering is a truth. Do you
have any stress and suffering? Examine yourself carefully. Is there any stress
and suffering within you? Or is there none at all? As long as there's suffering
within you, the truth of the noble truths taught by the Buddha is still there.
When you're mindful to keep your eye on the suffering appearing within you, you're
studying the truth in line with what it actually is.
But in addition to pointing
out the truth of suffering, the Buddha also taught the path to the end of suffering.
This, too, is a truth. The Buddha has guaranteed that when we develop it in full
measure, we'll gain release from stress and suffering. It's not the case that
suffering is the only truth, that we have to lie buried in stress and suffering.
The Buddha found a way out of suffering, like an intelligent doctor who not only
understands diseases but also knows a miraculous medicine to cure them.
is why the truth of the path is so important, for many, many people who have put
it into practice have gotten results. The truth of the path is something we put
into practice to gain release from suffering -- as we chanted just now:
Those who don't discern suffering,
Suffering's cause ...
Tañca maggam na janati
understand the path,
The way to the stilling of suffering
Te ve jati-jarupaga
They'll return to birth and aging again.
we don't comprehend suffering and the way to the end of suffering, we'll have
to experience birth, aging, and death, which are the causes not only of suffering
but also of the craving leading to more suffering.
We should take joy in the
fact that we have all the noble truths we need. We have suffering, and the path
to the end of suffering doesn't lie far away. When we look into the texts, we
find that the Buddha and his noble disciples didn't practice anything far away.
They purified the actions of their bodies and minds. They did this by knowing
their own bodies and minds in line with what they actually were. When we don't
know our own bodies and minds as they actually are, that's a cause of suffering.
When we practice knowing our own bodies, our own minds, as they actually are,
that's the path to release from suffering. Aside from this, there's no path at
We already have a body. We already have a mind -- this knowing property.
So we take this knowing property and put it to use by studying the body in line
with its three characteristics: aniccata, inconstancy; dukkhata, stressfulness;
and anattata, not-selfnessness. Inconstancy and stressfulness lie on the side
of suffering and its cause. We have to study things that are inconstant in order
to see who they are, who's responsible for them, who really owns them. This issue
of inconstancy is really important. Rupam aniccam: form is inconstant. Who owns
the form? Rupam dukkham: form is stressful. Who's on the receiving end of the
stress? Stress is something that has to depend on causes and conditions in order
to arise. It doesn't come on its own. Just like sound: we have to depend on contact
in order to hear it. If there's no contact, we won't know where there's any sound.
In the same way, stress depends on contact. If there's no contact, we won't know
where there's any stress. If stress and suffering were able to burn us all on
their own, the Buddha would never have been able to gain release from them. There
would be no way for us to practice, for no matter what, suffering would keep on
burning us all on its own. But the fact of the matter is that when we practice,
we can gain relief from suffering, because suffering isn't built into the mind,
it's not built into this knowing property. It has to depend on contact through
the sense media in order for it to arise.
This is why sages study the truth.
As when we chant:
Ayam kho me kayo,
This body of mine,
From the soles of the feet on up,
From the crown of the
head on down,
Surrounded by skin.
Within this body we
have all five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and
consciousness. Form is the coarsest of the aggregates, for we can touch it with
our hand and see it with our eyes. As for feeling, perception, thought-fabrications,
and consciousness, they're mental phenomena. Even though we can't touch them with
the body, we can still know them and experience them. For instance, we constantly
have feelings of pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain. Perception: we
remember things and label them. Thought-fabrication creates thoughts, and consciousness
notices things. We all notice things, label them, fabricate thoughts about them,
and experience pleasure and pain because of them.
The primary issue is the
form of the body. The Buddha taught us to study it in order to know the noble
truths in both form and mental phenomena. When he taught that birth is suffering,
aging is suffering, death is suffering, he was referring to the birth, aging,
and death right here at the form where the five aggregates meet -- this form we
already have. And yet most of us don't like to reflect on the truth of these things.
We think that birth is pleasurable. We get pleasure and stress all confused. It's
because we don't realize the truth of these things that we don't search for a
way out. The Buddha, however, knew this truth, which was why he practiced contemplating
it. He tested to see if birth is pleasurable by noticing if the mind could stay
quiet with birth: "Are there any pains? Anything disturbing the mind? And
what's paining and disturbing the mind aside from the birth, the arising of things?"
It's because of the birth of the body that we have to keep finding food for it,
requisites to keep it going. Greed, anger, and delusion arise because of birth.
And once there's birth, there's aging, deterioration, wearing down, wearing down
all the time. Whatever we get runs out, runs out every day, wears down every day.
The Buddha awakened to the truth that birth isn't pleasurable at all. The
only pleasure is when, if we get hungry, we eat enough to make the hunger go away
for a little while. But soon we get hungry again. When we get hot out in the sun,
we take cover in the shade to cool down a bit, but then we start feeling hot again.
When we get tired, we rest. But then if we lie down for a long time, we start
feeling stiff. If we walk for a long time, we get weary. When this is the way
things are, the mind can't find any peace or rest. It gets disturbed and gives
rise to defilement because of birth. And that's not the end of it. Once birth
takes place, it's followed by aging and deterioration. No matter how much you
look after the body, it won't stay with you. In the end, it all falls apart. And
once it dies, there's no one who can stay in charge of it. If we come to our senses
only at that point, and realize only when it's already dead that it has to die,
it's too late to do anything about it.
But if we gain conviction in these
truths now in the present before death comes, we won't be complacent about our
youth or life. If we can be mindful at all times that death is inevitable, that
-- even though we may be as strong as a bull elephant -- a disease could come
along at any time and oppress us to the point where we can't even sit up, can't
do anything to help ourselves: when we realize this, we're said not to be complacent
in our health. Then we can act in ways truly benefiting ourselves, providing us
with the refuge we'll need when we can no longer take refuge in our youth, health,
or life. Wherever you look in the body you see it wearing down. Wherever you look
you see diseases. Wherever you look you see things that are unclean. Nothing at
all in the body is really strong or lasting. When you see this clearly, you'll
no longer be fooled into clinging to it. You can analyze the body into its parts
and see that they're all inconstant, stressful, and not-self. When you develop
clear insight into not-self, you'll be able to shake free of stress and inconstancy.
That's because inconstancy is a not-self affair; stress is a not-self affair.
They're not our affairs. So do we hope to gain by letting ourselves struggle and
get defiled over them?
This is why the noble ones, when they see these truths,
call them the dangers in the cycles of samsara. You have to understand what's
meant by the term, "cycle." There's the cycle of defilement, the cycle
of action, and the cycle of the results of action. The cycle of defilement is
the ignorance that makes the mind stupid and defiled. These defilements are the
cause of stress, suffering, and danger. Then there's the cycle of action. Any
actions we do under the influence of defilement keep us spinning in the cycle,
acting sometimes in skillful ways, sometimes in unskillful ones. Even skillful
actions can lead to delusion, you know. When we experience good sights, sounds,
status, or wealth as a result of our skillful actions, we can turn unskillful,
careless, and complacent, because we get deluded into investing our sense of self
in those things. When they start changing against our desires, we grow frustrated
and start acting in evil ways. When they leave us, we act in unskillful ways.
This causes the cycle of action in terms of both our physical and verbal acts.
When we act in ways that are unskillful, this causes the cycle of results to be
painful. When we experience this pain and suffering, the mind becomes defiled.
Our vision gets obscured because the suffering overcomes us. This gives rise to
anger as well as to greed for the things we want, and this starts the cycle of
For this reason, if we can comprehend suffering as part
of this cycle, we can block the cycle of defilement that would give rise to new
cycles of action and results. So let's study the truth of suffering so that we
can cut these cycles through discernment in the form of right view, which is a
factor of the noble path. Let's foster and strengthen the path by knowing the
suffering in birth, aging, illness, and death. When we comprehend suffering for
what it actually is, we don't have to worry about the cause of suffering, for
how can it arise when we see the drawbacks of its results? Once true knowledge
has arisen, how can ignorance arise? It's as when we're in the darkness. If we
try to run around tearing down the darkness, it can't be torn down. If we try
to run around snatching away the darkness, it can't be snatched away. The darkness
can't be dispersed by us. It has to be dispersed by light. When we light a fire,
the darkness disappears on its own. The same with ignorance: it can't be dispersed
through our thinking. It has to be dispersed through clear-seeing discernment.
Once we give rise to discernment, the cause of suffering disappears on its own,
without our having to get involved with it.
So try to give rise to clear-seeing
discernment in full measure, and you'll gain release from suffering without a
doubt. Be really intent.
That's enough for now. Keep on meditating.
Mon 20 May 2002