Why do we cause ourselves so much suffering?

– A Buddhist perspective

Hello Everyone: Welcome to this month’s article. Spring is here, at least in some parts of the world and I hope you are taking advantage of season – planting new seeds of joy and happiness.

This past weekend I spent at a two day class on compassion and the ‘Eight Verses That Train the Mind’.   A few exercises were give that were designed to make us think about the contents of our mind focusing on the thinking process. The exercises gave phrases such as ‘hope for gain’ and ‘fear of loss.’ We talked about each time we have felt these fears and why they were there.  There was plenty for each of us to talk about. Which leads me to the point of this article – why do we cause ourselves so much suffering? I know, you are saying "I am not causing myself suffering – if he or she would just do such and such, I would be fine.” Well, this isn’t ‘truth’ – each of us causes our own suffering.

Let’s take a look at the issue of suffering from the Buddhist perspective. The Buddha talked about suffering and said it is ‘our state of being’ that causes us to suffer. The Buddha says: "Emotional outbursts can’t be attributed to insignificant outer irritation or sensory deprivation; rather they originate from the mind’s imbalance. It is a harmonious mind that we strive for, so that we can overcome the temporary imbalances that we experience.”

According to Buddhism, there are two things that cause us to have a conditioned existence - mental distortions and the actions we take based on those distortions. The actions we take cause imprints or impressions on the mind, which in turn influences our future – because our future is influenced by the mind distortions and attachments.

Another way of saying this is: if a person had mental distortions but did not act on them, they would remain latently inactive. And, if such a person could free their mind of the distortions the future that is created wouldn’t have distortions and the life would be free of suffering. Suffering does not mean ‘no pain’.  I’ll explain the reasoning for this soon.

It is said that even if our mind were free of karmic impressions, if we were still subject to distortions, we would still be compelled to act in unwholesome way. This is why it is important to alleviate distortions before imprints are created.

There are three afflictions of the mind that cause distortion – ignorance, attachment and hatred.  They are called the three poisons. However, all distortion originates from ignorance. Our usual response to any form of suffering is to blame it on something external. To get to the bottom of suffering we need to use internal contemplation which will give us the wisdom needed to traverse the path of realization.

There are two types of ignorance: The first one is called a state of unknowing or an absence of clear awareness – sensory and mental forms of consciousness arise in a constant state of flux. These states are combined with thoughts, inclinations, memories and feelings. In each moment, these mental distortions arise and pass away, conditioned by events in the body and environment, as well as previous thoughts and emotions.

The second type of ignorance misconstrues events. We think our emotions, bodies, thoughts and consciousness are our possessions. We have a sense of ‘I’ that is false. What happens is the false ‘I’ grasps at inner and outer objects, craves them and becomes absorbed in them so that it is hard to disengage from them - The attachments cause our awareness to not see or to ignore disagreeable qualities of the craved object, and accentuates and embellishes the agreeable qualities.

Therefore, the less supportive an object appears to our own well being, the less attached to it one becomes. And, hatred filters out the disagreeable and enhances the agreeable. So, the root cause of all discontent is found in the mind and the mind is controlled by the three poisons of ignorance, attachment and hatred.

So – are we doomed? Can we decide to have a mind that is conceptually and emotionally free of turbulence? Can we make choices that are free of ignorance, hatred and attachment? In Buddhism the belief is that we do have the potential, but we must seek our own direct and personal insights. The antidote to ignorance is insight, after all. We must begin to look at our minds – into its nature and how it functions.

The patterns and distortions of our minds are not innate qualities of the mind. We have to remain aware – in every moment – being alert and discriminating and we must have compassion for ourselves realizing the source of suffering and disharmony is not our essential nature. Doing this, we can start to heal ourselves and help to heal others.

Because of the law of interdependence, No-one achieves anything completely alone. Therefore, if you are ready to begin the journey of exploring your mind to alleviate suffering, sign up with me for a coaching, astrology or past life regression session. I am here to help.
Next time we will take a look at karma from the Buddhist perspective.