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Buddhism and healing

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February 27, 2009
Posts: 23

PostPosted:     Post subject: Buddhism and healing
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It is easy to love humanity and believe we are all One...when we live in relative bliss and safety, sheltered from harm by a loving family and surrounded by a safe and nurturing environment. The Buddha himself lived such a life before he witnessed cruelty and suffering in the world and was inspired to turn onto the path--but he did not experience human cruelty in the flesh. How do we rise above it all, or even remain on the path, after we become victims of abuse or violent crime, and how do we hold on to our own spirit, or sense of self? Is Buddhism always an effective path towards healing for victims of human cruelty and persecution? And in what ways does it differ from other philosophies that teach us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek?

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Posted:     Post subject: Pain and Suffering in Buddhism

Somebody said, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Pain and suffering are not the same thing. Pain is a physical sensation; suffering is how we choose to experience it. Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote, "The Buddha compares being afflicted with bodily pain to being struck by an arrow. Adding mental pain (aversion, displeasure, depression, or self-pity) to physical pain is like being hit by a second arrow. The wise person stops with the first arrow."

The word suffering has a special significance in Buddhism. In his teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha said that life is suffering. Of course, the Buddha didn't speak English; what he really said was that life is dukkha. Dukkha is not just about painful things. Anything that is temporary, limited or imperfect is dukkha. The most pleasant experience you ever enjoyed was dukkha, because it ended.

Although we associate the word suffer with unpleasantness, the word means many things -- to abide, to accept, to bear, to endure, to support, to sustain, to tolerate, to experience, to feel, to know. In other words, suffering is about relating to something else. In order to have relationship, there must be at least two things -- a sufferer and an object of suffering.

And here we touch on the heart of the matter -- Who is it that suffers? What is the self? And, What is separate from the self? Suffering depends on self-reference, with perceiving oneself as a finite entity plagued by some outside Other. Perhaps suffering isn't a bad translation for dukkha after all.

We read in the Tripitaka (Visuddhi Magga):

Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found.
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there,
Nirvana is, but not the man that enters it.
The path is, but no traveler on it is seen.

This takes us to teachings about attachment, or clinging. You may have heard that Buddhism teaches nonattachment. People assume this means Buddhists are supposed to remain aloof from the world and avoid close relationships. That is not at all what it means, however. Zen teacher John Daido Loori said, "According to the Buddhist point of view, nonattachment is exactly the opposite of separation. You need two things in order to have attachment: the thing you’re attaching to, and the person who’s attaching. In nonattachment, on the other hand, there’s unity. There’s unity because there’s nothing to attach to. If you have unified with the whole universe, there’s nothing outside of you, so the notion of attachment becomes absurd. Who will attach to what?"

The conceptualization of a separate self takes us right back to the Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering (dukkha). Suffering is caused by greed, or thirst, and we thirst because we are ignorant. Again, we can't very well thirst for something unless we perceive ourselves as separate from it. Yet we may liberate ourselves from ignorance, and our means for liberation is the Eightfold Path. Practice of the Path helps us realize ourselves as "unified with the universe," as Daido Roshi said.

The Theravadin monk Bhikkhu Bodhi says that his severe, chronic head pain "has helped me to develop patience, courage, determination, equanimity, and compassion." When he stops worrying about or struggling mentally with the pain, it becomes more tolerable. Contemplation helps him observe the pain dispassionately, without attaching to it.

He also said, "The most powerful tool I’ve found for mitigating pain’s impact is a short meditative formula repeated many times in the Buddha’s discourses: 'Whatever feelings there may be-past, present, or future- all feeling is not mine, not I, not (removed)

Zen teacher Darlene Cohen lives with severe rheumatoid arthritis, and she is also a cancer survivor. Many of her writings on living with pain are posted online, as are audio files of some her her talks. She teaches others how to find "comfort and support in the mundane details of our everyday lives."

Vipassana meditation teacher Shinzen Young says that pain can be handled skillfully or unskillfully. Through meditation, one can quiet the resistance, agitation and impatience with which we usually relate to pain. Pain can become pure experience without the interface of suffering. "By not suffering I mean that the pain does not obscure the perfection of the moment, does not distort your perception or behavior, does not alienate you from your spiritual source or from your fellow beings," he said.

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