When Zen literature speaks about the “walls or gates” blocking access to our inner serenity and happiness it uses the word “poisons” since these walls are, most of the time, like poison pills that we swallow continuously without being fully conscious of their effects. Of course many sources of our suffering, sadness, sorrow, grief come from outside self such as loss of a loved one, accident, war, loss of job, verbal/emotional aggression, disasters, etc. However we shall see that most of our hindrances against achieving serenity and happiness are self inflected.
The Buddha 2500 year ago talked about causes of human suffering many times during his 50 years teaching. The term “suffering” is now better translated as dissatisfactions/ unhappiness You will see that the main source of our suffering and dissatisfaction is our ego-self controlling our mind. Suffering and dissatisfaction are caused by numerous poisons. The list of our poisons is endless and varies greatly with each individual. The following is a short one.
1) Our illusions also called “ignorance”.
Our wishful thinking includes the following 6 main illusions:
- Everything lasts. Not so. Everything is transient.
- We control our life. Not so. What we control is insignificant.
- Time is made of past-present-future. Not so. Only the present exists.
- Life and things can/should be better. Maybe but life and things are what they are and not what our ego mind wants them to be. Life by itself does not cares about anything.
- All living beings have a permanent, unique, independent and separate self entity. Not so. We are all interconnected and interdependent within our environment to survive.
- Our mind is our greatest tool. Yes but our mind is also our greatest enemy and source of our suffering, dissatisfaction and unhappiness caused by desires, negative emotions and ignorance.
2. The emotional run away of our ego:
1) Desires: By desire I mean anything we want, expect, search, dream, hope of such things as intelligence, money, power, control, possessions, fame, pleasures of all type, etc. Obviously many of our desires and hopes are natural, logical and expected such as good health, proper education, adequate job, good relationships, etc. The problems start when our desires and hopes become unrealistic, endless in their quest or when we become addicted to them (see attachments below). They are with attachments the main source of our ongoing dissatisfactions.
2) Attachments: An attachment is a strong emotional bond/feeling between one person with another one, with a pet, sex, job, money, activity, food, intoxicants, gambling, any objects, opinion, concept, ideology or in fact anything. When the source of such attachment is transient such as our self, a person or to a job it is clear that there is an obvious risk of suffering and disappointment when the cause of attachment disappears.
“Happiness is not how much we have but how little we need” said the Buddha: 2500 BCE
3) Anger: How often are we angry about someone, a situation, an event, the weather, the traffic, the food, the bills, ourselves? Very often, too often. The question is: Who is suffering from it? Surely not the cause of anger but , in fact, the one who is angry.
” Anger is like a red coal in your hand that you cannot throw away to someone” said the Buddha.
Controlling our anger is difficult since this negative emotion is directly proportional to the size of our ego and any emotional reaction from our brain is X15 faster than our rational thinking. Meditation will help you greatly to fix it.
Controlling our desires regarding needs, goods and possessions is a very difficult task to follow in our society of consumption where people look more at what we have rather than what we are.
4) Judgment: The same way that we have thoughts popping out continuously we are judging all the time even subconsciously in auto pilot mode and without any purpose. Our ongoing judging activity has two main sources:
- The way we have been groomed during our education where an analytic and judgmental mind is key to success in life.
- Our ego-self likes to judge all the time feeding itself in an auto satisfaction behavior. Judging to make a proper decision is perfectly logical and expected but judging for the seek of judging without any decisions it is pure waste of energy and great source of negative emotion
“ Things are what they are; if you cannot prevent them accept them” said the Buddha.
5) Expectations: They are OK but must stay in the limit of the reasonable otherwise frustration and disappointment will pop out.
6) Fear: Fears are legitimate when facing incurable diseases, loosing job, etc.. but unfortunately, most of the cause of our fear cannot be prevented.
7) Lack of patience / eagerness : A frequent cause of frustration and anger.
8) Jealousy: Also part of our ego it generates negative emotion; but….who is suffering?
9) Pride: It is OK to have pride about our accomplishments, our kids, our work etc. but too much of it can/will be detrimental since part of our ego.
10) Poor self image: Perhaps the opposite of pride is a poor self image. The poor self image is a growing cause of dissatisfaction and stress since the society and commercials are brainwashing us for the perfect body, great intelligence, perfect parents, perfect employee, perfect spouse , perfect sex, perfect friend, perfect house, etc. Meditation will help by discovering that your True nature is very different from this poor self image.
11)) Guilt: Guilt is a very frequent cause of suffering, pain and stress. It can last for days , weeks if not forever. How to deal with this complex emotional state is beyond this post.
12) Resentment: How often we are bitter about someone or something?
C. Words (see also post “Zen on words)
Great human invention for communication words can be also a very powerful poisons at 2 levels:
1)When we communicate with others:
What we say and write can back fire on us very badly without any control. They can cause significant pain and irreversible damage if they are inappropriate or misused.
” Always be careful of your words since you cannot retrieve them” said the Buddha.
2) When we communicate with ourselves:
Words are also the tools of the mind since while thinking we are talking to ourselves. Without these silent words thinking will be impossible.
There are other causes of dissatisfactions and many of them are specific to each of us.
SO YOU MAY SAY: “WHAT IS YOUR POINT?..WHAT CAN I DO TO AVOID OUR POISONS?”
Like dealing with our stressors the key to manage our “poisons” is not to try to eliminate them but to be mindful to them. Being mindful to them is a giant step towards their management if not their control. How to be mindful to our poisons? ….Think for a sec….To be mindful to them cannot be achieved without practicing diligently meditation.
You remember the definition of meditation:
” A physical and mental activity aiming at controlling then relaxing body and mind”
When we meditate we are – in fact- mindful to the 4 phases of meditation that is:
1) Body posture: still body. 2) focus point ( anchor of the mind ). 3) Incoming thoughts. 4) Return to the anchor point. Because we tame our mind to be mindful we become day by day more mindful to many external factors such as our poisons and stressors. Without being mindful to our poisons and stressors it is impossible to manage them. Nothing more nothing less.
A practical advice:
Write down your current “poisons”, think about them then pick 1 or 2 which are currently affecting you the most. Using a mindful non judgmental non emotional approach try , once a while to meditate on one of them for a short period of time. This approach is commonly used in meditation-based stress therapy while dealing with stressors.
Don’t forget: “When facing a problem try to fix it alone or with somebody else. If there is no solution there is no problem but just a fact.” A crazy Zen saying.
” Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional” said the Buddha. ~2500 BC
Ven. Ji Gong Sunim.