The First Noble Truth, “there is suffering”, would seem very self-evident. But how can we come to a deeper and more personal understanding of this?
Even to try to define suffering can become an endless discussion and contain a myriad of perceptions. And how do we determine which is correct and which is not?
For me, I see that perhaps the best way is in bearing witness to suffering. This of course begins internally, but is inclusive of all external phenomena as well. There of course cannot be one without the other.
I am always hesitant in talking too much about dukkha (suffering), because I know that this can be depressing for many people. It can also cause some to feel that Buddhism is a negative path that only focus on the bad experiences associated with living a life. But the reality is that life is suffering, or to put it more succinctly, suffering is life. And if we understand that life is just a word that we use to describe suffering, then we begin to let go of the negative connotation.
When we are joyful, this is life and this is suffering. There is no line that separates the two.
And how can this be, you may ask? Because like all things, joy is impermanent (anicca). Which is not to say that we should not be joyful, only that the dhamma teaches us that it will not last. And any clinging to this joy will cause suffering and dissatisfaction.
By bearing witness to the arising and ceasing of pleasure and pain, we begin to gain an acceptance of this life. We can each live at ease and in peace because of the understanding that this is the life. And it’s only when we choose to ignore this condition that suffering becomes limited and finite in our mind. At that point, suffering means something bad and to be eliminated or moved away from. Yet experience, bearing witness to these occurrences, allows us a much more spacious view and understanding so that can begin to see dukkha as it truly is. Not anything to be feared or avoided, but welcomed and accepted with loving kindness and gratitude. For without this, we would not have a life, not be alive.
Each day, each moment, we can all bear witness to what is happening in our mind, body and all around us. Understanding that this life only exists because of our shared condition. Loving ourselves and all others without condition or expectation opens our hearts and our minds, and frees us from any difficulties we may perceive as exclusively ours.
Today is your chance to bear witness.