Lecture Series on Buddhist Psychotherapy 6
The Four Noble Truths
The Clear Way to Heal
Illness of the Mind
Ven. Seogwang | Director of the Institute of Korean Buddhism & Psychotherapy
The Truth of Suffering: Recognizing Suffering
From the standpoint of healing, “knowing that the four noble truths are suffering, arising of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering” is less important than “knowing how to apply the four noble truths to our life.” Above all, let’s examine the Buddha’s teaching on suffering. In the field of Buddhist psychotherapy, “pain” and “suffering” are separate things. The former is a pure, primary pain such as a pain caused by burning oneself or losing one’s sweetheart. On the other hand, the latter is a secondary suffering caused by subjective reactions.
Most of our troubles originate not from a primary pain but from a secondary suffering. As the saying “time heals all wounds” implies, primary pain arises, abides, changes, and ceases; therefore, once it happens, its intensity eventually diminishes, finally disappearing. However, because secondary suffering is subjective and created by the mind, unless we alter our way of thinking, our suffering will not dissipate even with the passing of time.
Considering the noble truth of suffering, we need to learn to distinguish between a primary pain and a secondary suffering. To put it concretely, first, we need training to be mindful of suffering at the moment we feel it. Secondly, we need to discriminate between the suffering caused by a primary pain and that caused by a secondary suffering, which originates from our reaction to, interpretation of, and resistance to the primary pain. Thirdly, we should confirm what we ourselves are resisting and misjudging while experiencing secondary suffering. Finally, we should enhance our self-awareness of the existence of the resistant mind.
What should we do before anything else in order to be mindful of suffering? That is to train ourselves in self-awareness of our body. Once suffering occurs, it always leaves its trace somewhere in our body.
When you suffer, stop what you are doing to observe your bodily sensations; then you will come to be mindful of the reactions of your body. In accordance with the intensity of your suffering, those sensations might be pain caused by blockages and strains in the heart, painful skin rashes, irregular breathing or a slight headache. Then, how can we, who have just begun to study our mind, look inward and be mindful of our own mind? We can do so through the functioning of our body. At the moment of suffering, we should pay attention to our body and become aware of its reactions; then we can see our mind. We can change how our mind functions and heal it.
The core of the truth of suffering lies in our mindfulness of the existence of suffering at the moment of suffering. That is because when we lose sight of something precious in our life, suffering is a signal to remind us of that precious thing; and because, when we lose our way in life, suffering acts as a guide to lead us back onto the path to our goal.
The Noble Truth of the Arising of Suffering:
Mindfulness of the Cause of Suffering
Mindfulness of the Cause of Suffering
If we can speak about and/or remember all the different types of suffering (according to Buddhist doctrine), we normally think we are aware of the noble truth of the arising of suffering. But this is the same as holding an English dictionary in one’s hand and thinking one knows the contents of the dictionary. If so, what does it mean to be mindful of the cause of suffering from the standpoint of the noble truth of the arising of suffering? Knowing the cause of suffering is not as simple as one thinks. That is because if we want to truly understand one incident of suffering, we must know the effects of innumerable causes and conditions. Among them, the initial cause of our suffering, the fundamental root of our suffering, is difficult to find.
Although we may become mindful of the cause of suffering, how can we see whether it is the root of our suffering or simply an offshoot, a secondary phenomenon? That is very simple. To find the true root of our suffering is to see our ego at the center of our suffering. That is to say, if the things we identify as the cause of our suffering are other than our own ego, they are simply offshoots of our suffering.
Then, how can we find our ego? What does it look like? According to Vasubandhu’s treatise, the Thirty Verses on Consciousness-Only, one’s ego, the fundamental root of suffering, manifests itself in one of the following four ways: a thought based on comparing oneself with others through considering merits and demerits (self-conceit); an ego-centric love (self-love); a wrong view in which one deludes oneself that one will live eternally and that one is an autonomous being (self-view); and ignorance that makes one unaware of who one is (self-ignorance).
Behind the feelings of anger, uneasiness, rage, regret, and the ensuing suffering, there is frustrated energy that does not know what to do because one’s desire to be highly regarded and to make one’s name be known has not been satisfied. Being mindful of such energy is the way to practice the noble truth of the arising of suffering from the viewpoint of healing.
To be continued
Ven. Seogwang | Joined monastic order under the guidance of Ven. Myeongseong of Unmunsa Nunnery in Korea. Earned master’s degree in religious psychology from Boston University and PhD in psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Currently the abbess of Seoun-sa in Boston, U.S.A. Wrote many books in Korean including: Korean-English Buddhist Dictionary, Thirty Verses of Manifestation of Consciousness, and Healing of Mind.