Life sucks said the Buddha

Now, monks, what is the Noble Truth of suffering? Just this: Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering.

~Dharmacakrapravartana Sutra~

My paper  that I am writing for First turning class is suffering. But I’m not totally buying that Life is suffering…

The second week of  Buddhist classes  consisted mostly of debates on whether Life is suffering or not. Many of  the students could agree without a doubt that life was indeed suffering. Others had some trouble with the word suffering. And there were the few crazy students who firmly believed that Life is bliss. I was a crazy one of course.

The first problem that arises from the term suffering is the Buddha never said Life is suffering. Of course  the Buddha did not teach in English. The term the sūtras ( Sanskrit)and suttas (Pali) used was duḥkha (s) or dukkha( p). Dukkha is more literally described as a bad axle hole. In other words the Buddha was using imagery of an imperfect wheel. With this more open understanding of  dukkha  we can explore what the Buddha was talking to convey.

Our First Turning teacher had us do an exercise where we gave our own meaning for dukkha and  what the experience of life was. Some of the words we came up with was dissatisfaction, discomfort, uneasy and etc. I offered that the imagery of the wheel give me the impression that life was a bumpy ride. I like thinking of life in this way because it is neither a negative or positive view.  Life is just the roller coaster and it’s up to each of us to decide how this experience will affect us.

I also suggested in another class that perhaps for some Life is suffering will ring truth. On the other hand for people like me it is more appropriate to say that when I  have wrong view of life it is suffering.

Bhikkhus, there is this noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, and death is dukkha…

~dhammacakkappavattana sutta~

How we interpret the Buddha’s teaching is colored by our own perception. The Buddha after all  had a different way of expressing his teaching depending on the people he was trying to reach. He clearly knew that we all have different views, strengths and weakness. But the one thing that most humans probably share in common is that we like to avoid unpleasant things. We want to avoid suffering. Of course there are the merry few who attach to suffering and avoid pleasure. Either way, most of us are in the cycle of avoidance.

With this in mind I like to think of  the first noble truth as a wake up call.

” Look Life is going to suck. So deal with it.”  Perhaps the Buddha was hitting us in the face with the part of life we run from the most. He was showing us that we can not escape it. The bumpy ride will continue so it’s time to get great tires.


Enlighten Sexists?

The Lord Buddha is quoted as saying,” Because the ordination of women has occurred in this religion of the Tathagata, the holy life will not last long; the True Dharma will last for only 500 years“.
Gandhi whose public views supported equality compares the useless English Parliament to ” a sterile woman” in the Critique of modern civilization.
I’m not slamming these great men. After all, we can’t be sure how they honestly felt about women. But it has me wondering; can a person be enlighten and have sexist views? There are still Buddhists out there who believe a woman must work to be reincarnated into a man in the next life. Strange, since enlightenment 101 is letting go of the idea of dualism ( the I and the other). How can you be awaken if you see man and woman as being so different that one is considered inferior to the other.
We can argue that Buddha’s comments were due to the time he lived and that modern sexist gurus are a product of their culture. But really, what is the use of meditation if it doesn’t free you from traps like cultural conditioning ( Enlightenment 201).

In the Buddha’s defense here is an article arguing that he was not sexist: