Moving Away & Turning Towards
A reflection on practice by Venerable Dhammadinna
If we have had so much experience of difficulty and disappointment all our lives, why haven’t we become wise on account of our life experiences? Moving away from dukkha or suffering masks it. Turning toward dukkha, investigating dukkha unmasks it and leads to understanding dukkha.
What constitutes moving away from dukkha? One pattern of moving away is to try to get a better mood by eating something delicious, or watching a movie, for example. We want to dispose of discomfort by absorbing into something pleasant and soothing. If it works, we feel satisfied, but there are hidden problems with this strategy.
There is an allure to pleasure – it is oh so nice to get what we want. But we build up an assumption that we are hardly aware of. We see these desirable things as securely delivering us from our discomforts. The Buddha gives us a clue: “We are seeing a refuge in things that lead to bondage.” We get a sense of this bondage if we pay attention to the anxiety that is active in the background when we are planning to get again an experience that uplifted us before. How can I get it? Will it be the same? The very feeling that we lack something is oppressive. Oppressive also is the effort and expense to get that special thing.
Another problem is that at a time of life crisis we never draw strength by bringing to mind the great meals we have enjoyed. We felt so great at the time and set such importance on getting good things to enjoy. We never questioned this program and assumed pleasure would be a refuge from distress. When we face a serious loss we feel disappointed to see that pleasures are utterly empty of any ability to be that for us. In that regard, they are really valueless.
Empowered with the tools for mindful investigation, we observe again and again that pleasant experience is fleeting, ephemeral, fading quickly. Seeing this impermanence undermines our attachment, breaks up the demand we place on these things to fulfill us. Turning toward dukkha begins to unmask the problem of wanting to get a better experience. We begin to feel more and more independent of all that seeking and grasping. As that independence grows we recognize it as equipoise. This peace of mind is a real treasure for us. It is a reliable source of happiness and strength.
From the perspective of maturing practice, we see that people who are untrained in the Dharma don’t have this inner happiness within their reach. For worldly people there is no escape from unpleasant feeling except by way of pleasant feeling. It is very poignant because we know from our own experience how fraught and turbulent that way of life is. It may strike us that people are as vulnerable as little children who have no protector. An irrepressible tenderness may follow. We become willing to rise up and work to bring them something of value.
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