This is the second of a series of three articles dealing with the Buddhist conception of the cause of all suffering in the world. In the first part we learned about the Buddhist formulation known as the Three Poisons which is seen within Buddhism as the cause of all suffering. Today in this the second part we will look at how the Three Poisons arise and the antidotes Buddhism proposes as methods bringing about their eventual cure. In the third and final part we will look at how insight into impermanence brings us to the Buddhist idea of ignorance as the first link in the chain of Dependent Origination and how mindfulness developed through meditation can be of great benefit.

Lets take a look at how the Three Poisons arise and the antidotes Buddhism proposes as methods bringing about their eventual cure. Buddhism views human psychology as being mostly driven by two innate impulses: desire and aversion. Buddhism prods us to look at these defilements within ourselves. Within the Buddha’s Law of Dependent Origination stimulation of the senses gives rise to feeling. Present in every moment of consciousness are feelings of pleasantness, unpleasantness or neutrality. It is this quality of feeling that has conditioned our minds to cling or condemn. Thus one grasps at pleasant objects and feelings and condemns and has aversion for unpleasant things. It is between the two links of feelings and craving where one may interject and break the chain of dependent origination and so bring suffering and unhappiness in your life to an end.

So how do we go about breaking this chain? During my meditation practice in the past I have experienced uncomfortable and even painful sensations within my body. The intent of many of my meditation sessions it to simply be mindful of phenomena, one at a time, as it arises, abides and departs. Mindfulness may be described as the process of bearing something in mind, an awareness which does not drift along the surface of things but is a thorough observation, observing without judgment, without habitual reaction or compulsion, but clearly acknowledges what is actually there in the flow of experience, noting its nature.

So during meditation by practicing mindfulness of (in this example) bodily sensations as stimulation of the senses I have been able to be aware of the subsequent arising of feelings, in this case of unpleasantness. The conditioned response to the feeling of unpleasantness that arises from the sensation of being uncomfortable from sitting in the one position for an extended period of time is to shift one’s body to a more comfortable position or to end the session. This would be a function of my aversion to unpleasant feelings. However, by being mindful of the mental process that is occurring, by being in a mental state of calm and simply observing and being aware of the flow of phenomena I found myself still experiencing the compulsion to move but felt no need to act upon that compulsion as I may have habitually and unmindfully done. You can see how continued practice would break down the habit of simply reacting to what is happening to you in your life with desire or aversion.

Nayanaponik Thera observed that “by this practice, attachment to likes and dislikes will be reduced and thereby an inner space will be provided for the growth of the finer emotions and virtues: for loving-kindness and compassion, for contentment, patience and forbearance.” Such finer emotions and virtues surely represent a fine base from which skillful intent and actions in the world can occur. It is the gradual replacement of unskillful intentions and acts with skillful ones in Buddhism that puts an end to the generation of negative karma and suffering.

Interestingly, I have observed time and again how feelings and the subsequent compulsions that arise from, say, being uncomfortable never last very long. Even the particular physical sensation comes and eventually goes seemingly for no reason because I have not taken any action to alleviate it. By strengthening mindfulness through meditation and maintaining mindfulness in daily life there develops a deep insight into the impermanence of phenomena. This came to me after a series of meditation session during which I was practicing being mindful of my thoughts. I observed strange disconnected thoughts suddenly arising unbidden seemingly out of nowhere only to disappear as quickly as they had come seemingly back into nothing. This continued and eventually I came to realize the ungraspable nature of my own mind. I discovered that in their impermanence phenomena are ungraspable. It is in this that I can see a path leading to the end of grasping after phenomena. If phenomena cannot be grasped there appeared to me no point in craving and grasping after it.

If it is seen that anything one may crave after is transitory and will only slip though one’s fingers time and again you are likely to feel dissatisfaction with objects of craving followed by detachment and letting go. I have noticed that by being mindful in daily life the arising of craving can be observed within myself and just like all phenomena known to be impermanent. The result is a state of being where there is no need to react to the craving, as one knows it, like everything else, will in its own time cease to be.

Coming up in the final part of this three part series we will look at how insight into impermanence brings us to the Buddhist idea of ignorance as the first link in the chain of Dependent Origination and how mindfulness developed through meditation can be of great benefit. If you missed part one if can be found here.


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