Agitation is the Stuff of Suffering

The Second Noble Truth is that the cause of suffering is clinging or grasping-from the mental forces of greed and possessiveness, hatred and aggression, and ignorance and delusion. This clinging or grasping must be abandoned if we are to realize freedom.

We grasp at what we like, trying to hold back change; and we push away what we don’t like, wanting things to be different. We want to never grow old (consider the alternative!) and we don’t want to lose what we love or like. Although this may feel instinctual or natural, this means that we are in constant struggle and at war with the way things are. This agitation is the stuff of suffering.

When you’re suffering, see where there is attachment, grasping. Study how the mind is, moment to moment, each sitting. As attention deepens, we see grasping clearly – the persistent attachment to money, work, even spiritual beliefs (to mention just a few). Our whole sense of self gets created trying to control people and events, convinced that we are “right.”

To unclench the fist of clinging doesn’t mean that we don’t respond appropriately to the world or try to help. Yet we learn that we are not in control of all conditions and outcomes.

Can you stop the war, the constant struggle? Can you let go? As Ajahn Chah advised, “If you let go a little, you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace and if you let go completely, you will have complete peace.”

The Truth of Dukkha

Have you seen an old woman or man, frail, bent down, resting on crutches with tottering steps, infirm, youth and the arrogance of youth gone? Or someone very ill, maybe even on their deathbed? And did you realize that you too are subject to the same processes of aging, sickness, decay, that you cannot escape it?

The First Noble Truth says that in this world, dukkha exists. Suffering, insecurity, unsatisfactoriness, stress… different translations of dukkha. The Buddha taught that birth includes dukkha, decay includes dukkha, death includes dukkha; unavoidable pain and change, sorrow, lamentation, loss, despair… all include dukkha.

And to find freedom, the Buddha says first we must understand the First Noble Truth – that there is dukkha. It becomes more and more visible through practice as we give up hiding from the way things actually are, from this truth. Sickness, loss, depression, confusion, anger, jealousy, competition, guilt, betrayal. Even in pleasure, there’s a certain dukkha. Because we’re afraid it won’t last–we grasp after it, try to keep it. There’s a famous poem from Basho:

Even in Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoos cry,
I long for Kyoto.

That’s a kind of dukkha. We remember some experience, even some sitting we had and then think how it could be that way again. Maybe then I’d get ‘that’ — whatever we imagine we’d get. We’re dissatisfied because we can’t hold on. And from wanting to hold on to what is forever shifting and changing, comparing this moment to any other, is our suffering.

So that’s the 1st noble truth. The truth that we can’t hold on. Things are insecure; no matter where we look, they change. We have it for a moment and then what happens? Circumstances and conditions change. The truth of dukkha.