Dying children, Systemic Injustice and Suffering

“There is so much suffering in the world.”

This is how our last group talk began earlier this month. She was referring to her brother at first, but immediately included how everyone is having a hard time these days. It is like this — so much suffering in the world.

It is difficult for me to speak about world events (being a staunch supporter of the “stay in your lane” movement) because I do not have the research, expertise or passion for things that are happening “out there.” And the most I have to say about about  the suffering in the world is something along the lines of:

“Once you have grasped the truth that the world is full of suffering, that to be born is a calamity, you will find the urge and the energy to go beyond. Pleasure puts you to sleep and pain wakes you up. If you do not want to suffer, don’t go to sleep. You cannot know yourself through bliss alone, for bliss is your very nature. You must face the opposite, what you are not, to find enlightenment.” — Sri Nisargadatta

He says it with a lot more authority and esoteric wisdom than I ever could. So in my words:

Of course there is suffering, have you at all noticed the state of your own mind? When I sit with this mind for any amount of time, when I catch it throughout the day during one of its seemingly infinite wanderings, when I observe it mindfully, I know what it is — never satisfied, always craving, always critical, blaming, exaggerated self referencing, unnerved by the slightest inconvenience, destructive of peace in the pursuit of sensual pleasure, vengeful, petty, regards things as it believes they should be instead of how they are:  such as the nature of impermanence, and the fantasy of some other reality.

Multiplying the condition of my mind with 7 billion similarly formed minds — each one living out the causes, conditions and karma of every mind that has ever lived and died on the planet, I am more surprised at how much suffering there is not rather than how much there happens to be.

These are not comforting words. Nor are they helpful to those who have been given the lane of social, political, and economic change. So I stay quiet for the most part. But every now and then a thing happens and my silence is challenged. How can I not speak at a time like t h i s? 

Bear with me while I flashback to about a decade ago…probably more. A friend of a friend was seemingly blessed with the birth of twins but in a tragic twist of fate, one of the babies suddenly died. On the day of the funeral I was talking to a close friend about the tragedy and he was quick to make sure there would be no “God’s plan” kind of comments about dead babies in his presence. I respect this man and I knew that in a sense he was right. Even if everything happening is a part of some perfect plan, the death of children and babies can not be justified or explained away. I’m sorry but the plan is rather fucked up if babies have to die and their parents mourn them before even knowing them. I unconsciously made it my intention that day to hold every spiritual discovery I find on this path up to the standard of dead babies:

“Can I give these words to a grieving parent and feel good about myself as I do so?”

I don’t know if I am there yet. But here I am writing a post inspired in part by the ongoing…situation…in Gaza. It is also inspired by the death of Eric Garner, internet bullies, inpatient customers at the grocery store, and the guy at my gym who insists on telling me how life is terrible once you become an adult. Basically I need to write something for everyone who feels like this:

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Ok now we’re back to the suffering, and the mind, and the fact that the two come together to create this conflicting experience of being alive. Take this in, if you can: Everyone is suffering.

I’m going to give some space to that statement. If you don’t mind too much, take some time to sit with it for a minute —

Everyone

Is

Suffering

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The parents of murdered children, the children, the murderer — all suffering.

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Terrorized and oppressed populations, the instruments of the oppression (police/military), and their rulers — suffering.

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Thumb Thugs, victims, and the ones in charge of potentially creating a safe space for expression — suffering.

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The screaming customer, the worker, the gathering crowd, and the one who stands by to take a video — suffering.

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The complaining friend, family member or acquaintance, anyone within earshot, and you — Suffering.

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When I look at the mind-body process I see the seeds that create the suffering that leads to those circumstances: Buddhism calls them greed, hate and delusion. Kaballahism calls it the desire to receive for self alone. Vedanta teaches that so long as we perceive ourselves as separate from one another and from the Truth, then we will suffer. I see all of these seeds of suffering within my self — and more! It is difficult to confront at first, then easier, then difficult again..this is the dance of awakening. But each time I see a murderer, oppressor, bully, discontent or complainer, I recognize the seeds from which their actions spring forth. It is from this place that I choose to neither condemn nor accept, but to continue to work towards freeing at least one person from the complete imprisonment of being an individual person. That’s MY lane.

In the book “I Am That,” Sri Nisargadatta repeatedly insists that if you are so inclined to save the world, start with yourself. “Can you save the world before saving yourself?” He teaches that with diligence and devotion you will come to see that changing yourself changes the world — and more significantly it changes how you see the world. I am still working on seeing the complete truth of this statement. But just enough work has been done in this mind and in this body to prove that the real change needs to happen in *here*. This may not be true for everyone — it may be that your lane involves picketing, lobbying, hashtag activism, providing front line health care, or any of the endless activities designed to affect change in the system. There is nothing wrong with that and I’m not saying I wouldn’t do any of these things myself. I certainly would. What I wish to make clear is the idea that so long as you are suffering, you carry that suffering into everything you do. We need the space to free ourselves as much as possible so that the work we do is done cleanly. Therefore I think the best thing I can say to someone who kills and cheers the killing of children, to the parents of those children, to the oppressed, the victimized and the randomly irritated would be something like:

“Right now I just wish the best for you and I know this isn’t it. You are changed now, but the changing doesn’t have to end here. There IS freedom from this and we can talk about how. Or maybe when you feel the suffering of this moment boiling over into future moments, we can talk about it then. Or, we can just sit down together at any time and allow whatever comfort that naturally arises in the moment to wash over our sitting.”


From the deepest part of my heart I wish for all beings, on all sides of every conflict, to be free from suffering. May all beings be free from greed, hate, and delusion. May all beings be free from the pursuit of selfish gain. May all beings know the undivided truth. May all beings be happy. 

Now I go back to making this come true for myself.

 

 

 

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