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Advanced Yoga Practices
Note: For the Original Internet Lessons with additions, see the AYP Easy Lessons Books. For the Expanded and Interactive Internet Lessons, AYP Online Books, Audiobooks and more, see AYP Plus.
Lesson 321 - An Inquiry about Ending Suffering (Audio)
AYP Plus Additions:
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"
What is suffering?
It is our identification with pain. And because identification is a function of the mind, suffering will be conjured up by the mind not only in relation to pain experienced in the present, but also in the form of memories from past pain, and the anticipation of future pain. For those who habitually suffer, good health and physical comfort may offer little relief, because the mind can provide an endless supply of past hurts to lament and mountains of worries about the discomforts of the future, none of which exist!
In fact, a person's health, material prospects and external quality of life may have little relationship to how much or how little they suffer, since suffering is the product of identification rooted deep in the mind.
Those who seem to have everything going for them may suffer more than those who may seem to have little. Identification with material wealth and worldly achievements (fortune and fame) can lead to some of the most severe suffering -- a dream of life that turns into a nightmare. Why? Because, in that case, we have hitched our wagon to the temporary things of life. No matter how glorious they may seem, they will not last. It is the mistake we make in assuming that we are what we are perceiving. And we pay dearly for that mistake.
Suffering itself is painful, but there is a difference between the pain of suffering and the pain that comes to us from an illness, physical injury or traumatic event. The pain of suffering is imposed by the mind and can be reduced and eventually eliminated through spiritual methods, while the pain of real-time events, may or may not be able to be avoided. In any case, if we are able to release suffering, release identification with what pains us, then the inevitable discomforts and calamities that occur in the ups and downs of life will lose their grip on us also. When our identification with pain has been dissolved, then suffering will be no more.
The next time we are in pain, physically or mentally, and feel that we are suffering, we might ask ourselves the question, "Who is suffering?"
If we are honest about it, we will find it is our interpretation of the pain that is causing us to perceive ourselves to be suffering. If we are making a value judgment about our pain, we will surely be suffering. We will know we are making a value judgment if we are asking, "Why me?" or are placing blame, having anger, or are trying to get others to share in our pain. In all of these reactions we are identified with our pain.
On the other hand, if we see our pain only as pain without coloring it one way or the other, it will still be pain, but there will be no suffering no judgment about it, no lamentations, no past regrets, no inner drama playing, no fear about it for the future.
When we see someone bearing pain in this way, we tend to call them spiritual. They seem to be on a higher plane of consciousness, and the pain of the moment is not touching them in a way that is seen in the mental reaction we call suffering. This does not mean they will not react to the pain with a grimace or by crying out.
Whether we have broken a bone or lost a loved one, we will feel the pain of it, and cry out. Going beyond suffering doesn't mean we will like being in pain. Neither does it mean that we should not do what we can to remove our pain, and everyone elses. But, whatever may be happening, the scars of suffering will not be with us, not even in the next minute, if we have let go of our identification with pain. It all happens in the present, and is gone.
But, again, who is suffering? We have not answered that question yet. We have only described the basic mechanics of suffering. When we are identified with our pain and are suffering, who is experiencing that? Is it our external sense of self? Our body/mind? Is it our awareness behind all of that? It gets to the heart of what this inquiry is about, and what all spiritual self-inquiry is about. More importantly, it gets to the heart of what abiding inner silence (the witness) is about, because without the witness there can be no effective self-inquiry. Without the witness, our sense of self will be externalized in thoughts, feelings, the body, and our environment. We will not be in a healthy relationship with who we are or with what is going on in our life. That temporal disconnected condition of awareness is where all suffering occurs. Is that who we are? Only if we are identified and habitually claim ourselves to be our external perceptions.
On the other hand, when we find our sense of self to be abiding inner silence (the witness), cultivated in daily deep meditation, nothing can touch us there. We cannot suffer when we are That, no matter what the body and mind are doing. It is a fact that our consciousness does not suffer even when it is identified. It is only consciousness that part of us that always has been. It does not change. Only the veneer of thoughts, feelings and materiality outside it changes. Inevitably, there is change in the external. But we never change inside, do we? Who then suffers?
The truth is that no one suffers, except those who are identified, and even that is an illusion a belief in something that is temporary, a dream. Yet, it is very real to the one who is having the experience.
All of this is rather idyllic, and will mean little to us when we are in pain and identified with that experience. The same can be said of all who struggle with spiritual self-inquiry without sufficient presence of the witness. It is a tough slog. We do not intend to be insensitive about any of this. Whether we have the witness or not, we will feel compassion for all who suffer. Our humanity calls us instinctively to help others who are in need, and especially those who suffer.
The reason why spiritual teachers do what they do is because they want more than anything to aid everyone in moving beyond suffering into the unending peace and joy that is ever-present and available within us all.
There is only one condition that can save us from identification with the ups and downs of life. Only one condition that can save us from the struggles of the mind creating vast imagined landscapes of space and time within itself. That is the witness, our inherent inner silence, which can be cultivated easily in daily deep meditation. Then true understanding becomes possible for us, and we find ourselves able to move beyond suffering, and wondering who was ever suffering in the first place.
The power of the witness, combined with the clarity of an intelligent approach to self-inquiry is a paradox and a mystery. Yet, it is more real than all we see in our external world of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the body and surrounding environment. The witness and its relationship with self-inquiry are real because they can make a tangible difference in the quality of our life. And what a difference it is!
In upcoming lessons, we will delve deeper into the techniques of self-inquiry, particularly as they relate to prior cultivation of abiding inner silence, the witness, through deep meditation (see Lesson 13). We will find that there is a big difference between practicing self-inquiry with the witness (relational) versus practicing self-inquiry without the witness (non-relational). Like everything we do in AYP, we will take a practical approach, with a minimum of mumbo jumbo.
Sometimes self-inquiry, even when taught by great teachers, is like pushing on a string, or worse. We will explore why this happens, and how it can be resolved so we can benefit from any approach to self-inquiry, whether it be called jnana, advaita, non-duality, emptiness, mindfulness, etc. With an intelligent approach to self-inquiry, the mystery will gradually unwind, and we will find ourselves becoming one with the mystery itself. We will know it by the rising inner joy we are living, a luminous life without suffering, even when we happen to be experiencing pain. Freedom from suffering is the destiny of everyone.
The guru is in you.
Discuss this Lesson in the AYP Plus Support Forum
Note: For detailed discussion on ending suffering through self-inquiry, jnana (knowledge) and advaita (non-duality), see the Self-Inquiry book and the Liberation book, and AYP Plus.
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