|Danish anthropology museum -- Chinese musician|
This particular 3-part series is about the Four Marks of Existence, and last night we explored the first mark, which is the Sanskrit word "dukkha," commonly translated as "suffering." The word is onomatopoeic: it sounds like what it is. It refers to a wheel on a cart that's out of alignment, and so makes the sound "duk, duk, duk" as it heads on down the road. One of the discoveries in our discussion was that suffering is almost certainly the wrong word for this constant, out-of-balance accompaniment to our life.
Some Buddhist teachers posit that there can be moments when dukkha disappears, but our contention is that it persists, as a "mark" of existence, sometimes in an extreme fashion that could be called suffering, but most often as a "the anxious quiver at the core of our being" in Ezra Bayda's wonderful words. To be able to settle in to the granular quality of this subtle quiver is the beginning of our practice of waking up. We meet the experience granularly by becoming as intimate to it as possible, noticing any sensations in the body that accompany it, any emotions, and any thoughts churned out by our endless internal narrator.
And in this way, we discover the second mark of existence, anicca, which means "impermanence." Even suffering, or the more quiet version of dukkha we might call "unsatisfactoriness" or "imbalance" has a life of its own, constantly changing, intensifying and diminishing. This is the beginning of finding our freedom, leading to the last two marks of anatta (no-self) and nirvana (awakening in the midst of everything.)