On-Again, Off-Again Buddhism

Waiting 0613Dukkha is the first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism and is usually translated as suffering, a concept that has always appealed to me about as much as the phrase falling apart, hence my on-again, off-again nearly thirty-year relationship with Buddhism.

Yet, it is to Buddhism that I always return, rather like everywhere I go there I am for as the Buddha said, “I teach only one thing: suffering and the cessation of suffering” (Pema Chödrön, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide).

While dukkha is the word the Buddha is said to have used for suffering, dukkha has more than one level. The first level concerns mostly our physical bodies and ultimately the fact that we die. This kind of suffering involves “outer discomforts” and is considered ordinary.

The second level of suffering pertains more to our stress/anxiety in accepting that nothing stays the same, no matter how hard we might try to make it so. This is the “dukkha produced by change.”
Taking Off 0613

The third level of suffering is often referred to as the “dukkha of conditioned states,” translated as “dissatisfaction” or “never satisfied.” Pema Chödrön explains:

“Dukkha is kept alive by being continually dissatisfied with the reality of the human condition, which means being continually dissatisfied with the fact that pleasant and unpleasant situations are part and parcel of life.”

Over the decades, it has actually become apparent that if I accept each moment as it occurs— the dukkha of conditioned states—the first two levels of suffering fade away, which is not to say accepting impermanence is easy.

Bloom of Peace 0613

For any level of dukkha, meditation helps us strip away our storylines, our drama from any pain or emotion we are feeling. Meditation takes us into the energy of our suffering so whether or not we can do anything about the circumstances, we can decide whether or not to suffer.

If we accept that we fall apart and come together all through our lives, we begin to practice compassion, first with ourselves and later with all those circumstances beyond our control. Because we are human, we are not always compassionate but every time, we have the choice to return to compassion. It is our inner version of war and peace.

In a comment on my initial post on falling apart, Ann E. Michael was kind enough to remind me of these lines from “The Second Coming,” Yeats’ often quoted poem on the aftermath of World War I:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned….”
~William Butler Yeats~

Every time I read Yeats or other World War I poets, I am reminded WWI was the war to end all wars, as if any war ever could. When we are at war with ourselves, we must remember that having compassion with ourselves is where peace begins for everyone.

All three levels of dukkha wend their way through our lives: physical pain, decay, and death claim each one; life will not stay the same for anyone; the constant impermanence of life is the human condition.

The Buddha taught, “I teach only one thing: suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Perhaps I always return to Buddhism because it is neither pessimistic nor optimistic but rather, things fall apart and come together again. Dukkha really is up to me.

13 thoughts on “On-Again, Off-Again Buddhism

  1. We live at the growing tip. We are what we are in the moment. Sometimes we live in a moment of suffering, sometimes joy, sometimes rest. The fact that nothing is permanent, when viewed with optimism, is a generous truth.


  2. I agree with Kenetha about loving the sentence about having the choice to return to compassion. In the past few days, I have not been very peaceful. I have been meditating, but old storylines have surfaced. I was beating myself up about it until I realized that it is all part of the process. Your post reminds me that everything is a road to compassion. Sometimes we just need to take a detour to remind us of the importance of the destination. Thank you, again. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo


    1. What a lovely reminder of what impermanence gives to us for as you say, storylines will surface as part of the process, and storylines will fade. I, too, have been working on compassion within so more of it is without.


  3. As always I read your posts and am left with the sense of wisdom and stillness that the philosophies and thoughts you bring to us conveys – and admiring your courage as you share your journey with us. Thank you – once again – for your thoughts.

    I think philosophies come and go for us; they are there when we need them – and maybe less relevant at other times in our lives. Buddhism, I think, offers much wisdom at the right times.


    1. Thanks, Matthew! Buddhism always brings me home is what it feels like. It offers me impermanence as a way to be in life, and for a nanosecond or two “I really get it” but my ego jumps in as impermanence is quite a challenge to the I, as intriguing as impermanence is.


  4. I have already returned here twice just this morning to read again. How I wish your blog posts were gathered in one place . . . yes, here. And yes, most likely, making a book on Smashwords or Amazon would smack of permanence, or a PDF file on Scribd. But some of your readers would like to see your writings (and photos) in a form that could be touched or put by bedside to read again. I wrestle with the concept of impermanence. More in the winter than in summer when flowers bloom and fade so quickly in their proper season.


    1. Ah, thanks, Beth! I have begun to rework some posts and some ideas to see what kind of collection might emerge. It’s good to know you would like the photos as well. As you know much more about the process, when I get closer to the actual formatting, may I turn to you for assistance?

      For me, impermanence is on-again, off-again but I am so intrigued and the concept is common meditation issue for me. I’ll keep you posts. Again, thanks your wonderful support.


    1. I am seriously considering taking the five lay vows of Buddhism, which I once considered too hard but regardless, Buddhism feels like home, especially the falling apart. Thanks, Lizzie!


  5. I love this: “Because we are human, we are not always compassionate but every time, we have the choice to return to compassion. It is our inner version of war and peace.”

    “Our inner version of war and peace” is such an apt description. I’ve been focusing more lately on trying to stay on the peace side of the equation, and I’m amazed at what a difference it is making in my daily life. I like the idea of being able to check in and ask myself in any situation whether I’m supporting inner war or inner peace.

    Thanks for another wonderful post (as always)!


    1. Thanks so much, Kenetha! There was a time when I read “The Second Coming” regularly, although that was decades ago, but it was only this time that I read it from within, and thus, the inner war and peace.


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