By Mark Donovan
A Dharma Talk given March 16, 2021
I’m sorry to report, but last week there was fake news that was shared and spread in our Sangha. It was reported that I would have the last word on “suffering.” Do you want to know the truth? The truth is that as long as we are alive in these particular body-minds, the worldly winds will blow. Like that wind yesterday on the Ides of March; a date that coincided with the first full moon of the Roman calendar and when tributes were paid to gods and goddesses. That wind wore me out. The dogs and I climbed into bed and under the covers at 8:00 last night. I had started the day paying tribute to a 7-year old girl whose grandmother requested that I bake cupcakes for her birthday. The first cupcakes I’d ever made, marbled cake with chocolate buttercream frosting and blue and white sprinkles.
A couple of weeks ago I held up the computer video for you to see the calligraphic sign I taped to the wall for the month with the word, “suffering.” I found that I didn’t really want to look at the sign. Although the calligraphy turned out pretty well, there was something I found aversive, dark and heavy about the word. To suffer, from the Latin sufferre meaning “to bear.” An image that comes to mind is of the god Atlas, on one knee, bearing the weight of the world. In our study of Ajahn Chah, he often used the phrase “patient endurance.” To bear, to endure.
Over the weekend I participated in a Zoom retreat with Brian and Sebene titled Cultural and Spiritual Bypassing. We explored what gets left out, such as the feminine, in Buddhism. The Thai Buddhist tradition, the birthplace of Insight Meditation, will not ordain women. We can bring to mind multiple examples of American cultural dominance and oppression, such as the historical disenfranchisement of African-Americans, Native Americans and people of color. Last week the pope declared that any person who is not cisgendered heterosexual is
a sinner. LGBTQ persons are left out. There is the present scapegoating and violence directed at Asian-Americans, a clear reaction to Trump’s blaming China for the pandemic, calling it the Chinese virus, and his dog whistling to white supremacists. And in all of this there is both personal and collective suffering. Besides the physical blows of violence, such as those we read about weekly now directed at elderly Asian-Americans in our cities, there is the hardening of hearts, the loss of rights and dignity, the pains of poverty. Last night on the PBS Newshour there was a report on Yemen and the millions of people there who are at risk of starvation, 600,000 children who are now dying of starvation. I felt consumed by pain watching the video documentary of their small bodies immobile, limbs shrunken to bones without muscle or flesh, stomachs bloated, huge eyes vacant, hauntingly filled with pain. And their parents and families bearing the pain of losing a young family member -- the impacts of war, climate change, famine.
by Carol Russell
A Dharma Talk given February 23, 2021
We are embarking on an exploration of the core of the Buddha’s teachings, the four noble truths. Our sangha’s founding leader, Carol Cook, had a tradition of beginning each year with an immersion into this subject, because it is utterly central and foundational to our practice. Carol has inspired us to take it up.
Our plan is to take the four truths, one noble truth at a time, and for four weeks each of us will offer an exploration of the truth of the month. This should be especially interesting because of the fact that there are endless ways of examining such a profound teaching: historic, contemporary, esoteric, practical, psychological, experiential, scholarly, and on and on. We are hoping for some interesting conversations amongst all of us in these explorations. Whether it is the first time you are studying these truths or you are circling back for the hundredth time, we know there is always more to understand. We hope you will take the Buddha’s profound teachings into your daily life and share your fresh discoveries and insights when we meet on Tuesday nights.
Simply put, the four noble truths are:
There is suffering.
There is a cause of suffering.
There is an end of suffering.
The remedy is the eight-fold path.
Did you ever wonder why these are called the ‘noble’ truths? Some say it is because these are the truths which cause nobleness. Of course, we are dealing with translations from the Pali language and a great deal of time passing, and the fact that the teachings were oral for some time, but I recently found this explanation: that it may be more accurate to say, the nobles’ truths, or the truths possessed by the noble ones. The dictionary definition of noble is: Having or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity, and integrity. So, we are establishing a connection between acknowledging, understanding and freeing ourselves from suffering and these natural and noble qualities of courage, generosity, and integrity.
The First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering. In Pali, the word is dukkha. The truth of dukkha. Sometimes dukkha is translated as ‘dissatisfaction.’ I like that word because it includes more than the overt times of suffering in life, it includes that background feeling that we all have at times that things aren’t reliably satisfying. No matter how great a life you have, this human life is bound to include stress. It may be those underlying existential questions like, what are we doing here? What is it all about? Dukkha is not personal, and it’s ubiquitous in the world of form and incarnation. Everyone has the experience of dissatisfaction.
...to this resource for our community. Much gratitude goes out to our entire Sangha – and the numberless causes and conditions – for making this website possible, and for the joy I have experienced in creating it.
Detail of the Great Hall Mural
Courtesy Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Used with permission