Dukkha

In the Zen tradition, dukkha is often translated as “suffering,” although more often it means dissatisfaction or the nagging sense that something is off, or sometimes even existential angst. It seems that dukkha is discussed more explicitly in American Zen than it commonly has been elsewhere in the Zen world.~~Konin Cardenas, “Understanding Dukkha,” Lion’s Roar 2017

That got me thinking…

Dog sitting is my part time job. While walking Paco, the Min-Pin-Chihuahua mix, in  the sauna-like humidity of Florida summer,  I was experiencing dukkha, because my bum hip hurt and I was uncomfortable. I was also feeling guilt about my cat, Gus, home alone even though I went back daily for a few hours with him. Then there were the nagging questions common to dog sitters: what did I need from home that I forgot and what did I leave at the other condo that I need at home.

I happened upon an acquaintance, a resident of the building where I was staying. “How are you doing these days,” I asked. She answered “Going to Maine soon. I just bought a condo in Portland.” And I felt the hammer of dukkha come down hard on my mind. Envy. Dissatisfaction. 

As everyone knows, Buddha said life is full of suffering. What people misinterpret is what he meant by suffering. in addition to suffering death, disease and old age, there is the suffering brought on by our desires. This suffering is called Dukkha and is less about actual suffering, but more about unease, a sense one doesn’t have all they need. It’s about being attached to certain outcomes, desires and being disappointed when they don’t come to fruition. It’s also about the niggling little irritations, the small pains, the irritations of bad traffic or bad weather, aversion to inconvenience and craving for pleasure. And change. Most people will avoid change like the plague. We wait until our ass is on fire before we finally change what the problem may be. Dukkha can be defined as difficulties.

Some of my friends are on vacation in cool, beautiful places. Some even have lovely second homes in those places. They have financial well-being. I have Dukkha.

I’m not proud of it. I’m not homeless, I just have a lower income than my better-off friends. I don’t have much to complain about. 

Like so many others in the United States, I suffer from dissatisfaction. It arises out of a belief that I should be happy. That something is wrong with my life if I am not happy. This is the burden we inherit from the myth of the American Dream. We suffer from having too much and not enough. We even have the house, the car, the income we are told will make us happy, and yet…

So…because I am a writer, I write to face and understand things. I have ample opportunities to practice lessening the impact of dukkha on my life because I am an American. What helps other than writing? Seeing through the myth of the need for constant happiness. 

Try the attitude of accepting difficulty instead of getting aggravated by it. It’s a lot more peaceful.~~Rick Hanson, Phd. from “Just One Thing”

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