Sunday, April 8, 2012


Manic depression; Bipolar affective disorder is a certifiable mental illness that can mimic something akin to phases of awakening. The principle of dependent origination says that everything in life is a reflection of this fundamental principle and this is illustrated with the broadly known relationship between suffering and enlightenment. Bodhidharma said that without afflictions there could be no enlightenment. The two are linked by the principle of dependent origination. A famous Zen saying is, “No suffering. No enlightenment. Little suffering. Little enlightenment. Great suffering. Great enlightenment.”

In his commentary on the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, Chan Master Sheng Yen said that nobody having good dreams wants to wake up. Only when they have nightmares are they eager to do so. The point to all of this is that there is a correspondence between the magnitude of both suffering and awakening. The entirety of Buddhism concerns the alleviation of suffering. There is no other purpose for this quest than that. So some reading this may think to themselves, “I don’t suffer so Zen isn’t right for me.”

I have two rejoinders to this observation: not yet, and denial. The “not yet” part is the realization that it is impossible to live and not suffer because the fundamental nature of conditional life IS suffering. The “denial” part concerns resistance (a form of attachment which creates more suffering). Nobody wants to suffer and unfortunately this motivates many to stay in states of denial. The pain is too sharp to bear so we stuff it down and try to go on with life and this can eventually be a large problem because it isn’t possible to keep suffering locked away forever. Sooner or later it seeps out and corrodes our sense of wellbeing.

When you learn to mediate (and practice it) all of that suppressed mental poison gets released, you clean out the pipes and move on toward wholeness. It isn’t fun to lance that boil but it beats living with the compacted aftermath of suppressed suffering. Along the way toward restored mental health there can be wide swings from one depth to the opposite, but this is the necessary result of mental house cleaning. Zen is not a practice for the faint of heart. It’s only for the most desperate and those who exhibit the necessary courage to go through the anguish required to have a life worth living.
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