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Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

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Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby djlewis on Mon Mar 21, 2016 4:16 pm

(not sure this is the right sub-board, but it says "philosophy" in the title)

Thich Nhat Hanh seems to deny a major teaching on dukkha/suffering common to both Theravada and Tibetan teachings -- the idea of "all-perasive suffering" ("the suffering of composite things", samskara dukkhata)-- found in many places in the Pali and Tibetan canons. Below are some excerpts. A link to the whole chapter is at the end.

I think his interpretation may well reflect a misunderstanding of all-pervasive suffering -- it does not deny joy; it simply says the only lasting happiness comes from addressing conditioned existence in general (or emptiness/shunyata and inherent/intrinsic existence in Mahayana terms); it cannot be found by only addressing worldly suffering directly.

But he is pretty emphatic, even to the point of implying that the Pali Canon was corrupted to reflect this teaching before it got written down. He also suggests removing dukkha from the Three Dharma Seals/Marks, replacing it with nirvana (rather than just adding nirvana to make four seals, as is usually done)

My questions -- does this reflect Zen teachings in general, or is it limited to Thich Nhat Hanh and/or some schools? If some Zen schools or teachers do teach all-pervasive suffering, can someone point me to references? I'd also be interested in other Zen teachings that reflect Thich Nhat Hanh's strong objection to the doctrine of all-pervasive suffering.

Thanks.

Excerpts (emphasis added). Full link below (with footnotes referring to texts).

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Chapter Five, Is Everything Suffering?
Excerpts (emphasis added):

Since the Buddha said that the First Noble Truth is suffering, many good students of the Buddha have used their skills to prove that everything on Earth is suffering. The theory of the Three Kinds of Suffering was such an attempt. It is not a teaching of the Buddha.

The first kind of suffering is "the suffering of suffering" (dukkha dukkhata), the suffering associated with unpleasant feelings, like the pain of a toothache, losing your temper, or feeling too cold on a winter's day. The second is "the suffering of composite things" (samskara dukkhata). Whatever comes together eventually has to come apart; therefore, all composite things are described as suffering. Even things that have not yet decayed, such as mountains, rivers, and the sun, are seen to be suffering, because they will decay and cause suffering eventually. When you believe that everything composed is suffering, how can you find joy? The third is "the suffering associated with change"(viparinama dukkhata). Our liver may be in good health today, but when we grow old, it will cause us to suffer. There is no point in celebrating joy, because sooner or later it will turn into suffering. Suffering is a black cloud that envelops everything. Joy is an illusion. Only suffering is real.

By the time the Buddha's discourses were written down, seeing all things as suffering must have been widely practiced, as the above quotation occurs more frequently than the teaching to identify suffering and the path to end suffering.

The theory of the Three Kinds of Suffering is an attempt to justify the universalization of suffering. What joy is left in life? We find it in nirvana. In several sutras the Buddha taught that nirvana, the joy of completely extinguishing our ideas and concepts, rather than suffering, is one of the Three Dharma Seals. This is stated four times in the Samyukta Agama of the Northern transmission. Quoting from yet another sutra, Nagarjuna listed nirvana as one of the Three Dharma Seals. To me, it is much easier to envision a state where there are no obstacles created by concepts than to see all things as suffering. I hope scholars and practitioners will begin to accept the teaching that all things are marked by impermanence, nonself, and nirvana, and not make too great an effort to prove that everything is suffering.

http://triadic.com/misc/Thich%20Nhat%20Hanh%281998%29-Is%20Everything%20Suffering,%20Chapter%205,%20The%20Heart%20of%20the%20Buddha's%20Teaching.pdf
Last edited by djlewis on Mon Mar 21, 2016 5:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby Caodemarte on Mon Mar 21, 2016 5:06 pm

Of course you should ask Thich Nhat Hanh, who knows and exemplifies Buddhist teachings very, very well, what he means if you think his teachings differ from Buddhist teachings. To me he seems to be clarifying common doctrine. He is addressing a common misunderstanding of dukkha which ignores some critical nuances and implies that suffering is a "real" thing and an associated overemphasis on suffering in teaching. I don't think there is much difference between what he says and the teachings of any orthodox Buddhist school which all, AFAIK, say that people often get caught up in the words of the teachings and reify them. This distracts from understanding what they are pointing out.

"In several sutras the Buddha taught that nirvana, the joy of completely extinguishing our ideas and concepts, rather than suffering, is one of the Three Dharma Seals." Remember that the the Dharma Seals are not "real" objects floating around in the sky, but a teaching device (and a handy mnemonic). As TNH makes clear by "extinguishing" ideas and concepts he means abandoning them, NOT that you should go around with a sledge hammer trying to crush them like "whack-a-mole." This is precisely like the attempt to eliminate suffering without abandoning clinging to the idea of suffering. Such an effort could only increases suffering. The Buddhist method is to abandon the clinging of the false perception of suffering as a real thing to be eliminated. By doing so, one becomes free.

"To put suffering on the same level as impermanence and nonself is an error. Impermanence and nonself are "universal." They are a "mark" of all things. Suffering is not."

"When we are attached to a certain table, it is not the table that causes us to suffer. It is our attachment. We can agree that anger is impermanent, without a separate self, and filled with suffering, but it is strange to talk about a table or a flower as being filled with suffering. The Buddha taught impermanence and nonself to help us not be caught in signs."

Suffering is caused (a sign). It is an effect. As TNH points out, it is important to know the various causes of suffering. Buddhism in no way means that you should not see a dentist if your tooth hurts. If you really want to be free of suffering, however, address the main cause which is attachment, especially attachment to concepts and ideas (like "suffering").

Anyway, that is my ignorant attached take.
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby Avisitor on Tue Mar 22, 2016 12:38 pm

Caodemarte wrote:Suffering is caused (a sign). It is an effect. As TNH points out, it is important to know the various causes of suffering. Buddhism in no way means that you should not see a dentist if your tooth hurts. If you really want to be free of suffering, however, address the main cause which is attachment, especially attachment to concepts and ideas (like "suffering").

Anyway, that is my ignorant attached take.

Isn't suffering caused by the three poisons??
Ignorance, anger, greed?
And from these three comes the attachments which causes suffering??

Anyway, that is "mine" ignorant attachment.
Disclaimer: There is no intent to be offensive in my posts. None was intended and none should be interpreted as such.
Sorry, got a message that I was not being PC.
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby Caodemarte on Tue Mar 22, 2016 3:37 pm

Sure, as TNH says, suffering has many causes. You can summarize them in several ways and at various depths or levels of abstraction. A problem comes when you reify that concept and act as if "ignorance," for example, was a real substance. You get caught by the words and start taking things literally. When people get caught by Buddhist teachings and think that "Life is suffering. Suffering is a real thing that has to be destroyed." It is useful to occasionally switch your metaphors around. Your mileage may vary.
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby another_being on Tue Mar 22, 2016 5:43 pm

I think, regarding the original post, the key is in the final sentences where TNH says, "To me..." revealing that this is his perspective. I think he's correct in focusing on that angle.

:peace:
"Some people think they are enlightened, some people think they are not enlightened." -- Denko
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby desert_woodworker on Tue Mar 22, 2016 10:56 pm

dj,

(Are you a DJ? No? ) :)

I doubt TNH "ignores" anything. Please go back to Square One.

"See" your Zen Buddhist Teacher, and sangha.

If you're without those, well, no use asking at a place like this.

Welcome!, to ZFI.

--Joe
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby TigerDuck on Wed Mar 23, 2016 1:22 pm

For people who still have sense of self, it is correct to say whatever they are doing are actually suffering.

Because if we look at our self, we chase happiness for example by hoping something. We get it, we are happy, we don't get it, we suffer.

Say, we get what we want and we are happy. But this is like licking honey on blade. First licking, before cutting it is sweet, but eventually will bleed.

It is because we become happy after we get what we want, the sense of hoping keeps rolling.

And this hoping is the source of problem.

Another thing is people don't want to die.
But second by second they are getting older and closer to die.
So, the happiness that they have is basically fake.

It is like you have a chronic cancer, and you go to Disneyland. I won't say that is happiness even you will enjoy your Disneyland.

Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.

[Nagarjuna]
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby fukasetsu on Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:05 pm

Exactly Tiger thanks, all scriptures are expedient means for the myriad of sentient beings and their accompanied "level of understanding"
without delusion there would be no need for teachings to emerge, so it is useless to talk about the affirmation or denial of a particular Buddhist philosophy, to me all Buddhist teachings (or from whatever religious path) are fundamentally lies, however true they may seem, they are yet so infinitely beguiling. That's why we "abandon" the teachings, once the doctrine is understood it becomes meaningless and useless, for others it may still be may be gold.

There's no error in any scripture, only in ones perception of it. It's about function/medicine, not in so called "true or not true"
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Re: Zen & Dukkha -- Is Everything Suffering?

Postby fukasetsu on Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:12 pm

djlewis wrote:My questions -- does this reflect Zen teachings in general, or is it limited to Thich Nhat Hanh and/or some schools? If some Zen schools or teachers do teach all-pervasive suffering, can someone point me to references? I'd also be interested in other Zen teachings that reflect Thich Nhat Hanh's strong objection to the doctrine of all-pervasive suffering.


Do you understand what TNH is saying I wonder, before you ask questions regarding the differences in schools?

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, every serious practisioner knows this whether they've read all Buddhist philosophy or none of it.
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