The last of the four basic thoughts or the four common preliminaries is the end of suffering So what is all this about suffering? It sounds like a real drag, but the fact of the matter is that no matter where we find ourselves there is suffering. Suffering like impermanence is a universal truth. When we take a quick look at the six realms of existence we can find suffering everywhere.
First, we have the paranoia realms where one can suffer in one of 18 different hell realms. Eight of them one suffers from extreme heat and eight of them suffer from extreme cold and two that are similar.
Secondly, we have the hungry ghost realms where you guessed it everyone is hungry. Not only that but one would never even hear the words food or water in 100 years here. And to top it off Hungry Ghosts have a stomach as big as a mountain and a mouth as small as a hair, even if there was food one could never get enough, and lastly if you did find food or water it would turn into something rotten immediately.
Thirdly, we have the animal realm. While not as bad as the first two one still finds suffering in the animal world. Many animals are not free, many are hunted and killed, many are abused. I doubt any of us would trade places with an animal, would we?
The Fourth realm is our human realm. And here we have the perfect mix of suffering and happiness. We have a surplus with which we can practice but and we have the suffering as our reminder that things could be better. I would like to point out that in the more traditional version we are reminded that no matter how wonderful or extraordinary our lives are that there are three types of suffering.
1. The suffering of suffering. This is the suffering that we are the most familiar with it is the suffering of birth, death, old age, sickness, and loss.
2. The suffering of change
Because of impermanence, everything changes and as we try to hang on to the things we like, we suffer. Even the most beautiful sunset lasts for a while and then night falls. When we cannot let go of the things that cause us to suffer. Do you remember breaking up with your first big love? How sad and painful was that? Even though you knew it was over we still tried to hang on and the hanging on only made things worse.
3. The all-pervasive suffering of conditioning.
Even in the most wonderful of situations and existences here on earth, we suffer. Kings, Queens, RockStars, or Presidents all will suffer in life. Because even the very best and the most amazing of conditions we may have; are at their peak of amazingness nothing in comparison to enlightenment. Here we can understand deeply that no matter what we do anything conditioned cannot give us something solid to depend on. There simply is no foundation for our two feet to stand on in the conditioned world.
In the fifth realm, we meet the demi or half-gods who are dominated by jealousy. They see that the gods live in much better conditions they are constantly fighting them to try to gain even better conditions.
Lastly, we find the God realm. Immediately one might think ok so here is where the suffering ends. And while for the most part, the gods experience only pleasure, this is true except for when they know that they are beginning to die. The gods can see where they will be reborn after death in the lower realms. Some say that there is no pain greater than the pain of a dying god.
So after all this depressing news about suffering, we can begin to talk about something positive, mainly that there is an end to suffering. The end to suffering is enlightenment this is when we are no longer identified as the target of negative experiences or when we reach our full potential as beings. We can function fully when we are no longer ruled by our emotions, fear, and the ignorance of our ego illusion.
Now, what is the best way to find this? It is to meditate. And why do we need to meditate? Does it feel good, have we relaxed afterwards, what does it do for us that keeps us coming back for more and more? We all have our reasons from health, to less anger, stress reduction, or even to help others, but here our understanding of suffering clearly points us to enlightenment as our goal, and that cutting through our challenging emotions leads us on the way.
As a teenager, I remember sitting near the railway tracks not too far from my home and watching the very long Canadian cargo trains speed by. I would try to blink my eyes at the same rate as the train wagons passed in order to only see what was happening in the space between the wagons. I had a lot of fun doing this and I probably looked quite silly. As a Buddhist, I now recognise the wagons to be thoughts or distractions and the space between them as wide-open mind. This is what we are learning to do in meditation. Only in meditation can we begin to gain distance to the disturbances happening in mind and only when we have some distance can we begin to fearlessly peer through the cracks and see the space of all Possibilities, Bliss, and Wisdom arising from within the stillness of mind.