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Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me?

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:21 pm
by hataribaba
Hello,

I am brand new to buddhism, and I was reading an introductory book to Zen buddhism. I know this forum does not directly deal with zen, but my question may not necessarily concern zen only. Please let me know if it is relevant to other branches of buddhism as well, or not.

The book was basically explaining that my existence and the suffering I experience are mere illusions, just like any other experience in my delusional existence. In this case, is it justified to feel compassion for other beings? Shouldn't they, and their own sufferings, be considered as non-existent and unreal? What would the point be in helping them then?

Thanks in advance for your ideas.

Re: Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:42 pm
by fivebells
hataribaba wrote:...my question may not necessarily concern zen only. Please let me know if it is relevant to other branches of buddhism as well, or not.

The book was basically explaining that my existence and the suffering I experience are mere illusions, just like any other experience in my delusional existence.
According to Thanissaro's talks on emptiness (search for "emptiness" on that page), that is a Mahayana teaching. There's good reason to believe the Buddha himself didn't think that way.

Re: Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:42 pm
by Goofaholix
The Buddha didn't teach that.

Dukkha (often translated as suffering but unsatisfactoriness is probably a bettter translation) is mostly about our mental reaction to what we experience rather than the experience itself.

Craving, aversion, and delusion fuel this mental reaction. Note that delusion does not mean illusion, it means we have a distorted or unskillful perception of our experience it doesn't mean outr experience is not real.

When one understands the delusion and resulting suffering in ones own mind one understands that we all experience it and this leads to compassion.

Re: Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:08 am
by Dan74
hataribaba wrote:Hello,

I am brand new to buddhism, and I was reading an introductory book to Zen buddhism. I know this forum does not directly deal with zen, but my question may not necessarily concern zen only. Please let me know if it is relevant to other branches of buddhism as well, or not.

The book was basically explaining that my existence and the suffering I experience are mere illusions, just like any other experience in my delusional existence. In this case, is it justified to feel compassion for other beings? Shouldn't they, and their own sufferings, be considered as non-existent and unreal? What would the point be in helping them then?

Thanks in advance for your ideas.
Hi hataribaba :hello:

In Zen and Buddhism in general, there are stages and teachings appropriate at each stage. So for instance, it is vital to commit to living a responsible ethical life, 'doing good avoiding evil'. Believing that existence and suffering aren't real doesn't help with exerting all effort to live that way, so I'd put that teaching aside for now.

There comes a time when through insight once begins to see that things aren't quite how they appear. Such insight needs the ethical foundation to penetrate deeply. If there is still a lot of messiness and selfishness in one's habits, it tends to backfire. So I would not worry about it but focus on a practice.

Zen koan practice depends on a investigative inquiry which is fueled by a kind of an existential doubt, so it can be useful to look into existence and its ever-changing nature and into the suffering and how it's a product of mental formations which are ephemeral and ask if there is something real and enduring behind it all. But this is to be done under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Not really a DYI project.

All the best!

Re: Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:26 am
by hataribaba
Thanks for your answers!

So if I got it right, this business of me being like a wave in the ocean, and of the self being a delusional concept, and that there is no answer to 'who is suffering?' because there is no one to experience suffering in the first place, is foreign to your school of buddhism?

Re: Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:31 am
by culaavuso
hataribaba wrote:Thanks for your answers!

So if I got it right, this business of me being like a wave in the ocean, and of the self being a delusional concept, and that there is no answer to 'who is suffering?' because there is no one to experience suffering in the first place, is foreign to your school of buddhism?
The self is a delusional concept. There is no undeluded answer to "who is suffering?", but there is an answer in conventional terms. The entire point of the practice is to put an end to suffering, though. Dismissing suffering as unreal and therefore unworthy of remedy would thus be a misunderstanding of the meaning of not-self. Understanding the delusional nature of the concept of self is useful in learning to stop creating suffering, since the idea of a self tends to feed the states of mind that give rise to suffering.

Re: Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 11:59 am
by Kim OHara
hataribaba wrote:Thanks for your answers!

So if I got it right, this business of me being like a wave in the ocean, and of the self being a delusional concept, and that there is no answer to 'who is suffering?' because there is no one to experience suffering in the first place, is foreign to your school of buddhism?
Dan's answer is a good one: not-self is not totally foreign to Theravada but not something that is taught at the introductory level because it is so easily misunderstood.
If, as you said, your book said, "my existence and the suffering I experience are mere illusions, just like any other experience in my delusional existence," then I think it is going too far. A better way of describing the situation, IMO, would be "my existence and the suffering I experience don't exist in exactly the way I think they do, and neither do any other experiences," and I would leave off, "in my delusional existence". That can become a starting point for further investigation.

But the Zen and Theravada ways of understanding this sort of thing are a bit different, too. You might get a better Zen response from our sister site, http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewforum.php?f=77. On the other hand, you might find their approach harder to understand than ours - Theravada teachings, IMO, are relatively straightforward. Still not easy, though - you've picked a tough question!

:namaste:
Kim

Re: Suffering dismissed as unreal for me AND those around me

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:06 pm
by santa100
Zen story:
A Zen student shows off his deep understanding to his master:
Student: "I'm just a wave in the ocean. Self is a delusional concept. There's no one to experience suffering, etc."
Master gave him a heavy smack on the head.
Student yelled out in pain: "What the heck was that for?"
Master: "Who is experiencing suffering?"

Moral of the story: one needs to "earned" the truth thru great effort, not thru mere talk..