Suffering and Compassion
Or Sacrifice and Bliss
And Immortality and Eternity
(From: ‘Earth People’ Volume 2 Number 6)
All of life is pain and suffering because the essence of life is the eating of itself, but compassion is the healing principal that makes life possible. Understanding and realising this fundamental nature of life can reduce the added suffering of feeling; “It’s unfair that I should suffer this”
In his book ‘The Art of Happiness’ the Dalai Lama says that it is our pain and suffering that is the basic element that we share with all living things. And that you and all others are one (God’s Creation), all with desires and a fundamental right to be happy. It is this realisation that strengthens our compassion, which in turn lessens our own suffering. And he says that it is our enemies in life that we must thank for giving us the opportunities to practice patience, tolerance, and compassion, because it is their rash reactions to their own suffering that makes them enemies in the first place. They are our learning mirrors.
According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha realised that the main characteristic of the human condition, Duhkha, is suffering and frustration, which is The First Noble Truth. This is because; “All things arise and pass away”, as the Buddha said, and the frustration comes by our clinging to these impermanent things, events, people or ideas, which are all Maya – an intellectual concept which has no true reality. The suffering or Trishna caused by this clinging is The Second Noble Truth.
The Third Noble Truth, however, states that the suffering and frustration can be ended by transcending the circle of Samsara (the chaos if attachment to the outer parts of the circle of life), the cycles of birth, death, and karma, and reaching a totally liberated state of consciousness called Nirvana (holding conscious thought at the centre of the circle of life where the stillness is found). The Buddha’s prescription for this is The Fourth Noble Truth, which is The Eightfold Path of self-development or self-realisation.
The first two sections of this path deal with right seeing and right knowing. The next four sections deal with right action, which is The Middle Way, a balance between the pairs of opposites. And the last two sections deal with right awareness and right meditation, which is a description of the direct mystical experience, or shaman’s experience, of reality. This was the Buddha’s doctrine as a means of achieving enlightenment.
Another good system of thought that can help us to understand the stages of life and to happily transcend each step with its painful loss and death of the past stage, is the Chakra system of energy centres up the spine. The first energy centre is the red chakra at the base of the spine. It can be found in the east where the sun is born each morning and at the Earth below, from which all matter is born. So the energies that are in play at the base chakra (red), are those of survival of the physical body (eating), which is an animal instinct.
The second energy centre, going anti-clockwise for the southern hemisphere, is at the level of the sex organs (orange), which needless to say is about sexuality, lust, reproduction and creativity; which is also an animal instinct. The third centre is at the level of the belly or solar plexus (yellow), which is all about growth (like during midday and summer), power, mastery, achievement, and aggression. This is about finding our place in the pecking order of society and trying to climb the ladder; another animal instinct.
The fourth energy centre however, is at the level of the heart (green), and is all about love and compassion, which is a truly human emotion. Compassion literally means ‘suffering with’, and the sentiment of compassion is an echo of violence. The properly human and spiritual birth is a birth from the heart chakra of compassion. When this energy is reached the other more spiritual energies come easily.
Joseph Campbell says that:
“Compassion is the fundamental religious and spiritual experience, and if that’s not there, you have nothing… All these symbols in mythology refer to you. Have you died to your animal nature and come to life as a human incarnation” [to live with compassion for all of life, energy, consciousness (All Our Relations) Ed.].
Joseph Campbell has also said that compassion is best represented by the basic Buddhist idea of the Bodhisattva. – The one who has woken up and achieved the realisation of immortality, yet voluntarily participates in the fragmentation of time and space, to participate willingly and joyfully in the sorrows of life, including participating with compassion in the sorrows of others.
In the book ‘The Eagle’s Quest’, Fred Alan Wolf recalls an experience with a Native American who spontaneously cured his splitting headache that was due to sinus pain. The Indian had him do some severe stretching exercises that created excruciating pain. After this the Indian asked him how he felt and he said that his muscles were quivering and he was tired. The Indian said; “No, how is your head?” Fred suddenly realised that he had forgotten about his head, and becoming aware of it, he realised that the pain had vanished. He explains it thus:
“My body was a sacrifice to my head pain. By enduring physical pain in my muscles, I was able to release my headache. Perhaps the head pain was released to the universe that way. And perhaps that was the secret to how shamans got rid of their patients’ illness; they too made a sacrifice to the universe.”
Immortality and Eternity
This mention about immortality, brings me to talk about death and rebirth, this is what I have termed the eighth chakra. There is a lot written about death in all the books I have read on spirituality and life. This is because in death we cannot avoid the realisation of immortality and eternity, neither of which, have anything to do with time.
The best image or symbol to explain eternity is the image of the Hindu God Shiva, the lord of the dance of life. Joseph Campbell says:
“Shiva’s dance is the universe. In his hair is a skull and a new moon, death and rebirth at the same moment, the moment of becoming. In one hand he has a little drum that goes tick-tick-tick. That is the drum of time, the tick of time, which shuts out the knowledge of eternity. We are enclosed in time. But in Shiva’s opposite hand there is a flame, which burns away the veil of time and opens our minds to eternity.”
At the time of my transformation my mother died. And I realise now that her spirit and the loss itself had much to do with my transformation. But I have also realised that in a way I haven’t lost her at all. My memories of her have an everlasting, immortal, and eternal quality, that at the same time are as real as the day I had each experience with her, both the good ones and the bad ones, which all turn out to be blessings of lessons and revelations.
So it is death that can teach us more about life than life itself. And maybe it was my considering suicide (death or letting go of life) that woke me up to being truly alive like I had never known before. This is the classic symbol of death to the old and a rebirth to the new, as Joseph Campbell says: “From sacrifice comes bliss.”
This theme of death and rebirth, or resurrection is found in all mythologies and religions. It indicates that there is an invisible plane of being (life) that is supporting the visible one, and that this invisible self does not end at death, but moves on to the next stage of the cycle.