Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Third Dukkha

*Here in the west we understand and respond well to the positive and more extrovert attributes of Spirit... as love and wisdom, service and compassion, etc. I believe it also important to address/understand spirituality from a Buddhist (and generally eastern) perspective of what the author refers to as "deconstruction"...

Although dukkha is usually translated as "suffering", that is too narrow. The point of dukkha is that even those who are wealthy and healthy experience a basic dissatisfaction, a dis-ease, which continually festers. That we find life dis-satisfactory, one damn problem after another, is not accidental-because it the very nature o an unawakened sense-of-self to be bothered about something.

The first dukkha includes being separated from those we want to be with, and being stuck with those we don't want to be with (the Buddha has a sense of humor!). The second type is suffering due to impermanence. It's the realization that, although I might be enjoying an ice-cream cone right now, it will soon be finished. The best example of this type is awareness of mortality, which haunts our appreciation of life. Knowing that death is inevitable casts a shadow that usually hinders our ability to live fully now.

The third type of dukkha is more diffiuclt to understand because it's connected with the delusion of self. It is dukkha due to sankhara, "conditioned states", which is sometimes taken as a reference to the ripening of past karma. More generally, however, sankhara refers to the constructedness is anatta, "not-self". Thee is no unconditioned self within our constructed sense of self, and this is the source of the deepest dukkha, our worst anguish.

This sense of being a self that is separate from the world I am in is illusory-inf act, it is our most dangerous delusion. Here we can benefit from what has become a truism in contemporary psychology, which has also realized that the sense of self is a psychological-social-linguistic construct: psychological, because the ego-self is a product of mental conditioning; social, because a sense of self develops in relation with other constructed selves; and linguistic, because acquiring a sense of self involves learning to use certain names and pronouns such as I, me, mine, myself, which create the illusionthat there must be something being referred to. If the word cup refers to this thing I"m drinking coffe out of, then we mistakenly infer that I must refer to something in the same way. This is one of theways language misleads us.

Despite these similarities to modern psychology, however, Buddhism differs from most of it in two important ways First, Buddhism emphasizes that there is always something uncomfortable about our constructed sense of self. Much of contemporary psychotherapy is concerned with helping us become "well-adjusted". The ego-self needs to be repaired so it can fit into society and e can play our social roles better. Buddhism isn't about helping us become "well-adjusted". A socially well-adjusted ego-self is still a sick ego-self, for there remains something problematical about it. It is still infected by dukkha.

This suggests the other way that Buddhism differs from modern psychology. Buddhism agrees that the sense of self can be re-constructed, and that it needs to be reconstructed, but it emphasizes even more that the sense of self needs to be de-constructed, to realize its true "empty", non-dwelling nature. Awakening to our constructedness is the only real solution to our most fundamental anxiety. Ironically, the problem and it solution both depend upon the same fact: a constructed sense of self is not a real self. Not being a real self is intrinsically uncomfortable. Not being a real self is also what enables the sense of self to be deconstructed and reconstructed, and this deconstruction/reconstruction is what the Buddhist spiritual path is about.

(from "Money, Sex, War, Karma" by David Loy; Ch.1 The Suffering of Self, pp.16-17)

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