Note: For the complete lessons,
with additions, see the AYP
Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.
Lesson 321 – An Inquiry
about Ending Suffering
Date: April 2, 2009
New Members: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Before we can consider what constitutes an end to suffering, we will need a
practical understanding of what it is.
What is suffering?
It is our identification with pain. And because identification is a function
of the mind, suffering will be conjured up by the mind not only in relation
to pain experienced in the present, but also in the form of memories from
past pain, and the anticipation of future pain. For those who habitually
suffer, good health and physical comfort may offer little relief, because
the mind can provide an endless supply of past hurts to lament and mountains
of worries about the discomforts of the future, none of which exist!
In fact, a person’s health, material prospects and external quality of life
may have little relationship to how much or how little they suffer, since
suffering is the product of identification rooted deep in the mind.
Those who seem to have everything going for them may suffer more than those
who may seem to have little. Identification with material wealth and worldly
achievements (fortune and fame) can lead to some of the most severe
suffering – a dream of life that turns into a nightmare. Why? Because, in
that case, we have hitched our wagon to the temporary things of life. No
matter how glorious they may seem, they will not last. It is the mistake we
make in assuming that we are what we are perceiving. And we pay dearly for
Suffering itself is painful, but there is a difference between the pain of
suffering and the pain that comes to us from an illness, physical injury or
traumatic event. The pain of suffering is imposed by the mind and can be
reduced and eventually eliminated through spiritual methods, while the pain
of real-time events, may or may not be able to be avoided. In any case, if
we are able to release suffering, release identification with what pains us,
then the inevitable discomforts and calamities that occur in the ups and
downs of life will lose their grip on us also. When our identification with
pain has been dissolved, then suffering will be no more.
The next time we are in pain, physically or mentally, and feel that we are
suffering, we might ask ourselves the question, "Who is suffering?"
If we are honest about it, we will find it is our interpretation of the pain
that is causing us to perceive ourselves to be suffering. If we are making a
value judgment about our pain, we will surely be suffering. We will know we
are making a value judgment if we are asking, "Why me?" or are placing
blame, having anger, or are trying to get others to share in our pain. In
all of these reactions we are identified with our pain.
On the other hand, if we see our pain only as pain without coloring it one
way or the other, it will still be pain, but there will be no suffering – no
judgment about it, no lamentations, no past regrets, no inner drama playing,
no fear about it for the future.
When we see someone bearing pain in this way, we tend to call them
spiritual. They seem to be on a higher plane of consciousness, and the pain
of the moment is not touching them in a way that is seen in the mental
reaction we call suffering. This does not mean they will not react to the
pain with a grimace or by crying out.
Whether we have broken a bone or lost a loved one, we will feel the pain of
it, and cry out. Going beyond suffering doesn’t mean we will like being in
pain. Neither does it mean that we should not do what we can to remove our
pain, and everyone else’s. But, whatever may be happening, the scars of
suffering will not be with us, not even in the next minute, if we have let
go of our identification with pain. It all happens in the present, and is
But, again, who is suffering? We have not answered that question yet. We
have only described the basic mechanics of suffering. When we are identified
with our pain and are suffering, who is experiencing that? Is it our
external sense of self? Our body/mind? Is it our awareness behind all of
that? It gets to the heart of what this inquiry is about, and what all
spiritual self-inquiry is about. More importantly, it gets to the heart of
what abiding inner silence (the witness) is about, because without the
witness there can be no effective self-inquiry. Without the witness, our
sense of self will be externalized in thoughts, feelings, the body, and our
environment. We will not be in a healthy relationship with who we are or
with what is going on in our life. That temporal disconnected condition
of awareness is where all suffering occurs. Is that who we are? Only if we
are identified and habitually claim ourselves to be our external
On the other hand, when we find our sense of self to be abiding inner
silence (the witness), cultivated in daily deep meditation, nothing can
touch us there. We cannot suffer when we are That, no matter what the body
and mind are doing. It is a fact that our consciousness does not suffer even
when it is identified. It is only consciousness – that part of us that
always has been. It does not change. Only the veneer of thoughts, feelings
and materiality outside it changes. Inevitably, there is change in the
external. But we never change inside, do we? Who then suffers?
The truth is that no one suffers, except those who are identified, and even
that is an illusion – a belief in something that is temporary, a dream. Yet,
it is very real to the one who is having the experience.
All of this is rather idyllic, and will mean little to us when we are in
pain and identified with that experience. The same can be said of all who
struggle with spiritual self-inquiry without sufficient presence of the
witness. It is a tough slog. We do not intend to be insensitive about any of
this. Whether we have the witness or not, we will feel compassion for all
who suffer. Our humanity calls us instinctively to help others who are in
need, and especially those who suffer.
The reason why spiritual teachers do what they do is because they want more
than anything to aid everyone in moving beyond suffering into the unending
peace and joy that is ever-present and available within us all.
There is only one condition that can save us from identification with the
ups and downs of life. Only one condition that can save us from the
struggles of the mind creating vast imagined landscapes of space and time
within itself. That is the witness, our inherent inner silence, which can be
cultivated easily in daily deep meditation. Then true understanding becomes
possible for us, and we find ourselves able to move beyond suffering, and
wondering who was ever suffering in the first place.
The power of the witness, combined with the clarity of an intelligent
approach to self-inquiry is a paradox and a mystery. Yet, it is more real
than all we see in our external world of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions
of the body and surrounding environment. The witness and its relationship
with self-inquiry are real because they can make a tangible difference in
the quality of our life. And what a difference it is!
In upcoming lessons, we will delve deeper into the techniques of
self-inquiry, particularly as they relate to prior cultivation of abiding
inner silence, the witness, through deep
meditation (see Lesson 13). We will find that there is
a big difference between practicing self-inquiry with the witness
(relational) versus practicing self-inquiry without the witness
(non-relational). Like everything we do in AYP, we will take a practical
approach, with a minimum of mumbo jumbo.
Sometimes self-inquiry, even when taught by great teachers, is like pushing
on a string, or worse. We will explore why this
happens, and how it can be resolved so we can benefit from any approach to
self-inquiry, whether it be called jnana, advaita, non-duality, emptiness,
mindfulness, etc. With an intelligent approach to
self-inquiry, the mystery will gradually unwind, and we will find ourselves
becoming one with the mystery itself. We will know it by the rising inner
joy we are living, a luminous life without suffering, even when we happen to
be experiencing pain. Freedom from suffering is the destiny of everyone.
The guru is in you.
Note: For detailed discussion on ending suffering
through self-inquiry, jnana (knowledge) and advaita (non-duality), see the
and the Liberation book.
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