Daily Practice, the Beginning of Enlightenment

by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim

We face so many things in our daily lives, all of them important in their own way. I would like to address the things that have the most impact on our lives: the health of both our bodies and minds, suffering in general, and the values that lead to a happier life.

Are you dissatisfied with your life?

Many people in the world, irrespective of age, gender or social status, live with some kind of suffering. They seem to carry the weight of world on their shoulders. Yet the normal life span is no more than 100 years. So what causes them to live their lives in the shadow of such suffering? I’d like to talk about some of the ways in which people suffer and how they bring that suffering upon themselves without even realizing it. What follows is a careful analysis of suffering based on a journey into people’s minds.

People generally speak of several types of suffering. First, there are those who suffer because of the wrongs they believe they have endured and their regrets about the past. These are people preoccupied with the past. They fail to realize that all that remains of the past is a memory, so they live under the delusion that what happened to them in the past is happening right now. Like a video recording, their memories replay in their heads over and over again. To rid themselves of this delusion, they need to look deep into their minds and observe that the past remains in the past.  Then they will realize that what happened in the past is no longer happening in the present. By letting go of the past, they can free themselves of suffering.

The second type of suffering is caused by worry and a feeling of uneasiness. This type of suffering is caused by an attachment to the future. Instead of thinking about today, these individuals only think about things that will happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or even 10 years from now, as if these events were happening now and could be dealt with at this moment. They are worried and troubled by their thoughts. When feelings of worry, anxiety, impatience or uneasiness arise, we need to look into our minds to find the root cause.

We are tormented when our minds become fixated on the past and we worry when our minds become fixated on the future. It is our minds that create these feelings of impatience, unrest and so on with thoughts such as, “What will happen tomorrow? The day after? In the future?”

By letting go of their preoccupation with the past or the future, people can free themselves from suffering. We often think that external factors are the main cause of our suffering. However, you can easily find two people who react very differently to the same situation.  This means that external factors are not the deciding factor in determining our suffering. Both those who are tormented over the past and those who are worried about the future are people who think too much. In this instance, thinking means becoming fixated on some distant moment in time or preoccupied over something that may or may not happen in the future. There is a Buddhist saying, “Stay awake to the present moment and let go of thoughts about both the past and the future.”

The third type of suffering belongs to those who get angry and irritated. They are fixated on the thought or idea that they are right. They are always lost in such thoughts as, “Things have to be done this way or that way” or “This is the right way or that is the right way.” When we are fixated on our ideas nothing in the world can satisfy us. The natural outcome of this is to get angry and irritated by everything around us.

The fourth kind of suffering is loneliness, which arises when we feel empty, lonely or alone.  Its root cause is dependency. But if we study this feeling of dependence more closely, we will come to realize that there is nothing to depend on because everything changes.

Therefore, we shouldn’t rely on the past or the future. Suffering arises at the very moment we become attached to something. When we cultivate our minds so that we don’t allow ourselves to become attached to anything but instead always focus on the present moment, our suffering will disappear and the problems in our lives will fade away naturally. Our lives will then flow as smoothly as the water in a river. If we can realize this principle, we won’t have to travel to the top of some mountain to cultivate our minds. We won’t need to read countless books or learn various breathing techniques. If we can realize this one principle of always focusing on the present moment, we will have nothing to worry about in our lives.

Some people will complain that they aren’t able to rid themselves of their suffering even though they follow the teachings. They fail because they don’t follow the teachings correctly. Suffering will certainly disappear if we don’t cling to the past. Also, if we stop being preoccupied with the future, there is no need to worry or feel anxious about it. The mind filled with anger, hatred or irritation will become at ease when we let go of the thought that only our own ideas or points of view are right. Feelings of loneliness can arise easily, but we can free ourselves of them by clearly observing that such feelings arise from dependency and let go of it. At the very moment we realize and acknowledge, “Ah, I am preoccupied with…,” the suffering vanishes.

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