Conversations with Buddha: 84,000 ways to suffer

©FrogDiva Photography

As I sat at my desk this morning, hands wrapped around a deliciously strong cup of coffee, I stared in horror at the calendar. Friday. What?! I blinked on Monday morning and suddenly it is Friday already? Geez. Is it the ageing process that suddenly makes time pass faster? Let me rewind a bit and go back to last Sunday because it meant a lot to me.

As I sat at my desk this morning, hands wrapped around a deliciously strong cup of coffee, I stared in horror at the calendar. Friday. What?! I blinked on Monday morning and suddenly it is Friday already? Geez. Is it the ageing process that suddenly makes time pass faster or simply having far too much on my plate at the moment? Let me rewind to last Sunday…

My dear neighbour invited to tag along to a Buddhist Meditation Center in lieu of our planned cup of tea on the balcony. There was a lot going on at the Center that weekend, she said, so it might be worth checking out the activities. It was a great pleasure to step into the hallowed halls of RIGPA Berlin and I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I was meant to be there, that destiny had led me to that spot for a particular reason. Many years ago, what seems to be two lifetimes ago now, I was very active with the Tibetan community and the Tiben Parliament in Exile, which provided the opportunity to visit Dharamsala a couple of times, and even witness one of the opening of Parliament ceremonies as a photographer on assignment.

The Center was a flurry of activity, with various talks going on, in addition to the usual meditation sessions and the people who enjoy visiting the vegan / vegetarian cafe and quaint little gift shop. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, which allowed us to enjoy our tea al fresco in the courtyard. By 5:00pm we entered one of the halls to listen to a talk about suffering. Wow, another strange coincidence of the place as well. After having undergone the paradigm shift of readjusting to Thai Buddhism while living in Thailand, it was as if I stepped through a portal that transported me back to the Tibetans in Dharamsala and the teachings of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.

The speaker, whose name I failed to note, was in her element and was clearly not somebody who had simply acquired all her knowledge from the academe. She knew South Asia well, and was well versed in both eastern and western practices and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, with an uncanny ability to provide cultural translations as well, which is the Waterloo of many. According to the precepts of Tibetan Buddhism, there are two kinds of suffering, natural and man-made, for lack of a better word. The natural sufferings, such as birth and death, cannot be changed or prevented, but all 84000 manifestations of man-made sufferings can.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The number is not something she pulled out of a hat, but are part and parcel of the teachings on suffering that manifest themselves in the smallest and simplest of forms to the greatest and most complex ones. Either way, there are four key steps to navigate through this plethora of suffering:

  1. Identify it or give it a name
  2. Name the source or cause
  3. What can you do about it, or ways of dealing with the problem
  4. Let go

It sounds easy doesn’t it? I thought it was just a load of mumbo jumbo until we were asked to do an exercise and identify just one problem. It is fascinating how liberating it can be to simply identify the problem with precision and giving it a voice. There is a difference between voicing out your problem and giving it a voice: the former is left unsolved and unstructured, as if you just threw additional garbage into the universe. Giving your problem a voice, however, means giving it a life and handling it in a manner that you will work together to achieve a status of being able to invite the Buddhist serenity in before letting go.

Ah, therein lies the problem. Letting go. Many of us get so used to suffering and addicted to all the things and people that complicate our lives that we are afraid to imagine a life without them. Yes, it is scary, but it is also a surefire way of killing your soul. There is no need to have all 84000 or even the inevitable 21000 of them in your life if you can learn to give problems a voice, identify the ways to solve the situation, and become a stronger and more peaceful person in doing so.

That one hour inside the hall was a game changer for me. I walked out feeling as though I was ready to shed some baggage and kick some universal suffering ass. And just as well, because the next day was riddled with disappointments and frustrations.

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