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Dukkha vs Suffering

Commonly interpreted as "Life is Suffering," it took me awhile to agree with this first noble truth. Although introduced to it at a young age, it was several years before I experienced enough ups and downs to agree that while there is certainly joy, there is also regular sorrow. A lot of time would have been saved, had I read this passage first, instead of being told the abbreviated version:

Dukkha, then, names the pain that to some degree colors all finite existence. The word's constructive implications come to light when we discover that it was used in Pali to refer to wheels whose axles were off center or bones that had slipped from their sockets. (A modern metaphor might be a shopping cart we try to steer from the wrong end.) The exact meaning of the First Noble Truth is this: Life (in the condition it has got itself into) is dislocated. Something has gone wrong. It is out of joint. As its pivot is not true, friction (interpersonal conflict) is excessive, movement (creativity) is blocked, and it hurts.

It isn't so much that life is suffering, but rather that we suffer because life is off center. Reading onto the next page, the book explains why life goes off center so frequently:

The Buddha taught that what we usually think of as our "self" is actually an ever-changing product of five co-conditioning components (skandhas), namely, body, sensations, perceptions, dispositional tendencies, and consciousness. Because they themselves are instinctively but ignorantly grasping for a center, a "self" that is not there, they themselves are unsatisfying. "The five groups of grasping are themselves dukkha,"says the Buddha.

We feel off kilter because haven't got a real kilter to stand on in the first place. What may be "your center" one moment, may be something completely different the next. However, there is some continuity that leads us to recall who we were and plan who we will be. Scientists have been trying to find the root of the assumed identity:

The medial prefrontal cortex could be continuously stitching together a sense of who we are. Debra A. Gusnard of Washington University and her co-workers have investigated what occurs in the brain when it is at rest - that is, not engaged in any particular task. It turns out that the medial prefrontal cortex becomes more active at rest than during many kinds of thinking.
 "Most of the time we daydream - we think about something that happened to us or what we think about other people. All this involves self-reflection,"Heatherton says.

Little Christian kids think they have it bad - worrying about going to hell and all. Ha! Little Buddhist kids worry about the fact that they don't exist.

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