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    The Root of Unhappiness

    June 2007 | Filed under General Interest

    The Buddha taught that the root of unhappiness lies in the fact that nothing is permanent, and everything changes. Comparison also leads to unhappiness.

    We all KNOW this very simple premise… nothing lasts forever… yet we tend to carry on as though everything lasts forever - until death do us part. A mistaken belief in permanence. Perhaps because that while we are happy, if FEELS as though our happiness can last forever, so when we lose whatever it was that made us feel happy, whatever we have grown attached to, we experience the pain of loss. Change is a given fact of life, so we try to hold onto things (and people) thatare near and dear to us.

    Impermanence is the second characteristic of life. The third is the nonexistence or absence of an unchanging, independent, ego-self. Some refer to the ego-self as "soul." The Buddha believed that this ego-self is a product of various conditions that have temporarily come together, and interact for as long as we are in the physical. The ego-self emerges as a defense mechanism to help us cope with the lack of control we have over our lives… or over anything, for that matter. As an example, when we experience the pain of loss, we entrench ourselves behind the protection of our ego-minds…. as some sort of vain attempt to ward off the pain and discomfort. Of course, this leads to greater attachment and even more possibilities for more pain, suffering, and frustration.

    Buddhism teaches that there are three main methods that the ego-mind adopts in regards to desperate measures:
    1. Aversion - the desire to either shut out the apparent threat, or destroy it.
    2. Control - control through attachment; by engulfing the situation with our wishes and desires… as if we actually have control over the situation and able to force the outcome to go in our favor.
    3. Ignore - ignore it, and it will go away… we pretend it is not happening in the vain hope that it will somehow vanish of its own accord.

    All three of these strategies are considered to be negative emotions in Buddhism, and they generate a whole list of subsidiary emotions, such as jealousy, anger, resentment and greed… to name a few.

    Enter Karma . . .
    These negative emotions are the catalyst for our actions, and are often preceded by a particular intention… which we may, or may not, be fully aware of. Our actions are charged with emotional energy, which means that the effects stretch well beyond the immediate results, or consequences. And because of this, any action has an effect that goes beyond ourselves while at the same time enters our minds. If the situation is a positive experience, all is well and good.

    The energy that enters our minds will be released at some point in the future, when circumstances trigger off further experiences that reflect the energy pattern of the original motivation. Buddhist scriptures depict this process in detail. Regardless of the specifics of an experience, negative motivations and actions lead to painful experiences. The appropriate circumstances for enlightenment usually fail to present themselves during our present lifetime, thus we are subject to rebirth, reincarnation, until the negative energy inside us has been exhausted.

    With that said, in our ordinary, mundane, day to day lives, we tend to create more and more negative energy (with our thoughts and actions), so the process never ends. And this is the meaning of Karma, which is unlike the Western concept wherein Karma is a system of rewards and punishments.

    Is there a cure…. a way to stop the cycle?
    Just as a physician examines a patient, diagnoses the condition, then prescribes a course of treatment, the Buddha did much the same when the taught a set of four observations about human conditions - the Four Noble Truths.

    First: the sickness - life is filled with suffering and unhappiness.
    Second: the cause of suffering - attachment and comparison.
    Third: the good news - the condition is curable.
    Fourth: the treatment - the Eightfold path, which details the areas of our lives
    where we can make changes, and how we should do this:
    1. Right understanding
    2. Right purpose
    3. Right speech
    4. Right conduct
    5. Right livelihood
    6. Right effort
    7. Right alertness
    8. Right meditative concentration.

    These eight elements are practiced concurrently rather than as a consecutive sequence. The Eightfold path eliminates negative emotions, and thus brings the cycle of continual rebirth to an end… Enlightenment.

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