Sunday, January 3, 2010


The word "dukkha," in the Pali language (as spoken by the Buddha), has many meanings. Often it is merely considered to mean "suffering." There are subtleties to this word, however, that merit deeper investigation.

Dukkha also means "unsatisfactoriness." It implies that nothing that we can experience is capable of bringing us permanent satisfaction and happiness. Jack Kornfield tells of the time he asked a group of people if anyone there had ever experienced anything that was truly lasting. Even though it was a rhetorical question, a student raised his hand. "I've had one," he said. "Ignorance. It's lasted all my life."

Another subtle meaning of dukkha is "off-centered," like the hub of a wheel that off its center. Imagine that you are riding in an oxcart, a common conveyance at the time of the Buddha. It would not have been a pleasant ride to begin with. Instead of a set of new Michelins, the wheels were made of rough hewn wood. Since the wheelwright's state-of-the art did not include independent suspension, the ride would have been pretty rough, even on the best of roads.

Now imagine how the ride would be if the axle hub of one of the wheels was off-centered. You would be humping and jerking along mercilessly. This is the effect of dukkha: it produces a very jarring experience. Writer Beverly Nelson Elder suggests that the sound that an off-centered wooden wheel makes as it bounces along would indeed be "dukkha, dukkha, dukkha, dukkha..."

When we experience this kind of difficult passage in our lives, we can always stop our cart and center our hub. Stopping means being still for a while and allowing the suffering to be known as much as possible. Re-centering means noticing how the mind is creating thoughts that are adding to the bumpiness of our journey, and then disengaging from those thoughts by coming back to the reality of the present moment. The road of life is often uneven and unpaved, and adding to this arduous trip with thoughts that have nothing to do with the facts of a situation only creates a more jolting ride.
At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. ~ Lao Tzu

No comments:

Post a Comment