Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Terrible Twins

The Buddha taught that there are eight basic experiences in the world: gain and loss, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace. He termed these existential opposite states the "terrible twins," and he identified these states as the natural condition of life.

If this is true, then it could be that the twins themselves are not the real problem with being alive, in the same way that old age, sickness, and death, while natural and unavoidable states of being, are not the problem.

The problem, as the Buddha saw it, is in how we relate to these states of being. For example, if we cling to the pleasant experiences and try to avoid the painful ones, eventually we will suffer when the pleasant experience ends. This is true for all the twins and it is true for all life experiences. Eventually, everything will change, and if we cling to that which changes, we will suffer. Clinging to changing things results in what Joseph Goldstein calls "rope burn."

The way out of this state of suffering is, of course, to abandon the origins of it. In other words, to stop clinging. This means adopting a posture of radical acceptance toward "what is" in this moment. You can start cultivating this posture in your own life with something small that you have difficulty tolerating. When you rub up against the unpleasantness of this experience, know that you are suffering in that moment, and imagine the tight fist of grasping opening and softening.

Remember, too, that acceptance does not mean that we are condoning any harmful behavior on anyone's part. It simply means that we are going to stop fighting against this moment by fighting against what is.

It takes practice to begin to make this posture of radical acceptance a more automatic response to the world. But even if we are only able to successfully deploy this strategy toward a few percent of the many experiences of loss, pain, blame, and disgrace, then we will have reduced our suffering immensely.



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