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It is NOT "to be free FROM any of them!"

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Causality, Interdependence, Impermanence and Suffering


Causality is quite a complex notion and when it comes down to it, it is hard to conclusively know exactly what causes what uniquely – it might even be impossible.
The internal and external complexities of things, entities, conditions and circumstances are so great that the best we can do is to say that everything influences everything else and that every one thing is influenced by every other thing – a kind of complex dance of mutuality and reciprocity between all things simple and complex.
In light of current scientific understanding of relativity, quantum mechanics and quantum statistics as well as current philosophical discoveries based on the above, this is probably the final wisdom we can end up with. (It is also a very ancient wisdom, as we will see later.)

The relationship between causation and suffering
We live in a world in which there is much human suffering, and in regards to that suffering we often hear the questions: "Why?" or "Why me?"
Those questions invite us to look into causes, but rather than investigating causes, it may be better to first look at what causality actually is.
Currently, in advanced scientific studies and discoveries, while assigning labels as to what are the causes and what are the effects in certain processes, these labels are often considered interchangeable.

When we take a historical look at how causality or causation was understood, we will find that in the early history of human thinking, the interpretation of causality was quite different from how we tend to deal with it now. Early on causation was understood to be less linear. At some point in time, time was consciously discovered, but all too soon a flawed understanding of how time operated (e.g. the assumption that time runs one way) altered the understanding of causality.

It can be demonstrated how and why this flaw in understanding was being taken advantage of by certain early humans and how it became ill applied when some humans began using it for their own benefit to create inequality, dependency and subservience.

With the statement above, have we arrived at the root of human suffering?

Humans began to suffer when humankind lost sight of the wisdom hinted at in the opening paragraph of this section on causality.
It can be found how the mistaken understanding of causality and the ill-intended application of the flawed concepts that were distilled from that incomplete and fallacious understanding, eventually created hierarchical structures that benefited greatly from the subservience that the installation of suffering created and maintained. This means of course that when we discover where we failed in our understanding of causality, and when we eventually come to return to that place of aforementioned wisdom, that we should be able to break ourselves out of suffering's hold. Or does that seem too big an expectation?
Some might think so.
After all, some may say that if sages like the Buddha already told us that life is suffering, how can there be a chance to overcome it?
If life is suffering, don’t we have to bear the consequences of life by suffering it? 

Is life suffering?

Actually, did the Buddha say that fundamentally life is suffering? How can that be when he strongly indicated:
“All conditioned things in the world are changeable. 
They are not permanent. 
Work hard to regain your freedom .”
that there is a way to break out of the vicious cycle of suffering – the wheel of karma?
Obviously, if that can be done, it is because suffering is not a fundamental and intrinsic characteristic of life. (Unless of course the Buddha also said that the way out of suffering is to stop living… but that is something he definitely did not say.)
What could he have said, if it was not that life is suffering?  

Transience, change and interdependency

The Buddha’s most important observation was that the main characteristic of ALL things is their transience or anitya, meaning that the elemental state of all things – their aggregate state or skandha – is impermanent (consider water: it can be liquid, solid or gaseous) and that this impermanence is complexly relative as it is based on inter-dependent causes.
We do not have the Buddha’s direct words on this, they have all come down to us in commentaries on his life and teachings, but the following may well be the closest to a complete understanding of his insight:

All appearances – from the subtlest to the grossest – are mutually and reciprocally related, each appearance affecting and being affected by any other appearance, hence their changeability or impermanence: their transient nature. 

Or, as said in the second paragraph of this article, a complex dance of mutuality and reciprocity between simple and complex entities. Hmm...?
Could it be a joyful dance?
A dance?
We shall see.

All appearances in this dance – from the finest to the coarsest – are mutually and reciprocally related, each appearance affecting and being affected by any other appearance, hence their dynamic state. As such, each unique detailed appearance with its particular characteristics carries within it – and dynamically so – all influences from all "entities at large." Each unique appearance is therefore also "inhabited" by the characteristics of anything at large, be it in sharper or less sharp resolutions depending on relative and always changing distances.
The Buddha’s insights are probably best represented in Nagarjuna's teachings of Pratitya-Samutpada, or "Dependent Origination," which poses that causality is an interdependent multi-dimensional dynamic in the nature of all existence. It must have been something like that, what the Buddha said…, not that life was fundamentally suffering.  

The distinction between pain and suffering

But what is suffering then if it is not life, and also – as this is very much related – what is suffering in distinction from pain?
There is a great difference between suffering and physical pain. Not all physical pain is accompanied by mental or emotional suffering and not all mental or emotional suffering is directly accompanied by physical pain.
Suffering is a mentally and/or emotionally charged overlay on top of physical pain that is experienced or... that can be threatened to be experienced.
When the mentally or emotionally charged overlay of suffering disappears, the underlying physical pain may not disappear, but when this happens certain chemical processes that take place in the brain can make physical pain, if not disappear, then at least become more bearable.
Suffering is based on a treatment model, according to which someone’s life can be hijacked through repeated threats that can cause their life to be stymied, frozen, halted or taken away prematurely and conclusively. The initial treatment is usually followed by additional threats of prolonged physical pain if certain conditions are not followed up on.
When looked at carefully, one will always find that in the life stories of those who are undergoing such treatment (and thus suffering), that in addition to their possible experiences of pain, severe or not, that invariably there have been episodes in their lives during which ploys occurred that attempted to usurp their personal authenticity and freedom.
If pain is physical, where does suffering take place?
Life appears as suffering in the recesses of the human mind as well as in the emotional constrictions around the inner core of those who suffer suffering. 

Threats as attempts to cause subservience

Someone who imperils someone else’s life with suffering (a power monger, a victimizer or a perpetrator of abuse), always uses an example – an acted out threat – as a fear instilling example, and employs additional threatened threats to consolidate the initially instilled fear as a strategy to claim power over the victim. It is a strategy that also installs or increases self-doubt in the victim in order to weaken his or her capability to consider escape and to even prevent the thought of a possible reclamation of personal freedom. 

Suffering is not part of life. Suffering is about the threat to be parted from life. 

An important part of suffering is that it can be described as:  
the acceptance of an assumed validity of a persistent feeling, that a threat to have one's life prematurely halted or seriously stymied by someone, is not only just hanging above a victim's head, but also physically feels like it is executed continuously.
This suffering then, is brought about by external interruptive agents – fellow human beings indeed, but those who with manipulative intent strategize their threats in such a way as to create dependency and servitude. The threats are suggestively being made to feel more real than the obviousness and evidence of reality itself, thus they lodge themselves in the minds of the perpetrator's victims as though they are already a fact or can be a fact any moment.

Illusion and suffering

It is the acceptance of this pseudo-reality as reality that the Buddha calls illusion or maya.
The Buddha is not saying that life is illusion or maya, or that life is suffering or dukkha. He is saying that the threats to life's continuity are illusion and the root of suffering.
What should be clear from this is that suffering is strictly a human affair. The strategies and maneuvers that bring about human suffering do not exist in the inanimate world nor will one find them in the world of flora and fauna, except perhaps in that part of the animal world that has been dealt the same illusive manipulations that suffering humans treat each other with.

The view that I'm offering that "suffering is strictly a human affair" is not at all the view of most followers and students of the Buddha’s wisdom. The consensus view is that dukkha or suffering (or any translation that expresses stress or un-satisfactoriness) is part and parcel of existence – all existence. The consensus view is that impermanence and transience (anitya), animate or inanimate, is the basis of suffering and that therefore – as it is correctly held that in existence everything changes – suffering is characteristic of all existence.
But that is not what the Buddha said. Even in his last words he did not include a reference to suffering as related to non-permanence or transience. 

“This is my last advice to you. All conditioned things in the world are changeable. They are not permanent. Work hard to regain your freedom (moksha).” 

Transience, changeability and freedom

The quotation above certainly sounds like the Buddha means that change, impermanence or transience include the freedom and latitude to make that transience and change possible. Change is intrinsic to life and... the source of its innate freedom!
It is this changeability that enables freedom, meaning that those who were made to believe to have lost their freedom, that they can recover and reclaim it.
What if the Buddha meant, that rather than holding on to a stiff or frozen status quo, that with the unconditional acceptance of transience, impermanence, change, flexibility, etc., that the law of causality (1), guarantees unfettered freedom for all humans? That could be reason enough for the joyful dance alluded to before!
Sentences like the following are often encountered in oriental "wisdom" writings: "The refusal to accept transitoriness as the cause of suffering brings more suffering." This line is usually read to mean that impermanence or change is the cause of suffering, but as you may now have seen, it is actually the refusal to accept change as bona fide that causes suffering. Suffering is always characterized by the fact that it includes attempts to alleviate itself. The operative word in that sentence though is not "alleviate" but "attempts."
The problem with attempts is that in spite of their promise, they are fruitless. If not, they would not be called attempts, would they? It is the fruitlessness of attempts combined with a compulsive drivenness to keep attempting that is the illusive part of the emotional experience of suffering. 

Attempts to resist change or impermanence are the cause of suffering. 
Accepting change and impermanence halts suffering. 

The reality of life with its built-in changeability caused by mutual and reciprocal interdependence cannot be avoided - one can only mentally attempt to avoid it or mentally be coerced to attempt to avoid it.
This mental attempt or coercion to attempt avoidance of change is what characterizes suffering. It is not for nothing that the attemptive "tries" lead to the trials of suffering. The reason that suffering can be called illusion is because "trying attempts" are no more than "make believe" mental efforts. The impermanent world is seen as uninviting when:
  • impermanence is wrongly explained as something ending to the point of annihilation or death,
  • life is only seen as something that can come abruptly to a halt,
  • one wants to hold on to the status quo by all means,
  • life is mistakenly seen as lacking opportunities for change,
  • the adage, "It’s all to no avail." is pessimistically uttered,
  • "Everything changes and everything stays the same!" is seriously believed.
The impermanent world of transitoriness and change can again be experienced as a positive dynamic, a characteristic of freedom in a freely moving universe. The boxes, closets, cells and doors can open as there are always transformative cycles to life that help humankind to carry on where it seemingly left off when the fallacy and illusions of interrupting the world through isolation and a freezing grip on freedom became the strategy of the abusers of power.

Freedom or moksha

When the resistance to change disappears, freedom – a free will guided by a free mind – restores the world of change and interdependence and... suffering dissolves. For the person who has been experiencing suffering, it will also – and that is the miracle – halt the world of resistance, stop the stopping, and help him or her to move forward again in a world of change, mobility, progress and evolution. 

(1) The way the Buddha's follower Nagarjuna understands it in his doctrine of Pratitya-Samutpada or Interdependent Origination.


Julie Brown comments:
This is a bit complex for me. I understand what you are saying, I think. Will I remember & integrate it? I want to. It's so unusual, this concept of fluidity. When I think of suffering, I think of losing someone close to me, grief. That is a fear I try to ignore. I don't think a lot of physical pain. I ignore my fear of that as well. Most other suffering I view as a lesson to be learned or experience to help me grow spiritually & emotionally. This is very thought provoking. I also read your most recent post about reincarnation.

21 February, 2010

Budd comments:
Wim, can you tell me more about how you know about the threats in most storys of people who suffer. You seem to have nailed it on the head.

31 March, 2011

Hi Budd, I purposely set aside a number of years in my life to live life the way "suffering people" tend to live life... meaning of course... to get lived by it.
It was quite a daring experiment as I foresaw that by the end of those years (it took 14 years) that I myself would end up pretty well destroyed mentally, physically and spiritually... it was close.

A very important part of the experiment (it was actually the main reason for it) was to prove a theory that I had developed that we humans possess an emotional, mental and spiritual self-healing mechanism (comparable to our physical self-healing system, e.g. the way broken bones heal, or the way wounds heal themselves).
I also wanted to find out how and when that self-healing process would kick in and how it would unfold. I suspected that that self-healing system would be what in the Orient goes by the name of Kundalini.

The only difference between my experiment and a "normal life of suffering" was that I stayed quite aware of what was happening while at the same time I had to make sure that I would not interfere.
In the end Kundalini did indeed kick in - with a vengeance I should say.

I observed and learned so much... and thus all my subsequent writings are based on those 14 years.

Altogether it was of course more complex than the way I am describing it here in a few words. Part of the Kundalini experience was also that I started to retrieve age-old memories from the human experience of thousands of years ago (up to 16000 years back) which enabled me to trace when, how and why negative manipulation was used to cause dependency, servility and thus human suffering.

31 March, 2011

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