The Breath-Our Friend When Dealing With Suffering

The Breath-Our Friend When Dealing With Suffering

Excerpt from “The Bright Tunnel” by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“Those who don’t discern suffering.” It sounds strange. We all know that there’s suffering in life. The problem is that we don’t really look at it. We try to run away, we try to cover it up—anything not to have to deal with it. As a result, it keeps hounding us. No matter where we go, there it is, right at our heels.

There comes a point where you have to turn around and face it: This is suffering, right here, right now. But if you try to look at it without any tools, without any skills, though, it can seem overwhelming.

This is why we have the path of practice. You work on the precepts so that when you come to the issue of suffering, you don’t carry around a lot of guilt, a lot of denial. These two things really get in the way. If there’s guilt there may be a feeling that, “Maybe I deserve to suffer.” If there’s denial, then there’s the feeling, “This suffering is unjust, it shouldn’t be happening.” Or you just cover it up, pretending that it isn’t happening. Either way you don’t really get to the root of the problem. You don’t understand it.

If you try to understand it without any concentration, it’s hard to maintain your focus. At the same time, it’s hard to maintain a sense of not being threatened by the suffering. This is why we work at developing our concentration, because concentration involves not only a focus but also a sense of wellbeing with your focus. You stay with the breath, get to know the breath, be friends with the breath. This is important. Many times, when we’re working with a meditation object and things don’t seem to be going well, the meditation object seems to become our enemy. If that’s your attitude, you’ll never be able to settle down with it.

Realize that the breath is your friend. It’s what’s keeping you alive. If you get to know it, you find it has all sorts of other good qualities, other than maintaining mere survival. It can create a sense of ease, a sense of wellbeing, here in the present moment. You breathe in and feel full throughout the body; you breathe out and feel relaxed throughout the whole body.

There’s a sense of energy and well-being that comes when you get to know the breath and learn to deal with it properly. When the sense of ease, energy, and well-being is solid, you can turn your attention to the issue of suffering. Learn how to discern suffering. Where is it? How is it happening?

The Buddha says, basically, that it comes down to what he calls the five clinging aggregates. There’s form affected by clinging, feeling affected by clinging, perceptions, thought fabrications, consciousness, all of which are affected by clinging. The clinging is what turns them into suffering. The clinging is what tries to wring a happiness out of them that they simply don’t have to offer.


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

One Response to “The Breath-Our Friend When Dealing With Suffering”

  1. I love budha

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