The Joy Hidden in Sorrow
Reflections by Ajahn Medhanandi
“When Marpa, the great Tibetan meditation master and teacher of Milarepa, lost his son he wept bitterly. One of his pupils came up to him and asked: ‘Master, why are you weeping? You teach us that death is an illusion.’And Marpa said: ‘Death is an illusion. And the death of a child is an even greater illusion.’
But what Marpa was able to show his disciple was that while he could understand the truth about the conditioned nature of everything and the emptiness of forms, he could still be a human being. He could feel what he was feeling; he could open to his grief. He could be completely present to feel that loss.And he could weep openly.
There is nothing incongruous about feeling our feelings, touching our pain, and, at the same time understanding the truth of the way things are. Pain is pain; grief is grief; loss is loss — we can accept those things. Suffering is what we add onto them when we push away, when we say, ‘No, I can’t.’
Today, while I was reading the names of my grandparents who were murdered, together with my aunts and uncles and their children, during World War II — their naked bodies thrown into giant pits — these images suddenly overwhelmed me with a grief that I didn’t know was there.
I felt a choking pressure, unable to breathe. As the tears ran down my cheeks, I began to recollect, bringing awareness to the physical experience, and to breathe into this painful memory, allowing it to be. It’s not a failure to feel these things. It’s not a punishment. It is part of life; it’s part of this human journey.
So the difference between pain and suffering is the difference between freedom and bondage. If we’re able to be with our pain, then we can accept, investigate and heal. But if it’s not okay to grieve, to be angry, or to feel frightened or lonely then it’s not okay to look at what we are feeling, and it’s not okay to hold it in our hearts and to find our peace with it.When we can’t feel what must be felt, when we resist or try to run from life, then we are enslaved.Where we cling is where we suffer, but when we simply feel the naked pain on its own, our suffering dies…That’s the death we need to die.
Through ignorance, through our inability to see Dhamma, to see things as they really are, we create so many prisons. We are unable to be awake, to feel true loving-kindness for ourselves, or even to love the person sitting next to us. If we can’t open our hearts to the deepest wounds, if we can’t cross the abyss the mind has created through its ignorance, selfishness, greed, and hatred, then we are incapable of loving, of realising our true potential.We remain unable to finish the business of this life.”
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