To fully recognise suffering
is to fully begin the path
to fully transcend suffering.
The practice here is to meditate on the three expressions of suffering and to experience their nature. The Buddha said there is one word that can describe the meaning of suffering, and that is fear. Fear is what suffering means. But what is this fear? It is the fear of losing something that is pleasant, something that is very dear and beloved, something to which you have become attached. It is also the fear of gaining something that is unpleasant that you don’t want. Overall, you always get what you don’t want, and you don’t get what you really want. Therefore, we have three levels of suffering, which we call the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasive suffering.
All pervasive suffering is the fundamental fear that exists whether we are happy or down. All of our feelings are pervaded by this fundamental fear, which is why it is called all-pervasive suffering. It’s compared in traditional Buddhist literature to developing a fatal disease that has not fully ripened. You haven’t really experienced it yet, but its presence is there all of the time, growing every minute. That kind of fundamental situation is known as all-pervasive suffering.
The traditional metaphor for the suffering of change is a very delicious cookie baked with poison. When you eat that cookie, it’s very pleasurable – but it is deadly poisonous. In order to show that more dramatically, Shantideva, in the Bodhicharyavatara, said the suffering of change is like honey on a razor blade. When we lick this honey, it’s very sweet, and because of our desire and attachment, we want more and more all the time. With our poverty mentality, we lick the honey harder each time we experience its sweetness, and the harder we lick the honey, the deeper we cut our tongue on the razor blade. So the suffering or change is experienced initially as a pleasurable, pleasing feeling, but it leads us to suffering.
The suffering of change leads us to the suffering of suffering, which is the most obvious level of suffering. This simply means that, in addition to our fundamental fear, we accumulate further sufferings, one on top of the other. For example, after experiencing the delicious honey, we notice that we have cut off our tongue. When we notice that our tongue is gone, not only do we feel the pain of our wound, we also realize we won’t be able to taste the sweetness of the honey again in this lifetime.
As we work with and examine the three levels of experience – pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral – we can see they are related with the three sufferings. Pleasurable feelings are connected to the suffering of change, unpleasant feelings connected to the suffering of suffering, and the neutral state of mind is connected to fundamental suffering, all-pervasive suffering. So mindfulness of feeling is being totally watchful and present with every level of fear. This is the mindfulness of feeling from the perspective of the general Buddhist approach.
The Infinite Dot Called Mind
The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche