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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Remember, Things Change

The "Four Noble Truths" are the core of the Buddha's teaching. The first of these is widely misunderstood, largely due to a confusing translation.

"Life is suffering" is how we usually hear it. But "suffering" isn't quite right.

One of my great teachers, Dr. Kottegoda Warnasuriya, put it all into perspective for us. He said that a better term would be the clear-but-nonexistent word "unsatisfactoriness."

At the root of this is another central Buddhist teaching, that of impermanence. Things change. Clearly, most of the time, things are not as we want them to be. Then, once we get things just how we want them, they change. So even when we "win," the win will become unsatisfactory in short order.

A further problem is "attachment": even if things aren't perfect, we get used to them, and resist change. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, where (as the newspapers these days will attest) tradition is strong. Here's a joke about it:

Q: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?

A: The whole congregation. One to change it, and the rest to talk about how much better the old bulb was.

Don't be that way. Learn to accept the change that is a necessary part of life.

You may not be able to eliminate all suffering, but you will be happier.

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