Four Steps to Avoid Suffering

Many people suppose that it is impossible to avoid suffering, as it is an inherent aspect of life on earth. Their strategies for dealing with suffering may vary, but they all believe that suffering is inevitable.

When we consider, therefore, the idea of avoiding suffering, we are either met with a large degree of skepticism about the possibility, or else, with imaginary ideas about what this entails. People think that one can be rich, respected, have everything the heart desires, live in a perfect circumstance and there would not be suffering. Eventually they find out that these external circumstances do not, in fact, eliminate suffering at all. As the Buddha pointed out in his 4 noble truths, suffering is attached to life in the body, through illness, frustrated desire, old age and death.

What sages and seers have discovered, however, is that, while it is not possible to avoid the fate of the body in life, and all forms of external suffering which attend the bodily life, it is possible to remove the subjective suffering. This comes from tuning and aligning the mind and heart to the larger reality that is not attached to the ego-personality and the desire-soul that is never satisfied.

Eventually the sages have pointed out that the focus of the mind and thought, the filter we apply and the affinities we accept, create the psychological reality we experience. The example of the ‘evil mind’ found in the Dhammapada is illustrative. This is not a ‘moral judgment’ but rather a statement of the focus of the mind on forces and actions that bring about an increase in distress or suffering, for oneself or others, as everyone participates as parts of the universal manifestation. When one engages in greed, lust, envy, jealousy or any of the other deformations of the mind, suffering ensues. Focusing on harmony, good will, compassion and other forms of manifestation of love and unification bring about peace, calm and a mind that need not suffer regardless of the outer circumstances to which one is subjected.

In the book Commentaries on the Dhammapada, The Mother provides insight into a number of verses from this classical Buddhist text. The Dhammapada states: “If a man speaks or acts with an evil mind, suffering follows him as the wheel follows the hoof of the bullock that pulls the cart.”

The Mother comments: “That is to say, ordinary human life, such as it is in the present world, is ruled by the mind; therefore the most important thing is to control one’s mind; so we shall follow a graded or ‘conjugate’ discipline, to use the Dhammapada’s expression, in order to develop and control our minds. … There are four movements which are usually consecutive, but which in the end may be simultaneous: to observe one’s thoughts is the first, to watch over one’s thoughts is the second, to control one’s thoughts is the third and to master one’s thoughts is the fourth. To observe, to watch over, to control, to master. All that to get rid of an evil mind, for we are told that the man who acts or speaks with an evil mind is followed by suffering as closely as the wheel follows the hoof of the bullock that ploughs or draws the cart.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Unruly and Perturbing Thoughts, pp. 35-43

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