Suffering and Meditation – Pengying Sun

“If we don’t grasp hold of the snake, it won’t bite us. If we don’t grasp onto the moods, the feelings, the thoughts, they won’t bite us.” I would like to use these two sentences from Ajahn Jayasaro’s book Seen in Their True Light to start my discussion about achieving mindfulness and the cessation of sufferings through meditation, at least in my understanding of the Buddha’s teaching.

Growing up in a Buddhist household, I have seen my father practicing meditation, but I did not know the sense of deep peacefulness that could come with meditation until I practiced myself. I received formal ordination as a Buddhist when I was 15 years old. Since then, I have attended multiple meditation retreats in Buddhist monasteries in China and Thailand and keep pursuing my passion for the teachings of the Buddha’s Dharma (what the Buddha proclaims is the universal truth common to all individuals at all times). Buddha put great emphasis on the practice of meditation as the vehicle to achieve enlightenment.

There are two types of peacefulness that can be achieved through meditation–one is the peace that comes through samādhi (a Pali word connoting unification of mind and mental stability), the other is the peace that comes through paññā (wisdom) which consists in “seeing things as they are,” that is, observing the anicca (impermanent), dukkha (unsatisfactory), and not-self nature (anattā) nature of all conditioned phenomena. Anattā is the idea that humans have no soul or self because nothing is permanent and people are subject to anicca because of dukkha. The Buddha clarifies further: we experience dukkha because we are “separated from things we like, exposed to things we dislike, [and don’t] get the things we want,” along with other sources of suffering like birth, death, decay, and human disease.

These ideas always hit my heart and never fail to enlighten me. As brutal and pessimistic as this all may sound, it is nonetheless the reality of human nature. People go through emotional and physical pain because we are attached to many different things, including people, material possessions, and feelings. When we lose these things, we suffer. If we understand and accept the impermanent nature of things, we become closer to enlightenment. 

What does enlightenment look like? Whether you experience the pleasant or unpleasant, you will remain at ease and your mind will remain peaceful in this way. You will no longer feel disturbed by the sound of traffic or other noises. Whether it’s forms, sounds, or whatever, they won’t be a source of disturbance, because the mind won’t be paying attention to them. Let me give you an example. Growing up, I was often distracted and annoyed by surrounding noise when trying to study. My father has always been my role model, and whenever I have questions in life, I turn to him for insights. He told me it was not the environment that was affecting me but my response to the environment that disturbed me. Having tried this myself, I learned that if the mind is agitated in this way, try taking an extra-deep breath until the lungs are completely full, and then release all the air until there is none left inside. Do this several times, then reestablish awareness and continue to develop concentration, no matter whether you are trying to focus on meditation or other activities. This method of achieving peacefulness is helpful as it can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

In my practice, it’s also important to maintain mindfulness and awareness. It shouldn’t be limited to the time when you practice meditation in the sitting posture. After you get up from the formal sitting practice and go about your business – walking, doing chores, and so on – make the mind firm and steady and maintain this sense of steadiness at all times. Just going for a walk and seeing dead leaves on the ground will be a great opportunity to contemplate impermanence. Both we and the leaves are the same: when we get old, we shrivel up and die. This is raising the mind to the level of vipassanā, contemplating the truth of the way things are, the whole time. Once there’s clear comprehension of the way things truly are, the conditions which give rise to the Path (composed of three elements–virtue, samādhi, wisdom) may occur. When they have attained full strength, the Path of Dharma will become unstoppable, and this is the point where suffering ceases.


10 thoughts on “Suffering and Meditation – Pengying Sun”

  1. Hey Pengying,
    I really like the way you started and ended this post. I even stopped myself a few times while reading this to take a couple big deep breaths when you mentioned it. I really like the way you describe the idea of finding peace and I think all of us could use a little bit of it sometimes. Clearing the mind is very important in many aspects to me whether it be doing homework or getting ready for a race, and this post was very informative to me in that sense. I also really liked how straightforward this piece was at some points and think that there are many important pieces of information to take from this. A part of this post reminded me of something my grandma used to say to me about the way we react to things that we find annoying or things that disturb our peace and I was able to make a great connection. What does the meditation that you mention consist of and how it is practiced? Also, Is it an everyday thing that you do?

  2. Hello Pengying! What a wonderful post! Throughout your post I found so many similarities between Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It is interesting to see that some of the basic Hindu and Buddhist ideals are similar. Your analogy about dead leaves and life was meaningful. To add to that, I would say (from a Hindu perspective) that although individual leaves fall and die the source of life, the tree always remains. In Hinduism, we believe that although we die the source of everything, the creator, the Bramhan will always be there. Overall, a great post and you managed to encompass difficult ideas into easy language. Looking forward to learning more from you!

  3. Buddhism has always interested me as a lot of practitioners appear peaceful. I also find it useful to take deep breathes when feeling overwhelmed. Especially during exams, I will take a few seconds to breathe after a challenging problem. This was a really nice Blog post.

  4. Hi Pengying! Thank you so much for your incredible journal post. Having little knowledge of Buddhism, the way you tie your personal practice in with the traditional meaning and terminology is fascinating. The stories from your practice made it much easier to comprehend. I love that you acknowledge that the perspective might seem more harsh, but that when you get down to it, that is what we should really focus on in life. Thank you again for sharing!

  5. Hey Pingying. Thanks so much for sharing. I always find it really interesting to learn about Buddhism because there is so much in common spiritually with Judaism. There are Jewish practices becoming common such as meditations and breathing exercises that come from Buddhism, and I’d love to learn more about those practices from you.

  6. Pengying,
    I have some familiarity with Buddhism, but seeing it through your experience, how it offers your peace and concentration, was so amazing. I really admire the fact that this is a practice you are always immersed and aware of; the example of the leaves was really powerful. I enjoyed learning from and reading your post!

  7. Hi Pengying,
    This is a great blog post, thank you so much for your thorough explanation of each term you described. I really resonated with the fact that you can practice mindfulness outside of meditation, the common setting most people attribute to this state of mind. Though this is important, often our busy lifestyles do not allow for dedicated time to do so. I am still trying to learn how to do this as I navigate problems in my life as it often seems easier said than done!

  8. I few years ago I took a class with John D. Dunne on mindfulness. In that class I gained some tools to help me meditate and help unify the mind and mental stability as you mentioned. During that semester, great challenges arose in my life and I believe I would have been in a much worse place if I had not learned strategies to let go of my feelings–to embody impermanence. Thank you, Pengying, for sharing your experience in this post and during our Tuesday meeting because it has given me a new perspective of Buddhist practice and is inspiring me to reflect on how I process my emotions and how I perceive the world.

  9. Hi Pengying! Thank you for sharing this very interesting post! As I was reading it, I could draw similarities between Buddhism and Sikhism. As I have been trying to deepen my understanding of Sikh philosophy, I’ve learned that we also believe in the idea that everything is this world is impermanent and attaching ourselves to the impermanent things in life will only cause us suffering. In fact, one of the five vices in Sikhism is moh, or attachment. Each of our daily prayers constantly remind of us the impermanence of life and in order to attain bliss we must not attach ourselves to the impermanent aspects of life. We have to train ourselves to think that nothing actually belongs to us and that we don’t actually own anything. We have been given this life and everything in our lives by God. Our loved ones don’t belong to us. Our possessions don’t belong to us. Our own lives technically don’t belong to us either. We have to remind ourselves of this because if we don’t we will suffer. I’m glad you shared some ways you maintain mindfulness and awareness of impermanence. Personally, I seem to only be mindful of impermanence while I pray but I need to continue to remind myself at times other than praying. Your post has helped me consider ways I can maintain mindfulness all the time, so thank you!!!

  10. Hi Pengying, I really enjoyed your blog post and its focus on the details of Buddhist thought. I greatly enjoy hearing about the complex, or beautifully simple ideas underlying the practices of systems of belief, and you did a wonderful job of describing some of those underlying principles of Buddhism as well as how they affect you in your daily life. What your dad said about how your response to your environment is what’s important reminded me of Stoicism, a school of philosophy devoted to that same principle: we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control the view we take on it and how we respond. I was really happy to see this idea come up in your discussion of Buddhism, and I think it’s amazing that this way of thinking was developed separately at two different places and periods in time.

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