Jewish Journal


by Michelle Azar

March 21, 2014 | 2:47 pm

I remember the first time I heard the Buddhist philosophy that suffering is caused by desire. It kinda blew my mind.

It is just so simple and specific, and true. If we did not want anything, what could really cause any discomfort?

The principle of dukkha, the Sanskrit word that most encompasses our definition of suffering, is one of the most important concepts in the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha said, “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.” Well, at least someone said this is what he said.

It seems to me in this day and age, with all the many how to books, the workshops on HOW TO BE HAPPIER, and yoga teachers like me out there espousing cleanses and postures as paths toward joy, that Buddha knew his stuff. He came up with a doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, in which the Truth of Dukkha is identified as the first of the four truths.  To the Buddha the entire teaching is just the understanding of dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of all phenomenal existence, and the understanding of the way out of this unsatisfactoriness.

I go to the sitting groups at Insight LA (https://www.insightla.org) whenever I can. I am always amazed by how many sit there in chronic pain, and I wonder about the nature of this suffering. Is my day just silly good in comparison to the person’s next to me whose can barely sit from pain? The Buddha wrote about Dukkha for all of us, those who are sitting in big ole houses with refrigerators filled with food, and those who sit alone on the streets searching out their next meal. He formulated his thoughts on discontent for the elderly and the young, the crippled and the able alike. For the mother and the child, the teacher and the student, for the celebrity and the olympic winner, and for all the others in pursuit of their dream. For all people walk, sometimes hobble, along, going through their samsara, their unique repeating cycle of birth, life and death.

As a parent, I am aware of this dance around suffering anew. I see how truly mindful I must be, as often as possible, to check in with whatever my own suffering might be that day, over whatever injustice I think I am being served, over whatever ailment I might be experiencing and look it over from a place of non attachment. Or at least, less. I am not my pain and it is not me kind of thing. From this place, I can help my dear daughters navigate theirs better. Of course, the obvious things: the sugar cereal that remains on the supermarket shelf rather than ours. The pain of being left out at yard time. The loss of a friend, or a bad mark on a test.  The discomfort that comes when the reality of a situation is less than the hype before. Or the pain that leaves a scar when the loved ones just did not understand you in the moment you needed them. These are the spots of dukkha that I see as the deepest road blocks, and the best moments for teaching. And constant learning.

I wish a weekend of perhaps more peaceful struggle to you and your loved ones today, for as my dear friend and student Jayne sent out yesterday,

“Just because it isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome.”

M.R. Mathias, The Sword and the Dragon          (follow her! http://travelwellflysafe.com)



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Michelle fell in love with the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, the system of Hatha Yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, some 13 years ago while doing a play in San Francisco. Having...

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