Issue 11: Autumn


Written by Francis Checkley

The existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre once observed that "L’Enfer, c'est les autres". Hell is others. This otherness is suffering. Early childhood experience, marked by an oceanic and blissful feeling of oneness soon gives way to a growing sense of separation and the accompanying suffering that Sartre alludes to.

We are then progressively conditioned into a construct of reality whereby we identify more and more with our senses and consciousness until we become convinced of a fixed, separate and unchanging self. And so arises the black hole of worldly mind, forever dissatisfied, perpetually judging and speaking ill of others, always seeking and clinging onto whatever might allay our fears of loneliness, and desperation that we may never find our sense of belonging, our true home.

And so we take refuge in the Three Treasures. In Buddha as the Perfect Teacher, in Dharma as the Perfect Teaching and in Sangha as the Perfect Life. But how, we might ask, is Sangha the Perfect Life? Partly I think because in the growing intimacy of Sangha, our deeply cherished sense of self more readily manifests. All of our personal dogma, tightly held convictions, stereotypes, judgemental attitudes, prejudices, become available for study.

To be with Sangha friends in meetings is to come face to face with a whole array of world views, of methodically and precise social constructs that even the gentlest of probing, gives rise to anxiety. Anxiety because we begin to realise how precarious and ultimately indefensible our "take" on reality is. And without practice and at least a minimum of insight, it is a "take" we will defend with all our reserves of ingenuity and cunning, even to the point of attacking those who, by their mere presence, question our "truth".

The question for us is to what extent we can remain relaxed with our personal and collective suffering and how forms of non-violent communication might facilitate a non-threatening spaciousness in our lives. For many of us, even after years of sitting practice, it can be quite humbling to witness the fear and anxiety underpinning our veneer of tranquility. And it is with great sadness that we see the part we play in the creation of our own and each others suffering.

Maybe because of our continuous turning away, sometimes in the most subtle and devious means of avoidance, we fail to recognise the Noble Truth of Suffering, the truth which is ultimately liberating.

With deep bows, Francis.


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