Today is the first day of the conference on “Journey of Life and Mind” organized by the Thousand Stars Foundation. We are fortunate that Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche has agreed to come to stay with us for a month in Thailand, despite his very busy schedule. Rinpoche will undertake several activities with us. Details can be found in the blog of the Foundation.
Rinpoche talked about “Traveling in Samsara” today. The main theme is on suffering, which is the reason why we are now traveling around in samsara. The main thing that he emphasized was that suffering is nothing ultimately real. For those who suffer the suffering that they undergo seems very real and palpable. The pain we are having when we have a toothache, for example, is as real as anything can be; the mental anguish caused loss of a loved one is also very real. So how could Rinpoche say that they are not real?
To say that our sufferings are not real is the same thing as saying that the whole of samsara is our own making. This is something Buddhists in Thailand are not familiar with. In fact the teaching is also there in Theravada, but it’s not emphasized. To many Buddhists samsara is a real thing, as real as mountains and lakes. But ultimately speaking even mountains and lakes are not real, since they are composed out many other components and do not stay the same. Samsara means that we are wondering around in one life form to another, but the ‘we’ that are wondering do not exist, because we are also composed of many components. What we experience as samsara do not ultimately exist either.
Samsara seems to exist for us because we are fundamentally ignorant. This is a key concept. Ignorance is the root cause of the whole thing that makes going round and round in samsara possible. It is not that we lack knowledge; it is more like we mistake something for another, just as we mistake a rope for a snake. Things are fundamentally empty in nature, but we normally take them to be real. That is why they affect us, causing suffering. So suffering exists because of causes and conditions. Without these suffering ceases to exist. Without suffering there is no samsara.
After all this is the Buddha’s very basic teaching for all Buddhists – the Four Noble Truths. There is suffering – this is a bare fact of experience for all of us. There is also the cause of suffering, which is ignorance. There is also the total cessation of suffering – the complete antidote to the first Nobel Truth, and there is also a way toward the total cessation.
The thing is: Without samsara, there is nothing but nirvana. In a way the two are diametrically opposite. Nirvana is just the absence of samsara, and vice versa. But since everything depends on causes and conditions, the two are ultimately speaking essentially one and the same. Without any cause of suffering there is no cause or conditions for samsara. Samsara then becomes nirvana.