Diagnosis of suffering

20 05 2017

The world is full of suffering. Each one of us perpetually move from one or more problems to others. When one problem or form of suffering ends, the other springs up, seemingly from nowhere. The first noble truth of Buddha acknowledges this reality of existence. Despite the reality of pleasures, it is the suffering that precedes or follows pleasures and seems to occupy a major portion of one’s conscious life. The diagnosis of this pervasive suffering as proclaimed by the second noble truth of Buddha is our desire and attachment for worldly pleasures. Our craving and clinging towards myriad pleasures is at the root of all misery, asserts Buddha. I can relate to this fact and experience it all the time.  Sometimes my desire to seek validation results in me putting too much effort into something making me stressful and ultimately miserable despite my material success. My desire and attachment towards nice clothes, accessories or other material things, even though gives me a transient euphoria upon accumulation and perusal of them, puts me on a hedonic treadmill and often leaves me unsatisfied and craving for more. This aligns with the essence of Buddha’s teachings that the “pursuit of pleasure can only continue what is ultimately an unquenchable thirst”. (Basics of Buddhism. http://www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm).

However, when I think deeper about different forms of suffering, the Buddha’s diagnosis of suffering seems to beg a deeper understanding. There are other kinds of unpleasantness in life besides acute suffering, like getting frustrated, annoyed, and irritated by someone or something that doesn’t fall in line with our expectations. As we judge others based on our opinions and perceptions, we experience negativity. This intolerance is also a cause of lot of rift in our day to day life.

But when we question these emotions, we may come to a conclusion that it’s our ego and attachment towards things and pleasures that drive our underlying expectations. But it’s not always clear to me, to fathom the root cause – desire, attachment, craving – behind all of my unpleasant experiences. For example, when I get irritated by an impatient driver cutting in front of me, it is a form of suffering if I dwell on it and allow it to affect my composure. When I really think about why it affects me, it’s not entirely evident as to what desire or craving resulted in this misery. In this regard, I’m not entirely sure about the comprehensiveness of Buddha’s diagnosis of suffering.

Poverty and other forms of lack of basic needs (including social and belongingness needs), also cause lot of suffering for mankind. It is difficult to understand how this form of suffering can be a result of one’s craving. Even more difficult is to comprehend how it is possible to be detached at this level and transcend these basic needs.

Despite these misgivings on my part, I believe in the second noble truth because when I imagine myself curbing my cravings and desires, I can sense the promise of feeling lightness and freedom from my many sufferings. In order to comprehend these not so obvious forms of suffering and their root causes, we need to understand the true nature of suffering or “dukkha”, which simply means absence of happiness. Since happiness and pleasure are associated with impermanence, the absence of them aka dukkha is the only reality of life. And ego-desires are the cause of most human suffering. However, suffering is only an approximate translation of dukkha, which in facts encapsulates the misery of mankind in a more comprehensive way. In this regard, Buddhism promotes a state of mental well-being that can be achieved by accepting and rising above this suffering. Understanding and acknowledging the diagnosis of dukkha is a key step in this journey.  (The Buddhist Concept of Life, Suffering and Death, and Related Bioethical Issues. Pinit Ratanakul. Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 141-146.)





The Buddhist diagnosis

17 05 2017

The world is full of suffering. Each one of us perpetually move from one or more problems to others. When one problem or form of suffering ends, the other springs up, seemingly from nowhere. The first noble truth of Buddha acknowledges this reality of existence. Despite the reality of pleasures, it is the suffering that precedes or follows pleasures and seems to occupy a major portion of one’s conscious life. The diagnosis of this pervasive suffering as proclaimed by the second noble truth of Buddha is our desire and attachment for worldly pleasures. Our craving and clinging towards myriad pleasures is at the root of all misery, asserts Buddha. I can relate to this fact and experience it all the time.  Often my desire to seek validation results in me putting too much effort into anything I do making me stressful and ultimately miserable despite my material success. My desire and attachment towards nice clothes, accessories or other material things, even though gives me a transient euphoria upon accumulation and perusal of them, puts me on a hedonic treadmill and often leaves me unsatisfied and craving for more. This aligns with the essence of Buddha’s teachings that the “pursuit of pleasure can only continue what is ultimately an unquenchable thirst”. (Basics of Buddhism. http://www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm).

However, when I think deeper about different forms of suffering, the Buddha’s diagnosis of suffering seems to beg a deeper understanding. There are other kinds of unpleasantness in life besides acute suffering, like getting frustrated, annoyed, and irritated by someone or something that doesn’t fall in line with our expectations. As we judge others based on our opinions and perceptions, we experience negativity. This intolerance is also a cause of lot of rift in our day to day life.

But when we question these emotions, we may come to a conclusion that it’s our ego and attachment towards things and pleasures that drive our underlying expectations. But it’s not always clear to me, to fathom the root cause – desire, attachment, craving – behind all of my unpleasant experiences. For example, when I get irritated by an impatient driver cutting in front of me, it is a form of suffering if I dwell on it and allow it to affect my composure. When I really think about why it affects me, it’s not entirely evident as to what desire or craving resulted in this misery. In this regard, I’m not entirely sure about the comprehensiveness of Buddha’s diagnosis of suffering.

Poverty and other forms of lack of basic needs (including social and belonging-ness needs), also cause lot of suffering for mankind. It is difficult to understand how this form of suffering can be a result of one’s craving. Even more difficult is to comprehend how it is possible to be detached at this level and transcend these basic needs.

Despite these misgivings on my part, I believe in the second noble truth because when I imagine myself curbing my cravings and desires, I can sense the promise of feeling lightness and freedom from my many sufferings. In order to comprehend these not so obvious forms of suffering and their root causes, we need to understand the true nature of suffering or “dukkha“, which simply means absence of happiness. Since happiness and pleasure are associated with impermanence, the absence of them aka dukkha is the only reality of life. And ego-desires are the cause of most human suffering. However, suffering is only an approximate translation of dukkha, which in fact encapsulates the misery of mankind in a more comprehensive way. Dukkha can be interpreted as a form on pervasive unsatisfactoriness. In this regard, Buddhism promotes a state of mental well-being that can be achieved by accepting and rising above this suffering. Understanding and acknowledging the diagnosis of dukkha is a key step in this journey.  (The Buddhist Concept of Life, Suffering and Death, and Related Bioethical Issues. Pinit Ratanakul. Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 141-146.)

Disclaimer: This writeup is my submission for an assignment as part of Buddhism and Modern Psychology MOOC on Coursera. 

Four noble truths





Digital dump

20 03 2017

We are in a data explosion era. No surprise there. Unprecedented amount of data is being captured virtually about everything everywhere. Each day we are leaving a detailed digital footprint across the web and through several other applications and connections. Apart from the Internet, myriad gadgets and software applications, each one of us is also accumulating huge amounts of personal data. It’s all over. Filling the hard drives of the multiple computers we work with, storage on smartphones and tablets, and cloud storage services like Google Drive, One Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, Box etc. Not to mention external hard drives and pen drives.

The moment of truth finally struck me as yet another of my cloud storage accounts has reached its limit and refrained me from editing. I could have paid for increasing the storage space, but that’s not the point here. I have several online accounts that I leverage for cloud storage and almost all of them are full – with pictures, videos, documents, and music. Lots of them. And it never seems to end. This hoarding.  I periodically take backups of the contents of my laptop and store them in an external hard drive. I’m not sure how much of it is repeated and how many times. I collect articles, documents, books, my personal projects forever in progress, learning material, notes and many more. And all this outside of what’s in my email inboxes.

Why keep it all in the first place?  Preserving history. You never know what part of your past you might want to look at in future for reminiscing or what part of your past might hold a key to your present or future problems. Or so we rationalize. Storage is cheap. So, we store. Almost everything. Creating a huge digital dump.

Do I always know what all I already have? Not really. Oftentimes I can’t even remember the number of accounts and storage devices I have, let alone the contents of each. Even if I remember that I had something stored safely, often I can’t find or get to it efficiently. This is not just a simple “organization” issue. Though of course, it helps. The sheer scale of the data one gathers makes any attempt of periodically cataloging and maintaining the data dumps appear insurmountable. Even more so because cleaning up and organizing stuff is perhaps one of the least appealing tasks one can do. (Please note that here here I’m speaking more of myself than anyone else 🙂 ) Especially because one has to do it regularly to maintain.

When I started thinking about digital hoarding, I immediately saw that the minimalist approach that we (some of us) try to apply to our physical possessions can be extended to even these virtual possessions.  With physical objects, you can at least get a sense of magnitude by virtue of the physical space they occupy, the amount of money you expend on accumulating them, and the resulting impact on quality of life. But with digital hoarding, it’s difficult to get the head around the extent of your possessions beyond a point. And the fact that the costs are minimum doesn’t help either.

But one may argue that if the costs are minor, why bother. Valid point. But I believe that there are hidden costs. Most of the data just lays there, dormant, waiting, and completely ignored. Passwords forgotten and accounts seldom logged in, DVDs/CDs gathering dust etc. If all that data could think, it might have had some serious existential questions. 😛 . This massive amount of digital data – where does it eventually go? What happens to it? If it’s in the cloud, privacy is definitely a concern. As for the physical storage devices, they create clutter and have some of the downsides of other physical possessions; harder to maintain and difficult to find and retrieve information.

Of course, as with physical possessions, it would be very difficult to let go of your digital history. Especially, pictures. But do you really need all of those tens of thousands of pictures? Anyways, one has to start somewhere while pruning. The easiest task would be to eliminate duplicates. Then tackle obsolete notes and documents. Movies and old music that you seldom peruse can be next. Consolidating, grouping, and labeling help a lot to bring structure to your digital universe.

It’s not about the quantity, but the quality. My guess is that when you tackle the former, the latter will emerge by itself. When you have low inventory, finding stuff and maintenance will be more efficient. There is definitely hope. I hereby avow to embark on the journey to transform my personal digital footprint (at least what’s under my control).





Women’s Day

8 03 2017

Today is International Women’s Day. To be truthful, I have little knowledge of what exactly that signifies. I can speculate and draw inferences though from other “Days”.

We have Mother’s day, Father’s day and Valentines’ Day. On those days we express our gratitude and appreciation for those special people in our lives. Usually there is one each. One mother, one father, and one valentine (hopefully). On a side note, I don’t understand why kids in US exchange valentines’ day cards and treats in school. To be truthful, given my Asian heritage, even the concept of Mother’s day and Father’s Day sounded very absurd at first. I see it as a distinctly western concept. But I eventually came to realize the purpose of it. The culture has spread everywhere. I reckon there is also Grandparents’ Day. And many others I would imagine.

And then we have other types of days – Earth Day, Aids day etc.. These actually represent a cause, are intended to raise awareness, and propel people to take some kind of action. For example, save energy on Earth day by switching off electricity for an hour.

So, what kind of day is “Women’s Day”? Who should celebrate it? Who should be celebrated? Should men celebrate the women in their lives or  should everyone, irrespective of their gender, express their appreciation for women in their lives? All women? Special women? Should women celebrate themselves? For what? For being women? Why? All I observe around is the hullabaloo in the media and women wishing each other or taking time out to chill out. Our men are generally quiet. 🙂 I would think women’s day belongs to the latter category – the one that represents a cause, rather than the former – a celebration of the subject in consideration.

I figured from a rudimentary web search that my hunch is indeed right . International Women’s Day is not the celebration of women themselves but rather of their achievements. It calls for gender parity. For centuries women had been underprivileged and it’s only recently that they have started penetrating and making strides in all possible spheres – economic, cultural, social, political etc.

I don’t mean to discount the women or the day. I just want to highlight that it’s important to truly understand the significance of the moment and feel the spirit of the day, not just be taken for a ride by commercialism, media, and just wishes.

I hope every woman pauses today for a moment to cherish and take inspiration from all the achievements of herself and other women around her. I hope everyone else take a moment to acknowledge the women’s progress so far and the journey ahead to achieve true gender parity.

Kudos to all the wonderful woman achievers. A couple of mentions here off the top of my head:

  • Just finished listening to Angela Duckworth’s Grit this morning. I appreciate her contribution, as a research scientist, to the body of knowledge. Her work on passion and perseverance is influential.
  • I should mention that I work for a company led by a woman. I appreciate and draw inspiration from all the wonderful women who are part of the organization.

Happy Women’s Day! 🙂





Wardrobe routine

22 02 2017

One day: Wow, look at all these amazing pieces of clothing and accessories I have. I can wear this or this or that one today. Looks like I have a whole range of stuff to wear for days coming. I don’t have to shop for at least a few years. I have more than enough. I feel blessed!

Another day: What can I wear today: to suit my mood, weather, depending on level and nature of social interaction anticipated during the day, to go with the new set of accessories I absolutely have to wear today, something I haven’t donned on in at least the last 2 weeks, a different color and style from the ones I wore over the past few days, …. This wardrobe is useless. I can’t find anything suitable. Damn!

 





Awesomeness

17 02 2017

Awesome. An overused word. Perhaps one of the most.

I read/heard somewhere a long time ago that using “awesome” a little too much is a sure sign of one’s lame vocabulary. It need not and shouldn’t be used as a one-size-fits-all adjective to describe anything positive. The message is  – fight the urge to use it everywhere, get a grip and summon up the appropriate adjective from the depths of your vocabulary pool instead. It totally makes sense. But time and again I find myself lapsing and using the “a” word too much.

So, what can we use instead? In my opinion, adjectives are the most beautiful words in any language. The English language provides us with plethora of adjectives for all occasions. I know old habits die hard! But there’s hope. So, let’s start small.

To appreciate someone’s work:

  • Good/Great job
  • Excellent
  • Brilliant
  • Impressive
  • Outstanding

To admire nature/beauty:

  • Beautiful (simple, isn’t it?)
  • Stunning
  • Breathtaking
  • Splendid
  • Lovely

Expressing awe:

  • Awe-struck
  • Mind blowing
  • Magnificent
  • Wonderful
  • Fantastic

So, what about “awesome”? It’s a real word. isn’t it? What’s the appropriate use of it? It means “something that inspires awe”. So, it has its legitimate use. But, maybe, just to compensate its overuse all around, let me use its other synonyms instead for a while. 😛 ( I actually need the solemn looking hand over chin thinking emoji here! )





Free fall

13 02 2017

Skydiving was something that I never even envisioned myself trying. The first time I’ve seen some pictures of people appeared to be floating in the sky ( of course they weren’t floating, but falling. Fast. ) with bulky parachute bags on their backs, I couldn’t believe that it could be a sport. And then years later, I have had my friends/acquaintances tried it with tandem and saw their videos. It didn’t seem like such a far-fetching and impossible proposition at all.

So, one day I decided to try it and included it in my bucket list. So far so good. When I first mentioned my intention to my husband, he looked at me as if I was crazy, like I said I’m going to commit suicide or something. Ha! Anyways, years passed and the moment finally came when I just went ahead booked an appointment.

How did I feel about it before? I suspected that I would have that falling down to death feeling (sometimes experienced in dreams). And I was a little nervous about that. I read through others’ experiences and prepared as much as I could.

What freaked me out the most was signing the waiver form. It lists all the possible ways that things can go wrong, be it the fault of the tandem instructor or the equipment or just about anything under the sun, absolving everyone involved from lawsuits by the jumper, or most likely his/her survivors. I’m sure anyone who reads it all, word by word, would definitely panic.

It was a cold and cloudy January day. The waiting area was freezing. Ours was the final jump for the day, promising nice views of the sunset.

The prep was reassuring and then we all are in the flight. I (+ my instructor. We are a single unit by now) was the second one to jump. Seeing the person before me tumble out of the door was a little unnerving.

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Moments later my turn came and my instructor pushed us into the oblivion. Within a few seconds we were stabilized. The first thing that struck me was how windy it was. Strong cold wind blowing in my face.

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In the brief 15 seconds of free fall that followed, I was surprised to realize that I didn’t feel any death threat. It was ok. Once the parachute was on, it was super fun. Time to enjoy the views.

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That definitely was a unique experience. Will I do it again? Umm..while I wouldn’t pursue it again in anyway, if an opportunity comes up or situation demands ( 😉 ) or my craziness strikes me again , maybe. Who knows! The only thing that’s sure is that I wouldn’t take it up as a sport. I’m too risk averse and conventional to do so. 😛