How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

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How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Leafy » Thu Nov 03, 2011 4:51 am

A few years ago, I saw something horrible and terrifying happen to a member of my family, and as a result became painfully aware that I am not and will never be safe, and that horrible things can happen to anybody at any time. Sort of an unpleasant, throw-you-into-the-deep-end crash course in impermanence...

Since then, I have been almost constantly consumed with fear of horrible things happening. Psychologists try to treat this by convincing you that bad things won't happen to you, which really doesn't help once you've seen first-hand that horrible things can happen to anyone. I have noticed that Buddhism seems to teach the opposite of what psychologists try to do -- psychologists try to rebuild the wall of denial that makes you feel safe, whereas Buddhists seem to work at tearing down the wall and fully accepting impermanence. Since years of therapy have done nothing to help me (I think that wall is too smashed to fix), I am ready to try the other approach. (My doctor knows and is OK with this).

...so how do you face and accept impermanence without ending up completely terrified? It's not death/non-existence that I'm afraid of... it's those other, worse-than-death things that can strike out-of-the-blue and leave someone suffering so much they wish they were dead... how do Buddhists handle being constantly aware that this could happen to any of us at any time, and yet *not* be constantly terrified?
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Ben » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:00 am

Leafy wrote:Psychologists try to treat this by convincing you that bad things won't happen to you...

psychologists try to rebuild the wall of denial that makes you feel safe


That is just wrong.
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby robertk » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:07 am

Its because there is no self , there are only fleeting moments that don't belong to anyone.
Its like making a pile of rubbish and watching it burn, no one feels bad about that.
In the same way the khandhas are not self, they just arise and cease.

What is fearful is the fact that they keep arising, endlessly. But even that is not a worry if/when anatta is known to some/any degree.
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Ben » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:16 am

Leafy wrote:...so how do you face and accept impermanence without ending up completely terrified? It's not death/non-existence that I'm afraid of... it's those other, worse-than-death things that can strike out-of-the-blue and leave someone suffering so much they wish they were dead... how do Buddhists handle being constantly aware that this could happen to any of us at any time, and yet *not* be constantly terrified?


One observes impermanence of a meditation object and through constant thorough understanding of impermanence on an atomistic level (of experience), one begins to realize that impermanence is an impersonal characteristic of all phenomena. With a deepening level of awareness one can also see previously overwhelming and compounded mental contents such as fear with a degree of equanimity that dissipates their sway.
As one matures one develops equanimity which becomes an anchor during the vicisitudes of life.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Leafy » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:24 am

Ben wrote:
Leafy wrote:Psychologists try to treat this by convincing you that bad things won't happen to you...

psychologists try to rebuild the wall of denial that makes you feel safe


That is just wrong.


It is what I have experienced, with multiple therapists. They're fine with talking about the past and how you feel about it, but then when you move on to practical things like "OK, I know horrible things can happen to anyone at any time, how do I handle knowing this?" they tend to end up with something that boils down to "well, they probably won't happen to you, so try not to think about them". Maybe there are some therapists out there with a better approach, but I have yet to meet one.

Edit: Oops... I just realized "That is just wrong" probably referred to the therapists' approach, not to what I said... sorry I misinterpreted your reply, and thank you for your other reply too. :-)
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Ben » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:40 am

I think you will find, Leafy, a psychologist will help you to come to terms with your fear through strategies such as CBT. Perhaps what the psychologist attempted to do is to put whatever happend to your family member into context and that the probability of a similar event happening to you is less than you believe it to be. Perhaps you might find it worthwhile having a chat with your psychologist and asking the question what he or she is doing is helping you. This, I think, will allay your concerns regarding psychological therapy.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Ben » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:47 am

The fact is, Leafy, bad stuff happens and it happens all the time. But the probability of being hit by a truck or a stray bullet or whatever is fairly small for most of us. If we are terrified of what could happen to us, we wouldn't leave the house. And if this is occuring then its appropriate that you are getting treatment. In the words of Frank Herbert, author of Dune, fear is the mind killer.
By all means continue with your treatment with your psychologist. Take an active interest in your treatment but at the same time you may wish to investigate Buddhist practice. Practicing sila (morality: five precepts) and developing samadhi (concentration/self mastery) and panna (wisdom/insight).
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Leafy » Thu Nov 03, 2011 6:09 am

Ben wrote:With a deepening level of awareness one can also see previously overwhelming and compounded mental contents such as fear with a degree of equanimity that dissipates their sway.


Thank you. I suspect it will be a while before I really understand that, but hearing it is giving me some hope. It makes sense that if Buddhists deliberately seek to be aware of potentially-scary concepts like impermanence, you also would have a way of dealing with emotions that arise... I look forward to learning more about Buddhism!
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Ben » Thu Nov 03, 2011 6:23 am

No worries. When you can, get yourself a copy of the classic "Heart of Buddhist Meditation" by Nyanaponika Thera and make yourself familiar with some of the foundation literature in the Discovering Theravada forum.
kind regards,

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby manas » Thu Nov 03, 2011 6:24 am

Leafy wrote:A few years ago, I saw something horrible and terrifying happen to a member of my family, and as a result became painfully aware that I am not and will never be safe, and that horrible things can happen to anybody at any time. Sort of an unpleasant, throw-you-into-the-deep-end crash course in impermanence...

Since then, I have been almost constantly consumed with fear of horrible things happening. Psychologists try to treat this by convincing you that bad things won't happen to you, which really doesn't help once you've seen first-hand that horrible things can happen to anyone. I have noticed that Buddhism seems to teach the opposite of what psychologists try to do -- psychologists try to rebuild the wall of denial that makes you feel safe, whereas Buddhists seem to work at tearing down the wall and fully accepting impermanence. Since years of therapy have done nothing to help me (I think that wall is too smashed to fix), I am ready to try the other approach. (My doctor knows and is OK with this).

...so how do you face and accept impermanence without ending up completely terrified? It's not death/non-existence that I'm afraid of... it's those other, worse-than-death things that can strike out-of-the-blue and leave someone suffering so much they wish they were dead... how do Buddhists handle being constantly aware that this could happen to any of us at any time, and yet *not* be constantly terrified?
Hi leafy.
I wish to tell a story if I may. When I was a young man growing up, I did not believe in rebirh, life after death, or any such thing. I truly believed that after physical death, 'that's it' and you are gone forever. I'm not exaggerating when I say, this thought used to keep me awake at night worrying. It just horrified me that I could cease to exist, totally. I could not drive the despair out of my mind. (Naturally, I wasn't thinking about this 24/7, but it would cross my mind regularly enough to be a problem).
I wrestled with it on and off for years, until one day i thought, 'how have others dealt with this problem?' And I reflected on every single person who had lived before me, and how they had all, without exception, ended up dying. They all died...so it would not make sense if I did not also go one day. It just wouldn't be 'fair'... I can't explain why, but I just suddenly accepted it: 'Well, that's just life, then. There's nothing I can do about it. Might as well stop worrying, then, and just enjoy however much time I have left.'

Now I'm not pretending that was particularly wise; it was more a survival strategy. Rethinking my relationship with life and reality, so that I could live more peacefully. So I now gently remind you, do you think there is any way that we can not all be subject to some risk in this life? Risk of accident, or injury? All embodied beings live with that risk daily, without exception. Would it be fair if you did not? I mean, check your windshield after a country drive...imagine how tough life is for insects! We've got it easy, by comparison to those poor guys...

I am gently reminding you of what you already know deep inside: find some acceptance. Life has risks. And yes, we just can't eliminate risk totally. Stay safe, and do the best you can, but try to be (a little) at peace with life as it is. At least, start practising! A bit of acceptance is better than none at all. Take it in stages. :smile:

Ok, so your rational mind is trying to be accepting, but the fear is still there. Where? Instead of running away from it, seek it out. Close your eyes. Find it in your body...is it in the solar plexus, or between your ears, or somewhere else? Wherever you feel it, become aware of the sensation...and recognize that it is just a feeling, it comes and goes - it is not you. Have you noticed that bad (and good, for that matter) feelings come, but also depart? None of them last forever. Next time you are beset by one, be aware of this truth. And more to the point - observe it...

I might also recommend some relaxing, breathing meditation to 'breathe away the stress'. It certainly helps me to...

take care,

m. :namaste:
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Fede » Thu Nov 03, 2011 6:36 am

I kid you not, but perhaps at some point you might like to consider volunteering in a Hospice for the terminally ill... it is an uplifting, rewarding and educational experience.
You are faced every day with those who have had to come to terms with their own mortality, and who know, for sure, that they are looking at a finite time of further existence..... and they are truly wondrous gentle teachers.
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby pegembara » Thu Nov 03, 2011 8:22 am

In Pali, there is a passage
“I am subject to aging…………………
I am subject to sickness…………………..
I am subject to death………”

Those verses are chanted daily by monks and wise lay people.
In reality, Sickness is normal…………………….Death is normal…………old age is normal………….. It is part and parcel of Life.

Society however acts as if these things are not normal! For everyone gets sick, everyone falls ill! We pretend that aging, sickness and death don’t have a right to be there. They get in the way of our lives, plans, expectations and so forth. We act as though they have no business to upset our lives forgetting that they are in fact very much PARTS OF OUR LIVES! With that attitude we will suffer a lot, because these things inevitably come. They inevitably come, simply because they are normal

The most important training we can do is to prepare the mind for the inevitable.

To take on the training that teaches us how to take on aging without suffering,
to take on sickness without suffering,
to take on death without suffering
is the way of a Noble Being.

The Buddha taught us the Truths of Life and some Truths can be "unpleasant".

The reason the Buddha has us look at death, old age, sickness is not to be morbid or to get depressed but to see they are realities that we face. The important thing is that we see them and be prepared for them.

And when we fall sick, we ask repeatedly "Why me!?" to which I always reply "Why NOT you!?"
What makes anyone of us think we can be immuned to sickness and aging?

And then there is death. What’s amazing is how we are surprised by these things when they happen. Much of this surprise comes from a society, popular culture, that tries to make us forget about the normalcy’s of old age, sickness, and death. Tries to convince us that we can some how hide from, or escape these realities.

Let us be sensible and avoid intoxication with youth, with health, and with life. To remember these things are temporary, and reflect on how we want to use this time effectively. Which is why monks, and lay people chant those phrases daily about their subjectivity to old age, sickness, and death.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby DarwidHalim » Thu Nov 03, 2011 8:27 am

Leafy wrote:...
how do Buddhists handle being constantly aware that this could happen to any of us at any time, and yet *not* be constantly terrified?


It is because of the understanding about reality, we finally free from sufferring.

We are free from suffering, not because we are avoiding that suffering, but because we understand that suffering.

If I quote Ajahn Bhram, he said:
"... you don't try to overcome suffering, you don't try to change it, you don't try to make it all better or escape from it; you understand it."

There is another buddhist master saying like this.
You think you are in trouble, but actually you are OK.

If someone cut our hand, we think we will be in trouble. This is suffering.

Is this really suffering?????

Learning buddhism will help us answer that question.
I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby manas » Thu Nov 03, 2011 10:47 am

Leafy wrote:A few years ago, I saw something horrible and terrifying happen to a member of my family...

Leafy, I just re-read that, and realized that most of us here have probably not seen what you saw that day...please accept my apologies if I seemed to underestimate the impact if must have had on you. If I had witnessed something as bad as (I'm imagining it) was, I would probably have what is called 'post traumatic stress disorder' (like returning armed servicemen often have)...maybe to heal from it, you need a combination of things; for example, your counsellor and some spiritual guidance and (I hope) a few supportive friends or family you can turn to. Sorry if I just threw philosophy at you too quickly...

:namaste:
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby santa100 » Thu Nov 03, 2011 4:50 pm

It's important to first recognize that fear and anxiety absolutely don't help. They will only worsen the situation. So, they're completely useless on a practical standpoint. If you constantly remind yourself of this fact then you could effectively control them when they pop up in your mind. Impermanence is a fact of life, so there's nothing we can do to stop it. However, one can take appropriate measures to lower the risk. Take car accident for an example. There're only 2 causes: either someone hits you, or you hits someone. While there's not much you could do to prevent the former, you can do something to avoid the latter, like not speeding, correct tire pressure, checking car brakes, etc..So, just by doing your homework, you've already gained control of 50% of the odds. Same idea apply to other potential mishaps. Last but not least, build up one's good kamma by observing precepts, giving donations, and various charity activities for you'll never know, there'll be time when you'll have to tap in to these reserved "merits"..
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Gena1480 » Fri Nov 04, 2011 2:38 am

you have to understand that your problem will go away
you fear is impermanent, it will not last
read protection suttas
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby nameless » Sat Nov 05, 2011 9:10 am

The psychologist Albert Ellis, I think in his book a guide to rational living (I don't have it with me so not 100% sure of the accuracy) says that anxiety is commonly caused by:

- overestimating the chances of something bad happening
I'm sorry for what happened to your family member, and I can't know what it's like to be in that situation. But if we look at your fear rationally, the reality is that something bad happened to a loved one, and it becomes very significant; but there all all the people who do not have such things happen to them that far outnumber the people that do. If you look at the number of incidents that actually happen in the world, the probability that some such thing will happen to you is small. Of course the POSSIBILITY is always there, it's just not very likely.

- in the event of the bad thing actually happening, overestimating the severity of the badness
It seems that the situation was severe, so maybe skip this in this particular situation. Just included it as it is applicable to other minor daily life things that might cause anxiety, in the sense that yes something I would prefer not to happen is likely to happen, but how bad is it really?

- in case it is really bad, underestimating your ability to deal with it

I suppose in summary:
Something bad happening is possible, but not very likely.
If it's likely, it might not be as bad as I imagine.
If it's as bad as I imagine, I might still be able to cope.

And I suppose well, if you can't cope, you can start worrying then, instead of worrying all the while until it happens and then worry more.
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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Nov 05, 2011 9:44 am

Greetings,

There's some interesting enough general advice and recommendation (which I've allowed to date, since it may be of benefit to the OP) but please remember this is the Discovering Theravada forum, so where possible, please try to make reference to Theravada teachings.

...how do Buddhists handle being constantly aware that this could happen to any of us at any time, and yet *not* be constantly terrified?

Thank you for your assistance.

:focus:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby Vepacitta » Sat Nov 05, 2011 2:05 pm

Ajahn Sumedho actually addresses these issues in many of his talks which are available on-line - free of charge. His talks on "The Four Noble Truths" go into suffering and impermanence - as it affects our daily lives - quite in depth. Actually, you could pick up almost any of the booklets which comprise his teachings and get a very sound, Theravadin Buddhist based approach to these problems that affect us humans in our daily lives.

Personally, when I went through a rough patch many years ago, Ven. Sumedho's teachings really helped me through.

Hope that wasn't too off-topic Retro - but I always recommend Ven Sumedho's teachings for people going through every-day issues - he's so down to earth and common sense - yet strict Thera.

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Re: How can you not fear impermanence and suffering?

Postby daverupa » Sat Nov 05, 2011 2:17 pm

Since this is the Discovery section, I'm not inclined to share personal anecdotes, but I do want you to know that these Suttas have been helpful for me, and tenderly considering them may be of benefit here.

The bolded portions are useful as mnemonic triggers for this content.

:heart:

Upajjhatthana Sutta - AN 5.57 wrote:
"There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?

"'I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.' This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

"'I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.' ...

"'I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.' ...

"'I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.' ...

"'I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.' ...

"These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

"Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect [on these five reflections]...

...

"Now, a disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not the only one...


Nakulapita Sutta - SN 22.1 wrote:
"So it is, householder. So it is. The body is afflicted, weak, & encumbered. For who, looking after this body, would claim even a moment of true health, except through sheer foolishness? So you should train yourself: 'Even though I may be afflicted in body, my mind will be unafflicted.' That is how you should train yourself."

...

[Sariputta:] "But why didn't it occur to you to question the Blessed One further: 'In what way is one afflicted in body & afflicted in mind? And in what way is one afflicted in body but unafflicted in mind?'

[Nakulapita:]"I would come from a long way away to hear the explication of these words in Ven. Sariputta's presence. It would be good if Ven. Sariputta himself would enlighten me as to their meaning."

[S:] "Then in that case, householder, listen & pay close attention. I will speak..."


Sedaka Sutta - SN 47.19 wrote:
..."Monks, a frame of reference is to be practiced with the thought, 'I'll watch after myself.' A frame of reference is to be practiced with the thought, 'I'll watch after others.' When watching after oneself, one watches after others. When watching after others, one watches after oneself.

"And how does one, when watching after oneself, watch after others? Through pursuing [the practice], through developing it, through devoting oneself to it. This is how one, when watching after oneself, watches after others.

"And how does one, when watching after others, watch after oneself? Through endurance, through harmlessness, and through a mind of kindness & sympathy. This is how one, when watching after others, watches after oneself."
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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