Teachings on the Root Cause of Unhappiness

What is the root cause of our unhappiness?

In our Hinayana course this past week, we examined our fixation on a personal self as a central reference point in our lives and the cause of unhappiness.  The good news is that we have the ability to analyze and look deeply at this ingrained sense of ourselves.  We do this by meditating on the five skandhas or components that make up our sense of self:  our body, feelings, discriminations or perceptions, formations, and consciousness.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche tells us why this fixation causes so much confusion, fear, and suffering in our lives, and gives us advice on how we can analyze this fixation.

In the hinayana, we analyze our mistaken notion of a personal self in order to find a solution for our constant search for freedom and happiness. The Buddha taught that our mistaken searching (with its accompanying suffering, pain, and confusion) comes from our belief in a singular, independent, and lasting self that represents the fundamental basis of all our experiences and actions. From the Buddhist point of view, this instinctive notion of “me” acts as the central reference point of our life and causes all our mental afflictions and suffering. This basic misunderstanding is inseparable from our basic fear. We cling so tightly to this self, and our fundamental fear (discussed in earlier classes as the nature of suffering) becomes the cause of coarser, more obvious fears. This fundamental fear is the same as our basic ignorance. We constantly search for security, for some sense of existence, for some kind of confirmation from every direction. This underlying fear causes us to build up protection, build up our existence, and build up our image. We construct and protect our own self-centered territory, which just generates more obvious fears, such as the fear of losing our happiness, the fear of losing our image, or the fear of losing our possessions. We also fear the experience of pain—that is, we fear getting what we do not want. Thus, we build this protective wall against these two fears—that we will lose what we like and encounter what we do not like.

Conventionally, we refer to our five skandhas as a self in the same way we might call a collection of mechanical parts a “car.” Buddhism does not negate that this convention serves us on the level of everyday life. However, the Buddha taught that, when we analyze, we cannot find something that truly exists by its own nature to which the label “I” refers. The Buddha stressed this point in order to reveal how our self-attachment causes all of our afflictions and problems. Although we stubbornly cling to a self, we have only a vague idea of its parameters, and the abhidharma literature helps us in overcoming this clinging by outlining the imaginary characteristics to which we adhere. These teachings explain what seems to constitute our basic ego, breaking it down into finite and subtle divisions so that we can clearly see the elements that we think constitute our self.

From the Nalandabodhi Study Path: Hinayana Course Two – Hinayana Path & Fruition

Published by Nalandabodhi 3902 Woodland Park Ave. North Seattle, WA 98103 U.S.A

© 2009 by The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche © 2009 by Nalandabodhi

All rights reserved. Published February 2010



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