According to the Teachings, suffering and change are constant and operate from both outside and inside the mind. If one can achieve the “unchanging” mind, enlightenment occurs. When compassion and wisdom are used to solve problems, suffering should end.
So what is the unchanging mind? I have no idea. The causes of a changing mind are ignorance and desire, the two basest ills that lead to suffering. It is argued that compassion and wisdom can end the cycle of suffering. But, enlightenment cannot exist without ignorance. I take this paradox to suggest that enlightenment is an ideal state; once achieved, the world as it is now ceases to exist. Thus, sitting in a room (or a cave even) meditating for enlightenment is a fool’s errand.
One cannot sit expecting divine intervention. The Teachings say each person possesses “buddha-nature,” the potential to achieve enlightenment. Does this not imply that each individual is a miracle? If not, then each individual is, at the very least, a potential miracle. For (potential) miracles to expect enlightenment from meditation or some other process is ludicrous. If one was able to achieve enlightenment by such means, this says nothing of one’s surroundings. What’s the point of floating in a mental bubble devoid of suffering and change when one’s surroundings are the opposite?
Since suffering and change are constant the only option is to attempt to effect change to influence suffering. Now, with what means does one have to even begin to effect change? And, more importantly, why should one bother to embark upon such a task? For these two questions I have found one passage of the Teachings that I took note of:
Behind the desires and worldly passions which the mind entertains, there abides, clear and undefiled the fundamental and true essence of mind.
Water is round in a round receptacle and square in a square one, but water itself has no particular shape. People often forget this fact.
People see this good and that bad, they like this and dislike that, and they discriminate existence from non-existence; and then, being caught in these entanglements and becoming attached to them, they suffer.
I do not yet understand this passage completely. People are capable of changing their perceptions, and interpreting worldly phenomena under different understandings. The power to challenge one’s own assumptions and to consider other possibilities is one of the tools that people possess. This tool enables people to face the challenge of something as amorphous as suffering.
Following the ‘water’ passage above, people attach definitions to life and death, leading them to suffer. Though the Teachings argue that these attached definitions for life and death are illusions, death involves losing the ability to effect change on a level that can be appreciated. This does not apply in all cases since there are plenty of examples of prominent, (in)famous people who continue to influence future generations long after death with their ideals and beliefs; however, their physical presence and ability to manipulate their physical surroundings are definitely lost in the event of death.
Since death is somewhat restrictive, I would assume that something ought to be pursued during life. Unfortunately this does not give an answer to the question why should one attempt to effect change to influence suffering. One could operate without considering suffering to a certain extent, or influence suffering to intensify it.
I’ve gone mad haven’t I.