“We have only this moment,
sparkling like a star in our hand...
and melting like a snowflake.”

The Cause of Suffering

What is True? What can we know for sure? Whatever it is, it is inseparable from that which seeks to know it, ourselves. We cannot know reality if we do not know ourselves first. What can we see if we lay aside our conditioning, beliefs, desires, dreams, fantasies and opinions, and observe that which is as it is, both within and without?

For the last couple of years I've been studying and practising Buddhism. This ancient teaching is in my view the most simple and objective approach to the reality of the human condition. Not only as a philosophy or body of teachings, but mainly because on the practical level it provides useful tools which one can use in the journey for Truth and peace. One of such tools is the fundamental teaching of the Buddha known as the Four Noble Truths: the First Noble Truth points to the reality of suffering or dissatisfaction (dukkha); the Second Noble Truth points to the cause of suffering, which is craving or desire (taṇhā); the Third Noble Truth points to the possibility of the end of suffering (nirodha); and the Fourth Noble Truth lays out a path of practise and guidance towards the end of suffering, the Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

Recently I came across Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication (NVC), and found it to be another useful tool which allows me to deepen my understanding of myself, the human condition and Buddhism. Marshall had an insight into human nature, which allowed him later to develop the Nonviolent Communication process. He realised that that which motivates all human behaviour are our human basic needs such as: connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy and meaning. This needs can be broken down into related specific needs. For example within connection we find specific needs such as: acceptance, affection, appreciation, belonging and so on. The quality of our feelings and subsequent thoughts and actions are thus determined if weather or not our needs are getting met. At any given moment, whether through speech or action, human beings are attempting to fulfil certain needs. These needs are rooted within us at the Heart level.

According to Marshall the reason why there is so much violence and suffering on this planet is because we've been conditioned with a language and way of thinking that makes it difficult for human beings too connect and communicate with each other on the Heart level. We seem to be unable to communicate in terms of what we are feeling and needing which further contributes to a lack of awareness of what is happening within ourselves. Instead we tend to apply a form of communication which relies primarily on a thinking process heavily conditioned with a dualistic paradigm of right and wrong, good and evil, punishment and reward, enemy and friend.

While living, teaching and using NVC in conflict mediation around the world for about thirty years, Marshall noticed that when there is a shift from the common dualistic way of communication to a Heart based communication, which is what NVC is all about, human beings naturally tend to connect with each other in a way that boundaries get dissolved thus making it possible for people to share and serve each other's needs in a natural way.

Going back to Buddhism, it seems to me that this basic human needs are what the Buddha was pointing to with the Second Noble Truth, the cause of suffering: desire or craving (tahna).
Ron Leifer states:[20]
“Desire [i.e. taṇhā] causes suffering by its own nature because it is inherently unsatisfactory. Desire means deprivation. To want something is to lack it, to be deprived of it. We do not want things we have, we only want things we don't have. Thirst is the desire for water and it occurs in the absence of water. Hunger is the feeling of lacking food. Desiring means not having, being frustrated, suffering. Craving is suffering. This is a most important insight, one which we drive into secrecy by our refusal to acknowledge it, thus creating the esoteric knowledge we then seek.”
Taṇhā is a type of desire that can never be satisfied. Ajahn Sucitto states:[4]
“However, tanhā, meaning "thirst," is not a chosen kind of desire, it's a reflex. It's the desire to pull something in and feed on it, the desire that's never satisfied because it just shifts from one sense base to another, from one emotional need to the next, from one sense of achievement to another goal. It's the desire that comes from a black hole of need, however small and manageable that need is. The Buddha said that regardless of its specific topics, this thirst relates to three channels: sense-craving (kāmataṇhā); craving to be something, to unite with an experience (bhavataṇhā); and craving to be nothing, or to dissociate from an experience (vibhavataṇhā).”
In the Maha-nidana Sutta (The Great Causes Discourse), Buddha said:[17]
“Now, craving is dependent on feeling, seeking is dependent on craving, acquisition is dependent on seeking, ascertainment is dependent on acquisition, desire and passion is dependent on ascertainment, attachment is dependent on desire and passion, possessiveness is dependent on attachment, stinginess is dependent on possessiveness, defensiveness is dependent on stinginess, and because of defensiveness, dependent on defensiveness, various evil, unskillful phenomena come into play: the taking up of sticks and knives; conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations, divisive speech, and lies.
These human basic needs exist because of the fact that we are alive. These needs are like programs or basic commands that rule our lives, and make us "serve" Life. The most essential and strongest one is of course the need for Survival. There are other needs not so much essential and more subtle like the need for Laughter or Humour.

In my humble opinion to consider our basic needs to be the sole cause of human suffering is an extreme position to take. I believe that a sense of contentment is possible within ourselves if certain specific needs are fulfilled, namely needs related with deep connection and purpose. I believe that the real cause of suffering is actually fear and ignorance which are deeply rooted in our culture: We are unaware to the existence and importance of these needs within ourselves; we are taught to be ashamed or discouraged to express ourselves on the Heart level where needs and feelings take place; and worse we're conditioned with a program (language, thinking patterns, beliefs) disconnected from life. This state of affairs creates a lot of dissatisfaction, misunderstanding and conflict in our world.

We have within our minds a mechanism which is consistently defining strategies to help us meet our needs. This is of course the Ego. Sometimes it might be referred as the Self. You can make an experiment. Try to be aware of your thinking during your day at any given time, and notice what it is telling you. You'll notice that almost 100% of the times, you are thinking of ways to make your life better, easier, how to get pleasure, happiness and connection. If you find yourself being negative and critical towards others it's just because your needs are not getting met, which causes dissatisfaction. We then tend to identify others as the source of that suffering. One insight NVC provided me was to understand that others or external events are never the true cause of our suffering. I wrote about this here. For example if we're in a hurry to get somewhere by car like in a date, the speed at which traffic normally operates seems slow to us, and we usually find ourselves criticising others for being slow or incompetent drivers. If we're just going for a ride without any hurry to get anywhere, everything seems fine. You might find your thinking being very critical of yourself sometimes: "I'm a loser. I'll never amount to anything". But what actually lies behind that judgement are unmet needs. Our dissatisfaction causes our thinking patterns to go out of control. It can get to a point where this thinking turns against ourselves with judgements, regrets, projections, comparisons and so on, which if perpetuated later sends us into depression.

The Ego relies heavily on what we have learnt throughout our lives, on our conditioning and experiences. We naturally start from a young age forming in our minds conceptual maps of the outer world: Where and how can we get food and water? What can we play with? Where are the dangers? Who can we trust? Who is the provider? Where can I get love? How should I behave to get connection? This of course operates on the unconscious level. This conceptual map, beliefs and strategies that we humans assimilate and then use to get our needs met and survive in life is provided to us by our culture. Our personalities or Egos are heavily molded by it.

This program (language, beliefs, thinking patterns, memes) which our culture injects our minds with is terribly disconnected from life. It is a distortion. It turns humans into passive obedient workers and consumers or aggressive rebels. It keeps us in a state of perpetual discontentment, endlessly seeking for an external answer to our dissatisfaction. It makes us kind of enchanted with the outer world, fixated on externals, appearances, fashions, ideals and so on, thus keeping us completely unaware of our inner world, our Heart, where our most intimate feelings and needs keep getting ignored.

So our Egos, our minds, our thinking, are very ignorant when it comes to feelings or emotions and needs. Our attention is habitually fixated everywhere except where it matters, the Heart. We don't know ourselves. We have a hard time getting in touch with our feelings and specially with our needs. This creates so much dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction creates a sense of lack, discomfort and restlessness within ourselves, which causes our Egos to get defensive, selfish, paranoid, fearful, divisive. It begins to devise ways to quench that dissatisfaction, that thirst, through instant gratification like sex, food, entertainment, material possessions, it's a never ending cycle. But actually the Ego is just doing what it was taught to do: buy, consume, seek pleasure, distractions.

Egos are not enemies. They are not a mistake. The mistake is in what the Ego has learnt. Egos always do the best they can according to what our needs ask, they just don't know any better. And in extreme situations we get people killing people, murdering, lying, raping and so on. But the reality is that these people are not BAD people. They're just people in a lot of pain and dissatisfaction, doing what they know in order to meet their needs or quench that dissatisfaction. We are all doing the best we can, even murderers, weapons traders, war lords and so on. We could start offering this people more understanding and compassion in order to free them from their pain and open their Hearts, instead of the judgement and condemnation which sends them further down into fear, ignorance and anger, in other words Hell.

The Buddhist practise is about going into the Heart, through practises such as mindfulness and meditation, in order to cultivate a sense of contentment independent of whether or not our needs are getting met. This has it's value and it seems to be a good tool in order to keep the Ego in check, offering clarity and a sense of relief in the Heart. But the reality is that our basic needs are still present and not fulfilled. To me this means that the real practise in religion is about overriding this Heart programs I've been referring to as needs also known in Buddhism as desire. Buddhists use expressions such as "relinquishment", "letting go of the causes of desire" or "detachment" in order to point to this. And it makes sense because meditation (or prayer in other religions) only seems to work when we're not trying to use it to get something. Dissatisfaction might send us into meditation with the attitude "I'm going to do this in order to get something, to get peace, to get that high state of consciousness, bliss" and so on.

In my experience It's something very hard to do, and it requires a kind of sacrifice, a meeting with death, with pure fear. Done properly (or undone because letting go is not about doing) it opens the door for the individual to transcend this reality and realise Truth. The chains that bound our potential for happiness to this world and culture get broken, and the mind and Heart are liberated from conditioning and needs. Bringing about an unshakable kind of peace and joy, known as Nibbāna in Buddhism or Kingdom of Heaven in Christianity.
“The guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside. 
The blue sky opens out farther and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away,
the damage I have done to myself fades,
a million suns come forward with light,
when I sit firmly in that world. 
I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken,
inside "love" there is more joy than we know of,
rain pours down, although the sky is clear of clouds,
there are whole rivers of light.
The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.
How hard it is to feel that joy in all our four bodies! 
Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail.
The arrogance of reason has separated us from that love.
With the word "reason" you already feel miles away.” 
This I believe is what all religions point towards to, like different fingers pointing at the moon.

There is enormous potential for happiness for human beings if we make a conscious choice to live from our Hearts. I think that taking the ascetic or self-denial approach is too limited and dangerous. Instead we can choose the path of self-knowledge and figure out what works. It seems to me that certain needs within ourselves have great potential to make our life wonderful if we work towards fulfilling them, such as the needs for: sharing, cooperation, purpose, connection, play, affection. In short anything that has to do with giving and receiving, instead of controlling and demanding.

The Divine Force or Source exists in two fundamental states. The first is in its pure original state, empty, whole, still, infinite, silent. In the second state this Force exists as movement, expression, creation, condition, form, it's a cosmic dance or Divine Play. This Universe is that Play. We are being willed into existence. This Force that makes galaxies to spin, stars to shine and creatures to breath exists within and all around us in it's pure and still state. Our most intimate and basic needs and feelings are part of this Divine Expression or Creation. It's supposed to be like this. What we can do is embrace that Force within ourselves, and be honest about it, live our lives from that place, with Truth, openness, vulnerability, honesty, honor, and Love.

I also would like to take this opportunity to say that sometimes I write this things because I'm searching for connection and to fulfil a need to share what I know so far in my journey. Sometimes writing here also provides me with a sense of purpose. Other times it's a call for attention. Looking back on what I just wrote with this post I also see that it's very much idealistic and rational. If I could write more from a place of spontaneity I would actually admit that Life is just too damn difficult, and it's really not easy to embrace vulnerability and express feelings and needs, and to keep the Ego in check. Conditioning is something which I'm still wrestling with very strongly. So be sure to read all this with a pinch of salt.

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