Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cracked Pots, Mustard Seeds And Suffering

I don't know if I can make this come together into a post that makes any sense tonight but I'm going to give it a try.  I am reminded to be careful what you promise: as in some hair brained scheme that you cook up on the beach where you decide  that you are going to write a blog post everyday for a hundred days.  I'm so far into it now, that the stubborn red headed part of me won't let it go.  

And that slides quite nicely into one of the things that came up on my radar today.   I got one of those emails from a friend about "the cracked pot".  You've undoubtedly seen it before. .... the story of the woman who carries 2 water jugs home from the well everyday.  One of the pots is cracked and dribbles out water that leaves a trail of flowers in it's path.  So there it is, what at first glance appears to be  a flaw turns out to be an asset.  It's a lovely sentiment  with lots of truth in it.  (The flip side of stubbornness is tenacity. See I'm not giving up on this one!) 

The story is a call to look deeper, past conventional easy logic.  It reminds us that things are not always as they seem.  And the story wakes us up to the complexity of life, to the delicious, messy mix of opposites.  We move from cave man logic ... whole pot good, cracked pot bad  to a more holistic way of understanding our world.

 There's the Leonard Cohen lyrics: "there's a crack in everything, that's where the light gets in", which expresses a similar thought to the cracked pot story, albeit a little more elegantly.  It  is one of those ideas that goes against conventional thinking, that goes against our desire to have light without dark, happiness without sadness.  It reminds us that the sanitized, Disneyfied view of the world is unreal and lacks depth and character. It's that advert mentality where everyone is wearing new clothes and no one has wrinkles (in their clothes or elsewhere).  

Over at the Humble Yogini's blog her inspiring post for today got me thinking about a related topic. ....why I have trouble with some of the "new agey" kinds of spirituality.  There are a couple of reasons and one is that they only want to talk about joy and happiness and gratitude .... ( no cracks please!).  Not that any of those things are bad, don't get me wrong.  We all want to go there sometimes but the reality is that life would be fairly flat if that was the only tire we were riding on.  And besides it doesn't really reflect reality.  

As the first tenet of Buddhism points out.  There is suffering.  It is just a fact of life and if you don't accept that you are living in denial (and no that is not a river in Egypt, okay cheap joke but I couldn't resist).  There is a wonderful story where a woman comes to the Buddha lamenting the death of her child.  He tells her he will bring her child back to life if she can bring him a mustard seed from a house where they have not known death.  The woman travels around the countryside and of course returns without the seed, wiser for her journey  and connected to all those who like her, have lost loved ones. 

 So suffering is. .... pure and simple.  It just is and I suspect you know that too.  Sometimes when I sing my little Buddhist song, people tell me they don't like Buddhism because it is so negative.  "It's all about suffering," my neighbour says.  No I say, it's about the path to the end of suffering.  There are two kinds of suffering actually.  Suffering that leads to more suffering and suffering that leads to the end of suffering.  Does that make any sense?  The suffering that leads to more suffering is when we are oblivious to what we are doing and leave shards of suffering behind us.  But when we use our suffering to wake up, then it leads to the end of suffering.  I was amazed when I first heard the idea of the compassionate side of suffering,  .... the concept that suffering is helpful because it  shows us what doesn't work, it softens us up, wakes us up, makes us more compassionate.  It causes us to change our course.  So you can drink too much or shout at your spouse or kick the cat and that can either lead to more suffering or the end of suffering.  Choice is ours.  Pretty cool, huh?  That Buddha was one smart guy.

Both the post at the Humble Yogini's and a newsletter I received from a woman who runs seminars and does coaching called 'Barefoot Journeys' reminded me of the other reason that some of the new age things like "The Secret" and others in this genre seem a bit off.  They take spiritual concepts and encourage us to use them "to get what we want", stuff, success, you name it they tell you, you can get it.  Hhmm.  We're back to grasping and clinging and looking outside ourselves for our satisfaction.  They encourage us to believe we're in control of this little movie called our lives, that we are the director, producer and actors and we get to throw an ill-willed little tantrum when things don't go our way.  "Where is my double grande non fat latte on a leash?"  We are dissappointed or worse when things don't go as planned, when our spouse leaves us, or we loose our job or get cancer.  We didn't order that.  But guess what?  We don't run the order desk and it'd probably be pretty boring if we did.  .... same old, same old.

Sometimes it takes a little adversity for us to really dig deep.  If you've read this blog before you've seen me joke, that I don't go there unless I'm dragged kicking and screaming and those have been some of the richest events of my life.  And so if, you've suffered through my ramblings until the end, you have learned that suffering does end.  And it's here and now, (for now).


  1. Cohen's 'crack in the bell to let the light in' reminds me of a Zen saying that "the cup is already broken." Everything comes with a built-in guarantee of its eventual demise: a sunrise, daffodils in spring, a baby born, a lover found, and thought, a sensation ... nothing lasts forwever.
    this realization connects with the 2 kinds of suffering you describe. thank you.

  2. Kudos on this posting! There is a saying we have to eat bitter to know the taste of sweet. Life is all about duality there is no way around that... In Vedanta the whole point of our human birth is to work through our karma's. Karma takes the form of the hard stuff as well as the sweet stuff. The hard stuff keeps happening until we have learned the lesson and then we are released from it to move on to the next thing. I move within this universe knowing that I will never get more suffering than I can handle as dictated by my karma. It is the medicine that I must take.... Or I should say... We all must take;-)

    Om Shanti~ Janaki

  3. "There are two kinds of suffering actually. Suffering that leads to more suffering and suffering that leads to the end of suffering. Does that make any sense?"

    Sure it does. it means stop suffering here and now while you still can!

    Buddha even says, according to all of the different INTERPRETATIONS OF HIM if he even actually existed (aka Buddhism), that you can "become buddha" instantly, here and now, by choosing to. There is nothing in the way of you becoming a "buddha" yourself. So that means simply, stop suffering, and you stop suffering! The path to end suffering is a road without suffering!