The Suffering of Change

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1156)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaches that temporary samsaric pleasure doesn’t last and it eventually becomes the suffering of pain. This teaching is excerpted from Lecture Six of Kopan Course 32, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal in November-December 1999. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Root Institute, Bodhgaya, 2000. Photo: Brian Halterman.

Even though at times there might be no suffering of pain, there is the suffering of change, the temporary samsaric pleasure, the feeling that seems to be happiness but when it is analyzed can be seen to be only suffering. When we don’t analyze it, it appears as pleasure to our hallucinated mind. But if we scientifically analyze it, we discover that feeling is only suffering, not pleasure, not happiness, not peace.

When we let our mind remain hallucinated and we see that feeling as pleasure, it appears pleasure to that mind, so why doesn’t it last? The reason we can’t develop that happiness to a greater and greater degree, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, the reason we can’t increase the happiness that we experience at the beginning, why it doesn’t become bigger and bigger is because the nature of that feeling is not real; it is not real happiness, it’s suffering. That feeling is suffering by its nature.

It is a feeling that is suffering but, because it is not gross but small, it is unnoticeable. Because of that, we label it “pleasure.” Our mind makes up the label “pleasure,” and then after we have made up the label “pleasure,” after our mind has put the label, we believe in it. It looks like there is pleasure from its own side.

That false happiness is the object to be refuted; it is a false object, one which is a total hallucination. It is nonexistent, totally empty. There is not even the slightest atom of that existing there. However, our mind makes up the label “pleasure” because of that feeling, that suffering which is at that moment unnoticeable.

Having made up the label, there’s the hallucination of pleasure and we believe in that pleasure, that independent pleasure that never came from our own mind but is something real from the side of the feeling. We believe it is an independent, inherently existent feeling.

We have that feeling that we don’t recognize, which is suffering but unrecognizable at the moment; it seems to be a pleasure, therefore we make up the label “pleasure.” And after we label it, we believe that label. In our view, there is pleasure on that feeling. That is the object to be refuted. The real pleasure there on that feeling is a total hallucination.

However, this is the subject that involves an analysis on emptiness, on the ultimate nature of what we call the temporary samsaric pleasure. The label “pleasure” is placed on the suffering. That’s why it doesn’t last. That’s why the more we continue, the more it decreases instead of increasing. We get bored or whatever. In that way, all these sufferings happen.

As I often say, Lama Tsongkhapa has explained in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path (Lamrim Chenmo) that after feeling so hot while being under the sun, when we enter the cold water … Today the chai time is different! I’m joking!

I’m using Lama Tsongkhapa’s example to explain the essence. By understanding this one example, we can understand all others. After feeling so hot under the sun, when we go into the cold water in the river or the sea, in the beginning, there is pleasure in feeling the coolness.

As it is explained, the suffering feeling of hot is stopped by changing the action from being under the sun to being in the cold water. Then, with the first minute of being in the cold water, the discomfort already starts, right after the action of entering the cold water. [Rinpoche snaps his fingers] Right after that action, the discomfort of being in the cold water begins; it has already started but because it’s small, the discomfort is unnoticeable. For the duration that feeling of discomfort is unnoticeable, it is called “comfort” or “a pleasure.”

Then as we continue the action of being in the cold water, gradually that action compounds a sense of discomfort, and more and more the discomfort increases.

That is because the pleasure we experienced in the beginning is temporary, it is changeable, it cannot last; it cannot increase as we continue being in the water. Then, as discomfort becomes noticeable, we perceive it as suffering. It becomes the suffering of pain.

Similarly, when we are very hungry, at the beginning when we take some food, the suffering of hunger is stopped by changing the action from not eating to eating. The moment the action of not eating stops and the action of eating begins the feeling of discomfort [from having food in the stomach] is there already in the body, but it’s unnoticeable. Because the discomfort of eating is unnoticeable and the suffering of hunger has stopped, we label it “pleasure.” But again, by continuing the action of eating, the discomfort increases. Even though there seems to be pleasure at the beginning, it is temporary. It cannot last. But by continuing the action, again it becomes the suffering of pain.

Like this, when we buy a car, at the beginning there’s pleasure. The problem or suffering of not having car is stopped by buying the car, so there’s pleasure. That excitement, that pleasure, is the same again, but it doesn’t last. After some time, we get bored with the car. It becomes boring. There was some excitement or some kind of pleasure at the beginning, but sooner or later we get bored. Then we see another newer car advertised, or we see other people driving it. Our old car seems even more boring! The unhappiness or the boring feeling we have with the old car is stopped when we buy another car, but again it’s the same. At the beginning it looked like there was pleasure, but it didn’t last. The pleasure we believed in at the beginning didn’t last. It doesn’t last to the same degree every day. It decreases and again it becomes boring. Then we decide we must look for a new car.

Here, I’m using the example of the car, but it could also be the same with a friend.

Until we get liberated from samsara, the continuation of these aggregates caused by karma and delusions, which is in the nature of suffering, causes us to circle from one life to another. What circles is the continuation of these aggregates. Who circles is us. We are like a driver; we make this continuation of these aggregates that is caused by karma and delusions, that is in the nature of suffering; we make this samsara, we make it continuously circle. It is we ourselves who circle in the six realms.

Until we break the continuation of these aggregates that circle from one life to another, whatever style of life we have, whatever actions we do, we are always in samsara, we are always suffering. When we are under the sun, it’s suffering; when we are in the water, it’s suffering; when we are not eating, it’s suffering; when we are eating, it’s suffering. Not sleeping is suffering; sleeping is suffering.

Whatever lifestyle we have, it is suffering. Being a farmer is suffering; being a businessperson is suffering. Whatever the lifestyle, it’s all suffering. Whatever we do in samsara, it’s all suffering. If we analyze it, this is what it is, and it will continue like this until we break the continuation of samsara, the continuation of these aggregates circling from one life to another.

What is not suffering is practicing Dharma. Not giving up attachment is suffering; giving up attachment is peace. I’ll use that example. Not giving up attachment is a problem in our life, it is suffering. Giving up attachment is peace, bringing us satisfaction, real peace of mind, real inner peace.

When we separate our mind from attachment, when we free our mind from attachment, all the problems that are connected to attachment, like a spiderweb, are stopped. There are so many things we no longer need. All the fear, worry and expectation are stopped. We are totally free of all that. We become a totally free guy!