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Verse 29: Dissatisfaction with samsara

Verse 29: Dissatisfaction with samsara

Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • How a good number of our thoughts indicate our dissatisfaction already
  • The proper way to be dissatisfied with samsara
  • How tweaking our samsara is useless

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 29 (download)

Verse 29:

“May all beings be dissatisfied with worldly phenomena.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when seeing someone sad.

Aren’t we already dissatisfied with worldly phenomena? We’re all so filled with attachment that we’re always dissatisfied, and the object we’re dissatisfied with is worldly phenomena. Why in the world is the bodhisattva praying for this? We already live in the middle of dissatisfaction, don’t we? Day and night, day and night, the mind is always dissatisfied. “I don’t like this, I don’t like that. This should be done this way, this shouldn’t be done that way. Why do they do it this way, why don’t they do it that way? This isn’t good enough, they should make it like this. This is too good, they should make it not so good. This is pink they should make it purple. This is purple they should make it pink.” All the time. “These people pay too much attention to me, they bug me. They don’t pay enough attention to me, they’re not very friendly. They talked to me too much, I can’t stand it. They don’t talk to me, I can’t stand it. They put too much salt in the soup. They don’t put enough salt in the soup, what’s wrong with them. We can’t see the sun today, I can’t stand it, I want to see the sun.” And the sun shines, “Oh there’s too much sun on the snow, it hurts my eyes.” Always, we’re totally dissatisfied with everything.

If we look at our thoughts, I think a good number of our thoughts are just this litany of “I want it to be different and why can’t it be like this.” Basically, “Why isn’t the world what I want it to be? And why aren’t people doing what I want them to do? Why aren’t they being what I want them to be. They’re so ridiculous! [laughter] I’m so dissatisfied with them.” It’s true isn’t it? With everything.

Why in the world would bodhisattvas pray for this? We already have them. I think what’s happening is the way we are dissatisfied with worldly phenomena is not the proper way of being dissatisfied with them, because we’re dissatisfied with them in the way that we still think they can give us happiness and we expect them to change so that they can give us the happiness that they’re supposed to. It’s in that way that we’re currently dissatisfied with them. What bodhisattvas want us to do is to reach a point where we realize there is no happiness to be had from worldly phenomena, that nothing is ever going to meet our expectations, and so give up wanting that. Instead of trying to rearrange our duckies in samsara, let’s try and get out of samsara.

Until now we have been tweaking our samsara under the assumption that we can make it a little bit better if we just try hard enough to change these people. That’s what we’ve been doing, and we haven’t gotten fed up with that process. That’s what we need to be dissatisfied with. It’s the whole mind that thinks it’s possible to change the external world, the whole mind that thinks that if we could change the external world, it would bring us everlasting happiness. That’s what we have to become dissatisfied with. If we don’t get dissatisfied with that, then we keep on trying to rearrange our duckies.

I have this image of us…. You know when you’re a kid in the bath tub with the little orange duckies. You remember the little orange duckies with the bright beaks, and you squeeze them and they go “Oop, oop, oop” [laughter] And we would sit in the bath tub and rearrange our duckies, because the way we want them to be at any particular moment would change. Sometimes we want the big one here and the little ones there, and the other time we wanted the reverse way. Sometimes we want them upside down, sometimes right-side up. Now they don’t just have yellow duckies, they have every color duckies. They don’t even have just duckies, they have all sorts of other little critters made out of plastic too. More things to become dissatisfied with and rearrange.

What we have to get dissatisfied with is samsara in general and the mind that thinks that these things can actually bring us happiness. That’s what the prayer of the bodhisattva is about when it says, “May all beings be dissatisfied with worldly phenomena.”

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.