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Getting what we don’t want

Stages of the Path #89: The First Noble Truth (Eight Sufferings)

Part of a series of Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks on the Stages of the Path (or Lamrim) as described in the Guru Puja text by Panchen Lama I Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen.

  • Not getting what we want
  • Getting what we don’t want
  • Instead of being angry, remembering this is the nature of samsara
  • Using this to energize our renunciation and bodhicitta

I told Manjushri the kitty that he was going to come and listen to the sufferings of samsara, and then I picked him up and brought him here. I’m sure he was thinking, “Yes, this is the suffering of samsara, you get what you don’t like, somebody picks you up when you don’t want to be picked up.” This is it, isn’t it? This is the nature of samsara: that we get what we don’t want and we can’t always have what we want.

A lot of times when they talk about the eight sufferings, the eight kinds of dukkha that are specific for human beings but actually they apply fairly generally to all of cyclic existence, these two of getting what you don’t want and not getting what you want are in that list of eight. And they’re big ones, because we try very, very hard to get what we want and we don’t always succeed. Then the problems we don’t want just kind of come automatically even though we don’t want them. It’s really helpful to do some meditation on this and see it’s just the nature of samsara. How we struggle to get what we want, and we’re not successful. How we struggle not to experience what we don’t want and we’re not successful with that either, and that is because that’s the nature of being under the control of afflictions and karma.

It’s very helpful when we see these two qualities to first of all say to ourselves, “Well, what do I expect out of samsara?” In other words, during the day when we don’t get what we want and we get what we don’t want, instead of being angry and surprised about it then just to say, “Well, this is how it is. Why am I expecting it to be other than its own nature?” If we do that, then already our mind will be much calmer because we won’t be battling against the reality of the situation.

But don’t just leave it at that. Also see when we get what we don’t want and don’t get what we do want, to think, “This is why I must get out of cyclic existence. Because if I don’t, then I’m going to keep experiencing this again, and again, and again, and again, and who wants that?”

Third, to also think, “This isn’t just my experience. This is what happens to all the living beings around me.” When we see other people being upset because they don’t get what they want and get what they don’t want, then to have some compassion for them because they’re in cyclic existence just as we are, and this is the nature of what’s happening to them, and then to generate compassion and bodhicitta, the wish to become enlightened so that we can help free them from this.

Instead of responding our usual way to these two things—self-pity and anger—then have the same experience but interpret it and understand it in such a way—from these three different ways I was talking about—so that it becomes something that helps us be more peaceful and calm in our lives and energizes us to practice.

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.