The Way of Pain

Excerpt from Halfway up the Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment (pgs. 448-454) by Mariana Caplan

The Sanskrit word saha means “to endure, to go patiently through hardships without rebelling.”1 The process of disillusionment is an unquestionably painful process at times. Genuine spiritual life has never been popular, and never will be, because most people are unwilling to open to and accept pain.

Reggie Ray says that the first time he ever heard his teacher talk, Trungpa Rinpoche spoke about suffering. “He was the first person I ever heard who acknowledged how bad things really are. And I thought to myself, ‘That’s it! That’s what I want! I want to find out what is going on here and to explore it.'” According to Ray, their tradition places a great emphasis on the Buddha’s first noble truth that life is suffering not because anyone wants to suffer, but because suffering is what is true of life.

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,” writes Kahlil Gibran. It is quite conceivable that not only is pain a necessary aspect of the spiritual process, but that to consciously enter into and experience suffering is the doorway to a more profound understanding of reality, something to even be sought after.

“The thing that many people would consider to be pain,” says Ray, “…the thing they want to get rid of, that’s demonic, that’s the devil, that’s their downfall…that’s actually the only way out. There’s no other way out.” He suggests that the quality most people think of as pain is actually heat, a heat that is not pleasant but that represents reality.

In any situation or any state of mind your are in, there is always a point of heat, and we experience that as pain. But actually it’s just heat, and that’s what Trungpa Rinpoche calls the ‘Great Eastern Sun’. It’s the place where reality is coming up above the horizon where it is dawning, and that becomes our point of orientation. So I’m not saying to look for suffering, but I am saying that you have to look for the heat. There’s a huge area of self-satisfaction and then there is an area where there is a crack in the door of ego. And there is a bright light coming in and it’s very irritating and it’s not pleasant, but that’s what you have to look for. You are looking for it not because there is anything great about suffering, but because that’s the way out.

I had a friend who was in a plane crash a number of years ago and she said that when the plane crashed it was pitch dark and the whole thing was on fire, and then somebody saw a crack of light and said, ‘The light is over here!’ and that is how they saved themselves, because somebody saw this light.

That’s what we have to do. We have to look for the crack in the shell of ego where there’s a bright light coming through. It is too bright and it’s irritating and it’s painful, but that’s the way out.

The very thing that spiritual aspirants, as well as all other people, seek to avoid is the exit which they so desperately claim to want to locate. “If you sit with an open mind,” says Ray, “all of your shit is basically going to come up. And then the idea is not to go get out your broom and sweep it away, but to actually live through it. You have to live through your pain.”

This pain is so crucial to one’s spiritual understanding that Ray goes so far as to say that if one is not in touch with it their practice should be to intentionally look for and relate to the pain in any situation.

If you’re in an environment that is ninety-nine percent bliss and one percent pain, the pain actually represents reality to you. You need to look for it and need to find it. Most of the time, we’re in so much pain that that’s not an issue, but sometimes things go really, really well. In our tradition, we say that when you are in that kind of situation, you need to be aware of the whole situation and not fixate on the bliss or try to perpetuate it, but actually to relate to the pain in the bliss. It is said that there is no one-hundred percent happiness, that even in a so-called bliss state there is always a shadow. I know that anytime I’ve experienced something like that, that there is at least the fear of losing it somewhere on the periphery of that experience. In Buddhism you have to pay a lot of attention to the shadows in any situation you’re in – not because you’re torturing yourself, but because that represents the earth, that’s the ground. In our tradition, pain is the vanguard of enlightenment. Pain is ego’s response to Reality.

Pain is not only the way out, but the way in and down. Spiritual life can easily become imbalanced and fixated at a certain point if the bright aspect of Truth or God is not balanced with its shadow aspect. St. John of the Cross says that the principal value of the ‘dark night of contemplation’ is to know one’s own misery, which brings balance and humility to the exalted states of communion and abundance.

This is the first and principal benefit caused by this arid and dark night of contemplation: the knowledge of oneself and of one’s misery. For, besides the fact that all the favours which God grants to the soul are habitually granted to them enwrapped in this knowledge, these aridities and this emptiness of the faculties compared with the abundance which the soul experienced aforetime and the difficulty which it finds in good works, makes it recognize its own lowliness and misery, which in the time of its prosperity it was unable to see.
St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 76-77

In his writings, St. John of the Cross eloquently describes how, once the student has experienced the sweetness and pleasures of meditation and prayer and found some degree of strength in their connection with God, “God desires to lead them further..wherein they can commune with Him more abundantly.” He says that often when one is amidst the greatest pleasures, and when they believe that “the sun of Divine favour is shining most brightly upon them,” God sets them down into darkness and shuts the door to the “source of sweet spiritual water which they were tasting in God whensoever and so long as they desired.”

For as I have said, God now sees that they have grown a little, and are becoming strong enough to set aside their swaddling clothes and be taken from the gentle breast; so He sets them down from His arms and teaches them to walk on their own feet which they feel to be very strange, for everything seems to be going wrong with them.
St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 62-63

The pain that God gives is His gift, and not His curse, as it is so often felt to be. The practitioner earns the privilege of being placed down from the safe arms of communion with God into unbuffered reality so that he or she can learn to be held and to move from within.

One cannot have a full spiritual life if one has not come to terms with one’s pain. Life is painful anyway. Pain can be temporarily evaded or drugged or resisted, but it cannot ultimately be avoided. There is pain in “neurotic suffering,” which is the way we ordinarily think of pain, and there is also the pain of “suffering for God,” or suffering with humanity. They are very different types of suffering, but both are suffering; and whereas neurotic suffering only perpetuates itself, suffering for God, or enlightened suffering, serves all of humanity.

In order to serve humanity, one must know humanity. Ray explains that students in their tradition are encouraged to explore great depths of suffering so they may know it as an important aspect of the totality of life. He shows how, through his teacher’s example and guidance, he was shown the value of suffering.

You have the god realm, jealous god realm, human realm, animal realm, hungry ghost realm, and hell realm. The full range of possible human experience is included within those six realms. With Trungpa Rinpoche as a teacher, what we did was we explored the realms, and we’re still exploring them. It’s almost like he put a time bomb in us to explore those realms – all of them. Why? Because of the Boddhisattva vow to help sentient beings. We have to go through all of those experiences in order to be helpful to other people. If you can’t be in a hell realm, if you’ve never been there, then you really can’t help someone else who is there because you yourself are resistant to it. You are not willing to go there and so you can’t be helpful. Trungpa Rinpoche was a very demanding teacher in that way. If you were looking for some kind of state of mind, or bliss state, or spiritual high, or charisma, or to be “zapped” in a certain way, he wasn’t the teacher for you. Somebody once asked him, “Have you ever been in the hell realm?” “Of course,” he said. “What did you do when you were there?” they asked him. “Tried to stay there,” he told them. Now that is very different from the average guru, who is basically promising some kind of escape from reality.

Jai Ram Smith says, “You can attain liberation, and you can live there for an almost indefinite period of time through the grace of that experience. You can earn that kind of karma. But sooner or later you have to come back to reality. So E.J. Gold’s work with us was to take us into the hell realms and the bardos, because if you can awaken in hell, then you can work anywhere.”

Traveling in the hell realms is certainly different from what the average guru promises, but most extraordinary teachers and practitioners do value the full spectrum of life, no matter what they call it, and encourage their students to do the same. Joan Halifax says that although divine mothers and saviors can be lovely and helpful, “that doesn’t happen to be my job. I’m sort of a ‘chop wood, carry water type.'” She then adds, “I like going to the hell realms. My job is the hell realms.” Because Halifax has taken her decades of sadhana and brought them to high security penitentiaries in order to serve prisoners on death row, one can believe that she means what she says.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: So Few Things Really Matter. It’s such a relief. You know, so few things really matter – only to be with your Beloved, as He wills, not as you will. It’s really all the grace of God, the experiences you are given. It’s all because He wants to reveal a part of Himself, And sometimes you are allowed to witness a little bit of it, but mostly not. Mostly it would be too difficult. “There” there is so much love, so much intimacy, and then you wake up in the morning, and you have to go to work you have to do your everyday things, to look after the kids, to be on time. “there” there is no time. “There” everything is given, you don’t have to work for anything.

It’s often funny that when you get too far in that direction, the world comes and knocks on your door. suddenly you get a speeding ticket or something, just to bring you down. You are also an ordinary human being who has to accept that you live in this world with all of the limitations of this world. “There” you are so free, it is so limitless, and here if you get on an airplane you get jet lag, you have to rent a car, all of that business. It’s not always easy.

If you’re in an environment that is ninety-nine percent bliss and one percent pain, the pain actually represents reality to you. You need to look for it and need to find it. Most of the time, we’re in so much pain that that’s not an issue, but sometimes things go really, really well. In our tradition, we say that when you are in that kind of situation, you need to be aware of the whole situation and not fixate on the bliss or try to perpetuate it, but actually to relate to the pain in the bliss. It is said that there is no one-hundred percent happiness, that even in a so-called bliss state there is always a shadow. I know that anytime I’ve experienced something like that, that there is at least the fear of losing it somewhere on the periphery of that experience. In Buddhism you have to pay a lot of attention to the shadows in any situation you’re in – not because you’re torturing yourself, but because that represents the earth, that’s the ground. In our tradition, pain is the vanguard of enlightenment. Pain is ego’s response to Reality.

Bahai Sahib: When you come to a spiritual teacher you have to be naked.

Annick D’Astier: There is an idea that with the spiritual life that there will be an increase in the amount of happy experiences and a decrease in the amount of unhappy experiences. The difference is in the way in which we live those experiences.

Chogyam Trungpa: Sudden enlightenment comes only with exhaustion.

Chuang-Tzu: All men know the utility of useful things; but they do not know the utility of futility

1.Robert Svobda, Aghora III, 180

http://www.cit-sakti.com/kundalini/the-way-of-pain.htm