(11) From Relieving the Suffering of the Mind to Relieving the Suffering of the Body

(Dharma talk at Le Sheng Nursing Home)

After I decided to come for a Dharma talk at Le Sheng Nursing Home, I was unsure of what topic to talk about. Of course, the very first thing that worried me was the suffering of everyone. In such an environment, it is a rare fortune for anyone to come in contact with Buddhism! The compassion of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas will not abandon you. The Buddha and Bodhisattvas never abandon anyone, they always try to encourage and care for all people. Unfortunately our minds are not always receptive to the message of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. This world is full of suffering, and the Dharma is a consolation for us. Its luminosity brings us support, encouragement and hope that we may always rely on.

The Buddha told us, “Human life is suffering”. We all need to understand and recognize the meaning of this. The Buddha also said, “The human body is an illness, a carbuncle, and an ulcer, and this is what we all experience.” We all experience the conditions of sickness and suffering. But all human and sentient beings cannot avoid illness and suffering. The only differences are less suffering, or more suffering, less sickness, or more sickness!

If we can reduce our suffering, then of course, we will feel much better. Please try not to compare yourselves with others, hoping for happiness without suffering, and health without sickness. This will only increase your unnecessary suffering. You must understand that all beings in this world are not able to avoid suffering. We always have some problems. The only way to solve these problems is by accepting them, and letting them go. This is the only way of going beyond life and death, and towards a state without suffering and illness!

The Two Types of Suffering

There are two types of suffering: suffering of the physical body, and suffering of the mind. Physical suffering may include a lack of basic necessities, or natural disasters, or injury to the body from weapons, diseases, burns, abuse, or poisons. We all experience this bodily pain no matter what our status is in life. Such suffering can be reduced by co-operation and improvement of our physical situation, such as, for example, an improvement of medical technology. Although the cure may not be ultimate, it provides a certain degree of relief.

The mental suffering of our mind can be caused by many things, including disappointment, hatred, frustration, fear, anger, and loneliness. Everybody experiences this suffering differently. Some, for example, while watching the moon, feel wonderful and peaceful. At the same time, others may feel terrible, lonely, or sorrowful. Another example is the mental anguish caused by an illness. Some feel sad and terribly frightened. However others do not feel this depression, and may never feel mentally downcast, even though suffering from the same illness, and the same physical pain.

Our physical sufferings may be caused by our past or present karma. We should seek the corresponding ways to overcome them. The suffering of our mind is derived from karmic conditions the present influences or past habits. During the process of practising the Dharma, we should learn to control our mind, be free from unwholesome thoughts and attain the state of no fear and cessation of sadness, anxiety, all defilements and sufferings.

Accept Your Lot

I hope you will all try not to worry too much. Many of you here may have a severe illness, which may be caused by the past or present karma. Some of your illnesses may not be cured by medical technology today. In this case, you should accept your lot. Do not let defilements overcome you and worsen your mental suffering.

There are some Arahats who have freed themselves from the cycle of life and death. Although their mental pain and suffering were relieved, they still could not avoid their physical suffering. The Buddha aimed to teach the relief of this mental suffering even though our physical suffering remained. This is the most compassionate and skilful teaching of the Buddha. Everyone of us should try to learn it.

Body and Mind

The body and mind, the mental and material, are correlative relationships which depend on each other. Physical suffering may be caused by the suffering of the mind. As well, mental suffering may be produced from the suffering of the body! But lessening the pain or suffering of the body may not reduce the suffering of the mind.

The physical suffering and hardship of the older generations who had to work very hard to survive, has been replaced by modern technology. This improvement in our collective physical well-being, should have contributed to a better mental health throughout society. But in actual fact, mental illnesses and psychiatric patients are increasing nowadays.

The increase of wars and violent strategies bring distress and panic to people. Many simply feel a sense of failure, and fear the onset of death. Such an unpleasant situation is even more unbearable than the physical suffering of the body.

The body may still suffer, even though there might be an elimination of the mental suffering. But according to the teachings of the Buddha, a perfect way to free ourselves from suffering, is to relieve the sufferings of the mind and consequently the suffering of the body. We should set this as a goal of our life, and work hard to succeed.

People who do not understand and who do not follow the teachings of the Buddha may experience the physical suffering initiated by the suffering of the mind, and vice versa. Then mild pain may become severe pain. For example, if we experience a mild illness, we may then become terrified, agitated, and worry so much that we stop sleeping or eating. This makes it even worse for our health!

There are many thousands of such examples in the society. Those who understand and follow the Dharma, may not suffer as much as those who do not understand and follow the Dharma. In this way, we may reduce severe suffering to mild suffering, and reduce mild pain to none. The key points are:

1. To understand and have faith in the truth of cause and effect. Do not be deluded by the present suffering.

2. To repent the past evil karma and ask for the blessings of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. To accumulate more good merits so that suffering may be reduced.

3. To practice meditation and contemplation. This is a method that trains the mind to control and transform the body.

In the past, Venerable Si of Nan Yu was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Movements of his limbs were affected by the illness, and his mind was not able to control his body. Eventually, with his own power of meditation and contemplation he completely recovered.

There is another story recorded in a diary from a person in the Ching Dynasty, which corresponds to the teaching of the Buddha. I hope it will also encourage you.

An intelligent, pretty woman who came from a rich family, married a wealthy man. Her relationship with her husband and parents-in-law was fairly good. Unfortunately, when she began to suffer from severe leprosy, despite their love for her, they had to lock her in a little hut by herself. While she was locked up, she hated looking at herself. She thought of the ugliness and impurities of her body all the time, even when she was eating or excreting. The thought of these impurities was always in her mind. Finally, she saw her ugly and impure body dropping off, leaving behind a set of clean and white skeleton. At this instance, light emitted from the skeleton and brightened the whole hut as well as the woman’s mind and body. She was relieved from the disease. She detached herself from the impurities of the body and began to live in her hut in peace without any suffering.

This story corresponds to the Dharma. It exemplifies the process of practising the Contemplation on Impurities to the attainment of purity. By practising, the strength of our meditation and wisdom in our mind will initiate changes in our physical body! I hope ladies and gentlemen, that this may give you all some encouragement to use the time in Le Sheng Nursing Home to practice the Dharma persistently!

I suppose most of you practise the recitation of the Buddha’s name. Reciting the Buddha’s name may help us to purify our mind and body, and to be reborn in the Pure Land. But this is only possible if we detach our mind thoroughly from the impure world.

As the old saying: “If there is no urge to leave the world of Saha, it is difficult for one to detach oneself from the world of Saha and be reborn in the Pure Land.” The world of Saha is the “Five Kasaya Periods of Impurity.” The physical body is the accumulation of the Five Skandhas. If we are able to contemplate our impurities carefully, then we can transform ourselves from the impure, to the pure. The woman who was locked in a hut is a good example for everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, Buddha is a great teacher and doctor. To have faith in the Buddha and to practice the teaching of the Buddha shows that we are on the right path. Do not worry too much about your present conditions, there are countless of great prospects in the future. Do not cling to your physical body, as there is great mental peace and freedom beyond the body!

It is hoped that under the blessing of the Triple Gem everyone of you may be relieved from the suffering of mind; with the purification of mind, may everyone attain purification of the body in return.

(Translated by Loh Wai Sim, edited by Ke Rong, proofread by Shi Neng Rong. (5-10-96)