(6.14) There is nothing that is not easy to accomplish
If we develop familiarity with it;
So first I should learn to forbear small sufferings
And then gradually endure greater ones.
(6.15) This can be seen in those who voluntarily endure minor sufferings,
Such as animal or insect bites,
Feelings of hunger or thirst,
Or irritations of the skin.
Modern life is full of countless minor irritations. From the moment our alarm goes off in the morning until having to get up to pee in the middle of the night, the entire day is filled with one minor annoyance after another. There is almost nobody who does not awake with a groan, wishing to sleep some more. Our morning practice is often filled with distractions, sleepiness, or little feeling. We then have to get into uncomfortable clothes, such as a suit, or uncomfortable shoes, to go to work. We then have to fight traffic only to arrive at work with an inbox filled with tasks to do and nonsense to sort through. We have to attend mind-numbing meetings where we listen to those who go off on tangents irrelevant to the group or simply like to hear themselves speak. We never have everything we need to complete our tasks, so they pile up, deadlines are missed and we feel constant pressure. There is no time to take a break at lunch, just enough time to refill while eating at our desk. Our work colleagues seek to blame us for their mistakes or pile their work onto us. The help we receive is often inadequate or poorly done, requiring us to do it all over again ourselves. Endless administrative paperwork fills our day. The long report we have been working hard on lies unread on our bosses desk and nothing of substance ever comes of it. The people who seem to least deserve it get promoted before us. We leave work late, battle the traffic again, only to come home to a house filled with things to do, like make dinner, do the dishes, give baths to the little ones, brush the teeth of squirming kids, read the same stories for the umpteenth time, plead the kids to go to bed, and help older kids with their homework which we ourselves sometimes don’t understand. Then, needing some time to unwind, we crash in front of the TV for a short period of time before going to bed later than we would want to. Having a sex life seems like a distant memory from college. Only to have to wake up to go the bathroom in the middle of the night with increasing frequency as we get older, leaving us feeling like we never get a full night’s sleep. And all of this is just daily life.
Add on top of that financial stress of bills to pay, college tuition to save up for, family members becoming sick, ridiculous conflicts over insignificant slights with our closest relatives, family members who never appreciate what we do and who always complain about everything, weather that is too cold in the winter too wet in the spring and fall and too hot in the summer, never having enough money to do what we want, getting sick ourselves, experiencing death of loved ones, watching teenage dramas playing out with flowing tears, being blamed by our kids for all of the different ways we are a failure as a parent. All of this only to be greeted with our friend’s Facebook feeds showing smiling faces, delightful vacations, award-winning kids, homemade bread making parties and nature hikes while we remain frazzled, exhausted and feel like a failure. Speaking of Facebook, nobody has conversations anymore, friends are little more than pixels on our mobile phones. While “friends” with the world, people have never felt so alone. Oh, and don’t forget the invasion of ants and cockroaches in your kitchen which you try not to kill because you are a good Buddhist followed by the judgmental attitudes of those wondering why you can’t keep your FP or TTP commitments and make it to all the festivals.
Life is filled with minor annoyances, each one not a big deal, but added together and it becomes unbearable. Chinese water torture is one drop at a time incessantly, so too is modern life. Even being beaten with a wet noodle will eventually draw blood if struck enough times. And we haven’t even confronted big suffering, like the death of a child or the sickness that will finally kill us. If we can’t learn how to accept the small things, they will add up into a crushing burden.
When we do not accept the minor annoyances, each one takes a toll, and eventually we run out of strength to deal with anymore. We then get into a very fragile state, where even the slightest problem becomes a huge deal for us because we simply can’t take anymore. This is the experience of millions, but we always feel as if we are the only one enduring such endless problems. Welcome to modern life.
Geshe-la said the purpose of our tradition is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. We have modern lives such as these, our job is to bring the Kadam Dharma into them so that they become the training ground in which we attain enlightenment. There is no task more important than learning to accept our small sufferings.
To accept them does not mean to endure them, rather it means to use them in some meaningful, spiritual way. We can accept them as purification, use them as a reminder of the nature of samsara, view them as an opportunity to train our mind in patience and love, use them as a reminder of the far greater suffering of others and thereby generate compassion, we can recall that in and of themselves, they are nothing, just mere karmic appearances of mind; we can transform them into our pure land with our tantric practice (the charnel grounds resemble quite closely modern life…), we can view ourselves as an emanation sent into this world to help others. Or we can just take a step back into our clear light mind and watch it all pass like clouds in the sky. The point is simple: we either learn how to use these minor annoyances or they will eventually crush us under their constantly accumulating weight. By learning to accept the small stuff, we can eventually gain the ability to transform worse and worse sufferings until eventually everything for us is an equal dance of bliss and emptiness.