Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a respected teacher and master of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He is noted for his ability to present the practice of meditation in a simple and accessible manner, relating it to both his personal experience and modern scientific research. Rinpoche is the founder of the Tergar Meditation Community, with centers and practice groups across the world, and is a best-selling writer, author of The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness (2007), Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom (2009), and Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism (2014).
Buddhistdoor Global: You will be giving a talk on the Four Noble Truths in Hong Kong in October. It’s all about suffering, isn’t it? Why are the Buddhists always complaining that life is miserable?
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche: Some people think the Four Noble Truths are all about suffering. Actually, they are not all about suffering. The beginning—or the first of the Four Noble Truths—is about suffering. That is reality. If we don’t understand reality, then we suffer more, actually.
I have a friend who feels he has been suffering all his life, even though he has a good career, has made some achievements and even became a CEO. One day he went to a bookshop and came across a book. At the beginning of the first page, it said: “Life is suffering.” He was so happy! He found out he was not alone: “No wonder I felt like that!” he thought. Later, he delved more deeply into the Four Noble Truths and learned that, actually, life is not only about suffering. The suffering is only on the outer level. The deeper level goes beyond suffering. We find out that there are amazing qualities within us, that we have this amazing true nature.
So it’s not true that Buddhists talk only about suffering. If we feel that life is only about suffering, then that is really scary and depressing. But it is not.
Actually, knowing suffering is the beginning of becoming free from suffering. There is so much more that we can discover! Awareness and wisdom are free from suffering. Genuine love and compassion, clarity, openness, and spaciousness . . . all these basic qualities are beyond suffering. And we don’t even need to depend on outside circumstances to connect with them.
So the truth of suffering is good news that can take us to liberation. It’s just that sometimes, good news begins with the bad.
BDG: But I am not suffering. I have a happy family, a good job, and good friends. Everything is going well. Why do I want to know about suffering?
YMR: Some people may think and feel that way. But there are many different levels of suffering. Suffering is the translation of the Sanskrit word, dukkha. The meaning of dukkha is closer to non-satisfaction—you don’t feel satisfied, you cannot appreciate what you have, you always need more, more, more. It’s the feeling of being incomplete, the feeling that something is missing. When you hear the word “suffering,” you will likely associate it with pain, obstacles, problems, and having a hard time. But the meaning is more like non-satisfaction, a sense of being incomplete.
If you feel that life is good, that is good. But you can develop more, grow more, and discover more. There are really great things about yourself which you had never even expected. You can discover these qualities within yourselves through the practice of the Four Noble Truths.
Another way to answer this question is: seemingly we feel that life is good, but we may not even know the problem. What we do is akin to taking sweet poison. The poison is very sweet, but eventually we’ll harm ourselves. We want to stop taking the sweet poison. Liberation comes from knowing the Four Noble Truths.
Also, it is important to know that it is our mind that labels what is suffering and what is not. There is no one thing that everyone can agree is suffering or is bad. It depends on the person. You cannot find one object which everyone thinks is good, or one which everyone thinks is bad.
When I was young, I had panic attacks. At the beginning, I hated the panic. But then I tried to make friends with it. First I accepted the panic. Then to really make friends, you have to know the technique and skill to transform panic into a cause of happiness. So I learned that, and in the end I didn’t mind panic. When panic came, it was quite exciting, and I didn’t feel bad anymore. Panic became my friend and teacher. I learned a lot from my panic. I think that is the case with everything.
BDG: I like meditation—at least the idea of it. Can’t I just practice meditation without knowing about suffering?
YMR: Yes, if you just want to meditate to get some temporary peace and calmness, meditation helps. It is better than drinking coffee or winning the lottery; it is quite good. But if you want to find unconditional joy, clarity, and wisdom, you will have to go deeper. Just simple meditation is not enough.
BDG: OK, Rinpoche, please make it simple for me: tell me three good things about suffering.
YMR: First, suffering, obstacles, and mistakes are really good for our lives because we can learn from them. That is why we say that if there are no obstacles and no mistakes, there will be no success. Of course, repeating the same mistakes again and again also means there will be no success. Each of us has a lot of potential, power, and capacity inside us, but these are all sleeping. What kicks off all this inner potential? Problems. When you have a problem and you really try to look for a solution, you will discover your inner power and capacity. So through suffering, you can really grow.
Second, knowing suffering as suffering is the gateway to the end of suffering. Why? Because when you really get to know suffering, when you look, observe, and bring your awareness to it, you cannot find it. Eventually, you know that suffering is what you created. It’s like you make your own prison and put yourself into the prison. Therefore, suffering—just knowing suffering—leads you to liberation from suffering.
Third, for the meditator and practitioner, suffering is really useful as a support for awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Suffering can become the path—the path of freedom, the path of liberation.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche will give a series of public talks in Hong Kong from 13–14 October. For details, please refer to the Tergar Asia website and related social media.