Zen of Suffering and Enlightenment

One of the biggest traps of Zen is trying to become enlightened. The hook of enlightenment is enticing. Enlightenment promises the end of suffering. Who wouldn’t want to become enlightened and stop suffering? Not only can you stop your own suffering, you can also stop the suffering of all sentient beings. How could it get any better than that? It gets better. In order to end your suffering and the suffering of those around you, all you have to do is recognize what you already are. How could it be any more simple?

That’s where it gets tricky. What you are is suffering. Things hurt. Things are annoying. Sometimes things are boring. You get hungry, tired, sick, cranky. One day you are going to die. You get angry. You get sad. You get confused. There are a million ways to suffer. Not only do you suffer, but everybody around you suffers. You routinely complain to each other about all this suffering and empathize and sympathize with each other about the particular brand of suffering that you are enduring at the moment. So how can you end all this suffering just by realizing what you are, if what you are is suffering?

The key is suffering. Enlightenment is suffering without suffering. Of course you suffer. That’s why you would like to be enlightened. As you strive for the liberation of enlightenment, you may suffer further each time you suffer because it demonstrates that you are still suffering and therefore not enlightened. However, when you recognize this happening, you are a little bit enlightened and you suffer a little less for seeing that your suffering is your enlightenment.

If you are trying to become enlightened, you should not seek enlightenment. If suffering is enlightenment, you should also not seek suffering. Not seeking suffering is easy, that is our natural habit. Yet we continue to find suffering. If you find yourself suffering, there you are, enlightened.

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