Suffering Exists Even After The Universe Ends


A Student Wrote in:

Could you explain the meaning of the quote please…thanks.

There comes a time when the great ocean dries up and evaporates and no longer exists,
but still I say, there is no making an end of suffering for those beings roaming and wandering onward, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving.

The Buddha
Connected Discourses on the 5 Collections (Skandas) (22.Khandhasamyutta)
Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Samyutta Nikaya)

Here is my response:

The Buddhist view of the cosmos and of time, space and creation is very vast. It is more vast than anything that I have ever heard anywhere else. In the Buddhist view of creation, there are many world systems within the Buddhist universe. The Buddhist universe is beginningless and endless and what we in the west call a universe is merely a world-system in Buddhism.

Each one of these world systems undergoes a period of arising, a period of maintenance, a period of disintegration and then a gap in creation. This is followed by another arising of a world system from the traces of the previous one. Within the Buddhist Cosmos, this is happening in several locations at the same time. Different world systems are at various points in this arising, maintenance, disintegration and gap (just like we are all experiencing as sentient beings).

This disintegration occurs in several different ways. There is disintegration through the water element, disintegration through the fire element and disintegration through the wind element. It is taught that each world system is destroyed 7 times by water, then 1 time by fire. When this cycle repeats itself 7 times, then there is destruction by wind. Disintegration through the water element (think Noah’s flood) destroys all existence up to a certain level of being. Disintegration by fire destroys all existence up to a higher level of being. At one point in the beginning of destruction by fire, the oceans dry up. Finally, disintegration by wind destroys all existence to a very high level of being. However, there are still levels of being that are not touched by these disintegrations.

The beings who are "destroyed" by these disintegrations are pushed up into higher levels of being. However, they didn’t get there under their own power and they are still under the influence of ignorance of how reality works and they are bound to cyclic existence through longing and attachment (craving and clinging). Because of this, when the force that pushed them into a higher level of being weakens, they then return to lower levels and that is how the cycle of the creation of suffering existence repeats itself.

The Buddha’s point in his quote is that the destruction of lower levels of existence does not end suffering existence forever. Only by eliminating ignorance of the workings of reality and only by getting rid of longing and attachment can you put an end to the cycle of suffering existences, otherwise they will continue to be created. As long as we have ignorance, craving, and clinging, then these types of ways of being will continue to exist beyond the destruction of any world-system.

Larry

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About larryreside

Technical Administrator for the Westport Lions Club Website and Instructor @ the Peaceful Garden Meditation Group - A Group that studies and practices Buddhist Psychology and Meditation in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
This entry was posted in Answers to Questions, Basic Practices. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Suffering Exists Even After The Universe Ends

  1. larryreside says:

    The Student asked a further question:

    so, on a practical level, accept what is…because it’s just a part of the life death life cycle?

    for instance, i am deciding whether to send out a message about the devastation (my judgement, perception, attachment) of the oil volcano…so by sending out a message of the destruction is adding to the suffering, or the awakening of some and ‘everythink’ inbetween (because we are all at different places in our evolution)…am i connecting this to your message at all? i sent out a message about what happened in toronto during the summit (my experience because i was there)…am i adding to the suffering (o.k., let’s focus just on me and my suffering — yes, i believe i’m adding to my suffering unless i see a gift in it and that is, that what happened is just a part of our process and to trust that)… do i just observe and meditate with it all?

    • larryreside says:

      Accepting what is, in that sense, is not the answer. The point is to put an end to ignorance, longing, and attachment. One of the biggest manifestations of those things is Greed. Another one is hatred. Part of the ignorance is not recognizing that the things that we do and say affect the whole world. Part of that ignorance is failing to recognize that we won’t be able to keep any wealth or position that we obtain forever. Part of that ignorance is that working towards our own benefit at the expense of others will only create suffering. Those of us who understand this need to work to educate those who are showing by their words and actions that they don’t understand this.

      I’m glad that you’re thinking about the effects that sending these videos has on your audience. It’s like the daily news – we see all of this crime and violence and that makes us angry, afraid, and cynical. We don’t see that these crimes are only a small part of the whole world. We don’t hear about all the people who are working to counteract violence, poverty, and the other problems in the world. It’s important to rouse people to action, but not increase their sense of helplessness and hatred.

      What BP and the cleanup people are doing in covering this stuff up is very wrong. It’s like the alcoholic who’s in denial about the real causes of their problem and their trying to give the impression that everything’s fine.

      My suggestion for this type of thing is to always offer a course of action and also to show what people are doing to counteract the terrible stuff – like, for instance, providing the links to the websites of organizations who are helping. (as in the video from the plane)

      The aspect of accepting things “as they are” relates to accepting that our current situation is what we have to work with. It means acknowledging our feelings of sadness and upset-ness about some of the events that are happening around the world. At the same time, because craving and clinging create and increase suffering, we need to recognize that these are not the only situations that are happening in the world and not the only feelings that are within our being. Recognizing clinging or attachment means recognizing that acting out of anger, which comes from attachment to our upsetness, will only make things worse.

      We are ignorant of causes and conditions and we tend to think of the impermanent as permanent. Our personal crises and the global crises will not last forever, but they WILL continue as long as we continue to maintain the conditions that gave rise to them and as long as we continue to create the causes for those crises to exist. If we want to eliminate a personal crisis, we need to create the causes for an alternative state of affairs and eliminate the conditions that gave rise to the crisis.

      We tend to want to avoid negative feelings, but good, bad, and neutral, and abundance, lack, and balance are all part of our normal feelings. As soon as we set a goal of any kind, we will begin to recognize things that support that goal (good), things that obstruct that goal (bad), and things that don’t affect the goal (neutral). We recognize areas where we have what we need to fulfill the goal (abundance), where we don’t have everything that we need (lack) and where it doesn’t matter (balance). We don’t have to try to avoid these feelings.

      However, when we combine these feelings with attachment and longing, then we create emotions that cause and increase suffering. Feeling sad is OK, becoming depressed is not. Recognizing that others are better than we are is OK, developing jealousy is not. Having desires is OK, developing longings, cravings, and addictions is not. Being upset at the harm being caused is OK, Anger and hatred is not. Having doubt and confusion is OK – developing indecision and apathy is not. Feeling confidence is OK, being proud is not. Being aware of one’s self is OK, being pre-occupied with ourselves is not… etc

      The goal of meditation, especially Buddhist calm-awareness meditation, is to learn about how our minds work in order to first gain control of our minds and then to train it towards being able to understand the true nature of reality. Understanding and learning to work with the relativeness of the world around us (including the entire universe and all states of being) and not taking any worldly things to be ultimate is the final goal of Buddhist practice. The end result is that through this wisdom our mind will be at peace and through seeing the results of our compassionate action, we will develop joy

  2. julia says:

    thank you larry, i really enjoyed this whole conversation. very valuable.

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