Fundamental teachings
Contemplation of SUFFERING
as an antidote to attachment samsara's pleasure

(from In Search of the Stainless Ambrosia, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Jewel Treasury of Advice and Transformation of Suffering)
by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche

If you think that it is acceptable to die because you can be reborn in the human or god realm and enjoy the luxuries of those states, that is merely attachment to samsara. For this, the antidote is understanding samsara by meditating on its negative features. In general, there are three types of suffering: pervasive suffering (root cause of all suffering-impermanence of the unenlightened body); suffering of change (impermanence of peace and happiness); and suffering of suffering. Pervasive suffering is the nature of samsara. No matter what kind of conditions we enjoy, sooner or later suffering will pervade our worldly state, where our afflicted ordinary bodies are a source of pain. Suffering of change is like eating food mixed with poison. Suffering of suffering is physical and mental pain (sickness, depression, etc.). Pervasive suffering brings about a feeling of apathy; the suffering of change brings about a false sense of euphoria; the suffering of physical and mental pain brings about anguish.

The five ordinary skandhas are the cause of pervasive suffering, but ordinary people do not recognize them as suffering, just as when stuck by plague, they do not notice minor illness. However, those noble beings entering the path recognize this as suffering, just as, when the plague abates, one notices the pain of a lesser injury. pervasive suffering is like a hair, ordinary people are like the hands, and noble beings are like the eyes. When a hair touches the hand, there is no feeling of discomfort, but when it is in the eyes, it is intolerable. The joys of samsara are ultimately the cause of the suffering of change. It is written in the Karma sutra, "The kingdom of the gods and the kingdom of humans are the cause of suffering." No matter how high the rank you achieve in samsara, you will eventually fall, for you are fundamentally attached to temporary enjoyments which cause the suffering of hope and fear. The body composed of the five skandhas causes the suffering of physical and mental pain, for the moment we enter into it we experience suffering which brings about the feeling of pain.

There are six realms of suffering: the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, the animal realm, the human realm, the demi-god realm, and the god realm.

Hell realm

There are eight hot and eight cold realms. The eight hot realms in ascending order are: the reviving hell, the black thread hell, the crushing hell, the howling hell, the loud howling hell, the heating hell, the Avici hell. The eight cold realms are: the realm of infected bubbles, the realm of frozen bubbles, the realm of chattering, the realm of cold sounds (Achu), the realm of other cold sounds (Kyihü), the realm of crackling like an utpala flower, the realm of crackling like a lotus flower, the realm of crackling like a larger lotus flower. Two further hell realms are: Nyitshe (the suffering close to the hot realms) and Nyekhor (the place close to the hot realms).

The hungry ghost realm

There are two types of hungry ghosts: The first are those who see food guarded by someone who will not allow them to touch it, or see food transformed into waste as soon as they behold it, or see food and water as a mirage, or are unable to eat or drink because though their stomachs are as large as a valley, their throats are as narrow as a horse's hair. The second are those who experience food as fire or filth as soon as it reaches their stomach. In the hungry ghost realm, even the sun grows cold in winter and even the moon grows hot in summer. Thus, the inhabitants become living skeletons. Son intense is their suffering that a story is told of one of the Buddha's disciples who, on passing through the hungry ghost realm, was asked by a woman there to look for her husband who had long before gone out in search of food for her and their five hundred children. When the disciple finally found the man, he said that he had not been able to find food in all his search, but that he had managed to grab some saliva that a compassionate monk had spat upon the ground. So eager was the man to keep hold of his treasure amidst the hundreds of ghosts who had set upon it avidly that he had clenched his fist until his fingernails had been driven through the top of his hand.

The animal realm

There are different types of animals: many-legged animals, four-legged animals, and apods. Most animals live in the ocean, on the plains and in the forest. They suffer from being beaten by humans; form having no freedom; from being killed or dismembered for fur, bones, meat, skin, and pearls; and from preying on each other.

Human realm

The suffering of the human state includes birth, aging, sickness, death, separation from loved ones, meetings with enemies, desire for that which one cannot obtain, and the loss of that which one possesses.

Birth: After wandering in the Bardo (intermediate state), we take birth in a mother's womb and remain there for about thirty-eight weeks. There are many stages of inconceivable suffering in this process, as well as at the moment of birth, which most people do not remember.

Aging: In youth the body is straight and strong; later, it becomes bent and feeble, the limbs shake, it becomes difficult to sit or stand, the hair changes color of falls out, the skin, once soft as silk, becomes thick and wrinkled, and the complexion, once like a newly-blossomed lotus flower, becomes faded. In youth one has the strength to undertake anything, and one is optimistic. Later, one loses strength, cannot work, and becomes depressed. The once-sharp senses decline so that it is hard to see, hear, or taste foods vividly. In youth one gains respect, but in older age, having lost dignity, one is scorned even by children. Materially, it becomes difficult to increase one's wealth or to solicit support from others. One craves food and drink which one cannot afford. Aging is the worst disease because it cannot be cured. All other sicknesses are brought on by aging. Mentally, one becomes forgetful and confused. Milarepa said: If one does not realize the nature of non-aging, the suffering of aging is inconceivable.

Sickness: In old age, there are operations, pain, bitter medicines, the desire to eat unhealthy things, a dependence on physicians, the exhausting of one's resources on physicians and medicine, and the fear of death. Milarepa said: If one does not realize the nature of non-sickness, the suffering of sickness is inconceivable.

Death: If one is caught by the Lord of Death, one is separated from one's protectors and objects of refuge. One endures pain, shaking limbs, shallow breath, the abandonment of physicians, and the inability to sit upright. Making the great transition to the next life, one enters the dark unknown, leaving everything familiar behind, including one's body. Only the realization of the precious teachings can help. Everything else is but illusion that creates further suffering. After breath stops, one goes on to a new life which depends on one's karma.

Separation from loved ones: When one is separated from parents, relatives and friends, there is great pain.

Meetings with enemies: When one meets with enemies, one experiences the suffering of quarrelling, anger and unease.

Difficulty in obtaining one's desires: One desires that which one does not have, and no matter what one does have, one still craves more. Thus, there is no satisfaction in the mind and this, in turn, causes further suffering.

Loss of what one possesses: One constantly worries that thieves may steal one's possessions, or that they may be destroyed. This leads to further unrest in the mind.

These are the basic sufferings of all humans, whether high or low-born, rich or poor, educated or uneducated.

The demi-god realm

The suffering of the demi-gods includes pride, jealousy, fighting (with the gods), and death in battle.

The god realm

The suffering of the gods includes fighting (with demi-gods), dissatisfaction no matter how many pleasures are granted, and rebirth in lower realms as a result of using up all previous good karma.

Samsara pervades the six realms. Therefore birth in any of these realms brings suffering. We all exist in an ocean of suffering. By recognizing the reality of samsara and becoming detached from the six realms, one is able to cultivate a mind free from suffering, thereby achieving Enlightenment.

Renunciation and the mind that abandons negativity are like a captain piloting a ship.
Freedom from samsara depends upon them.
Therefore, always think on this without distraction.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)